This episode was originally published on September 13, 2022 on our patron-exclusive feed. Hello Giant Robot FM supporters! We are proud to present you with our latest Simulator episode covering the 1992 SNES game Xardion - a 2D action game which sits at the crossroads of a number of companies including Gainax, Asmik, and Jorudan, as well as involving the labor of a number of freelancers. We are joined by Jeremy Kaufmann (@whydoisay) who provides a wealth of excellent knowledge on the game itself as well as the key players. Please find Jeremy at these links: Twitter: https://twitter.com/whydoisay itch.io: https://whydoisay.itch.io/ Destroy All Podcasts on archive.org: https://archive.org/details/podcast_collectiondx-destroy-all-pod_252721028
Kasha Stewart is the Director of Growth Engagement at Adobe Express. Victoria talks to Kasha about finding advocates that encourage her to chase problems, getting more women into product development and why it's essential to bring different perspectives into this area, and ways to bring connection between the end users and customers, engineering teams, and the rest of the organization to the business. Adobe Express (https://www.adobe.com/express/) Follow Adobe LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/adobe/) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/AdobeExpress). Follow Kasha Stewart on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/kashastewart/). Follow thoughtbot on Twitter (https://twitter.com/thoughtbot) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/150727/). Become a Sponsor (https://thoughtbot.com/sponsorship) of Giant Robots! Transcript: VICTORIA: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido and with us today is Kasha Stewart, Director of Growth Engagement at Adobe Express. Kasha, thank you for joining us. KASHA: Well, thank you for having me. VICTORIA: Well, I thought I'd start off by asking you to tell me a little bit more about your background and how you found your way to product from starting out in film and video production. KASHA: I originally started...I have a fine arts background and did a lot of digital story narrative, post-production. Back in the day (I'm going to date myself.), you had to do...it was a very manual process of chroma keying and removing backgrounds, or refining someone's skin, or some type of background. That was where I kind of...it was my bread and butter. I really loved it. It was creative. Then in 2008, 2009, the housing market crashed, and the recession happened. And I thought, you know, I'm not a homeowner. What does it have to do with me? I'm taking these freelance jobs. I had just finished my grad program. And then all the jobs kind of disappeared. And I was thinking; here I was; I had gone to grad school. I had a really specific skill set. And then everything just poofed overnight, disappeared. And I thought, okay, well, what's more stable? Like, what could I do to secure a little bit more stability in my job, career? So I started applying for jobs in all these very different tech, like, they wanted people to be what we used to call a preditor, like, a producer and editor, someone that knew how to do this but also knew how to like FTP massive asset files and also knew how to flag something for when things were going wrong. And so I thought, okay, well, let me just apply for one of these. I have some of the skills. I tick the box on some of the requirements. And there was a job...it was actually on Craigslist. I actually didn't even know if it was a real job or if it was a scam situation, but I applied. It had a very unusual title; I think it was content distribution editor. And I thought, okay, well, this is interesting. And it was for abc.com. And this is about 2010. I applied. They called me. I thought, okay, why is ABC on Craigslist? But never mind, it was a legitimate job. And I got into what we call content distribution, so understanding content management systems. And I would be the last person that would actually process the content that would then be delivered to Hulu platforms, abc.com, many different affiliates. There were also Verizon mobile deals at this time, where the cell phone carriers had their own television networks that they tried to stand up. In that process, I started to really learn about licensing, how content is distributed, meta-tagging, and then also the architecture of a CMS. And I just for the life of me couldn't understand why this was built this way. It was a very cumbersome tool. And like clockwork, around 11:00 p.m. at night, it would crash. And if you hadn't saved your metadata on a notepad or in a spreadsheet, you're basically starting over from scratch. And I remember asking all these questions, and they were like, "Well, it's proprietary software, and it was built in Seattle." And I was like, "Yeah, but did they ever talk to the, you know..." I didn't know the terminology like end user at the time. But they never talked to any of us that were part of this small team that had this really pivotal role of publishing the content. And I remember asking all these questions. I had a supervisor at the time. And he jokingly said, "Well, you should go into product management since you love to ask questions." I didn't even know what product management was. I was like, well, I'm on a producer's track; that's my goal. I have this film and narrative background. And a role came up internally, and it was for a product specialist. I would say I needed a little bit of convincing to apply. I had some advocates in HR that saw this role and thought I would be perfect for it. And I was like, I don't know, it has all this data analytics. And what does this have to do with people and storytelling? And they were like, "We think you should apply for it." And I made the transition, which is rare sometimes in corporate and internal transitions. But I did make the transition, and I became a product specialist. And I kind of dived deep in into understanding consumer products from a front-end experience. So before, it was more from a distribution and back end. And now it was really focusing on the UX flow, the UI. What are the targets? And how do we position the content? And then, what are our consumers saying about the content? So I did open up a whole new world for me. I went ahead, and I made plenty of mistakes. There were times that I was like, I don't know if I'm for this if this is right for me. And people definitely weren't shy then. They would tell me, "You don't look like a product manager." Or "You don't have that background of CS or data and analytics person." And I totally didn't, and I never sold myself as a false representation. But what I did have was I had this really strong inclination of really understanding from the consumer perspective. I always took it back to even in my own circle. And I think I'm an early adopter. I love technology. But I also have friends that are still using Yahoo or Hotmail. And I'd be like, "Oh no, you got to try Gmail, or what about Gchat? This thing came out. You have to check it out." And I would think...back when I was building out these products, and this was, to level set, this is around the time of Web 2.0. I would think, oh, well, how would my friend in New York use this? Or how would my mom find her content? Or, how would my brother... And I think sometimes we get very seduced when you're building something, especially as a product manager, that everything is from your lens and from your perspective. And the data and then also the feedback was telling us that we weren't really hitting it where consumers were. They weren't able to find the content as easily as we hoped. And from there, I jumped into kind of entertainment streaming platforms, building out architecture, CMS, and then eventually transitioning into growth-led roles and then leadership roles later in my career. And so I've had the pleasure of working for startups like Beachbody, which was a fitness company big in the fitness space but smaller on the digital perspective, all the way to going back to Disney leading a team at Movies Anywhere. And now, I'm leading a growth team at Adobe. VICTORIA: Wow, thank you so much. That's so interesting. And we have a couple of different tracks we could get into here. One thing I want to note that I thought was interesting is when you got into your new role, what really kind of presented itself to you is that you identified a problem in the UX. Like, you kind of lateral moved, and then you found this problem, then you had advocates who pushed you to go in that direction. And so, if you have advice for people who are looking to make that transition, how do you find those advocates that encourage you to chase the problems that you find? KASHA: Oh, that's a great question. People ask me this frequently because I think on paper, it is hard. And no one's going to find you in your cubicle...or now a lot of us are working remotely in our houses. So you have to be your best cheerleader and campaign manager. I also think, like, what is it that is on your top three lists? In product, we have nice-to-have, must-haves, and then we kind of prioritize or stack rank our work backwards from that. So I ask people, "What's the most important thing for your next role?" And then those are the things that you need to either lean in and start to amplify that you're already doing and how you would make a great candidate. I think internal candidates do have an advantage because they know the culture, or they may know the players, or they may see something from a different perspective, but they know what the company's challenges are. So I would start by first talking to your manager, and you can have a great manager or not-so-great manager, but start there. Show them that, you know, I'm on this track plan, but I really want to be here. Are there things that I can do in my current role that would support that transition? Are there people that you can recommend? And sometimes, you can get traction with your manager, but if you can't, then start to search within your network. And if there's a product manager who's maybe in your org or actually would be maybe at the same leveling or someone new, start to explain to them, "Hey, I would love to set up a coffee chat, a 15-minute informational just to hear how you did it or what's your perspective?" And constantly, as you're taking notes...people usually like it when they get an opportunity to share their story or talk about themselves. And as you take notes, "Ah, I am actually looking to transition to that. Do you have any advice for me? If you had something in an open role, what would you want from that candidate?" And so you're constantly planting those seeds of like, I am this candidate, here's why. And product managers and, I think, also hiring managers, we have a room full of distractions. But if something's laid out to me in concise language and it's showing results of like, oh, well, I did this on the content management side, and I think this would be transferable, and here's why. And you don't have to be long-winded. I'm not into people writing dissertations and producing 20-page decks. I don't always have the time to read that, as lovely as it sounds. Drive in on your skills. How are they relatable or transferable? And then, what are the goals that you've been able to achieve in your current role? And what are you looking to do in your next role? And I think if you start to place yourself there...and definitely get out and start talking to people in your employee resource groups. And then also, internally, there's always, at some companies, there are HR or employee resource groups that will have at least a blog post on how to transition within the company, and if they don't, search out those people. And it's not an overnight process. I've seen people where it's been a flip of the switch, and they're on a rocket. And I've seen other people where it's taken time, but they've built those rapports with people that started to get to know them outside of their current role. VICTORIA: That makes a lot of sense. And you're also involved in many professional networks. And so, do you also get a benefit for your career growth from that? KASHA: Yes. I feel like I never stop learning. As much as there's always something new coming out, I mean like now I'm into the chatbots and AI. And I'm like, okay, here's another thing I got to learn. Let me [laughs] add this to my to-do list. So I never want to take that for granted. So I feel like the communities kind of keep me, you know, it's a temperature check of what's going on, either from a challenge perspective or what type of new technologies people are integrating into their existing platforms, and how it's actually growing or benefiting them, whether it's from a machine learning and building out recommendation engines that have saved time, and then actually gets smarter. And we're building out algorithms all the way to, you know, what would it be like to have AI enhancements on an existing platform and still help drive that high-value consumer experience? So I don't take for granted. I also recommend people that, even if you're not in product to, join product communities so that you start to hear the language and you start to see how product managers think and how hiring and leadership think. And LinkedIn is a great resource. I belong to Women in Product, Black Product Managers. There's a slew of Tech Ladies. And I'm always kind of looking. There are newsletters that I love, Lenny's Newsletter. And I'm always like, oh, that's a nice one. Let me take that away for my team, or, oh, I didn't actually see that. I didn't think about that. I didn't see that playing out with NFTs in that way; hmm, really interesting. Or that TikTok is taking over search. And now I'm like, okay, how can my product that I'm growing from an engagement standpoint also have really strong representation on TikTok in a way that's authentic and users can find us, and we can continue to engage with users that way? Start small. Find the right community that works for you. There's also Product-Led Growth, Product Alliances. There are so many of them. And I think you just start to kind of join them if you can. Some of them are free, some of them have dues. And they're really worth it. It's a value add. And you never know who's going to be posting in these Slack community groups too. You might see something where they're okay with associate level or okay with someone transitioning, or looking to help someone transition. And I often mentor and direct some of my mentees in that direction so that they don't feel like they're in the passenger seat of their career and waiting for something to happen. You have to be active in this pursuit. And you also have to be a driver in it. VICTORIA: Right. I felt that myself in my career. I felt like my network was my number one source of learning like you said. And also, when you're considering a career change, sometimes you don't even know what else is out there or what other types of jobs are out there. [laughs] I love what you said about that. And you also mentioned Women in Product and Black Women in Product. How can we promote those groups more [laughs] as we get more women in product? And why is it important to bring a different perspective into product? KASHA: Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, I think podcasts like this, you know, letting people know. And then also, when I do a post on LinkedIn, I do the hashtags of all the groups that either I belong to, or I might tag them. One thing that I do when I do start to mentor someone I say "Be active in the community, share your voice. You're going to start to get comfortable." Product managers have it...it's not a career for the weak, I'll say that. [laughs] And you have to have an opinion, so start small and start promoting yourself in those groups or hearing what people are saying. And even if my company is hiring or someone else, another hiring manager, and it has a post, I'll say, "Oh, did you think about posting this or adding this hashtag to this? This would definitely help give you a different type of candidate and also get more traffic." And it's important to me because if I think about the world population and how we're changing, and who's showing up, you want that representation of the people that are working on it. They're going to be thinking about it from a different lens that I didn't even realize that that was an issue or oh, wow, we need to really tap into that. Or actually, we should promote this in a different way because we're going to cast a wider net, or we're going to cast a really specific net. With this demo, it can grow by 10x. Versus us thinking very generally and saying, "Well, we're happy with a 2x growth." So that's why it's important to me. I'm also always balancing, like, do I have enough representation of women? And do I have enough representation of men on the team too? I don't want to go one side too far and then I'm out of balance and I'm just hiring the same people that are like me. It is kind of challenging sometimes because I have to think about what does the team need? What is the team dynamics missing? And who is that person that can bring in or usher in that different perspective? And then also work cohesively with the existing team. And so that's a lot of balancing act that I do in my current role and really thinking about okay, well, we're serving small businesses. We're serving social entrepreneurs. Has anybody ever done that? We can be very kind of elitist in tech, especially in product of, like, well, I do it this way. I've [laughs] got Discord, and I have all the NFTs that I've ever wanted to collect. And I can hear and listen to all that, and I can geek out. But then I'm like, if I go back to my friends, they'll be, "Kasha, what are you talking about? Can you speak English to us?" [laughs] And they'll be like, "Can you please calm down?" And I'm like, "Oh, but there's this thing." And then I'm like, well, maybe I need to have someone who is not like me because they're going to be thinking of that person who really just has a simple task they're trying to solve for. They have a limited amount of time, and they also have limited patience. They're not in a place where they want to learn and go on YouTube and watch a tutorial. They're really just, you know, "Hey, I need to get this birthday card or this invitation out for my kids. And this was a free product that I saw from SEO results, and I'm here." And that's the value in finding that person and then carrying them through a journey. Me, I'm going to be picky. I'm going to probably research. I'm going to look at reviews. I'm going to look at two other competitors that I'm going to start to line up. [laughter] And then you've lost me by that point. You want to get that person, and you want to make it a frictionless experience. So I do encourage, when I'm building teams, to think about the dynamics, always going for people that are, you know, want to be there and that are really dedicated to the product but also bring a different perspective than I did. And I come from an untraditional background in tech, so I think that's probably why I'm so conscious of this and how we can make these changes. And I think, historically, or the data proves that diverse teams often excel faster and better than traditional teams. VICTORIA: Right. And teams that are diverse and are in an inclusive environment where they feel like they can bring their authentic selves. KASHA: Correct. Yeah, it's one thing to have diversity, but then it's also another, you know, the counterbalance of inclusion. And how do you set people up for success that have different backgrounds? And I have a great strong team of rock stars, as I say, but they all are different. They all need different things. They all have different kinds of needs from a coaching or leadership perspective. Some I'm more hands-on, others I'm hands-off. But as a leader, it's being perceptive of that and saying, okay, well, this person likes to run their own ship. I'm going to be here on the sidelines. And this person I'm going to be out front. I'm going to be walking with them side by side. I don't know why I have all these sports analogies because I was terrible at sports in junior high, in high school. But I always feel like I'm this coach out here with a whistle and a clipboard. And I'm telling them I'm like, okay, I'm going to set this person up. This person is going to happen here. And that's how I look at it from a growth perspective. When I'm really assessing the roadmap and the backlog and what's going to be our impact, I'm also thinking about, well, how is everybody working cohesively? And is there a way that we can have shared experiences so that that way, oh, we learned from such and such an experiment, and that's going to influence the other half of my team? Or, actually, I'm going to have them focus, or I know that we're going to have too many mobile tests at the end of Q2 because the monetization team is also trying to test something very similar. So it's a constant juggling act in my role. VICTORIA: Right. I very much relate to that. I was a competitive rock climbing coach a few years ago on top of my full-time job. KASHA: Oooh. VICTORIA: And my kids would ask me if I was also a motivational speaker [laughs] because I was always pumping people up while they're climbing. So yeah, I find it fascinating how you think about the needs of your team and your own growth from an individual contributor into a leader. And how do you coach people in your team along that path, like making that transition from being really strong in product to managing a team of product people? KASHA: Oh, that's a great question. And I love that you're like a rock climbing...I love that. I'm like, [laughs] what we call thumbs. I would just be looking; I mean, just thinking about rock climbing, my hands are probably getting sweaty right now. [laughs] And for my team, I do have people that they're getting to a senior PM level, and they're like, "What's next?" And I really like to do an assessment of, like, "Well, what do you think is next? And what is really going to help your career growth?" And some of them are like, "Well, I want to do leadership. I want to do this." And I ask, just like I ask in any product question, "What's the why behind that? Is it a financial contribution? Is it a recognition? Or is it that you are really invested in people development?" Because one thing I do like to preference, especially people that are in early or mid-level careers, is that managing a product versus managing people are two different skill sets. And I didn't even understand that when I started to get into management; I kind of fell into it. I had a leader that exited the company, and it was like, "Oh, gosh, what will we do next?" And I was just like, "I think we should still continue to pursue the roadmap [laughs] is what I would think to do first." So one of the things I do say is that your work is going to change. I don't PM, and I'm not regularly with the engineering team on a day-to-day basis. And so I will say to the team that first, at certain points, you can balance it. You'll have both where you might own still part of the portfolio, but then you have maybe one or two direct parts. But as you start to grow, you will start to transition out of the day-to-day or building individual features or initiatives. And I do ask my PMS, are they ready for that? And if they check all the boxes and say that they have a strong why, then I start off by, okay, well, let's see if our team is eligible for an internship. We're going to open up an internship this summer, and instead of this intern reporting to me, they're going to report to you. What's your onboarding plan? What's your growth strategy for this person? And then, what do you want this person to accomplish at the end of the internship? And it's a baby step for them to kind of get their feet wet on what is it like to lead someone? And then also, what are the challenges? There's always a perfect storm where things go great. But what about the times when things are not going great, and how do you communicate with that person? What are the nudges that they need to give for them to either redirect them, or what are the things that you need to do to kind of show them the happy path to success? So those are where I start. We have international teams and people onboarding. I work for a huge company, so there are more opportunities there. But then I will also say if someone wants to drive and be in a leadership role, what are the mentoring opportunities within the company? So, how would you mentor somebody? And what would be your advice? How do you set up a weekly cadence? What are your expectations of this? How should they measure success and goals? All these are things that are going to be transferable when that opportunity comes up. And then also, too, what is the right situation? Is it a mix of where I'm 50% IC and then I'm, you know, this other 40%-50% of people management? I encourage them to look at opportunities internally, even if I'm at the sacrifice of losing what I call one of my rock stars. I know that it's inevitable for people to grow. And I never want to be the person that held someone back out of jealousy, or fear, or my own insecurities. And I do have a strong network that when I post something, I get so many candidates. It's almost to the sense of like, wow, this person is greater. Wow, this person...wow, they went to Stanford, and they did this, and now they're transitioning. And I'm like, oh my gosh, they want to work with me. And so that's always very exciting. So I never want to get so trapped in the ideology that the team is only great with these people. I'm like; the team starts with me and my leadership. So I need to be able to build a team. I need to be able to grow a team. And sometimes, you might have a great talent pool, and other times you don't, and then what do you do in those? I mean, that's what leadership really is. It's not always when you have everybody applying for your job, and you have all this funding, and your P&Ls are going incredible. It's those times where they come back to you and say, "Yeah, we're not going to get that done this sprint, so you'll just have to figure it out." Or someone's resigning that you didn't see coming. And then you're like, okay, I might have to roll up my sleeves and take over their part of the roadmap just as a stopgap till I have someone. And that's the things that can make or break your leadership. VICTORIA: Yeah, it's easy when everything is going great. [laughter] KASHA: Yes. Don't we love that? [laughter] Mid-Roll Ad: As life moves online, bricks-and-mortar businesses are having to adapt to survive. With over 18 years of experience building reliable web products and services, thoughtbot is the technology partner you can trust. We provide the technical expertise to enable your business to adapt and thrive in a changing environment. We start by understanding what's important to your customers to help you transition to intuitive digital services your customers will trust. We take the time to understand what makes your business great and work fast yet thoroughly to build, test, and validate ideas, helping you discover new customers. Take your business online with design‑driven digital acceleration. Find out more at: url tbot.io/acceleration or click the link in the show notes for this episode. VICTORIA: You mentioned a few times, switching more into your approach to product management about the experiments that you run. Sometimes those go great, and sometimes they don't go so great. So can you tell me about a time you ran an experiment, and the results were really different than what you expected, and what did you do from that? KASHA: Oh gosh, yeah. There are so many. I'm trying to think of what's the best example. Gosh, I'm like, do I go for mobile? No, web. [laughs] Well, I think in growth, a part of your experiment should fail because if they're not failing, that also means to me you're not taking enough risk. And you're taking things that you already know, in some ways, are like low-hanging fruit, and you're very comfortable in it. And I do encourage my team to take a big risk of how do we start to find something? We recently had something to help users on the AI side. It was a really unique feature. A user uploads an image, and AI automatically spits out templates with this user-generated content. And we were so excited. We were watching the demos, I felt like on replay, you know, as we got out the meaning. It didn't necessarily do what we thought it would do. And so then we had to take a pause, like, what happened? And one of the things that we learned from the test is that people just didn't understand what they were supposed to do. They didn't understand the process of their workflow. And they also weren't engaged with what the results came back. So I think that's one thing that, you know, I know there's a lot of chatter in the space about AI taking over and where are we going to be. And I still think we need to have that human perspective, that person that is like, hey, these search results are really not what the consumer is looking for. And yes, it solved a requirement of picture upload output, but the output is not matching what the consumer's needs were. It didn't solve their problem. And we have to constantly continue to filter and refine the algorithm. So our first output back was not great. But what we learned is that we have to have more variety of the type of output of content and that we also have to do more hand-holding. As much as we think that people are going to dive right in because it's in the press, and it's in TechCrunch and on Verge, that is not our general population. I can talk to my girlfriend; she's a doctor. And she's like, "Hey, I'm just really trying to do this for my local women physicians network." All this other stuff, she's like, "It's kind of overwhelming to me." And I didn't even see that. I was just like, "Aren't you excited that you have five options? She's like, "No, I just kind of needed the one thing with the squiggly backgrounds [laughs] and the template that I could alter." She's like, "These don't actually really speak to me." And so we had to come back and re-define the algorithm and also think about less choices for people; as much as we were like, we can randomize it; we can output more types of templates. It's really about finding the cues that the user is giving us to find that right match, and it's not something that I think we're going to get...and knowing from the test, we're not going to get on the first try. We're going to continue to test this, and that's what's going to make it better because we stress-test it. I mean, in growth, sometimes, I tell my team, like, don't get our hopes up, our hearts set into it because we can spend a lot of time in crafting the experiment and doing the 50% and then the other 50% control and variants, and then when it comes back, they're just not excited, or the consumer just didn't really gravitate or attach to it. And so then we have to stop, and I think, okay, there's a lesson here. Is it the education? Is it the guidance? Isn't the language that we use? You'd be surprised how one word can throw off someone's context. And they're turned off, or they don't want to do it. Or they like, "Oh, this is kind of cool. Oh, I didn't realize that this was a free service." Or, "Oh, I didn't realize that I could save this, and it's removing the background for me. And then now I have all these options." Growth is a hard challenge. I mean, we move so fast, which is what I love, but then we're always kind of looking at the data and having to constantly pivot and transition based off of our previous tests. [laughs] Now I'm thinking about a time when I was at Beachbody, and I was so excited because I got to do native app development on mobile platforms, and I'd never done that before. We were all excited. We had an iOS product that was really strong. And, of course, many of the people that worked in the office were all iOS users. So they weren't even thinking about Android. And we had just missed the mark as a company not really focusing on building out a great Android native app experience. And we were just kind of relying on the mobile web experience. And I remember thinking like, oh, okay, well, you have something. And then I went into a Facebook community group, and I just saw all the complaints. I saw all the people's frustrations. I saw also all these user-generated hacks. People were sharing what to do when your video stops. And I just was like, oh my gosh, we need to get on this. And so from that experience, I was able to champion and be one of the people that was like, hey, we need to help drive this. On Android, we need to really, like, this is really a problem. We could set ourselves up for success. And then we can also grow in other markets outside of the U.S. And I remember looking at the first designs, and they were all done by our creators' team, which were iOS users. So even in that situation, I think of that as more of growth internally versus putting something out user-facing to the consumer. It still was a challenge. Like, how do I influence? How do I show that this is not the right path? How do I show that, hey, we're not using material design or best practices, and this is going to hurt us in the long run? Because people that are on these platforms on Android they're used to seeing things in this manner. And we're presenting it to them in another way, and then now we're wondering why they're confused. VICTORIA: Right, right. And you mentioned a couple of different tactics to connect to that consumer voice. What other ways do you try to bring that connection between the end user and the customer, to the engineering teams, to the rest of the organization, to the business? KASHA: I'm very privileged in my organization. We have a really strong user research team as well. As we're doing our experiments, depending on how large or how much time we'll invest into an experiment, we will do a prototype kind of test in a smaller pool, let's say, before we go out to A/B test or have a controlled and variant situation. And sometimes those are the little things that I can take back, a video, or likes, comments, and send it. I don't even need to wait for it to be polished into a presentation or to a Confluence page, or even in Jira. And I can say to my counterpart, "Hey, Ganesh, do you see this? This is what I'm trying to solve for." And then it's like that aha moment. And I can say, and, you know, and engineers are always delightful. And they'll say, "Well, that's only one data point." And I'm like, "Yes, but it is a significant point. And I think if we tested this more, we will see more people are struggling with this." And how can we change that? What are their solutions? And I'm really big on collaboration. Product owns kind of the deliverables and the path and is accountable for the results. But this is a joint effort between design, between data and analytics, and engineering. So early on, I present the problem. This is the why; here's kind of our best path. But what do you think? And that to me and my career has always yielded such a higher result instead of coming from an authoritative or dictatorship of, "Well, this is the way that I've envisioned it. Here's my mocks, here are my wires, and this is why," and then kind of leaving it out to pasture or throwing it over the fence and saying, "Okay, and I need it in a week and a half." And I've been on both sides of different product teams, and different engineering teams work differently. But I have found that when you get people to buy in, to care, and then also give them that consumer value of that person is frustrated; I mean, that's what was the trigger for me when I went into the Facebook groups. I really didn't have the biggest inclination that we were having such a problem on Android. I was an iOS user. I was happy with the product; I could get my workouts in, or I could find what I was looking for. And then, when I did that, I started screenshotting. And then, I started to share this out in the Slack channel. And then there are also ways...now we have so many things where you can have bots that will record the feedback if someone says something in the App Store. That's one way to kind of bring it up to people. And then, if you don't have the funding or have an in-house user research, there's always usertesting.com. That is one way that you can start. Even if you work with design, and you guys are a small team, "Hey, I am so committed to this working. But I really would love to run a test." And then also running a survey after people test or even in product, you know, what did they think about the experience? And if you can't even get that, you can always do thumbs up, thumbs down. [laughs] You can always do is this a four-star experience or a five-star? Would you like to tell us more? I would say that sometimes we have blindness to surveys and to people asking for our opinions because you just want to get to that thing. But that small sampling of people that do respond, I think, is a way for you to kind of, if you're not sure, think about this directionally. I was leaning more towards this, but, wow, this user research came back, and I think people are going to really appreciate having this extra step. Which is something like an oxymoron for me because I'm always thinking about, well, what's the easiest path? Or what's the least path of resistance to getting the user into the experience? And then sometimes you're dropping them into a whole new what we call canvas or experience, and they have no idea what to do. VICTORIA: I liked the way you described your approach or how not to do it was like, just throw things over a wall [laughs] and say, "This is the way." KASHA: [laughs] Yes. VICTORIA: One of my questions that I like to ask people who have design and product backgrounds is just what does product design have to do with DevOps? KASHA: Yeah, so everybody has to have a starting point. And a lot of times, I was definitely a product manager when I was more in the day-to-day, and I see where...in my mind, I like to figure things out on my own. And that way, I like to come with this pretty package of, like, I thought of all the different angles. I thought of the best use case and the worst use case. And as much as that was delightful for me, I noticed that the people in engineering would kind of check a box too, and they'd be like, okay, done. And then we might get to a certain point, and they would be like, "Oh, well..." one time when I was building something for Beachbody, and, again, it was on Android, and it was the search. And I didn't think anything of it. I was just like, oh yeah, top result, then stack rank alphabetically. And then I hadn't thought about new content. And I remember thinking, like, why didn't my engineer say this? Because this is something that we do on iOS. And they said, "Well, you never asked us." [laughs] And I was there, you know, "But you work on the product too." And they're like, "Oh yeah, but you run the show. So this is what you wanted, so this is what I coded." And I just remember feeling like I had egg on my face in a meeting because now we had all this new content coming out, and the search results weren't accommodating for new content. They were accommodating for the existing metadata. And I just remember thinking like, never again. And from a DevOps perspective, I think of there's a lot of change in the industry where we also have product ops people as well. And I think of it as additional layering; it can be good and bad. I think there are positives and advantages. I think there are always growing points. And I think you have to give what is the ultimate goal? Like, if you do have a DevOps team, are they also early in the iteration? Are they part of the brainstorms? That's how I run my small pod. We have design, analytics, and engineering part of our early brainstorms. So instead of us kind of holding our ideas in a huddle, we will kind of tee up, let's say, our top five and say, "Hey, directionally, this is the direction that we're going." And we're framing it to the problems that are most important for us to solve. So we don't turn it into a hackathon where people are trying to build a spaceship in a brainstorm. That's not the goal. The goal is that, hey, we have these particular problems. This is the direction that we want to go in, and this is how we carry it through. And then, what do you guys think? And then we're in a Miro board in real-time. And we put the timer on and then get everybody's opinions. And some product groups I've seen where product team doesn't actually talk to the engineering. They just talk to the technical PM, which then translates out what the actual specs and requirements are. I haven't been part of that type of org yet in my career. I have been traditionally where it's a one-to-one ratio where if there's a product manager, there's going to be a data and analytics analyst assigned to them. There's going to be an engineer assigned to them. There's also going to be a designer. And that's been my sweet spot. And I've had a lot of gains and tractions for that. In my mind, ideas can come from anywhere. It doesn't have to start with product, but product is going to be the leader. And I don't want to think of it as a gatekeeping situation. But we're the ones that are going to drive it through with our own cross-functional teams as a partnership. So I hope that answers the question about DevOps; I'm not sure. Sometimes I can get into a little bit of a tangent [laughs] and start talking about my own experience. VICTORIA: I love talking about it because some product, people will say nothing. [laughter] KASHA: Oh really? VICTORIA: And I'm like, no, you're supposed to talk to people. Bring everybody in, and that's the whole philosophy of it. And I like that you mentioned product ops and design ops as well, thinking about how you can automate the process of what you're doing or how the information flows across your team. I'm sure with your designs and end product, and everything is more on the product ops side. KASHA: And I think having an ops, you know, it does have like one central point of contact. So if you want to think about alleviating steps, or reducing the white noise, or the friction that you may have in the organization, you have one kind of point of contact. And that person will own it, and they'll almost become a mini pod and then distribute the information, which is definitely like a gain and a positive. I just wonder on the reverse side, though, how does that engineer or how does that designer then surface, "Hey, what about this?" Or "I think this is a better way," or "Actually, we tested this two years ago, and the results weren't great." And so that's the only thing where how does that two way-communication go back and forth when you have ops? I think ops definitely gives more structure. You're definitely in a high performance. Everybody knows what their marching orders are. We know who's on first. And we also know from an accountability and an escalation process where all these pieces are working together. So I can see the benefits to it. I'm not opposed to it. I just want to make sure that the people that are actually building the product also have time to have a say and have an opinion. And whether that helps change me, I want to at least hear the feedback first. And then as a product leader and as a product manager, it's up to that person to make the decision of, like, okay, you know what? I've thought about this looking at the data, or this person raised a really significant point that I hadn't considered. I do think that we need to think about this and focus. That's the advantage for me, I feel like, of having that bottoms-up approach to development and then running your teams. VICTORIA: I think that makes sense. And you're right; I think it can be successful. But I think there's a good warning there about...and people do this with DevOps teams as well where they create a DevOps team and then put them in a silo, right? [laughs] KASHA: Yeah. VICTORIA: And that's kind of missing the point about the whole thing. It's like we want to power these people. KASHA: Yeah, everything new is old again. I remember when I didn't even talk to an engineer. And I remember...and this was early in my product when I had the product specialist. I would be at my cube writing requirements. I thought they were great. And then we switched to an agile format, and I remember going into a meeting thinking, okay, we're just going to go over the stuff that's next. And they had all these questions for me, and it terrified me. [laughter] Because it made me think, like, maybe I don't know what I'm talking about or, yeah, I didn't think about the error messaging. Oh, okay, yeah, what happens if someone loses internet connection during that session and they've started the process? Oh, I don't know. What should happen? [laughs] And so there were all these kinds of questions. But before, I would just process my requirements, put it in a Jira ticket. And then you might get some Jira comments, but there wasn't this back-and-forth in real-time. And then, I had to really step up and write my requirements better. Because at that point, I had just had like, oh, this happens in check one. This happens at step two. And then step three, the end. That was my own kind of naive perspective at the time when I was writing requirements. And I didn't know that the engineers had all these questions because we had that layer of...they didn't call it a DevOps person. I think they called it, you know, an engineering lead where he would just take the tickets, and then they were doing their own sub tickets to make it make sense. And so then, when we started to transition into more of an agile and rating things and giving value to them, I really had to change. And it helped me grow. And it was definitely uncomfortable. But it definitely pushed me into thinking, okay, someone's reading this. They're an engineer. They're not thinking about this. How can I get as clear as possible but also still think about the consumer or the persona that I'm thinking about that is trying to solve this problem? VICTORIA: That makes sense. It reminds me of one of my first jobs actually was in Washington, D.C., which you went to undergrad there. I would actually pass by Howard University on the bus every day to work. [laughs] KASHA: Oh wow. [laughs] VICTORIA: I wonder, are you familiar with BisonHacks and their annual hackathon that they have there? I know you're from the film department. But the computer science does a hackathon there every year. KASHA: I am not familiar with that specific one. But I participated; I mean, we have some at Adobe. We have our regular hackathons internally. But I would love to hear more about the one that you're describing. It sounds pretty fascinating. Do they have an ultimate goal? Are they building from an existing product, or is this something new? VICTORIA: I think it's something new. So I believe that they come together to create solutions to help improve the livelihood of the DMV community. KASHA: Oh wow. VICTORIA: So I think every year they make it a different purpose. KASHA: Okay, I got it. VICTORIA: But they interact with students and do different projects. And it's a super fun organization. So, yeah, I'll send you a link. We'll share it in the show notes as well. [laughs] KASHA: Yeah. I love it. I love it. This podcast I'm already growing [laughter] in the short time we've talked, so I love that. VICTORIA: And we're coming to the end of our time here. I have one final question before I ask you if you have any other final takeaways. [laughs] But what are you most excited about on the roadmap for Adobe Express that you have coming? KASHA: Well, I'm excited...gosh, what can I share? [laughs] I'm like, I see legal tapping me on the shoulder. [laughs] I'm excited that we are making so many improvements to really simplify the experience and that we're also diversifying our use cases of the types of people that will be coming to the platform. So when I say that, let's say we've been focused on what we call the social creator, or the small business owner, or hustler, I really want to lean more into that and expand that. We also have more of what we call our pro users coming to Adobe Express. So if you think of someone that's a professional graphic designer that may need something where they need to have a collaborator, we're enhancing that process. And then also, I'm most excited coming into 2023 is that Adobe's Express is going to be what we think of as the doorway to all the Adobe ecosystem. So whether you start with Express on a small scale and building out a template, you can really grow with this product. And whether you use it for your everyday either social needs or even in your everyday work or marketing, you can start to have people come to the platform and collaborate on it. We have so many exciting things that it's interesting because my team is focused on activation and repeat engagement, and how do those two worlds kind of marry each other? Getting the user in from having them on a first great day one experience and then carrying them through for when they return. And one thing that I'm excited for is that we've had this recent pivot, and this came out of user research. We don't have to wait for the user to leave the platform to remind them of all the great things that we can do. And I'm really excited about having machine learning capabilities on the platform; where, if your next step is this, what's the next best available action? And then how does that help enhance not only your experience of the product but then also starting to plant those seeds of you can schedule this in advance or creating this type of content once a week will drive exponentially your growth on your platform? And that, to me, is making us stronger and really looking at it not only from I want the consumer to do these series of high-value actions, but I really want to see them grow on their own personal platform level. And here's a tool that can help you do everything that you need to. And whether you're someone that posts once a week, or whether you're someone in an office that is collaborating for a marketing meeting, or if you're a professional that has something that, you know, I just really want to use a template. I have an aesthetic. I know how to use Photoshop. I know how to use Illustrator. But let me put this in Express. I can send it to the client. They can make comments, and then they can also feel like they're part of the creative process. That makes me happy because I was this fine arts major. It feels like 100 years ago. [laughs] And I remember thinking like, oh wow, I love these products. They're expensive, or saving up for them. And then now there are so many different plans. There are so many different ways. And I would have loved an opportunity to have a free product that allowed me to just start to understand my own type of style and capabilities without having this feeling that I have to be a designer and that everything has to be perfect. So I'm excited for that. We have so much growth planned, new, exciting ways on the platform. And, also, you'll see some new looks. I can't share too much more than that. [laughter] So I hope the little bit of tidbit doesn't get me in trouble. But sometimes you got to break some rules. You got to break some eggs to make an omelet. [laughter] VICTORIA: Any other final thoughts for our listeners today? KASHA: I would love for, you know, to give me feedback. I always love doing these. I'm active on LinkedIn. You can find me at Kasha Stewart. Shoot me a note. I get a healthy amount of mail, but I promise I will reply back to you if you have questions and what your biggest challenges are. Check out Adobe Express. It's free, by the way. And continue to, you know; I just remember being this, like, early in my career and having these questions, and at different points, I was afraid to ask questions because I was like, I don't want to sound silly. Or maybe I'm not understanding that, or, you know, maybe I should have been a CS major. And I say to people now, like, you have to have a starting point. You never know what is next on the horizon. Or that everybody had been thinking about that and they were just waiting for the person to raise their hand. That's one of the things that I always want to encourage people and to check out these products, communities. And thank you to this podcast for allowing me to share my journey and my story. It's always a pleasure. I learned something, and I'm like, oh yeah, I did actually do that. But that was a while ago that; I might forget. So it's good. It's like having my own little mini retro. So I thank you for inviting me here and to, you know, share my journey. VICTORIA: Well, thank you. That's a very powerful message, and I appreciate you coming on today to share it with us. You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find me on Twitter @victori_ousg. This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. Thank you for listening. We'll see you next time. ANNOUNCER: This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot, your expert strategy, design, development, and product management partner. We bring digital products from idea to success and teach you how because we care. Learn more at thoughtbot.com. Special Guest: Kasha Stewart.
Lauren Makler is Co-Founder, and CEO of Cofertility, a human-first fertility ecosystem rewriting the egg freezing and egg donation experience. Victoria talks to Lauren about tackling the access issues around egg freezing and donation and hoping to bring down the cost, leaving a company like Uber and starting her own business, and figuring out a go-to-market approach and what that strategy should look like. Cofertility (https://www.cofertility.com/) Follow Cofertility on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/cofertility/) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/cofertility). Follow Lauren Makler on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/laurenmakler/), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/laurenmakler/), or Twitter (https://twitter.com/laurenmakler). Follow thoughtbot on Twitter (https://twitter.com/thoughtbot) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/150727/). Become a Sponsor (https://thoughtbot.com/sponsorship) of Giant Robots! Transcript: VICTORIA: This is The Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido. And with me today is Lauren Makler, Co-Founder, and CEO of Cofertility, a human-first fertility ecosystem rewriting the egg freezing and egg donation experience. Lauren, thank you for joining me. LAUREN: Thanks for having me. I'm so excited for this. VICTORIA: Me too. I want to hear all about Cofertility. Can you tell me a little bit more about the platform that you built? LAUREN: Absolutely. Cofertility is really like you said; we're a fertility ecosystem. And at our core, we're enabling women to freeze their eggs for free when they donate half of the eggs retrieved to a family that can't otherwise conceive, providing support and education for everyone involved along the way. You know, we're serving two very different audiences. One side of our business, our Freeze by Co, is targeted at women between the ages of 21 and 40 who might be interested in preserving their fertility. We know that really the best time to freeze your eggs, unfortunately, is when you can least afford it. And so we've really taken on this access issue and hoping to bring down the cost on that front. And then our Family by Co business is for intended parents who need the help of an egg donor to have a child, so that could be anyone from people who struggle with infertility, or gay dads, cancer survivors, et cetera. There are a lot of people that really rely on third-party reproduction to have a family, and we think it's time to really move that industry forward, and we're doing that in a lot of ways. So that's at a high level; happy to dig in more on any part of that. But we launched in October, and things have been going well ever since. VICTORIA: Wonderful. Yeah, I want to ask you more about...you mentioned the problem that you identified with when people who are most ready to freeze their eggs probably can't afford it. [laughs] But how did you really identify that problem and think I should start a company around this? LAUREN: Yeah, so it's a two-part problem. I think we see a big problem on the egg-freezing side, which is truly cost. I think we know that women are starting families later than ever. For the first time in U.S. history, the average age of women giving birth now is 30, which is the highest on record. And the experimental label from egg freezing was removed in 2012, and so it's become much more mainstream for women to do it. However, the cost to do it in the U.S. is between; I want to say, $12,000-20,000 to do it, plus yearly storage fees. And there are some women who have access to doing it through their large employer, but for the majority of people, that's just not the case. And so, for women who are really trying to prioritize their career or their education or maybe haven't found a partner yet, egg freezing can be a great option. And certainly, it's not an insurance policy by any means, and it's not a guarantee. But studies show that if you experience infertility later in life and you did freeze your eggs, you're much more likely to have a child than not. And so we see it as a great backup option. But again, cost is just truly a huge problem. And then, on the egg donation side, there are tons of families that rely on egg donation to have a baby. And I'm someone...I should mention, too, personally, years ago...I'll make a very long story very short here. Years ago, I was diagnosed with an incredibly rare abdominal disease that put into question my ability to have a biological child someday. And so, I started to look into what my options might be, and egg donation came up. And when I looked at what was happening in the space, I just couldn't believe how antiquated it was. And truly, for lack of a better word, how icky it felt. It seemed really transactional and impersonal for everyone involved. And what I realized was that it was really rooted in the stigma around egg donation that comes from cash compensation for donors. So traditionally, a donor is paid anywhere from $8,000 to $100,000 for her eggs, depending on, unfortunately, her pedigree or sometimes her heritage. Something that might be, you know, a donor that's harder to find might require more compensation the way it's done today. And so we actually saw that many women who are interested in helping another family grow through egg donation can actually be off-put by this idea of cash for their eggs. It's like, ooh, am I selling my eggs, or how do I feel about that? And it actually turns people off when it might otherwise have been something they wanted to explore. It also, I think, leaves intended parents without options that they need and really hurts the LGBTQ community that relies on egg donation for family planning. So there's a lot there. And we felt that that was something that if we remove cash compensation, perhaps it's something that really opens up the pie of women that are open to and interested in egg donation. And it also might really honor the donor-conceived person on the end of it more than what's happening today. Studies have come out that show that donor-conceived adults find the exchange of money for donor eggs to be wrong and that they can actually find it disturbing that money was exchanged for their own conception. So our model takes out cash compensation and instead gives women something that they're excited about, which is preserving their own fertility as well and really sets up everyone involved for success. VICTORIA: Yeah. I saw that in your literature, you bring this human-centered design to how you built the platform, which I think speaks to a little bit of what you're describing there. And do you think that being a woman founder yourself allows you to relate and empathize with women who have this unique perspective or a different perspective on how egg donation should work? LAUREN: Yes, egg donation and egg freezing, honestly. I think I mentioned a little bit about my own experience. Both of my two co-founders have also really, really been through it when it comes to their journeys to parenthood; both of them have been through IVF. And one of them says, you know, her biggest regret in life is that she didn't freeze her eggs at 25. And now, instead of just sitting in that, she's building a company to help other women not have that same regret. So building the company we wished existed when we were younger lets us build something that truly is empathetic and human-centered. And it's unfortunate that so much of healthcare is built and designed by people who, while maybe they have good intentions, they're not building from a place of experience, and I think reproductive health is one of those. I think women need to be involved in designing those solutions, and too often, they're not. VICTORIA: Right. Yes. That makes a lot of sense to me. And I want to talk more about you and your three co-founders and how quickly all this has come together. So, how did you know that your team of co-founders was the right team that these are the people you wanted to start this with? LAUREN: Yeah, it's an interesting question on so many fronts. I think there are people who spend a really long time, like co-founder dating, and use frameworks for evaluating co-founders, and the truth of it for us is that it all happened very quickly. Halle, who is the person who connected the three of us, she is one of my co-founders, and she's just someone I had long admired in digital health and women's health. And there was a day where...we peripherally knew each other. And she slid into my DMs on Instagram. Like, you never know where a great contact may come from. And she asked me what I was up to, what I was working on, and the rest is history. I told her I had just left...I spent eight and a half years at Uber and launched new markets of Uber across the East Coast and then started a business line at Uber called Uber Health, and Halle had always followed my trajectory there. And when she reached out to me, it was like, [gasps] what's it going to be about? And when it ended up that she had an idea centered around egg freezing and egg donation, given the experience I had had with my own fertility journey, it just felt like how could this not be the right thing for me to go build? So I would say gut instinct is really what it comes down to. Halle and Arielle, our third co-founder, had worked together a bit in their past lives. Halle built a company called Natalist, which is fertility, pregnancy tests, ovulation kits, and prenatal vitamins, things like that. And Arielle had actually built the first iteration of Cofertility, which was a fertility content site. And they had had that rapport already, and so that was something that I valued quite a bit. Really talking to some references and getting opinions of people you trust, but your gut, more than anything, will help you answer that question. VICTORIA: Right. And sounds like there's that shared experience and mutual respect, which goes a long way. [laughs] LAUREN: Yeah, that and also a shared vision. Like, if you're aligned with someone in the first month or so of talking about an idea, and when it goes from a little kernel to snowballing and becoming something real, I think it's a good signal. But if you're butting heads and disagreeing in that first really crucial time, it's probably a good idea to go in a different direction. VICTORIA: Yeah. And thinking along those lines, were there decisions that were really easy to make, and what were those? And the second part of the question is what decisions were kind of challenging to make, and what made those decisions challenging? LAUREN: It's funny. Halle was just like, "This idea is going to work, and I know it. Let's do it." I am someone who likes to see evidence before making a decision. And so I suggested in those first two weeks, like, let's get a survey together. Let's ask women, "Hey, would you actually be interested in egg donation if it meant that you got to keep half of the eggs for yourself and that there was no cash compensation involved?" So we asked a few influencers on Instagram to put out our Typeform, and within, like, I don't know, 24 hours, we had over 700 responses. VICTORIA: Wow. LAUREN: And it was a very resounding like, yes, this is something women were interested in. That gave me all the conviction I needed to go at this full force. And so I think having that proof point not only was valuable to help me get there, but it also helped investors get on board. I think some of the easy decisions were like there were certain investors that after meeting I just knew like, yes, this is someone I want to be working with over the next few years. This is someone who sees the same vision that we see. And there were a few conversations with other potential investors where I was like, you know what? That's not who I want to work with. Again, it's like, I'm very big on my instincts as it relates to people and trusting that. VICTORIA: Right. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And congratulations on raising your seed funding. LAUREN: Thank you. VICTORIA: And was that a stressful process? How did you feel after that happened? LAUREN: Parts of it were stressful, for sure. I think the fact that I had never done it before was stressful. I like to call myself...before this, I was an intrapreneur. I pitched the idea of Uber Health to Uber executive leadership with a deck that was very similar to what you would pitch external investors with in a scenario like this. So I had gone through a little bit of that but never before had I done anything quite like this. And so I felt very lucky to have Halle by my side through that process because it wasn't her first rodeo. But I would say trusting yourself and trusting that you can figure this out. It seems so much more intimidating than it needs to be. No one is expecting you to fully know how all of this stuff works. It's very figureoutable. VICTORIA: And what obstacles did you face in the last year that you've been working on this? LAUREN: The biggest obstacle, I would say, honestly came down to having the time to both get a company off the ground...and I like to imagine an aeroplane. You have to figure out what kind of plane you're building; then you have to find all the parts, then you have to build the plane. And then the goal upon launch, I can imagine it when I close my eyes. It is like getting the plane off the ground. And with a startup, like you can imagine, there's always a bit of building the plane while you're flying it. But doing all of that over the last year, plus finding the right people to hire, is two full-time jobs. You're sourcing incredible candidates. You're meeting with them. You're pitching them the business. But you also need to evaluate whether or not they're as great as their resume makes them seem. Then you have to convince them to join your seed-stage startup, then check their references, and then put together their offer package, and then do all of their paperwork. And it was like all of these things that I took for granted at Uber for so long of having recruiters, and having an HR team, [laughs] and all of those things that truly it is a full-time job plus building a company. So that, for me, was the hardest. And hiring just at that early stage is so, so important because you add one person, and that's like such a huge percentage of your team. So every hire has to be a great one, but you also can't wait too long to hire because then you miss your goals. VICTORIA: Right. Yes. And there's lots of uncertainty going on in the world as well. I'm sure that makes hiring extra exciting. LAUREN: Yes. I mean, exciting and also scary. I think exciting from the fact that there's great talent that's looking in a way that wasn't necessarily the case six months ago, but scary in that you have to...one of my biggest or things that keeps me up at night is like, what's the right timing to bring on new people so that your business scales appropriately but not too soon that you have people waiting around for the work to come? VICTORIA: Right, yes. And speaking of scary, I can imagine the choice to leave a company like Uber and go and start your own business was thrilling. [laughs] Can you tell me more about how that happened, or what was the order of operations there? LAUREN: I'll go back to my personal story a little bit. So I ended up with this disease that I had been diagnosed with. It was so rare and so not a lot of data on this disease that I decided it was...or these doctors were like, "You know what? Do you have a sister by any chance?" I was like, "What do you mean?" They were like, "You know, it's too risky for you to freeze your eggs just because we don't have any data on your disease. But if you have your sister freeze her eggs and donate them to you, you have them as a backup should you need them." So my incredible sister did that. And I learned a lot about the process of donation even through that experience. And went on to have three surgeries and ultimately was able to conceive without using my sister's eggs which was crazy and exciting and definitely gave my doctors a shock, which was great. And when I had my daughter, it was like this light bulb went off of, like, I have to build something in reproductive health. If I'm spending my time building something, I want it to be spent giving people who want to have a child this amazing gift that I've been given. And it was like an immediate amount of clarity. And so, after my maternity leave, I gave notice at Uber without a plan. I did not have a business idea. I did not have a job lined up. I was fortunate enough to be able to do that. But I almost think releasing myself of that is what gave me the freedom to think about other things. And it was within a day that Halle sent me that DM on Instagram without knowing I had given notice. So the universe works in mysterious ways. VICTORIA: That's wonderful and so exciting and that you just had a baby and then to be in a position where you could start a company and almost feel like I don't have enough to do; [laughter] I want to start a new company too. [laughs] LAUREN: I know. I ended up...the day we pitched our lead investors was my daughter's six-month birthday. VICTORIA: That's amazing. MID-ROLL AD: Are your engineers spending too much time on DevOps and maintenance issues when you need them on new features? We know maintaining your own servers can be costly and that it's easy for spending creep to sneak in when your team isn't looking. By delegating server management, maintenance, and security to thoughtbot and our network of service partners, you can get 24x7 support from our team of experts, all for less than the cost of one in-house engineer. Save time and money with our DevOps and Maintenance service. Find out more at: tbot.io/devops. VICTORIA: How do you balance that, like, those needs of being a mom and maybe being sleep deprived, but also starting this incredibly important business that you're passionate about? LAUREN: I mean, I'm very lucky that I have an amazing husband and sort of partner in all of this. We both are very involved in each other's work, and I highly recommend that if that's something you're open to. I think it gives you an outlet and someone to be invested in it with you but also more to talk about with your partner. [laughs] But other than that, too, I think having boundaries. So I've been really, really specific with myself and with my team about what windows of time I'm with my daughter, and I'm meticulous about it. If that means on certain days, I wake up before she does so that I can get some work done so that I have two hours with her first thing in the morning, and then I'm off between the hours of 4:00 to 7:00 so that I can spend time with her. If that means getting back online at night, I'm down to do that. I just won't compromise the time with her. And my team has been really respectful and honoring of that. And in turn, I really encourage everyone on my team to have a life outside work, whether that's with their children or their pets, or having physical activity, or things like that in their life. I think it's so important that we're not entirely defined by our startups. I think that's how people burn out really quickly. And it's like 2023, right? We don't need to be in this hustle culture where 100% of our time is focused on building our company. It's just not sustainable. VICTORIA: Right. I like that you mentioned sustainability. And that's been a recurring theme I've seen where, yeah, the hustle culture leads to burnout. It isn't sustainable. So are there other cultural or values that you impart onto your team, this new team, that you're standing up to create that sustainability in that innovation that you want? LAUREN: Yeah. I think one thing we've implemented...I would highly recommend actually Matt Mochary's CEO Curriculum. You can find it by Googling it, or I can share the link with you. And within his curriculum, he has something called The Magic Questions. And the magic questions it's like five or six questions where you ask everyone on your team, like, how would they rate their life at work? How would they rate working with the team? How's their personal life going? Like, you know, questions that you can quickly get to the root of something. But then, aside from giving a rating for each of those questions, it asks like, "How would you take it to the next level?" And what I think implementing these questions has done is it's like each time we do it, it gives the leadership team something to act on of like, "Hey, I noticed a theme amongst the employees with this set of magic questions. Like, here are some things we can address to improve that for everyone." And then there are also opportunities with each individual to say, "Hey, manager of this person, so and so called out that they're really struggling with prioritization this month, or they're really struggling with being split on these two projects. How can we help relieve that, or how can we dig in with that person so that the next time we ask these questions, that's not still an issue and that we've been able to take swift action to help improve that?" I think that really helps to just stay close to what people are feeling and thinking. And it also gives people, I think, more self-awareness of how they're doing and what they can be intentional about and address for themselves as well. VICTORIA: I like that. I'll have to look up that book and share it in our show notes as well and -- LAUREN: It's actually even all online. It's like a Google Doc you can look at. VICTORIA: That's awesome. LAUREN: And there's also a book called The Great CEO Within by Matt Mochary. But I love the book and the Google Doc version. VICTORIA: That's awesome. And it sounds like you really pulled everything together so fast. [laughs] I'm curious about your background if you feel like there were...you mentioned that you pitched inwardly to Uber. But what else about your background kind of lends you to this leadership-founder skill set? LAUREN: I mean, I joined Uber in 2013 when we had, I think, fewer than 200 employees, and we were in about 12 cities. So I very much knew startup life. And I understood this idea of sort of building the plane while you're flying it and saw that. And so I think that certainly has contributed to this. It's important when you're a founder to surround yourself with other founders and to have people that you can tap into at any point. I'm in a few different Slack groups with different founders; some are healthcare founders, some women founders, some through the VCs that we've worked with where it's really easy to say, "Hey, which payroll tool are you using?" Or "Hey, like, how do I measure employee NPS?" Or "What tools are you using for this or that?" And if you can tap into other founders, you really can move a lot faster. You don't have to write your entire employee handbook from scratch because you can borrow from other people. I think that's one of the best hacks that I would recommend. And then some of these books that I found that really do, you know, within that Matt Mochary book, it's like, here's a way to make candidate offers. Obviously, the book isn't doing the work for you, but it certainly is helping to give you a framework. And then the other piece is like, aside from your own team, I think bringing in some advisors who you trust and can go to for certain things. So two of our advisors are people I worked incredibly closely with at Uber and would trust with my life and so why not trust them with my company? So bringing them into the mix has been a real relief. And then just sort of about your community. I think it takes a village to raise...I think, actually, I would compare launching a company to having a baby. So if having a baby takes a village, so does launching a company. VICTORIA: Right. Or no founder is an island. [laughs] LAUREN: Yeah, exactly. VICTORIA: There's like a community, a whole group around that. I've heard, even in the episodes I've recorded, that it's a common theme among successful founders, which is heartwarming and understandable. So last question about just how it all got started. But if you could travel back in time to when you first decided you wanted to go after this opportunity, what advice would you give yourself now that you have all your present knowledge? LAUREN: I say this even to our intended parents who are grappling with this decision of using an egg donor to have a baby: remain steadfast on the vision or the end goal and be flexible on the how. So if you're an intended parent, it's like, remain flexible, like, steadfast on this idea that you want to become a parent, but be flexible on the how. With a company, I think stay true to what that ultimate vision is. So, for us, it's like help more people have babies on their own timeline and be flexible on the how, so exactly what our business model was, or exactly what our go-to-market approach would be, or exactly which product we were going to use to get there. I wish I had been a little bit more open to it being a winding road than I realized I needed to be at the beginning. So now I know that, and I'm open to any possibility as long as it gets us to the same place. VICTORIA: Right, gotcha. Yeah, well, let me ask you then about your go-to-market strategy since you mentioned it. What was unique in your strategy there, especially to target the specific consumers that you want to with this app? LAUREN: So I did follow a bit of an Uber approach, which is this idea of a soft launch. And the reason for that...so basically what we did was for the Freeze by Co side of our business, so for women who are interested in freezing, they have the option to join our split program where they donate half to intended parents and do it for free. Or they can join our Keep Program, where they freeze their eggs but keep 100% of the eggs for themselves. And we help do that along the way. However, basically, we couldn't launch Family by Co to help people find donors until we had donors. So it made sense to launch the Freeze by Co side of our business first. And I wanted the ability to market to them when we didn't have the eyes of the whole industry on us, or we didn't have tons and tons of consumers reading our press or things like that just yet. And so by soft launching with a quick beta Squarespace page, we were able to test our hypothesis, test our messaging, test our funnel, test our experience before really putting a ton of marketing spend behind it or having a ton of visibility into what we were doing. And I'm so, so grateful we did that. It led us, like, we went through probably five different versions of our funnel before we got to our public launch, and our soft launch really afforded us the opportunity to do that. So by the time we turned on the Family by Co side of our business, we already had over 50 donors on day one for them because we had already gotten these women through the funnel. VICTORIA: I love that. And that's something we talk a lot about with founders at thoughtbot is that idea of validating your product, and you talked about it with your Instagram poll that you did with influencers. And the way you're talking about your go-to-market strategy is that you wanted to make sure that even though you knew this is what you wanted to do, that you had the right approach and that you could create something that consumers actually wanted to buy and had trust in. LAUREN: Mm-hmm, totally. VICTORIA: You launched in October 2022. Are there any results post-launch that surprised you? LAUREN: I feel so grateful that our launch truly exceeded my expectations. So the interest from women in our programs has been overwhelming, like overwhelming in a good way. And then intended parents are thrilled about it. So we are making matches every day of these intended parents and these donors. And every time we make a match, I'm like, oh my God, it feels like Christmas morning. You're helping people find their path towards growing their family, and there's nothing that feels better than that. I don't think that feeling is ever going to go away, so I'm thrilled about it. But it doesn't mean that it's not hard. I think back to that analogy of like having a baby, you know, you launch this company. You hope it's received. You count ten fingers, ten toes, hope that it's received, hope that it's received. It is, but then you have the demand, and you have inbound on partnership opportunities, and you have managing the demand and handling the leads and things like that. And it's like so much more than you expect. It's like the same feeling of having a newborn of, like, [gasps] how are we going to do all this? Am I going to stay up all night to manage this? Or how do we handle what we're seeing? And so it's a lot, and figuring out what this new normal is is something that my team and I are working through every day. VICTORIA: What's wonderful is that the surprise feels even better than you thought it would. [laughs] LAUREN: Yes. VICTORIA: Wonderful. For myself, as I'm in my 30s and I'm married and, you know, I'm not thinking it about at some point in the future. But what advice do you think you want women to think about regarding their fertility at any age, like if you could talk to consumers directly like you are now? [laughs] LAUREN: Totally. Just that it's never too soon to ask those questions. And the information you need and should want is like inside your body but ready to be shared with you. So by having a consult with a fertility clinic, and that's something my team could help you with, you can learn about your prospects for having a baby and understanding how fertile you are. And just because, you know, they say, "Oh, as long as you're under a certain age, you shouldn't have a problem," doesn't mean that that's the case. One of my co-founders was 28 when she started trying to conceive and was completely blindsided that this was going to be a real struggle for her, and that breaks my heart. It doesn't need to be like that. If we're more proactive and we start asking these questions younger, then we can actually do something about it. So your fertility is really about your egg quantity and your egg quality, and both of those things are things that can be tested and measured. And I think I'm someone who loves data. And having that data, I think, can help enable you to make decisions about how you can best move forward, and for some, it might mean having a baby soon. For others, it might mean freezing your eggs. For others, it might be a waiting scenario. But that's something that you can make a more informed decision about if you have that data. VICTORIA: That makes a lot of sense. And I'll be sharing this episode with all of my friends and everything on Instagram as well. LAUREN: [laughs] VICTORIA: Great information to put out there. And what's on the horizon for you? What are the big challenges that you see coming up for Cofertility in the next months or year? LAUREN: I think really like scale is what we're focused on. So we've started making matches; it feels great. I want us to be prepared to do those at scale. We are seeing no slowdown in terms of people who are interested in this. And so, making sure that our team is ready and able to handle that demand is my absolute top priority. So I think scale is top of mind. I think making sure we're optimizing our experience for that is really important. So how do we make sure that everyone is having a magical, smooth experience, both through our digital experience but also if they're on the phone with someone from our team or if they're reading our materials at the fertility clinic? Like, how do we ensure that that's a great experience all around? VICTORIA: Right, that makes sense. And right now, is Cofertility specific to a certain location, or is it nationwide? LAUREN: Nationwide throughout the U.S. VICTORIA: Wonderful. And you yourself are based in California, right? LAUREN: Yes, I'm based in Los Angeles. And our team is fully remote, which has been a really exciting thing to do. We're in different time zones and have a lot of opportunity to visit people in different cities, which is nice. VICTORIA: Oh, that's great, yeah. How do you help build that culture remotely with a brand-new team? LAUREN: So, for us, I think we're very intentional about having team off sites at least twice a year. We also get together for different things like planning meetings or conferences that are really relevant to us. But I think part of it, too, is really around different touchpoints throughout the day. And we have a daily stand-up. We also are clear about which hours everyone sort of overlaps based on their time zones and making sure that people are available during those windows and then giving everyone flexibility otherwise in terms of when it makes the most sense to do their work, not being too prescriptive. And really, again, encouraging people to have a life outside work, I think, makes it so that we get the best out of our team. VICTORIA: Right, that makes a lot of sense. Yeah, we've got similar...at thoughtbot, we have in-person meetups once or twice a year and then go to different conferences and things together. And I think some people do miss a little bit of the office experience, but for the most part, everyone is happy to put it that way. [laughs] LAUREN: Yeah, it's definitely...I think for sure it has its pros and cons. I think what I love about it is that we're not limited with talent. Our team truly, like, [laughs] we have people...we have someone in Oakland, someone in Miami, someone in Charleston, someone in Boston, someone in New York City. Like, the fact that we're not limited because of geography feels great. And I admittedly really love the ability to see my daughter throughout the day and feel like I don't have to stress over how much time I'm spending commuting. So I can't see myself ever going back. VICTORIA: That's right, and LA is certainly a place to have a long commute. [laughter] And have you gotten any benefit out of local networking and community around Los Angeles or Southern California? LAUREN: Yes, absolutely. Even this Friday night, I'm going to a female founder dinner. I have something coming up in a couple of weeks with this group of women's health founders that I really love. It's so, so valuable to have people in your network that are both local and get the life that you're living while you're doing it. I think having people understand why your life is the way it is while you're building a company is really quite nice. So there are founder communities everywhere but seeking those out early is definitely helpful. VICTORIA: And then if you have a remote team, then each team member can have that local community, so you're 10x-ing. [laughs] LAUREN: Completely. VICTORIA: Yeah, wonderful. Is there anything else, anything that you think I should have asked you that I haven't asked yet? LAUREN: No. I think one thing I would encourage is when you're trying to figure out your go-to-market approach, what the strategy is going to be. I'm a big fan of getting everything really in slides. Get it in slides and bring in some people you trust. Talk to your advisors, talk to your investors, talk to your co-founders or your team and say, "Hey, these are the three ways this could go. Here are pros and cons of each one," and making a decision that way. I think when we try to do it where it's like all in someone's head, and you're not getting it out on paper with pros and cons, it can feel like a really, really hard decision. But when you see things on paper, and you're able to get the opinion of people you trust, everything is able to come to fruition much more quickly, and you can get to a decision faster. VICTORIA: Right. So you're probably really buzzing with ideas early on and finding ways to communicate those and get it so that you can practice talking about it to somebody else. Makes sense. LAUREN: Yeah. It's like, how do you socialize it? That's a great way to do it. VICTORIA: Yeah, well, wonderful. This has been a really enjoyable conversation. I appreciate you coming on the show so much, and thank you for sharing all about Cofertility with us. Any other final takeaways for our listeners? LAUREN: Thanks so much for having me. If you're interested at all in what we're doing or it would be helpful to connect, our website is cofertility.com. You can find me on Instagram at @laurenmakler, L-A-U-R-E-N-M-A-K-L-E-R. Happy to chat really about anything as it relates to building a company, or your fertility, or just questions you have in general. I would love to chat. VICTORIA: Thank you so much. And you can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at email@example.com. And you can find me on Twitter @victori_ousg. This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. Thank you for listening, and see you next time. ANNOUNCER: This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot, your expert strategy, design, development, and product management partner. We bring digital products from idea to success and teach you how because we care. Learn more at thoughtbot.com.
Shaila Sahai is the Founder of We Take Part, an investment crowdfunding platform that connects eco-conscious investors and green tech entrepreneurs throughout Europe, including European overseas territories. Victoria talks to Shaila about focusing on clean tech and climate tech solutions exclusively, goals of contributing to the acceleration of the process of decarbonization, and how the idea of a crowd-investing platform that targets only green tech is welcome from the fintech ecosystem and potential investors. Follow We Take Part on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/wetakepart/). Follow Shaila Sahai on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/shailasahai/). Follow thoughtbot on Twitter (https://twitter.com/thoughtbot) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/150727/). Become a Sponsor (https://thoughtbot.com/sponsorship) of Giant Robots! Transcript: VICTORIA: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido. And with me today is Shaila Sahai, Founder of We Take Part, an investment crowdfunding platform that connects eco-conscious investors and green tech entrepreneurs throughout Europe, including European overseas territories. Shaila, thank you for joining me. SHAILA: Thank you for having me. VICTORIA: So, can you start off just telling me a little bit more about We Take Part? SHAILA: We Take part is a crowdinvesting platform based in France. We will be connecting eco-conscious investors, who could be individuals but also institutions, with startups from the green tech ecosystem in France and in Europe. We're going to use projects such as equities. It could be also bonds, green bonds. So basically, it will be investing in a company in exchange of shares in those startups. VICTORIA: Great. And you have a background in financial services. What led you to get the idea to start this platform? SHAILA: Yes. So I come from the financial services world professionally, so I worked in equity services. So basically, my job was to make sure that trades were correctly made and settled in the stock exchange markets. Then I also went to work in the financial management corporate side in banking. I had, after some years, a global vision of finance management that led me to after some time, I quit my job and started working for myself as a financial management consultant. So basically, it was financial consulting. And after some time, I specialized in working with small companies and startups, helping them in financial optimization and also in financial development strategies. And I wanted to do more for those companies after some time, so more than consulting and helping them internally. I wanted to develop tools for them to find more financing solutions than just going to a bank asking for a loan, for example. Most of the time, I could see them feeling blocked when they could not, for example, get a loan from the bank. That led me to develop a crowdfunding solution for them to help them. Also, the fact that we chose to target only green tech startups comes from a personal conviction of mine that we should really focus on and prioritize climate change solutions right now. And we should, as a society but also in the economy, focus on sustainable solutions to help and contribute actively to the decarbonization of the economy in general. VICTORIA: That makes a lot of sense. And can you give me an example of a type of green tech that is being crowdfunded, or you want to be crowdfunded on this platform fund? SHAILA: We want to focus on clean tech and climate tech solutions exclusively. A lot of competitors and investors right now focus on renewable energy, and, of course, this is a very important problem. We want to give access to other startups that develop solutions to clean, for example, the atmosphere or oceans and also the earth for agriculture matters. We want to give them access to investments too. Also, to include people in the investment process because the subjects such as, for example, agriculture, or transportation, construction solutions also are a priority, and they really interest people directly. Some matters, such as renewable energy some people understand those matters, but most of them don't feel really connected to those problems because they seem like far from their daily preoccupations. So we want to focus on solutions that will directly help people in their...affect and impact people in their daily solutions. VICTORIA: Right. So not only are you democratizing this investment into green energy and green tech, but you're also expanding the idea of what does that mean? What types of projects are we doing besides just alternative fuels, right? SHAILA: Exactly. It is true that fossil fuels and all those high carbon emissions energy industries represent three-quarters of the carbon emissions globally. There still is one quarter that we need to transform that needs to be totally, yes, changed. So we need to go further than that, and we need to take part. And that's also the reason for the name of the company. We need to take part in the whole action change plan. VICTORIA: Right. And I think about that when I've talked to my friends about climate change and how it affects people and the fact that it is already affecting people. And that certain neighborhoods and certain communities are taking a disproportionate share of the impact of climate change. SHAILA: Absolutely. I personally come from an island. So I'm from the Caribbean, from an island called Guadeloupe. It's a French territory. In the Caribbean, for example, or South America as we know, as we see in the media, the consequences of global warming and fossil industries are extremely visible, and the impacts are huge. The landscape, for example, is changing dramatically. The air pollution is awful. Forests are disappearing. So those are very visible effects. That's also a reason why it was important for us to include green tech solutions from those places because a lot of innovators are from there because they live with the direct consequences. They innovate in those areas. But those territories, unfortunately, are mostly forgotten, even by big countries, so that's also a reason why someone has to get interested in them. VICTORIA: Right. I could imagine that it's difficult to find capital if you're from that area and you're solving a problem that's not one of the big ones, [laughs], right? SHAILA: Exactly. VICTORIA: Are the projects that you're looking to crowdfund; do they tend to be small? Are they large? Or what's the size of the projects that they're looking for? SHAILA: So exactly for that reason of accessibility, we decided to first of all, from an investor point of view, we decided to make the investment ticket to set it to €100. But also from a company in funding needs, we decided to also set the minimum funding amount to €50,000. So that means that we really want to support early-stage companies which are not necessarily attractive to big investors or banks, which are not profitable yet but still have good potential of development to support their solution because most of them really deserve to be supported and need to get their product out. Obviously, the aim of our company, of our solution is to make profit and also to lead investors to make profitable investments. So we will have, of course, financial criterias before selecting startups getting into our funding process. But the main focus will be to give them access to investments that would not be attractive, very attractive to big investors or banks. VICTORIA: Right. And you just founded this back in April, and you're at pre-seed stage. How are you feeling? [laughs] SHAILA: Well, I feel overwhelmed [laughs] because there's a lot of, you know, this is a good thing that this area of operations is very regulated. That comes with a lot of paperwork. So I have to go through this right now before really launching publicly the activities. But, in the meantime, I feel very excited because I am personally motivated. The aim is bigger than making profits. The aim is to contribute to the acceleration of the whole process of decarbonization. It's also to give more sense, more meaning to investment in general but also to give access to new people to investment. And by that, I mean people who are climate-conscious, people who want to make a change, to see direct changes in their environments because I know that the cause is greater than me. I'm very excited as well as exhausted. VICTORIA: [laughs] That's good. I think you'll need that passion to keep you going. Have you had anyone tell you that you should consider a nonprofit, and why have you decided to make it for-profit? SHAILA: No, so no one has told me this [laughter] yet. I guess that's because of my background. I come from finance. My partners or people that I meet because of this project know that I eventually know what I'm doing. They are not suggesting nonprofit. Also, I truly believe in making good business. I think that this is possible, and I want to be part of those people who make it possible. For a long time, prosperity, economic prosperity was a synonym for just aggressive business and huge industries, globalization, et cetera. And now, because of the climate emergency, we understand that something needs to be done. But I think that globally, the system is still scared of making a radical change because of profits reasons. Profit can be made while making a sustainable business. So I wouldn't even consider a nonprofit because we need to change the narrative. I think doing good is not going to mean doing things like being idealistic or following just a dream. We need to make it a reality. VICTORIA: Right. And when you're in a for-profit business with a meaningful impact, you can focus on making the business work versus trying to find donors or trying to always prove how much you're giving back to the community. It'll make good business sense, and I really like that's the path that you're taking. SHAILA: Exactly. VICTORIA: Wonderful. What has your process been for validating this idea? Do you interview lots of different people? How do you know that it's the right market fit? SHAILA: In the last years, I have seen the whole narrative change. That is what I was talking about in the way business needs to be made. When I was working in banking, I have seen those new standards, ESG standards coming, appearing. I also know that this is going to be a norm very soon. That means that the way we do business is really going to change like in reality in corporate practices. So, first of all, this is the right path because literally corporate practices are going to change and are going to align more and more with ESG criterias. Very soon, it will not be possible at all to continue to operate business without sustainable practices, obviously the way the large groups are going to change and are changing already. And small businesses are going to be built with ESG standards in mind too. Another part of the change is coming from the solutions. Are they sustainable? Are they energy efficient? Are they contributing to decarbonization, or are they polluting more? Is it possible to fund them because of that? So I think there is a whole transformation of the economy, and we need to be ready to follow up with the change. And we all need to be ready to fund this economy, not only governments but also private and small private institutions, individuals. Also, the green tech ecosystem, in general, is just exploding. This is a fact. For example, in France in 2020, we had a number of 800 green tech startups in France. In 2021, those startups increased, and the number of startups increased. And we could count 1,800 startups just one year after. This ecosystem also is growing massively, and the market is there. VICTORIA: That's really exciting. And what is the startup community in Paris like? SHAILA: Well, the startup community is very active in Paris. France is a huge generator of startups. As you may know, Station F is the biggest incubator in the world. It is a very dynamic ecosystem. Innovations are appearing every day. And France supports the startups a lot. Yes, it's very dynamic. A lot of things are being made, and it's an ecosystem where we know each other. We meet each other, and we know what needs to be done. We talk with each other, especially at Station F, where I am not located, but still, a lot of meetups are there, a lot of events are going on there. So this is a place for startup founders to meet and talk. So we know that a lot of things are going to happen. VICTORIA: That's very exciting. SHAILA: Yes, it is really, very encouraging. Mid-Roll Ad: When starting a new project, we understand that you want to make the right choices in technology, features, and investment but that you don't have all year to do extended research. In just a few weeks, thoughtbot's Discovery Sprints deliver a user-centered product journey, a clickable prototype or Proof of Concept, and key market insights from focused user research. We'll help you to identify the primary user flow, decide which framework should be used to bring it to life, and set a firm estimate on future development efforts. Maximize impact and minimize risk with a validated roadmap for your new product. Get started at: tbot.io/sprint VICTORIA: Have you found a lot of people get your idea right away? Do you feel people are excited about your product when you talk to them about it? SHAILA: Yes, that was very, very surprising to me. Everybody I talked to was getting the idea very quickly. I haven't met any reservation from people around me or from partners, from people I was approaching business-wise. Well, I think the climate emergency is such that people get the idea immediately. Also, fundings, for now, are not enough for the green tech ecosystem. So the idea of a crowdinvesting platform that targets only green tech is really welcome from the ecosystem, the fintech ecosystem, but also from potential investors too. VICTORIA: That's great. It must make you feel validated that you know you're on the right path. [laughs] SHAILA: Yes, this is very helpful to me, yes. VICTORIA: Wonderful. And what's next on your roadmap? What's the biggest challenge you see ahead of you? SHAILA: So, yes, the next step for us, once we receive all the green lights to operate on the French and European market, will be to build our investors community. For now, we are waiting for this green light from the financial authorities to start publishing and communicating at a large scale to the public about what we are going to do. So our next challenge is really to reach out to people to convince them to join us and also to make sustainable investment understandable and accessible to first-time investors. VICTORIA: Do you feel like you have the tools to do that? What do you think is going to be difficult about that process? SHAILA: On that part, I think the most difficult part will be a traditional aspect of the business, which is competition. The thing is we need, in this particular area, we need currently to face two problems. The first one is the greenwashing problem that a lot of companies use, and we are not aligned with those greenwashing practices, and this could be confusing for people. Because the truth is as much as the climate change emergency is real, there is also a trend of offering all types of green services and products, so this could be confusing for consumers, for people. The first challenge will be to differentiate and really to make people understand that sustainability is in our core values, but it's also our why that this is the reason why we're doing this. This is not a greenwashing opportunity for us. Also, yes, in this competition matter, the other thing is that we are not going to focus only on renewable energy. So there is some type of education we need to provide about our products, about the meaning of the solutions, and the impacts of the solutions we're going to finance, even when they are not renewable energy related. VICTORIA: Those sound like exciting challenges to work on. [laughs] SHAILA: Yes, really. VICTORIA: Once all the paperwork is finished. SHAILA: Exactly. So this will be basically marketing, marketing, and communication issues. VICTORIA: Wonderful. Why crowdfunding versus regular government funding for these types of projects? SHAILA: It is important to enhance alternative financing solutions because the reality is that most businesses in their early stage will not be financially strong enough to ask for financing solutions such as bank loans, for example. That means that they don't have enough capital at first to engage in more debts. What they need is to reinforce their capital in an early stage. When the founders, for example, do not have basically the money themselves to fund their own company, calling the crowd to help is a very good solution to reinforce their capital. So they have more power after that to go for other types of financing solutions such as fundraising huge amounts from investors, from institutions, or to ask for, for example, bank loans. They are strong enough then to go for more and to develop their solutions and scale up. VICTORIA: That makes a lot of sense. And I'm wondering if, in your process, since April, have there been any pivots you had to make where you were going in one direction, and then you learned something and decided you needed to go a completely different direction? SHAILA: Yes, to be honest, my first idea was to target startups from the European overseas territories only. So that was my first idea. When I did my market study, I discovered that the market was too small. It was a very interesting market because those startups are far from the countries they are related to. French Caribbean islands are geographically far from the French territory, French country in Europe. They have some localization barrier, for example, to reach the national market. And that is the case for any other overseas European territory. So my first idea was to give them access and give them visibility in the national territory because crowdfunding is an online solution, but, well, the market was too small, for example. So this was not a good path to go. And I had to reevaluate and do another market study because also my main goal was to answer an environmental need. VICTORIA: That makes a lot of sense. And it is interesting how your idea of the market evolves once you really start building something and start getting information about it. SHAILA: I can give you another example of a switch of the idea, of the initial idea I had. We wanted to start operating immediately in all Europe. We learned that because of the European regulations of the markets, we need to go step by step and country by country. This made us focus first on the French market. And we know now that we will be able to reach the other European ecosystems one by one. That helped us refine our marketing strategy. VICTORIA: Interesting. So when you started building your product or building the idea, and you went country by country, was there a concern about getting too specific to that country? Or was it easy to build out to a new country once you were ready to move on? SHAILA: It's quite easy in the conceptual stage because the European Union has really standardized a lot of economic or financial regulations. So we have a system of like an economic or business passport which makes it quite easy. But the main problem is really being able to adapt to different languages, Spanish, or German, or English, or Italian, to adapt to those markets with their specificities, which are linked not only to their language but those still are marketing aspects. But other than that, thanks to the European Union system, it is quite easy to really build a whole European strategy. VICTORIA: Right. I feel like that should be a part of an ad or marketing [laughter] just for the European Union. SHAILA: It could be. It could be, right. VICTORIA: Well, that makes a lot of sense. And we understand as well, being an international company, that being able to adapt to different languages does present its own challenges. SHAILA: Exactly. VICTORIA: Well, wonderful. What advice would you give to yourself at the beginning of this project if you could go back in time? SHAILA: You know, it's funny because I have been familiar to business for a long time. I come from a businessmen family. And also, I've been working as a financial management consultant for small companies and startups for some years before. But still, I didn't maybe gather enough money at first to start this very capital-consuming business. So I would advise myself to gather twice the money I had before. [chuckles] Even if we found solutions and we are totally equipped, but well, I was maybe...I didn't prepare enough capital at first. And also another advice would have been from the start to not forget to sleep [laughs] because this is really crucial to maintain good health when you start a new project, and especially a very energy-consuming one. The health of your project and of your company also depends on your own health. VICTORIA: Wonderful advice. [laughs] Everyone who's working on something they're passionate about should remember that. You're 100% right. It's dependent on your own health first, right? SHAILA: Exactly. It could be the passion drives you so much that...and you know the amount of work you effectively have to do, so you can really get caught in the amount of work. But sleep is a very good strategy to keep going. VICTORIA: I love sleep. I'm a big fan. My sleep schedule is a little messed up because I was in the Azores last week. SHAILA: So the jetlag was big. VICTORIA: Yeah, but it helps me because we're kind of an early riser family anyways. Yeah, I can have time to have my coffee before I start work. [laughs] SHAILA: Right. I see, yeah. VICTORIA: Is there any other final takeaways you want to give to our audience? SHAILA: I would ask the people who listen to really join us as soon as we are ready to launch and to talk about We Take Part to their friends and family. Also, to reach out because we could help understand more what we can do, how we can help, and how investing and supporting sustainable business how important it is. And when it's correctly made, and it is profitable, it is profitable for everyone, for the whole society, not only for an economic system. VICTORIA: Wonderful. And we'll have the opportunity to include any links or marketing in our show notes. You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find me on Twitter @victori_ousg. This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. Thanks for listening. See you next time. ANNOUNCER: This podcast was brought to you by thought. thoughtbot is your expert design and development partner. Let's make your product and team a success.
Hello Giant Robot FM listeners! We are between shows here on the main feed and so this week we are sharing with you our previously patron-exclusive Simulator episode for the 2nd and 3rd Armored Core games: Project Phantasma & Master of Arena. Furthermore, we are also including a bonus addendum that expands on a few things about the Armored Core PlayStation "trilogy." These were all originally recorded before the announcement of Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. Part of the reason we're releasing these episodes on the main feed is to promote pmcTRILOY's speedrun of Armored Core: Project Phantasma being featured in the upcoming AGDQ 2023. Awesome Games Done Quick 2023 will be taking place from January 8th-15th. pmc's run will take place on January 9th @ 6:55 AM EST. GDQ Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/gamesdonequick GDQ Schedule: https://gamesdonequick.com/schedule
Laura Maguire is a Researcher at Jeli.io, the first dedicated instant analysis platform that combines more comprehensive data to deliver more proactive solutions and identify problems. Victoria talks to Laura about incident management, giving companies a powerful tool to learn from their incidents, and what types of customers are ideal for taking on a platform like Jeli.io. Jeli.io (https://www.jeli.io/) Follow Jeli.io on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/jeli_io/), Twitter (https://twitter.com/jeli_io) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/jeli-inc/). Follow Laura Maguire on Twitter (https://twitter.com/LauraMDMaguire) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/lauramaguire/). Follow thoughtbot on Twitter (https://twitter.com/thoughtbot) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/150727/). Become a Sponsor (https://thoughtbot.com/sponsorship) of Giant Robots! Transcript: VICTORIA: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido. And with me today is Laura Maguire, Researcher at Jeli, the first dedicated instant analysis platform that combines more comprehensive data to deliver more proactive solutions and identify problems. Laura, thank you for joining me. LAURA: Thanks for having me, Victoria. VICTORIA: This might be a very introductory level question but just right off the bat, what is an incident? LAURA: What we find is a lot of companies define this very differently across the space, but typically, it's where they are seeing an impact, either a customer impact or a degradation of their service. This can be either formally, it kind of impacts their SLOs or their SLAs, or informally it's something that someone on the team notices or someone, you know, one of their users notice as being degraded performance or something not working as intended. VICTORIA: Gotcha. From my background being in IT operations, I'm familiar with incidents, and it's been a practice in IT for a long time. But what brought you to be a part of building this platform and creating a product around incidents? LAURA: I am a, let's say, recovering safety professional. VICTORIA: [chuckles] LAURA: I started my career in the safety and risk management realm within natural resource industries in the physical world. And so I worked with people who were at the sharp end in high-risk, high-consequence type work. And they were really navigating risk and navigating safety in the real world. And as I was working in this domain, I noticed that there was a delta between what was being said, created safety, and helped risk management and what I was actually seeing with the people that I was working with on the front lines. And so I started to pull the thread on this, and I thought, is work as done really the same as work as written or work as prescribed? And what I found was a whole field of research, a whole field of practice around thinking about safety and risk management in the world of cognitive work. And so this is how people think about risk, how they manage risk, and how do they interpret change and events in the world around them. And so as I started to do my master's degree in human factors and system safety and then later my Ph.D. in cognitive systems engineering, I realized that whether you are on the frontlines of a wildland fire or you're on the frontlines of responding to an incident in the software realm, the ways in which people detect, diagnose, and repair the issues that they're facing are quite similar in terms of the cognitive work. And so when I was starting my Ph.D. work, I was working with Dr. David Woods at the Cognitive Systems Engineering Lab at The Ohio State University. And I came into it, and I was thinking I'm going to work with astronauts, or with fighter pilots, or emergency room doctors, these really exciting domains. And he was like, "We're going to have you work with software engineers." And at first, I really failed to see the connection there, but as I started to learn more about site reliability engineering, about DevOps, about the continuous deployment, continuous integration world, I realized software engineers are really at the forefront of managing critical digital infrastructure. They're keeping up the systems that run society, both for recreation and pleasure in the sense of Netflix, for example, as well as the critical functions within society like our 911 call routing systems, our financial markets. And so the ability to study how software engineers detect outages, manage outages, and work together collaboratively across the team was really giving us a way to study this kind of work that could actually feed back into other types of domains like emergency response, like emergency rooms, and even back to the fighter pilots and astronauts. VICTORIA: Wow, that's so interesting. And so is your research that went into your Ph.D. did that help you help define the product strategy and kind of market fit for what you've been building at Jeli? LAURA: Yeah, absolutely. So Nora Jones, who is the founder and CEO of Jeli, reached out to me at a conference and told me a little bit about what she was thinking about, about how she wanted to support software engineers using a lot of this literature and a lot of the learnings from these other domains to build this product to help support incident management in software engineering. So we base a lot of our thinking around how to help support this cognitive work and how to help resilient performance in these very dynamic, these very changing large scale, you know, distributed software systems on this research, as well as the research that we do with our own users and with our own members from learning from incidents in software engineering Slack community that Nora and several other fairly prominent names within the software community started, Lorin Hochstein, John Allspaw Dr. Richard Cook, Jessica DeVita, Ryan Kitchens, and I may be missing someone else but...and myself, oh, Will Galego as well. Yeah, we based a lot of our understandings, really deep qualitative understandings of what is work like for software engineers when they're, you know, in continuous deployment type environments. And we've translated this into building a product that we think helps but not hinders by getting in the way of engineers while they're under time pressure and there's a lot of uncertainty. And there's often quite a bit of stress involved with responding to incidents. VICTORIA: Right. And you mentioned resilience engineering. And for those who don't know, David Woods, who you worked on with your Ph.D., wrote "Resilience Engineering: Concepts and Precepts." So maybe you could talk a little bit about resilience engineering and what that really means, not just in technology but in the people who were running the tools, right? LAURA: Yeah. So resilience engineering is different from how we think about protecting and defending our software systems. And it's different in the sense that we aren't just thinking about how do we prevent incidents from happening again, like, how do we fix things that have happened to us in the past? But how do we better understand the ways in which our systems operate under a wide variety of conditions? So that includes normal operating conditions as well as abnormal or anomalous operating conditions, such as an incident response. And so resilience engineering was kind of this way of thinking differently about predicting failure, about managing failure, and navigating these kinds of worlds. And one of the fundamental differences about it is it sees people as being the most adaptive component within the system of work. So we can have really good processes and practices around deploying code; we can institute things like cross-checking and peer review of code; we can have really good robust backup and failover systems, but ultimately, it's very likely that in these kinds of complex and adaptive always-changing systems that you're going to encounter problems that you weren't able to anticipate. And so this is where the resilience part comes in because if you're faced with a novel problem, if you're faced with an issue you've never seen before, or a hidden dependency within your system, or an unanticipated failure mode, you have to adapt. You have to be able to take all of the information that's available to you in the moment. You have to interpret that in real-time. You have to think of who else might have skills, knowledge, expertise, access to information, or access to certain kinds of systems or software components. And you have to bring all of those people together in real-time to be able to manage the problem at hand. And so this is really quite a different way of thinking about supporting this work than just let's keep the runbooks updated, and let's make sure that we can write prescriptive processes for everything that we're going to encounter. Because this really is the difference that I saw when I was talking about earlier about that work is done versus work is prescribed. The rules don't cover all of the situations. And so you have to think of how do you help people adapt? How do you help people access information in real-time to be able to handle unforeseen failures? VICTORIA: Right. That makes a lot of sense. It's an interesting evolution of site reliability engineering where you're thinking about the users' experience of your site. It's also thinking about the people who are running your site and what their experience is, and what freedom they have to be able to solve the problems that you wouldn't be able to predict, right? LAURA: Yeah, it's a really good point, actually, because there is sort of this double layer in the product that we are building. So, as you mentioned earlier, we are an incident analysis platform, and so what does that mean? Well, it means that we pull in data whenever there's been an incident, and we help you to look at it a little bit more deeply than you may if you're just following a template and sort of reconstructing a timeline. And so we pull in the actual Slack data that, you know, say, an ops channel or an incident channel that's been spun up following a report of a degraded performance or of an outage. And we look very closely at how did people talk to one another? Who did they bring into the incident? What kinds of things did they think were relevant and important at different points in time? And in doing this, it helps us to understand what information was available to people at different points in time. Because after the incident and after it's been resolved, people often look back and say, "Oh, there's nothing we can learn from that. We figured out what it was." But if we go back and we start looking at how people detected it, how they diagnosed it, who they brought into the event, we can start to unpack these patterns and these ways of understanding how do people work together? What information is useful at different points in time? Which helps us get a deeper understanding of how our systems actually work and how they actually fail. VICTORIA: Right. And I see there are a few different ways the platform does that: there's a narrative builder, a people view, and also a visual timeline. So, do you find that combining all those things together really gives companies a powerful tool to learn from their incidents? LAURA: Yeah. So let me talk a little bit about each of those different components. Our MVP of the product we started out with this understanding of the incident analyst and the incident investigator who, you know, was ready to dive in and ready to understand their incident and apply some qualitative analysis techniques to thinking about their incidents. And what we found was there are a number of these people who are really interested in this deep dive within the software industry. But there's a broader subset of folks that they work with who maybe only do these kinds of incident analysis every once in a while, and they're not as interested in going quite as deep. And so the narrative builder is really this kind of bridge between those two types of users. And what it does is helps construct a timeline which is typically what most companies do to help drive the discussion that they might have in a post-mortem or to drive their kind of findings in their summary report. And it helps them take this closer look at the interactions that happened in that slack transcript and raise questions about what kinds of uncertainties there were, point out who was involved, or interesting aspects of the event at that point in time. And it helps them to summarize what was happening. What did people think was happening at this point in time to create this story about the incident? And the story element is really important because we all learn from stories. It helps bring to life some of the details about what was hard, who was involved, how did they get brought in, what the sources of technical failure were, and whether those were easy or difficult to understand and to repair once the source of the failure was actually understood. And so that narrative builder helps reconstruct this timeline in a much richer way but also do it very efficiently. And as you mentioned, the visual timeline is something that we've created to help that lightweight user or that every once in a while user to go a little bit deeper on their analysis. And how we do that is because it lays out the progression of the event in a way that helps you see, oh, this maybe wasn't straightforward. We didn't detect it in the beginning, and then diagnose it, and then repair it at the end. What happened actually was the detection was intermittent. The signals about what was going wrong was intermittent, and so that was going on in parallel with the diagnosis. The diagnosis took a really long time, and that may have been because we can also see the repair was happening concurrently. And so it starts to show these kinds of characteristics about whether the incident was difficult, whether it was challenging and hard, or whether it was simple and straightforward. This helps lend a bit more depth to metrics like MTTR and TTD by saying, oh, there was a lot more going on in this incident than we initially thought. The last thing that you mentioned was the people view, and so that really sets our product apart from other products in that we look at the sociotechnical system. So it's not just about the software that broke; it is about who was involved in managing that system, in repairing that system, and in communicating about that system outwardly. And so the people view this kind of pulls in some HR data. It helps us to understand who was involved. How long have they been in their role? Were they on-call? Were they not on-call? And other kinds of irrelevant details that show us what was their engagement or their interaction with this event. And so when we start to bring in the socio part of the sociotechnical system, we can identify things like what knowledge do we have within the organization? Is that knowledge well-distributed, or is it just isolated in one or two people? And so those people are constantly getting pulled into incidents when they may be not on-call, which can start to show us whether or not these folks are in danger of burning out or whether their knowledge might need to be transferred more broadly throughout the organization. So this is kind of where the resilience piece comes in because it helps us to distribute knowledge. It helps us to identify who is relevant and useful and how do they partner and collaborate with other people, and their knowledge and skill sets to be able to manage some of the outages that they face? VICTORIA: That's wonderful because one of my follow-up questions would be, as a CEO, as a founder, what kind of insights or choices do you get to make now that you have this insight to help make your team more resilient? [laughs] LAURA: So if this is a manager, or a founder, or a CEO that is looking at their data in Jeli, they can start to understand how to resource their teams more appropriately, as I mentioned, how to spread that knowledge around. They can start to see what parts of their system are creating the most problems or what parts of their system do they have maybe less insight into how it works, how it interacts with other parts of the system, and what this actually means for their ability to meet their SLOs or their SLAs. So it gives you a more in-depth understanding of how your business is actually operating on both the technical side of things, as well as on the people side of things. VICTORIA: That makes a lot of sense. Thank you for that overview of the platform. There's the incident analysis platform, and you also have the bot, the response chatbot. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? LAURA: Yeah, absolutely. We think that incident management should be conducted wherever your work actually takes place, and so for most of our customers and a lot of folks that we know about in the industry, that's Slack. And so, if you are communicating in real-time with your team in Slack, we think that you should stay there. And so, we built this incident management bot that is free and will be free for the lifetime of the product. Because we think that this is really the fundamental basis for helping you manage your incidents more efficiently and more effectively. So it's a pretty lightweight bot. It gives kind of some guardrails or some guidance around collaboration by spinning up a new incident channel, helping you to bring the right kinds of responders into that, helping you to communicate to interested stakeholders by broadcasting to channels they might be in. It kind of nudges you to think about how to communicate about what's happening during different stages of the event progression. And so it's prompting you in a very lightweight way; hey, do you have a status update? Do you have a summary of what the current thinking is? What are the hypotheses about what's going on? Who's conducting what kinds of activities right now? So that if I'm a responder that's coming into the event after 20-30 minutes after it started, I can very quickly come up to speed, understand what's going on, who's doing what, and figure out what's useful for me to do to help step in and not disrupt the incident management that's underway right now. Our users can choose to use the bot independently of the incident analysis platform. But of course, being able to ingest that incident into Jeli it helps you understand who's been involved in the incident, if they've been involved in similar incidents in the past, and helps them start to see some patterns and some themes that emerge over time when you start to look at incidents across the organization. VICTORIA: That makes sense. And I love that it's free and that there's something for every type of organization to take advantage of there. And I wonder if at Jeli you have data about what type of customer is it who'd be targeted or really ideal to take on this kind of platform. LAURA: So most organizations...I was actually recently at SREcon EMEA, and there was a really interesting series of talks; one was SRE for Enterprise, and the next talk was SRE for Startups. And so it was a very thought-provoking discussion around is SRE for everyone, so site reliability engineering? Even smaller teams are starting to have to be responsible for reliability and responsible for running their service. And so we kind of have built our platform thinking about how do we help not just big enterprises or organizations that may have dedicated teams for this but also small startups to learn from their incidents. So internally, we actually call incidents opportunities as in they are learning opportunities for checking out how does your system actually work? How do your people work together? What things were difficult and challenging about the incident? And how do you talk about those things as a team to help create more resilient performance in future? So in terms of an ideal customer, it's really folks that are interested in conducting these sort of lightweight but in-depth looks at how their system actually works on both the people side of things and the technical side of things. Those who we found are most successful with our product are interested in not so much figuring out who did the thing and who can they blame for the incident itself but rather how do they learn from what happened? And would another engineer, or another product owner, another customer service representative, whoever the incident may be sort of focused around, would another person in their shoes have taken the same actions that they took or made the same decisions that they made? Which helps us understand from a systems level how do we repair or how do we adjust the system of work surrounding folks so that they are better supported when they're faced with uncertainty, or with that kind of time pressure, or that ambiguity about what's actually going on? VICTORIA: And I love that you said that because part of the reason [laughs] I invited you on to the podcast is that a lot of companies I have experience with don't think about incidents until it happens to them, and then it can be a scramble. It can impact their customer base. It can stress their team out. But if you go about creating...the term obviously you all use is psychological safety on your team, and maybe you use some of the free tools from Jeli like the Post-Incident Guide and the Incident Analysis 101 blog to set your team up for success from the beginning, then you can increase your customer loyalty and your team loyalty as well to the company. Is that your experience? LAURA: Yeah, absolutely. So one thing that I have learned throughout my career, you know, starting way back in forestry and looking at safety and risk in that domain, was as soon as there is an accident or even a serious near miss, right away, everybody gets sweaty palms. Everybody is concerned about, uh-oh, am I going to get blamed for this? Am I going to get fired? Am I going to get publicly shamed for the decisions that I made when I was in this situation? And what that response, that reaction does is it drives a lot of the communication and a lot of the understanding of the conditions that that person was in. It drives that underground. And it's important to allow people to talk about here's what I was seeing, here's what I was experiencing because, in these kinds of complex systems, information is not readily available to people. The signals are not always coming through loud and clear about what's going on or about what the appropriate actions to take are. Instead, it's messy; it's loud, it's noisy. There are usually multiple different demands on that person's attention and on their time, and they're often managing trade-offs: do I keep the system down so that I can gather more information about what's actually going on, or do I just try and bring it up as quickly as I can so that there's less impact to users? Those kinds of decisions are having to be made under pressure. So when we create these conditions of psychological safety, when we say you know what? This happened. We want to learn from it. We've already made this investment. Richard Cook mentioned in the very first SNAFU Catchers Report, which was a report that came out of Ohio State, that incidents are unplanned investments into understanding how your system works. And so you've already had the incident. You've already paid the price of that downtime or of that outage. So you might as well extract some learning from it so that you can help create a safer and more resilient system in the future. So by helping people to reconstruct what was actually happening in real-time, not what they were retrospectively saying, "Oh, I should have done this," well, you didn't do that. So let's understand why you thought at that moment in time that was the right way to respond because, more than likely, other people in that same position would have made that same choice. And so it helps us to think more broadly about ways that we can support decision-making and sense-making under conditions of stress and uncertainty. And ultimately, that helps your system be more resilient and be more reliable for your customers. VICTORIA: What a great reframing: unplanned investment. [laughs] And if you don't learn from it, then you're going to lose out on what you've already invested that time in resolving it, right? LAURA: Absolutely. MID-ROLL AD: Are you an entrepreneur or start-up founder looking to gain confidence in the way forward for your idea? At thoughtbot, we know you're tight on time and investment, which is why we've created targeted 1-hour remote workshops to help you develop a concrete plan for your product's next steps. Over four interactive sessions, we work with you on research, product design sprint, critical path, and presentation prep so that you and your team are better equipped with the skills and knowledge for success. Find out how we can help you move the needle at: tbot.io/entrepreneurs. VICTORIA: Getting more into that psychological safety and how to create that culture where people feel safe telling about what really happened, but how does that relate to...Jeli says that they are a people software. [laughs] Talk to me more about that. Like, what advice do you give founders and CEOs on how to create that psychological safety which makes them be more resilient in these types of incidents? LAURA: So you mentioned the Howie Guide that we published last year, and this is our guidance around how to do incident analysis, how to help your team start to learn from their incidents, and Howie stands for how we got here. And that's really important, that language because what it says is there's a history that led up to this incident. And most teams, when they've had an outage, they'll kind of look backwards from that outage, maybe an hour, maybe a day, maybe to the last deploy. But they don't think about how the decisions got made to use that piece of software in the first place. They don't think about how did engineers actually get on-boarded to being on-call. They don't necessarily think about what kinds of skills, and knowledge, and expertise when we're hiring a DevOps engineer, and I'm using air quotes here or an SRE. What kinds of skills and knowledge do they actually have? Those are very broad terms. And what it means to be a DevOps engineer or an SRE is quite underspecified. And so the knowledge behind the folks that you might hire into the company is going to necessarily be very diverse. It's going to be partial and incomplete in many ways because not everyone can know everything about the system. And so, we need to have multiple diverse perspectives about how the system works, how our customers use that system, what kinds of pressures and constraints exist within our company that allow us some possibilities over others. We need to bring all of those perspectives together to get a more reflective picture of what was actually happening before this incident took place and how we actually got here. This reframing helps a lot of people disarm that initial defensiveness response or that initial, oh, shoot; I'm going to get in trouble for this kind of response. And it says to them, "Hey, you're a part of this bigger system of work. You are only one piece of this puzzle. And what we want to try and do is understand what was happening within the company, not just what you did, what you said, and what you decided." So once people realize that you're not just trying to find fault or place blame, but you're really trying to understand their work, and you're trying to understand their work with other teams and other vendors, and trying to understand their work relative to the competing demands that were going on, so those are some of the things that help create psychological safety. About ten years ago, John Allspaw and the team at Etsy put out The Etsy Debriefing Facilitation Guide, which also poses a number of questions and helps to frame the post-incident learnings in a way that moves it from the individual and looks more collectively at the company as a whole. And so these things are helpful for founders or for CEOs to help bring forward more information about what's really going on, more information about what are the real risks and threats and opportunities within the company, and gives you an opportunity to step back and do what we call microlearning, which is sharing knowledge about how the system works, sharing understandings of what people think is going on, and what people know about the system. We don't typically talk about those things unless there's a reason to, and incidents kind of give us that reason because they're uncomfortable and they can be painful. They can be very public. They can be very disruptive to what we think about how resilient and reliable we actually are. And so if you can kind of step away from this defensiveness and step away from this need to place blame and instead try and understand the conditions, you will get a lot more learning and a lot more resilience and reliability out of your teams and out of your systems. VICTORIA: That makes sense to me. And I'd like to draw a connection between that and some other things you mentioned with The 2022 Accelerate State of DevOps Report that highlights that the people who are often responding to those incidents or in that high-stress situation tend to be historically underrepresented or historically excluded groups. And so do you see that having this insight into both who is actually taking on a lot of the work when these incidents happen and creating that psychological safety can make a better environment for diversity, equity, inclusion at a company as well? LAURA: Well, I think anytime you work to establish trust and transparency, and you focus on recognizing the skills that people do have, the knowledge that they do have, and not over assuming that someone knows something or that they have been involved in the discussions that may have been relevant to an incident, anytime you focus on that trust and transparency you are really signaling to people within your organization that you value their contributions and that you recognize that they've come to work and trying to do a good job. But they have multiple competing demands on their attention and on their time. And so we're not making assumptions about people being complacent, or people being reckless or being sloppy in their work. So that creates an environment where people feel more willing to speak up and to talk about some of the challenges that they might face, to talk about the ways in which it's not clear to them how certain parts of the system work or how certain teams actually operate. So you're just opening the channels for communication, which helps to share more knowledge. It helps to share more information about what teams are doing at different points in time. And this helps people to preemptively anticipate how a change that they might be making in their part of the system could be influencing up or downstream teams. And so this helps create more resilience because now you're thinking laterally about your system and about your involvement across teams and across boundary lines. And an example of this is if a marketing team...this is a story that Nora tells quite a bit; if a marketing team is, say, launching a Super Bowl commercial for their company but they don't actually tell the engineers on-call that that is about to happen, you can create all sorts of breakdowns when all of a sudden you have this surge of traffic to your website because people see the Super Bowl commercial and they want to go to the site. And then you have a single person who's trying to respond to that in real-time. So, instead, when you do start thinking about that trust and transparency, you're helping teams to help each other and to think more broadly about how their work is actually impacting other parts of the system. So from a diversity and inclusion and underrepresented groups perspective, this is creating the conditions for more people to be involved, more people to feel like their voice is going to be heard, and that their perspective actually matters. VICTORIA: That sounds really powerful, and I'm glad we were able to touch on that. Shifting gears a little bit, I wanted to talk about two different questions; so one is if you could travel back in time to when Jeli first started, what advice would you give yourself, your past self? LAURA: I would encourage myself to recognize that our ability to experiment is fundamental to our ability to learn. And learning is what helps us to iterate faster. Learning is what helps us to reflect on the tool that we're building or the feature that we're building and what this actually means to our users. I actually copped that advice to myself from CEO Zoran Perkov of the Long-Term Stock Exchange. They launched a whole new stock market during the pandemic with a fully remote team. And I had interviewed him for an article that I wrote about resilient leadership. And he said to me, like, "My job as a CEO is 100% about protecting our ability to experiment as a company because if we stop learning, we're not going to be able to iterate. We're not going to be able to adapt to the changes that we see in the market and in our users." So I think I would tell myself to continually experiment. One of the things that I talk to our customers about a lot because many of them are implementing new incident management programs or they're trying to level up their engineering teams around incident analysis, and I would say, "This doesn't have to be a fully-fleshed out program where you know all of the ways in which this is going to unfold." It's really about trying experiments, conduct some training, start small. Do one incident analysis on a really particularly spicy incident that you may have had or a really challenging incident where a lot of people were surprised by what happened. Bring together that group and say, "Hey, we're going to try something a little bit different here. We'll use some questions from the Howie Guide. We'll use the format and the structure from the Etsy Debriefing Guide. And we're just going to try and learn what we can about this event. We're not going to try and place blame. We're not going to try and generate corrective actions. We just want to see what we can learn from this." Then ask people that were involved, "How did this go? What did we learn from it? What should we do differently next time?" And continually iterate on those small, little experiments so that you can grow your product and grow your team's capacity. I think it took us a little bit of time to figure that out within the organization, but once we did, we were just able to collaborate more effectively work more effectively by integrating some of the feedback that we were getting from our users. And then the last piece of advice that I would give myself is to really invest in cross-discipline coordination and collaboration. Engineers, designers, researchers, CEOs they all have a different view of the product. They all have a different understanding of what the goals and priorities are. And those mental models of the product and of what the right thing to do is are constantly changing. And they all have different language that they use to talk about the product and to talk about their processes for integrating this understanding of the changing conditions and the changing user into the product. And so I would say invest in establishing common ground across the different disciplines within your team to be able to talk about what people are seeing, to be able to stop and identify when we're making assumptions about what other people know or what other people's orientation towards the problem or towards the product are. And spend a little bit of time saying, "When I say this is important, I'm saying it's important because of XYZ, not just this is important." So spending a little bit of time elaborating on what your mental model is and where you're drawing from can help the teams work more effectively together across those disciplines. VICTORIA: That's pretty powerful advice. You're iterating and experimenting at Jeli. What's on the horizon that you are...what new experiments are you excited about? LAURA: One of the things that has been front and center for us since we started is this idea of cross-incident analysis. And so we've kind of built out a number of different features within the product, being able to help tag the incident with the relevant services and technologies that were involved, being able to identify which teams were involved, and also being able to identify different kinds of themes or patterns that emerge from individual incidents. So all of this data that we can get from mostly just from the ingested incident itself or from the incident that you bring into Jeli but also from the analysis that you do on it this helps us start to be able to see across incidents what's happening not just with the technical side of things. So is it always Travis that is causing a problem? Are there components that work together that kind of have these really hidden and strange interdependencies that are really hard for the team to actually cope with? What kinds of themes are emerging across your suite of opportunities, your suite of incidents that you've ingested? Some of the things that we're starting to see from those experiments is an ability to look at where are your knowledge islands within your organization? Do you have an engineer who, if they were to leave, would take the majority of your systems knowledge about your database, or about your users, or about some critical aspect of your system that would disappear with all of that tacit knowledge? Or are there engineers that work really effectively together during really difficult incidents? And so you can start to unpack what are these characteristics of these people, and of these teams, and of these technologies that offer both opportunities or threats to your organization? So basically, what we're doing is we're helping you to see how your system performs under different kinds of conditions, which I think as a safety and risk professional working in a variety of different domains for the last 15 years, I think this is really where the rubber hits the road in helping teams be more reliable, and be more resilient, and more proactive about where investments in maintenance, or training, or headcount are going to have the biggest bang for your buck. VICTORIA: That makes a lot of sense. In my experience, sometimes those decisions are made more on intuition or on limited data so having a more full picture to rely on probably produces better results. [laughs] LAURA: Yeah, and I think that we all want to be data-driven, thinking about not only the quantitative data is how many incidents do we have around certain parts of the system, or certain teams, or certain services? But also, the qualitative side of things is what does this actually mean? And what does this mean to our ability to grow and change over time and to scale? The partnership of that quantitative data and qualitative data means we're being data-driven on a whole other level. VICTORIA: Wonderful. And it seems like we're getting close to the end of our time here. Is there anything else you want to give as a final takeaway to our listeners? LAURA: Yeah. So I think that we are, you know, as a domain, as a field, software engineering is increasingly becoming responsible for not only critical infrastructure within society, but we have a responsibility to our users and to each other within our companies to help make work better, help make our services more reliable and more resilient over time. And there's a variety of lessons that we can learn from other domains. As I mentioned before, aviation, healthcare, nuclear power all of those kinds of domains have been thinking about supporting cognitive work and supporting frontline operators. And we can learn from this history and this literature that exists out there. There is a GitHub repo that Lorin Hochstein has curated with a number of other folks with the industry that points to some of these resources. And as well, we'll be hosting the first Learning From Incidents in Software Engineering Conference in Denver in February, February 15 and 16th. And one feature of this conference that I'm super excited about is affectionately called CasesConf. And it is going to be an opportunity for software engineers from a variety of organizations to tell real stories about incidents that they had, how they handled them, what was challenging, what went surprisingly well, and just what is actually going on within their organizations. And this is kind of a new thing for the software industry to be talking very publicly about failures and sharing the messy details of our incidents. This won't be a recorded part of the conference. It is going to be conducted under the Chatham House Rule, which is participants who are in the room while these stories are being told can share some of the stories but not any identifying details about the company or the engineers that were involved. And so this kind of real-world situations helps us to, as I talked about before, with that psychological safety, helps us to say this is the reality of operating complex systems. They're going to fail. We're going to have to learn from them. And the more that we can talk at an industry level about what's going on and about what kinds of things are creating problems or opportunities for each other, the more we're going to be able to lift the bar for the industry as a whole. So you can check out register.learningfromincidents.io for more information about the conference. And we can link Lorin's resilience engineering GitHub repo in the notes as well. VICTORIA: Wonderful. Well, I was looking for an excuse to come to Denver in February anyways. LAURA: We would love to have ya. VICTORIA: Thank you. And thank you so much for taking time to share with us today, Laura. You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at email@example.com. And you can find me on Twitter @victori_ousg. This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. Thanks for listening. See you next time. ANNOUNCER: This podcast was brought to you by thoughtbot. thoughtbot is your expert design and development partner. Let's make your product and team a success. Special Guest: Laura Maguire.
Hello Giant Robot FM listeners! As we look to the dawn of a new year, we bring our coverage of the first season of The Big O to a close with special guest Toussaint Egan! We cover all three of Daemonseed, The Enemy is Another Big, and R-D. Merry Heaven's Day and a Happy New Year! Find Toussaint at these links: Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheSaintOfTous Polygon: https://www.polygon.com/users/thesaintoftous Tweet us @giantrobotfm and write to us firstname.lastname@example.org Support Giant Robot FM directly on our Patreon page: patreon.com/giantrobotfm Giant Robot FM is hosted by Stephen Hero (@_stephen_hero) and pmcTRILOGY (@pmcTRILOGY) Art by DuarfS (https://www.behance.net/maezurita) (https://www.instagram.com/duarfs) Music by fretzl (@fretzl) (https://www.youtube.com/fretzl)
Dr. Anne Latz is Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer at Hello Inside, a company that specializes in scientific self-care. Will talks to Dr. Latz about why glucose?, being a business-person first and what drove her to become a medical doctor, and where she sees wearable technology going in the in the next 5-10 years. Hello Inside (https://helloinside.com/) Follow Hello Inside on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/helloinsideofficial/) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/helloinside/about/). Follow Dr. Anne Latz on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/drannelatz/). Check out her Linktree (https://linktr.ee/anne.ella)! Follow thoughtbot on Twitter (https://twitter.com/thoughtbot) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/150727/). Become a Sponsor (https://thoughtbot.com/sponsorship) of Giant Robots! Transcript: WILL: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Will Larry. And with us today is Dr. Anne Latz, Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer at Hello Inside, a company that specializes in scientific self-care. Anne, thank you for joining us. DR. LATZ: Thank you for hosting me today, Will. WILL: Yeah, I'm excited to talk about Hello Inside. And let's start there; give us a quick summary about Hello Inside. DR. LATZ: So we are a German-Austrian startup, so we are based all over Europe, actually, all over the world, I have to say. And we help people by means of technology to understand their bodies best so to really become an expert of their bodies. And the technology we use is not only a smartphone app that shows data but a sensor that's called continuous glucose monitoring sensor that's like a little window you put on your arm that shows you in real-time your glucose data. And we at Hello Inside have then an app and the service around that that really helps you to understand your data and become an expert of your body because this data really gives you immediate feedback on what you do in the sense of eating, moving, but also how well you slept, how stressed you are. WILL: Wow, that's really neat. You said you had the continuous glucose monitor. The body is so complex, and there are so many ways that you probably could measure activity of the body. Why the glucose portion? Why are you doing glucose? DR. LATZ: I think that there are two, maybe even three, reasons to that. The first one is we do not have so many tools like biosensors or technology on the market, which enable us to give really continuous data on different biofluids or markers in the body. So the first one is just that the market here is quite mature because we usually know glucose from the context of diabetes patients, and the technology has been developed years and years ago for those people. And that's why we have really, really good technology, really good sensors, which have high accuracy. The prices get lower and lower, so more and more people can really access this technology. And we just know already a lot about glucose management. The second is it's a super, super potent marker. So I'm a medical doctor from my background. And I do not know so many markers in the body; maybe it's the heart rate variability or pulse that give us really immediate feedback to so many lifestyle pillars. So I think eating is quite intuitive that it does something to our blood glucose, but also movement does, also sleep and stress. And all these pillars immediately affect us, and we often know that. But this marker really gives us a take on how we can really visualize in the moment and then create a change from that. And the third is probably that it's just a really hot topic, the glucose monitoring, currently, and that's actually not a good thing. But we have really not only an obesity epidemic but really a metabolic health crisis. So a lot of people have problems with their glucose levels, not aware of it. A lot of people have, in general, problems with managing; yeah, I would say, their metabolism and have an energy crisis in their body. You could put it like that. And that's why we are really interested in glucose because if you manage glucose in the sense that you stabilize it, you can really improve your health in the short term and how much energy you have, midterm in the sense of what your weight is, and of course, long term to prevent diseases like diabetes or heart disease. WILL: Yeah, definitely. I think you're correct; you know, glucose is the one thing, especially for me, it's diabetes, and I know it in that direction. But also that after lunch drag that you hit, the wall that you hit whenever your glucose spikes and then it comes down and spikes, I mean, then crashes. I think that's the other direction people understand glucose from. DR. LATZ: Yeah, for sure. I mean, you bring up a great example, like the food coma after lunch. Everybody knows that, like, this energy and fatigue in the afternoon. But, I mean, you seem to be a little bit familiar with the technology, but a lot of people do not even connect the dots. They cannot really bring together what they eat and their behavior, for example, at lunchtime, how it really impacts them hours later. And what we love so much about the technology and what we can also use the Hello Inside servers a lot for is really to find out what you do, like, what you think is healthy often. A good example is a smoothie you drink that might spike your blood glucose, but you don't really understand it because you thought it was a healthy choice. So it gives me more nuance as to what is healthy for you because it's...and we didn't even stress that, but it's also highly personalized. So you and I would eat the same lunch, and we would react completely differently to it. So there's so much actionable data from it; that's what we love. And yeah, it's a little bit like running a lab test every few minutes of the day [chuckles] and give you the responses really on your smartphone to your hand and also some alternatives of how to create change there. WILL: Yeah, definitely. And I'm glad you brought that up because one of the questions I had for you is, with Hello Inside, how do you see it combating the bad advice around self-care and dieting when you're getting great scientific data? It's kind of hard to argue with the data and the numbers. DR. LATZ: For sure, yeah. I mean, we all know health, wellness, lifestyle. It all gets very close together, which has good sides and bad sides. But of course, people are still so confused in what is really good for them and their bodies. Because healthy, yeah, it's not a very specific term, especially in, let's stay with the example of food, what you put in, and different diet regimes you have. We see that there's so much frustration also in the market because all these one-size-fits-all recommendations in diet regimes or fasting regimes do not work for all people. And that's really why these personalized approaches, and as you say, data-driven approaches, are so crucial because then you really get power back in trusting your body and understanding how your personal health and well-being is really influenced. At the same time, it's super hard because some of these trends and fad diets have existed for a long time and have a huge community who really love them. But we see it really as a conversation, like a conversation we have with the users, but also a conversation that users have with their bodies. Because we know that creating change, especially behavior change, is like the holy grail for all health and also weight management tools. But it's also something that just takes a little longer because you need some experimenting. You need to find out what really works for you. But I'm quite convinced that when you see the data that's based on your body, that's something that you do not forget. If you see the foods that really spike you, surprisingly, this is really powerful. WILL: Yeah, definitely. And I can understand the benefit of it, especially, you know, you're working out two weeks, and your body really is not showing you any signs of change. But I can see how this could help in showing you the change, even if it's small, how you can say, hey, you're on the right track. DR. LATZ: Exactly. Yeah, it's like these small nudges. I mean, it's a monitor that already shows you the shortcuts and the little tweaks you make. For a lot of people, I always say if you find one food, one spiking element in your day and change that for the rest of your life, that's so much. For a lot of people, it's already in the breakfast. They jump on the blood glucose rollercoaster in the morning because they eat maybe porridge without any added protein to it. So it is very carb heavy, and they think it's super healthy and drink the oat milk latte. I mean, in general, there's nothing wrong with those foods, but you can combine them even better and add something to it and not really eliminate stuff but just add a nice mix of protein and fat to your carbs. And you will be so much fitter during the day. You will not have this huge spike putting you on the roller coaster in the morning. As we are very habitual people, I mean, people eat like 60 different foods per week, which is not a lot; once you find out what really works for you, that's super, super nice for the rest of your life. WILL: Yeah, definitely. And to be honest, I have been guilty of, oh, I just ate a very healthy meal. And then I go back and look at the nutritional facts, and I was like, what did I just eat? Because this was not healthy. DR. LATZ: Yeah, we should always learn and make mistakes and learn again. And it's like a jungle out there. I mean, health, in general, the healthcare market is quite complicated. And I think that doesn't only apply to Germany but definitely to where I'm based but also to the U.S. and all the different markets. And for food, it's the same; I mean, that's a little bit the enemy we all are trying to deal with because the food industry is so powerful. It has so much lobby. And you get so confusing information that this is really what we can use our tools now for to understand what really these, I would say, not always healthy but claimed healthy foods do to us. WILL: So, I have a question around wearable technology. So the last couple of years, there's been a trend of wearable technologies, the Garmins, the Apple Watches. This takes it to the next level. This is way more accurate than any of the wearables. Do you see this as the future in the next 5 or 10 years? DR. LATZ: Yeah, probably in the next 5 or 10 years, we will see even more to it in the sense of personalization. And also, I personally believe that we really have a toolbox here of different markers we use. Maybe some are still invasive, like the CGM you put on your arm that really measures the fluids invasively. But also, there will be an array of other things we can really include into our daily health checks. But this is definitely the next level of, as you said, Garmin and all these tracking tools because now we not only track data and have data, but we make them so actionable because we really put them into an immediate setting. So we can really calculate them now. I'm currently wearing my sensor, and I can have a look at my phone after we've finished recording and see, okay, what happened just now in my body? How did I respond to the setting? Was I super stressed? How is my lunch (because here it is early afternoon) affecting our body? We really had already the switch of not only measuring stuff but making it really approachable, actionable. And yeah, I think CGM will be one of the first tools where we can really make this approachable for the broad public; then, we will have a lot of different markers and sensors to look at. And in respect to glucose management, I really am looking forward to when we get the press announcement of some company that we can also non-invasively and continuously measure blood glucose, which is currently not feasible, and a lot of companies are working on it. So this would be very exciting in the next years. WILL: That's exciting. And I love how complex the human body is. DR. LATZ: Oh yeah. WILL: Like you just said, "How stressed was I?" And you can get that from your glucose level. DR. LATZ: Yeah, it's super complex, and it really takes the time to also figure out what...because just measuring data is not really exciting anymore. Then you have a lot of data, and then you're like, so what? So to really figure how interdependent these lifestyle pillars are of movement, sleep, food, et cetera, that really takes some time, but once you understand it, it makes so much sense. For example, stress is like this fight or flight response we've all heard about, and of course, you need energy for it. And that's why your blood glucose might go up because your body gives you energy to, for example, run away, [chuckles] or be alert. And then always breaking down to why our body does things always helps me to also make sense of the data. WILL: That's amazing. Really amazing. MID-ROLL AD: Now that you have funding, it's time to design, build and ship the most impactful MVP that wows customers now and can scale in the future. thoughtbot Lift Off brings you the most reliable cross-functional team of product experts to mitigate risk and set you up for long-term success. As your trusted, experienced technical partner, we'll help launch your new product and guide you into a future-forward business that takes advantage of today's new technologies and agile best practices. Make the right decisions for tomorrow, today. Get in touch at: thoughtbot.com/liftoff. WILL: So tell me what excites you about Hello Inside, the company. DR. LATZ: I mean, we founded this company with a very clear vision that we really want to help people to become experts of their body and really learn their body's language because this is a quite messed up system. We do not really understand our bodies' signals in the daily life. For example, hunger or thirst, a lot of people cannot really tell what the body is talking to them, so we think it's a super emotional topic. And especially the combination of these really approachable, emotional, real-life moments with newest tech is, I think, an amazing combination because we can reach people really where they are. We can give personalized insights of your personal body. This is also something that makes you so much more reliable and compliant in what you do. Then we can really display the data in a way that you can experientially learn from it. To give you an example, in our Hello Inside app, one of the favorite features of mine is the experiment feature, so you would have a food event. Let's make it super simple, eat an apple and feel your body in the next two or three hours. So that's usually when we take into account the response to that food. And then you compare that to one factor you change, so you eat the apple with some nuts or nut butter. I would suggest to most people, but of course, it's hyper individual, and what extent it changes in the blood glucose response just because you included the nuts, which include fat and protein. You can put these two graphs, these two blood glucose curves together, and you really see the gap between it just from including nuts in your diet. And this is this nice combination of visualization, data-driven insights, and also something where you, I mean, people love to take pictures of their food. And that's what you can usually do here. WILL: Wow, that's amazing. You were talking about your story behind using Hello Inside, the CGM. Do you or any of your clients have any success stories that you would like to talk about? DR. LATZ: Yeah, for sure. I mean, we are quite a young company. We launched only in June and are live now in seven European countries. And actually, I have some really, really cool stories. We launched with a very strong focus on women's health. So we have developed a program which is called Hello Hormones, which helps women along the cycle via the Hello Inside app. And this continuous glucose monitor really improves symptoms like PMS, which can be like bloating, pains, et cetera. And a lot of women didn't really understand (And how would they?) that your body has a very variable response to foods depending on the menstrual cycle. To visualize that, a very simple example would be eat in the first half of your cycle, before your ovulation, a banana, and eat the banana in the second half of the cycle. And I can promise you; you will have a different response to it which is super physiological. It has to do with insulin sensitivity. But you cannot really make sense of that (You feel differently in the phases.) which you now can really do when you saw in the data, really compared it, that you have higher levels of blood glucose maybe in the second half. And you can make small tweaks which help you then to really increase well-being also in the second phase of the cycle before you have your period, which can be by reducing inflammation by changing how you move during that time, et cetera. And this is what a lot of people, a lot of women, resonated with trying out the program. And then, of course, we have these super nice glucose hacks you might have heard about also, where some of my favorites are definitely also always connecting what you eat with movement, so moving your muscles after your meal. And I would say daily, we have such a high blast of user-generated content because people try it out, try the hacks, and then share their blood glucose response with us on social media. And this is so crazy to see. Also, people who are really into their bodies say, "I have these aha moments all the time just because I now understood, okay, it makes sense to have this type of breakfast. It makes sense how I eat my carbs, in which order I eat my food." We have next to the social media content also some coaching sections we offer for our clients where we also hear a lot of those stories that they're really often so, so surprised and so happy that they finally made sense of their body signals. WILL: Yeah, that's amazing. I'm a science geek; I'm just going to say it. DR. LATZ: [laughs] WILL: So I love how you can run your own scientific hypothesis and stuff. Like, you eat a banana at this time, how did it affect me? Okay, at this time, let me eat another banana. I just love that aspect because I don't think we have anything accurate enough right now that I know of besides actual drawing your blood in the lab or something like that that can actually give you that type of information. DR. LATZ: Yeah, and especially if you take a lab just like once a month or once a quarter, then it's also really like a snapshot of the situation and might even have depended on how much did you drink? How was the night before? Like, what did you eat? And put some markers even there. And now you really have the ability to make it, yeah, it's a little bit more playful. Because of course, we recommend experiments you can make, start with an apple, eat the chocolate, do the pasta versus the rice. But then you can customize it because it doesn't make sense to do experiments and try stuff out that you would never do in your daily life. So we always recommend start from where you really are. Wear the sensor for two, three days, just observe, and then look at what you really think is the problem for you. For a lot of people, it's the afternoon fatigue. So what could be the labor here? Where can we make a small change? And then you really, as you say, a little bit of research on your own body and experiment around and tweak here, tweak there and that's the nice part. Then you come to changes that you also stick with. This is what we have also seen on our team, which are like the early adopters, and we worked on it for over a year. We really see that we get better blood glucose response in the mornings. And we just changed a little bit what order we eat. If we go for ice cream, we just do a walk with the ice cream and all these small things which are really feasible and very, very contrary to what we also have in the diet culture, a lot of restrictive things. You cannot do that; you shouldn't do that. I always say it's very positive psychology; add that, combine it here, do some habits tweaking here. And you can really include that in your life further on. WILL: That's amazing. Let's transition and talk about the starting of Hello Inside. What's the story? How did...because I think it's you and three other founders. How did y'all come about starting Hello Inside? DR. LATZ: We are actually from very, very different backgrounds, but we have had some friends in common and some contacts, and, I mean, as I said, I'm a medical doctor. I have a digital health background. So I worked in digital health and other startups for over three years. My other co-founder is very much into the product and growth marketing. He was with Runtastic, which is now part of Adidas. So he has a sports lifestyle background and also expertise for the product. The other one is responsible for brand and community investor relations. He really built also his own companies before. And the fourth is the tech guy who also worked in a medical startup and had his own agencies. So really, as you see, different backgrounds but very nice combination because we bring a lot of skills together and combine them from very different angles, and yeah, this is also, I would say, our power, and of course, it's also at the same time a challenge because not everybody is familiar in the same depth with the topics. But I think that's often the point with diverse teams that you just have to communicate well to help the other people understand where you're coming from. We have to remind him to make research very understandable and really also explain that the tempo there sometimes is a little bit different, whereas I learn so, so much on what it means to build a product really at a high speed, to really iterate here and there. So when we met, of course, the idea was to do something really with impact, to do something in the healthcare space but not too far into med tech. And we're really, really focused on this preventative field. I mean, you always say there's no glory in prevention. Prevention is super unsexy [laughs] for the individual but also the society, and we really want to change that. Of course, Hello Inside was not Hello Inside from the beginning on then we found the name. And we're super happy with the company name, with the case we can make with looking inside, et cetera. Yeah, we're very much looking forward to building an even bigger company in the next years. WILL: That's amazing. Your background is the medical portion of it. And you have experience in patient care in private and public healthcare, so tell us more about that. Are you still practicing? And how did you get into becoming a medical doctor? What was that drive for you to become a medical doctor? DR. LATZ: To be frank, I was a business person first. [chuckles] WILL: Oh. DR. LATZ: I did first business bachelor, but that was like, for me, ages ago; [laughs] it feels like it. And after I finished my bachelor's, I was like yeah, okay, I want to do something else and applied for medical school, which was never on my mind before. And that's how it all started. I also had the chance to do my master's in business at the same time. So I always was like very open to look left and right. And then, I started working in patient care, just very classical, like in a university hospital in psychotherapy. And I loved it a lot. But also, I was missing something to bring in this more innovative, creative part of my interests. I had the chance in a startup to work at some time in the U.S. It's called AMBOSS. It's an ad-tech startup. That's where I came really in the startup field and understood from a very junior position more and more about what it means to build a company. Then I worked, coming back to Germany, for the ministry actually a little bit in the field of public health and prevention for diabetes. So here you see also how it now very well fits with what we're doing now, but of course, I can only say that now looking back. And I got certified in nutritional lifestyle medicine. And this is also something that really fascinates me a lot, like how these pillars really affect our lives all day, every day. And we do not learn so much also medical school about it, and that's where I learned for myself that this is really why I want to double down on these topics. And a little bit before the first pandemic wave started, I found my way into digital health for a startup, being one of the first employees there, and had two years then to really learn on the market, with the market what it means to create a digital health company, and did my postgraduate certificate in Harvard at that time. So I learned patient safety, quality, informatics, and leadership. And all these puzzle pieces then really fit well together last year when I met my co-founders, and we really iterated the idea more to build a company that combines all that, like, digital health and health and prevention with also metabolic health and lifestyle medicine, and, of course, all the innovative things we didn't know that they exist before and we are now learning on the market with. So this is how it all happened to me, and looking back, it all makes sense. But of course, there were a lot of segues. There were a lot of decisions to make on that journey. WILL: Yeah, which I'm glad you brought up the decisions. That was my next question. What have been some of the toughest times in the startup? And what have been some of the most exciting times in the startup? DR. LATZ: Yeah, I mean, I would even broaden up a little bit because just this week, we will launch a book which is in German but will also be in English soon, which really is quite personal. I wrote it with two other doctors, which is called Beyond Bedside. You could translate it. So we are all medical doctors who left bedside and found some new pathways, and two of us also as entrepreneurs. And we had a lot of those hard decisions to take. I think one of the biggest learnings is always...and I think that also applies well for the startups: what got you here won't get you there. So you need this willingness to unlearn. You need to really understand, okay, now I'm a medical doctor, and I learned a lot, but in the startup, I'm just one of many, and I need to learn from the others. And I need to be really, really humble about what I can and cannot do. I think this is always a problem of running a company. You want to be speedy because that's why you're a startup, but you also, especially in the healthcare space, need to do everything properly. And you have to navigate between really having a high quality, having everything according to guidelines because you're always working with people. It's always something you really need to be responsible of. This is also something that we need a lot of patience for a lot of things. But yeah, in general, I would say we did quite a good job as we are a remote-first company. So it was during the pandemic that we founded the company. We have people all over the world working for us. I mean, that's not really specific for our company. But from what I know from colleagues as well, you just need to communicate, and communicate, and overcommunicate in different time zones to really make everybody really aware of the vision, the mission, repeat it again. And strategic decisions need to be clear to everyone. So we put a high effort also on building a nice company culture and working on our ideas together and also get some on-sites where everybody can meet up. And yeah, this is sometimes really hard when you're so in your daily struggle, and there's so much to do. But then we need to take a step back and really say, okay, we need to invest in building an even better team. WILL: Yeah, definitely. Wow. Wow, wow, wow, that's amazing. You've done medical school. You've practiced, and you've founded. Those are hard. Let's just be honest; those are hard things that you have accomplished, so congratulations on that. DR. LATZ: Thanks, Will. WILL: What has been some of the best advice that you received to help you keep going when those things got hard? DR. LATZ: Do not ask the people who are in the very classical fit for...let me give you an example; I would not ask my chief when I worked in a hospital if I should leave the hospital because people who have always done it like that they would never recommend you to drop out and do something new and be innovative, and maybe also a little bit braver. So maybe the good advice from it would be ask the right people, ask a lot of people. And then, looking back, one thing I really learned myself is also it's really hard times you have, and sometimes it's really you're doubting yourself. You're really overwhelmed. There's a lot going on. Especially those times will be, looking back, the ones that can be your hero story. Those are the ones that make you an even better person in the sense of being a coach for others and also for yourself later on. So you really need those struggles to understand and carve out what really moves your heart and where you really want to be invested. And there's also, and this is probably also still hard for me, saying no to a lot of things. WILL: Hmm, that's really good advice, yes. Especially because you have experience in so many different areas, you can quickly overwhelm yourself by saying, "Yes." So, wow, I really like that advice. So in closing, is there anything else that you would like to share with us or with the audience? DR. LATZ: Maybe something that I observe, I mean, I don't know if it's in U.S. the same, but I could imagine it's like a trend that's going on. Everybody thinks he or she needs to be an entrepreneur, founder, like own something, be by yourself. It's just not for everyone. I think that's okay. And I think that it's great that it's not for everyone. We need all the diverse roles. We need all the diverse employees. And being something for the sake of just being it is not a good motivation. I think that nobody should really try to force him or herself into a role just because he or she thinks it's cool. There are many things you can do in your life and that you really should trust your gut and be also really brutally honest to yourself. And, like, I just want to be really...now it sounds better to say, "I just want to be a doctor," that's great. We need doctors; we need teachers; we need employees. There are so many great jobs, and there are so many days where I wish exactly the same. At the same time, entrepreneurship gives you so much freedom of thinking. You learn so much on the job from other people, from your whole team. So there are many roads in crazy town. [laughs] There are many roads in the world. And this is really something we need to be aware of, this exactly, that it is really, really cool that we can do so many things and have really diverse roles in our society. WILL: I love that advice because I 100% agree with you. Because I think there are people that are CEOs and they love to get out in front of people and talk and sell the company. But then you have a CFO or a CEO that's like, I just want to run the day-to-day, the books, or whatever that is, that's what I'm great at. So I love that advice. DR. LATZ: Yeah, exactly. WILL: Wow. Anne, it's been amazing talking to you about Hello Inside and just getting to know your company and you better. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today. DR. LATZ: Thank you for your great questions, Will. WILL: I appreciate it. You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at email@example.com. You can find me on Twitter @will23larry. This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. Thanks for listening. See you next time. ANNOUNCER: This podcast was brought to you by thoughtbot. thoughtbot is your expert design and development partner. Let's make your product and team a success.
Hello Giant Robot FM listeners! Please settle in for a Winter Night Podcast as Space Queen Emily stops by to cover *Beck Comes Back* and *Winter Night Phantom*, episodes 9 and 10 of The Big O. Please find Emily on twitter: https://twitter.com/SpaceQueenEmily Tweet us @giantrobotfm and write to us firstname.lastname@example.org Support Giant Robot FM directly on our Patreon page: patreon.com/giantrobotfm Giant Robot FM is hosted by Stephen Hero (@_stephen_hero) and pmcTRILOGY (@pmcTRILOGY) Art by DuarfS (https://www.behance.net/maezurita) (https://www.instagram.com/duarfs) Music by fretzl (@fretzl) (https://www.youtube.com/fretzl)
Stacy Kehren Idema is the Founder and Managing Director of Global Collective, which is revolutionizing how men and women do business. Chad talks to Stacy about the work Global Collective does, starting a company based in France, and the differences between doing business in the U.S. and the U.K. The Global Collective (https://www.globalcollective.global/) Follow The Global Collective on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/global-collective-global/). Follow Stacy on Twitter (https://twitter.com/stacyidema) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/stacykehrenidema/). Follow thoughtbot on Twitter (https://twitter.com/thoughtbot) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/150727/). Become a Sponsor (https://thoughtbot.com/sponsorship) of Giant Robots! Transcript: CHAD: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Chad Pytel. And with me today is Stacy Kehren Idema, the Founder and Managing Director of Global Collective, which is revolutionizing how men and women do business. Stacy, thank you for joining me. STACY: Chad, it is a pleasure. How are you today? CHAD: I'm well. I'm well. [laughs] I wasn't going to bring it up, but since you asked, I feel like whenever someone asks that question, I feel like I need to give an honest answer. STACY: Of course. CHAD: Because I think, so often, we don't answer honestly. We just sort of...so what's going on in my life right now is, unfortunately, even though we got our fourth boosters three weeks ago, my wife tested positive for COVID yesterday. STACY: Oh no. CHAD: And so she feels fine. She feels mostly fine. But we have kids and everything, so it throws a huge wrench into life right now. We're very fortunate that we've got vaccines, and it'll be mild and everything, but it is a big wrench in our life. STACY: It is. CHAD: Today, tomorrow, for the next week, so... STACY: I'm sorry. CHAD: Yeah, so she's in a different part of the house, quarantining away from all of us, and we're hoping for the best. STACY: Me too. CHAD: We could probably do a whole hour around how life is for all of us right now, coming in this different stage of the pandemic. I hesitate now to ask you, how are you today? [laughs] STACY: I'm here in London, so, for me, it's the end of my day. And fortunately, I haven't had COVID in a few months. But I know that experience and being even alone was enough to put a wrench in everything. So I get it. CHAD: Yeah. Yeah. Well, let's get back to Global Collective. I gave just a brief snippet. But can you tell people a little bit more about what it is you're actually doing? STACY: Yes, I would be honored. So the mission of The Global Collective is to revolutionize really how investment companies invest in female-founded and led businesses, and there are three key areas of that. It's really about changing gender perceptions by actually connecting the unique strengths of each gender. And if you were to even remove the gender piece, it's really talking about the core masculine and the feminine energies of how and what resides in all of us. How can we bring more of the flow and the creativity into business? The mission is also designed to eliminate the diversity gap. How can we make things better, more equitable, easier both for the men and the women, you know, going back to the genders? And something that's very near and dear to my heart is really about increasing the financial benefit and, frankly, the mental well-being in business because one thing that we don't talk enough about is the impact that mental health can have not only on our personal life but on business and vice versa. And I think it's starting to come out more and more. But with founders, with entrepreneurs, and with executives, that mental illness journey has actually increased, and there are some really interesting statistics on it. So, how can we make it a non-shaming conversation? And how can we actually help each other in this area? So the mission is really about transforming business into something different that I think we're all feeling the need for. And how it actually came about was from my 50 years of business and personal experience. I was born into business owners, into a family of business basically. My first husband was a generational business owner and had the hard position to be in, and he had to choose family over business. And then I, in my corporate career, had a really long tenured corporate career. I worked 26 years in companies as small as 40 as well as at Fortune 7 companies where we even did new initiatives, new businesses, startups within those. And modestly, most of my time was actually spent with male executives. And I'm a woman in business. I've been in business a really long time. So that's a little bit about the mission and how The Global Collective came about. CHAD: You're not the first guest we've had on the show that's talked about these issues. But I'm curious because it is more of a conversation right now. It's something that we've been talking about on the show. Is there something that people in that environment that maybe people still don't realize or that you need to just reiterate over and over again here are the challenges, here are the differences, here's what's happening in the real world right now? STACY: Specific to the mental health piece? CHAD: Either the mental health piece or just women in business and what it's like for them. STACY: Well, I think this is where I love to talk a little bit about the extremes and where those extremes are actually very similar. I believe that men feel like there's this weight of the world on their shoulders and that they have to provide, and serve, and do. And I also believe women do as well, you know, provide for their family, protect for their family. For many women, they may even be a single parent, and with that, they want to be able to go out and provide for themselves and do. So you have this desire, this deep desire to do both of those things differently, yet, we're going at it both parallel. And at some point, I think the convergence and really where things start to explode in a beautiful way is when we get to come together. Because if we go about it in a very myopic fashion, we often miss the things that are going on around us that could be a benefit. So from a very specific where I'm very focused on in the venture capital and investment space, so much of what has happened over the course of business time, if you will, and when venture capital investments started, which is, you know, I would imagine hundreds and hundreds of years, it has been mostly men that have done that investment. And when you look at the world as it exists today, it is mostly men that...I don't want to say control the money, but they're the ones in that business. So when you continue on doing the same thing that you've always done and you don't do anything new, that's telling us a couple of things: you don't know how, or you're afraid. And women, on the other hand, are going about doing their thing, working really, really hard. They're probably even more so working harder because it takes longer for them to earn just as much as a man. If they get funded, it takes longer to get funded, and then they actually get less, but they get to that point. And in the meantime, they've had to either endure additional risks to their family by not spending time with their family, or giving up their family and focusing on the business, or focusing solely on their family and giving up the business. So we don't have to do things the way that we're doing them now. And the other element, and where the mental health piece comes in, is this thought that we still have to do these things in these linear ways when we can actually come together and learn the beauty of what men do well in business and the beauty of what women do well in business, and figure out how to do it differently. CHAD: You mentioned you have a lot of experience working for other companies. So I'm curious, when did you start to feel like you needed to do something to solve this problem and potentially create a new company around it? STACY: I've always had a deep desire to do business differently. And what I didn't know at the time in my corporate career was why I didn't feel like I fit in. Having grown up in that business world and knowing what it was like before cell phones and you still had your landline, and a Sunday evening, the telephone rings, and you're sitting at dinner, and your parents dare not answer the phone because the phone will keep ringing until somebody answers. That's just how it happened in the small town I grew up in. Knowing that stress and that pain and watching them go through that to being married to a small business owner, and then being in the rooms and the spaces of the people and hearing the stress and the pain, there was this thing that followed me all the way through that knew that business had to be done differently. And I attempted to insert it a lot in my corporate career, and for most, because I wasn't a box-checker, I didn't fit in. But the deep desire to finally do it differently was in 2019 when I was made redundant. I had been working and doing coaching on the side, and it was my goal to finally go into business for myself. But in 2020, I divorced myself and decided to take myself on a journey. My children are a little older; they're in their early 20s. And I decided to just kind of come back to myself and understand what did I need to do this business for me and to do with what was deeply passionate within me. And could I do it in another country? So in 2021, I spent six months in London and, as part of that journey, did some work for a woman who owns a diversity, & inclusion, and belonging company. And through that experience and listening to her, along with a few other women, talk about that journey to get invested, there was something inside of me that just clicked. It was as if I was reliving sitting in front of capitol committees in my corporate world and listening to the same stories. I'm like, you know, that's just not how things have to happen. It was that moment that I knew it wasn't for me just about helping the women in business and helping them scale their business; it was something bigger than that because, in order to do that, to make that change, and to really make a meaningful change, you have to bring the men along for the journey. You have to help them. I know there are many men out there that are all for women-owned businesses, co-founded businesses, women-led businesses, and many of them come to me privately and talk to me about it. And my response is I need you not to tell me; I need you to show me. And with that, I've also learned that many of them are afraid. They're afraid to do something different, which tells me that we have to create a space for both the men and the women to thrive. Otherwise, we'll just keep spinning our wheels and doing the same thing over and over again. And it will be far more difficult to get to where we need to get to than how we can get to where we want to go doing it a different way. CHAD: So, what does the work Global Collective does look like? Is it coaching? Is it more than that? Is it different than that? STACY: My end vision, the bigger vision, is really this end-to-end ecosystem. So there are roughly five elements or five stages of a business idea: start, sustain, scale, and exit. The focus right now is on the scale and working through pilots with investors and with women in business to learn what and how we do it differently. Coaching will be a component of it, the mental health journey and navigating how that works for the founder and the business owner executive also becomes part of it. But it also is extensive external networks and communities that we bring into that ecosystem that can support both the investors and their journey and the women in business and their journey. Because the other elements that I have learned along the way is when these investors invest in these all-male-led firms, they don't even know how to help those businesses diversify. They themselves even know and have that challenge. Let's take, for example, a woman founder who would like to go on maternity leave. It's more often that she will leave that business because the pressure from the investors to stay in the business and choose business over family is great. Wouldn't it be fantastic if there was a collection of fractional C-suite individuals that get to come in and help that business along on that journey? And not only does the female founder get to be part of deciding who and what will be taken on and for how long, but the investor and the business. And then that way, everyone is along on that journey and is in agreement of what's going to happen. So there isn't that pressure to have to choose between business and family for anyone. CHAD: I guess that's part of where the collective idea and name comes from. STACY: Yeah. CHAD: That's great. You mentioned you moved to the UK as part of this journey. Are you working with companies primarily focused on the UK, or are you doing it globally? STACY: My focus right now is the U.S. and the UK. So I actually started a brand new business. I secured my own visa. And as part of that visa, I had to start a new business, which was this business. So yeah, the primary locations right now have been UK and U.S. If an opportunity came up in a different country, that would be fantastic, exciting, but that's where I've been focused are in those two areas. CHAD: When thoughtbot was getting started in Europe, like most locations that started for us, it was driven by someone who was from there originally and wanted to go back. So when we were getting started, me and my family...my wife was working for a company based in France at the time, and so we were able to go over for the summer. The kids were out of school for the summer. And so we spent several months there, and we loved it. And we're fully remote now, but when we had an office there, I would go about once a month. There's probably a small list of places where I could see myself living [laughs], and that's at the top of the list. Was that the case for you? Did something particularly resonate for you? STACY: You know, I had never been to Europe. And when I was looking at where I would go, I wanted a place that would be culturally diverse. I wanted a place where I could learn, just even be more immersed in history, and feel safe as a single woman in a foreign country. I'm grateful for my family. They're always very concerned about me, and frankly, so are my boys. Having two young adult men, I worried about them, but now they worry about me has started to come into play. For me, it was really about where can I be that would be safe, culturally diverse, and allow me the ability to travel, and to your point, to just go explore new things, really to take a different perspective even outside of the gender diversity piece, the cultural, the language, all of those things? And so this place is home, and I didn't know that when I set off. I thought it just would be; I'll go see how it is for three months. And then I wasn't even here a week, and I said three months wouldn't be enough and stayed six. And it was about five weeks into that journey that I said six months won't be enough; I need to be here longer. And then that's when I did more due diligence from the visa standpoint. MID-ROLL AD: Now that you have funding, it's time to design, build, and ship the most impactful MVP that wows customers now and can scale in the future. thoughtbot Liftoff brings you the most reliable cross-functional team of product experts to mitigate risk and set you up for long-term success. As your trusted, experienced technical partner, we'll help launch your new product and guide you into a future-forward business that takes advantage of today's new technologies and agile best practices. Make the right decisions for tomorrow today. Get in touch at thoughtbot.com/liftoff. CHAD: Is there anything that either has stood out to you or surprised you about differences between business in the U.S. and the UK? STACY: It's fascinating to see how much they complain. The U.S. and the UK complain about each other and their work standards, yet how much they like what each other does. So I would say some of the biggest differences is that the city truly never seems to sleep, yet they definitely take time away from work and business and are very family-focused. That's probably some of the biggest things that I have learned as part of it, and especially having grown up in the culture that I grew up in, in corporate, where it was very much the grind of the nine-to-five plus. So there are some slight differences. I think, if anything, there's just so much more culture and people here that have come from so many other different parts of the world that that's probably the thing that I noticed the most. CHAD: Do you think that the work you're doing is ready to be received more or less in either of the places? STACY: I think different parts of it are more ready to be received in different parts in each country. CHAD: Can you tell me more about that? STACY: Yeah, there's probably more heavy gender influences here in the UK, especially with Scandinavian countries that are much more gender equitable. So I think that piece is very much a belief here. And there are other elements that support both sets of parents from a family standpoint in this country. So I think that is more readily received. I also do know that women-owned businesses are significantly less here and certainly less from getting funded. I think that's where the U.S. is further ahead in that game. However, the number of businesses that are started by women are significantly more than what they are here. It becomes more about who's louder with certain pieces. I think the U.S. is louder in that area. I think the UK is more open and receptive. CHAD: One of the things that I learned about investment in general between the U.S. and the UK is there's not, I mean, it's just not as big of a place as the U.S. The amounts are often less. And I'll say, speaking a little bit more generally, I would say people in the UK, investors in the UK, are a little bit focused on different things. They're maybe a little bit more risk-averse, or they're focused on different markets. So the investment community is a little bit different between the two different places. Does that make the opportunity for founders, particularly women founders, any different between the two different places? STACY: From the research that I've done through some interviewing with investors and then the research I've done on my own, there's a lot of little, smaller type of investment for female founders in the U.S. than there is in the UK. But that said, one thing that seems to be very prevalent is how much Europe, in general, talks about London being the epicenter for Europe and investment. You're asking a great question that I hadn't thought about in that framework. CHAD: Yeah, and I don't know the answer either [laughs], so... STACY: What I do know is in the U.S., there are more female-founded investment companies and female-led. However, I do know many of them are very much sticking to U.S. companies. But what I do know is that the UK is starting to leverage more and work in more partnership with U.S. investment companies. CHAD: So if I am an investment firm, chances are that my entire, especially the leaders in the firm, are probably all men, maybe not, but if not all men, then the majority. So if I was sitting in that seat, how do we get started on this journey? Contact you? [laughter] STACY: Yeah, contact me. [laughs] Honestly, it begins with a conversation. This is the really interesting piece that I don't think that we've yet talked about is women believe that men have control of all the money. And while they may be the ones that are leading more of these investment firms, it's not just up to them, if you will. There is this piece of the puzzle that, yes, we have these male-led investment firms, and they have repeatedly invested in mostly male-led businesses. But we have these women who have these beautiful businesses. Women are known for going to market with products and services that have fewer competitors in the market because 70% to 90% of consumer buying decisions around the globe are made by women. And so when they're out there buying and they see a gap, that's where a lot of these women start these businesses is based off of this gap that they see in the market, but they do have the power. How can I, as part of this...and even the men because I know I wouldn't be where I am today without the male mentors and influencers in my life encouraging me to be bolder and to be better. And they could see in me some things I wasn't yet willing to acknowledge. We, women, have to do the same for each other. We have to help each other be bolder, be braver, not assume that we are at the mercy of somebody else; we're not. We get to be in partnership with each other as women, and we get to go have these conversations with these men. So I think that's the part that's missing in that. So back to your question about if men want to get started in this, what do they do? Contact me, yeah, because let's start to have a conversation. There are so many men that know that they want to do different; they just don't know how. And when they do even see a woman come through the door, it's most often as a co-founder. They're not even sure what to do different to attract more of that. So that's when we get to talk about what is it that they're doing today? Where are they going to look? Who are they calling in? And how does that change their business? Because, at the end of the day, it's not as easy as just investing in women-owned businesses. And I get this question a lot; the question is, "Hey, Stace, are you going to bring us a list of women-owned businesses that we can invest in?" And my response is always with a smile. However, what I say is "No," or "You would have already done that because the list is already available to you." How they do business will transform. And that's the part that they get to go on this journey with The Global Collective is how do they transform their business as part of that? And that's scary to think. You've done something for so long. You do it really well. You make a lot of money doing it. Yes, there's risk, and as part of this, there's something even greater that would transform how you do business. So it becomes a longer conversation. It's not just about contacting me; I think that's the point I'm trying to get out. [laughter] It's a long-term relationship, and most don't consider that. And I certainly know that women don't either. CHAD: So, speaking of that, what is the flip side of this if I'm a woman thinking about doing something new or already working on something? What do I do to get started with this and position myself differently or better? STACY: It's A, building your network. And this is where it gets really uncomfortable for women because the fear of asking for money from men it's a real fear with this perception that they have control. But it's really our own mindset around money and the fact that there's enough of it available. So how do we create diversity in who we talk with, who we talk to? What is it that we are looking to bring to market? Doing some research but not doing so much that you get caught in your own bubble if you will. I would imagine, Chad, that especially those that you've interviewed and even on your own journey doing this as a founder or even being an executive, it can get kind of lonely. And sometimes we get into that I'm just going to do it, and I'm just going to do it. And I'm going to do it until it's perfect and kind of forget that along the way; we need checkpoints. So for women, it's the mindset factor of going in and doing something different, which means doing things that they've never done before: getting help, getting a coach, getting a mentor, putting together an advisory board, people that will hold you accountable, maybe even see your blind spots. It also is understanding that if you go pitch to one investment company, or one investment firm, or one investor and they say "No," okay, that doesn't mean that it's the end of the world. They just may not be for you at that time. And there's plenty more out there. So keep refining. Keep doing your thing. Continue to build your community. Continue to build your voice. And with that, also know that...and this is even part of my journey. You have to be confident in what it is that you're doing. You don't have to be confident in everything that you have to do to get it done, but you have to be grounded in what it is that you're bringing and what it is that you offer. Because the one thing that isn't talked about enough, and I've heard this enough with investors, is they're actually investing in the person. Yes, they're investing in a business, but they're investing in a person at the end of the day. And that part is overlooked. It's not just bringing something to market to bring it to market if you will. CHAD: I hear that a lot. I think you're absolutely right. And I think that that gets too close, maybe, to what one of the core problems is. I think if investors are used to investing in people rather than the product and the stream of people that they're used to investing in looks a certain way or behaves a certain way, they're making decisions heuristically, oh, this makes a successful co-founding pair, or this makes us successful founder. And when something shows up that doesn't match the rest of what they see or the heuristic that they have, they really aren't able to think that that will be successful. STACY: I know myself even being in the rooms that I've been in and doing the work that I did; this journey has been nothing short of a beautiful journey of learning. And the craziest things have happened, as in, they're more difficult than I would have ever imagined mostly because I got in my own way. Or it has required me to learn the nomenclature that's applicable to the investor world, that's very similar to working with capital committees and finance and corporate. However, they use the word slightly. They use either slightly different words or they use them in a different way. So I've been very lucky. One of my advisors is actually a serial tech entrepreneur who has gone for funding alone half a dozen times, and so even when he and I will sit and talk about things, I continue to learn from him every single time. I said it this way. It would resonate more in this way. Which when you think about that, that doesn't mean I change my story, and my belief, and my confidence, and my grounding, and what it is that I'm bringing; it just means that I'm learning to speak different languages, and/or to be able to assimilate in an easier way. If what I say doesn't resonate with one investor, I can find another way to describe what it is that I'm attempting to describe in a language that might resonate more with him. It's not just about here's my business. Here's how we're going to make money, and the bottom line number says I'm making revenue. It's about the bigger pieces of it. It's about being confident in your story, what it is that you're offering, what it is that your strengths are, frankly. And I think there's a disconnect there. Wow, this could be a whole topic of its own, the perception that the founder has to know how to do everything or that we believe that we have to do everything. And then, what's your staying power in all of this? And I think that's even lost on itself. It's not for the faint at heart. And you learn not to take things personal, and you develop a thicker skin. But you still have to remain rooted in your core values. CHAD: On that note of the misconception or the perception that founders need to know or do everything, there's something that I'm curious about that's sort of an extension of that for you. I've had other guests on the show where they're coming at it from a perspective of a lot of the same issues, but they're focused on getting more founders of color access to investment on both sides of that equation. The language you use is around gender and men and women, but we know there are people that don't fit into those boxes specifically, either. So how have you chosen what you've decided to focus on? And how do you not get overwhelmed from all the sorts of the landscape and how big this problem is? STACY: That's a great question because you're right, and I think about that often. I speak more in the norm, the heterosexual norm, genders. I am starting to talk more about the energies that really take away from the men and the women and really speak more about the masculine and the feminine. For me, that piece of it is where I'm staying focused because it's where I know I can do and make the most impact. However, I believe that when we start to make traction in this way, we also get to make traction from a race and a color...and this is where the corporate culture is starting, I think, to understand and become more well-versed in the masculine and feminine energies. And when you can speak more in that language about the benefits that every single person has regardless of gender, when we get to speak in that language that is more inclusive, then I also believe that we get to include more people, more humans because, at the end of the day, we're all human. That's the one thing that we all [laughs] have in common. We get to speak in that language. But I think the fact that my end vision...the end goal is so big that to your question about how do I not get lost in the rest of it, I know that will come along as part of it. Even though it may not be the language that I use, I know deep in my heart that creating this opportunity and the shift for people to see those perspectives and for me as a founder to also ensure that within my values, I look to have inclusivity in other ways other than gender myself will be of value. And in the meantime, those external...the business partnerships, the other elements of my business and who I get to work with or who we get to work with as a collective will include those that are more well-rounded into the language, and I can learn from them. And we get to do these things together, so I do believe that it comes together. I've really led with that so that I don't get so overwhelmed in attempting to accomplish everything. CHAD: Yeah. And I think the things you're working on feel different than just creating another business or another product like a SaaS product or that kind of thing, but I think a lot of the same principles still apply. And if you come out with something that is meant to be everything to everybody and you're not building from your experience, chances are good you're not going to be as successful as if you could focus and build from your experience and find your niche, and find the people who can help you do what you want to do and have the impact you want to have and then grow from there, as opposed to doing everything all at once. STACY: Yeah, I agree. CHAD: But it's tough because it's hard to say, "No, I'm not working on that now," because it is still important. STACY: It is. The one thing I did, unknowing that this was going to happen but almost three years ago, while in my former life and in my corporate career, I led global teams and worked with different teams across the globe and had a little bit more of that cultural experience. The one thing that I really got hung up on when I first started was figuring out what my niche was because I've had all of that experience. But what I do know is that you get to create your own niche. That was something that took me a really long time to figure out. I was so centered on conforming to what everyone else told me would be my niche. And I knew that there was something missing. And so part of what I do now, which is the beauty of living where I live now because there's so many different pockets of the culture pieces of it, race, religion, and ethnic backgrounds, I get to continue to build my network and my community with that thought in mind of being able to look for partnerships and have conversations, whether I'm here, whether it's those that are in the U.S. now that I have the attention of. It's all those things, and that just makes it better. CHAD: Yeah. Well, if this has resonated with people and they want to find out more, they want to get in touch with you, they want to start that conversation, where should they go to do that? STACY: They will find me...website is globalcollective.global. You will also find me on LinkedIn under Stacy Kehren Idema, as well as on Instagram under stacykehrenidema. CHAD: Stacy, I really appreciate you joining the show and sharing with us. I appreciate the impact that Global Collective seeks to have. And I wish you all the best, I really do. So, thank you so much. STACY: Thank you. It's been a pleasure. Thanks, Chad. CHAD: You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at email@example.com. And you can find me on Twitter at @cpytel. This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. Thanks so much for listening, and I'll see you next time. ANNOUNCER: This podcast was brought to you by thoughtbot. thoughtbot is your expert design and development partner. Let's make your product and team a success. Special Guest: Stacy Kehren Idema.
Dark secrets under the sea? The secret to life itself? These memories and more are discussed as pmc and Stephen are once again joined by Andy of The Big O Archive to talk through The Call from the Past and Missing Cat, the seventh and eighth episodes of The Big O. Please find Andy here: Twitter: https://twitter.com/EnginVIR Site: http://thebigoarchive.com/ Tweet us @giantrobotfm and write to us firstname.lastname@example.org Support Giant Robot FM directly on our Patreon page: patreon.com/giantrobotfm Giant Robot FM is hosted by Stephen Hero (@_stephen_hero) and pmcTRILOGY (@pmcTRILOGY) Art by DuarfS (https://www.behance.net/maezurita) (https://www.instagram.com/duarfs) Music by fretzl (@fretzl) (https://www.youtube.com/fretzl)
John Ridd is the Co-Founder and CEO of Greenpixie, which is building solutions to reveal and reduce cloud emissions. Chad and Will talk to John about giving a clearer view of AWS emissions down to the service level, why cloud emissions are a much bigger sustainability issue than most people realize, and how this will be the next big issue of the climate crisis. Greenpixie (https://greenpixie.com/) Follow Greenpixie on Twitter (https://twitter.com/greenpixiehq), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/greenpixiehq/), or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/greenpixie/). Follow John on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/john-c-ridd/). Follow thoughtbot on Twitter (https://twitter.com/thoughtbot) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/150727/). Become a Sponsor (https://thoughtbot.com/sponsorship) of Giant Robots! Transcript: CHAD: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Chad Pytel. WILL: And I'm your other host, Will Larry. And with us today is John Ridd, the Co-Founder, and CEO of Greenpixie, which is building solutions to reveal and reduce the emissions of the cloud. CHAD: John, thank you so much for joining us. I have to admit that as a developer, this is something that I've been thinking a lot about recently. We practice test-driven development. We run continuous integration, even the things that we have running in the cloud in terms of the websites that we run and that kind of thing. I'm also just really becoming aware of when I make a new branch in everything that I run, and I'm making a code change and pushing that up to GitHub; it then kicks off a build every single time any team member is doing that. And I can just see the impact that even just a single software product can have potentially on our environment. And I've started to become more and more guilty about that. So I'm excited to talk to you about how [laughs] we might be able to fix that problem. JOHN: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the big reasons that we've really seen the opportunity in the cloud emissions space is this disconnect really between how developers are incentivized to think, and rightfully so. They need to build and innovate at all costs; that's what drives the innovation in any tech company or any company. But the sustainability way of thinking and thinking, what am I building? What servers am I using and turning on? Just hasn't been in the conversation with developers. And they're the ones who are making these decisions using cloud providers to build out the products that the company needs. So it's great to hear that you're now aware of this impending issue from development. CHAD: So I'm excited to dig more into the product. But I'm curious, you were doing digital marketing before starting Greenpixie, right? JOHN: Yeah, I ran my own marketing consultancy, worked with a number of companies, big and small. And where I found my knack was sort of demand generation; really, starting off projects from nothing is what I've always done. It's clear now that...so Greenpixie was a bootstrap startup. Really using that ability to at least come up with an idea and take it from zero to one, bring demand to an issue, that's how Greenpixie started. And it actually started with the head of engineering, Chris, who I met at my co-working space, and really we traded ideas through a hackathon on the weekend. And I had this idea when it came to website emissions and just knew that there was a software and a product play there. And what we do is connect into Google Analytics, put it through some carbon algorithms, and give them the ability to see how much digital carbon the website is producing. And from my marketing background, we've developed our own marketing, internal marketing software, which is a combination of we've built our own email servers with a high inbox. And we do semantic web scraping to find relevant prospects in the sustainability space. So we built the MVP and put this idea for Greenpixie out to the world, and the overwhelming response that we got was people being shocked at the idea of digital carbon and how their digital operations do have a sustainability impact. It really gave us the confidence to think there's demand for this idea of emissions. And since then, we've now moved into carbon emissions down the carbon rabbit hole. But my marketing experience explains how it started in the first place. CHAD: So how does...sometimes when faced with, I think, all kinds of climate issues, people can feel overwhelmed or helpless or feeling like what do I do as an individual to have an impact? So what does Greenpixie and Cloud NetZero enable an individual, team, or company, or developer to actually see and do? JOHN: Cloud NetZero connects into the leading cloud providers. So at this stage, we can give a clearer view of your AWS emissions down to the service level. And this is a key first step. So we take a you can't affect what you can't measure philosophy. And that was a big, big step for us. And by cutting into the cost and usage reports and putting it through our carbon algorithms, we can then get visibility to engineers. So everything you're building up in the cloud, we then give a full transparent view of the associated emissions that are being created from that by using our algorithms and methodology to convert the electricity used from the computation and storage and take into account the geographic location of the data centers of which you're using. As you can imagine, there are different carbon intensities in different countries during different times of the day. So we actually hook up into an API that gives us this carbon intensity data down to the hour. So we give a really comprehensive view of your carbon emissions footprint, which is what we consider the gold standard in sustainability. Because what makes the digital vertical so unique within sustainability is we've got data coming out of our ears. [chuckles] The data is there to connect into the software, so we can give this crystal clear picture. Whereas in other branches of sustainability, if you're into supply chains, et cetera, you've got real-world problems that you have to put real-time into. So that's the first step that we do is giving you this clear picture of your emissions. And from that, we then proceed to suggest reduction strategies to reduce those emissions. WILL: John, I'll be honest. Before getting on the podcast with you, I never thought about my cloud emissions as a developer. Now I'm seeing, wow, there is a lot there with that. On your Twitter, I saw this stat: imagine driving 1.3 billion miles all the way to Saturn. The carbon you would release would be about the same as the amount from all of these streams of Netflix's top 10 shows in the month that were released, 6 billion hours of viewing. I'm just mind-blown just thinking about that. For someone who is just now thinking about my cloud emissions, what would you tell me as a developer or any CEO that's listening to the podcast? JOHN: So yeah, you're right. This is a much bigger sustainability issue than most people realize. Currently, it's estimated around 2% of global emissions are from the cloud and data centers use, which puts it near the level of the aviation industry. And because the cloud is so esoteric and it's called the cloud, you think it's light and fluffy, and you're like, okay, it's over there; it's fine. But there's a hard infrastructure that makes up the digital world that we enjoy, and that's thousands of racks of servers. That's so much gallons, like, millions of gallons of water used to cool these data centers. And because of this, there are countries such as Ireland and Singapore that have now begun to ban further construction of data centers. Because in Ireland, over 10% of the grid is taken up by these, well, I believe there was an article in The Telegraph that referred to these data centers as vampires, [laughs] vampires on the grid sucking all this energy up. And the reason that this exists is it comes down to a company level or to a developer level. You're renting these data centers in order to grow your operations. And this aggregate demand goes straight into why these data centers exist and how much electricity they're using. But what you can do for a certain output...because we're a tech company and we love tech. And that makes us different to maybe some sustainability, really hardline sustainability environmental point of view because we actually think you can achieve the same output for 40% less energy use. So there's waste that is pretty rife across the cloud space, and that also comes with the amount of money spent on the cloud. There can be servers that have been left turned on that are no longer used. There can be non-essential computation that could be moved to low carbon intensity hours of the day. And there's so much that can be done and still basically enjoy and build the tech that we all aspire to build. CHAD: I'm going to resist taking a tangent into What We Do in the Shadows and the energy vampire, or we can call them Colin, I guess, instead of vampires. JOHN: Yeah, yeah. [laughter] CHAD: So I used the calculator that you have on the website on our website, thoughtbot.com. I was pleased to see that it produces less carbon than 95% of websites. What goes into that calculation, though? JOHN: So what we do on the estimator, on the webpage, the calculator, so we take into account whether your server being used is green or standard based on requesting that homepage. And then, really, there's a lot of overlap with PageSpeed optimization, rightfully, so the heavier the web pages, the more images. And if it's been coded lazily and it's heavy, which it hasn't been in your case, which I'm sure you're really happy about, that basically does have an effect on the electricity used in order to serve the website. And we also provide a website carbon report, which goes a step further and takes into account your Google Analytics, which goes for all your pageviews and takes into account some other factors too. CHAD: When you're looking at the carbon footprint of a website, am I understanding that you're also taking into account the carbon footprint of the people viewing what it takes to view the website on the client too? JOHN: It's very interesting, and we are going into the client side of emissions. That is definitely something that we're looking into and continue to do so. But now we focus more on the cloud. We stuck with websites as our main priority, that would mean the next step was going into client side, and it can, and that logic does go up. And it shows the ability of measuring sustainability impact when it comes to digital because, of course, you can get device information from Google Analytics, and that can then be used to give an accurate prediction. But that is something that we would definitely consider doing in the future. But you see the potential. It can go in all these different directions. CHAD: A little bit of a meta question, then, so the calculator is running on people's websites. What is the carbon footprint of running the calculator on the site? [laughs] JOHN: Well, that's the thing; we do have transparency of our own operations. So we're a seed-stage startup, and our operations might get a lot bigger. But for now, and given the sustainable approach, we take with how we run our cloud and run these tools, around two tons of CO2 we produce in a month from operations. But looking into other tech companies, you can imagine how AWS can get when it comes to the bigger companies and everything in between. It can really be hundreds or tens of tons. That has been currently unaccounted for and not addressed, which put into perspective, it's acting on your carbon emissions as an individual. And let's say you're a developer who has the power to do this. You can have the effect of like ten times going vegan or not using air travel. So it's just really we really love the idea of combating carbon emissions, and developers, particularly combating carbon emissions is, using your unique skills in order to fight the climate crisis in a way that a non-technical person couldn't. CHAD: So what are some of the things that you're doing as a company to solve that for yourself? Are there particular cloud hosting providers that are actually better than others? JOHN: Yes, it does vary. So there are the big cloud providers, and we are on AWS due to the startup credit scheme, which, as you can imagine, that's very beneficial when you're starting from a bootstrapped model. And within AWS, you can actually...so choosing the geographic location of where you're spinning up the servers is one way you can reduce that. So our servers are in Ireland. So we're part of that issue actually, now that I think about it, because they have a relatively low carbon intensity. And that's one way that we ensure the carbon we're using is minimized. But there's a whole spectrum. So if you wanted to go at all costs and convenience and costs are out the window, there are niche carbon fighters, which actually are off-grid renewable power data centers. If you have the means, that is the optimum you can go in terms of the carbon intensity. But in terms of how we build, so just the typical making sure that we're turning off products, features, and servers that we don't use and being mindful of that, putting non-essential compute to low-carbon intensity periods in the day and just minimizing costs and using computation for a certain output is how we take that philosophy. MID-ROLL AD: Are your engineers spending too much time on DevOps and maintenance issues when you need them on new features? We know maintaining your own servers can be costly and that it's easy for spending creep to sneak in when your team isn't looking. By delegating server management, maintenance, and security to thoughtbot and our network of service partners, you can get 24x7 support from our team of experts, all for less than the cost of one in-house engineer. Save time and money with our DevOps and Maintenance service. Find out more at: tbot.io/devops. WILL: On your website, I see that 127 billion is wasted in idle cloud spend, so obviously, one of your goals is to reduce that amount. What other goals is your company looking forward to solving? JOHN: I would say our main goal is to reduce millions of tons of needless cloud emissions using scalable software. That is our guiding light. But within that, it correlates largely with cost savings for companies. So we could actually save companies millions of pounds as well or millions of dollars. So I'm from the UK; [laughter] I went for pounds. Yeah, that's the big push; that's our guiding light. And we really want to be the torchbearers for digital sustainability as an idea. So having the awareness, we take responsibility for driving awareness for the issue also. As a team, we have a great combination of technical minds but also creative and marketing, getting the message out there and demystifying carbon emissions. So it's a technical issue because there's a technical issue when you dig into it. But we want to put it in a way that a non-technical decision maker in the C-suite would understand the issue in terms of the effects that you can have as a company in a sustainability drive. CHAD: So you mentioned you got started from that original hackathon idea. And how did things progress for you from there? You now have a team of people working. Did you end up taking some investment in order to continue on? JOHN: We did. We actually started it...so we started it as a passion project from that hackathon, saw the potential. I saw a small business opportunity through the website measuring. And we saw there was demand out there, so we started there. Then we saw it as a side project and continued to see potential and made the call to basically...the initial team was three of us. We went full-time and said let's see what we can do with this. Then I came from a marketing consultancy...I self-funded it to the means that I could for the first six months. It's an interesting experience when you get possessed by an idea, and it's just I need to see this through. I see the potential. It's for a great cause. I think there's a big business opportunity here. And then, really, it came to that point, and we did start going down the investment route. We were part of an incubator associated with the University of Cambridge called Carbon13. It's a really interesting program where they put together experts in climate science, the developers. And you come together to try and come up with these big ideas to basically reduce millions of tons of emissions as a startup. And there was plenty. There was, for example, there was offsetting companies, there was carbon credit startups, everything you can imagine. And it was there that we got put on the investment journey because at the end of the program, you get what was an £80,000 investment to then move on and then go down the VC route. Turns out we didn't get the investment despite us being one of the favorites. It didn't work out for various reasons. And then we were in a situation where I was like, okay, we need to get this investment in order to keep going and scaling the team. And we ended up being VC-backed for our pre-seed from a company in London called Ascension. So we did a £250,000 pre-seed round to get things going. And that's why we have a team who is now working on this full-time. And it's been a bit of a journey, but the trials and tribulations of startups is just the game. And now we're looking to get our seed round. We're hoping to be closing by the end of the year. CHAD: Congratulations on the progress so far. Why do you think Ascension was interested in investing in you? JOHN: So, really, at pre-seed stage, I've talked to VCs and said market, founder, co-founders, anything else is just too early to really know with any certainty. So I think they saw that we were committed, enthusiastic about the idea. Will, the other co-founder, and CTO, is a full-stack developer. It's his second startup. And with my demand generation background, we thought we were a good fit. But really, I think a lot of time and thinking, and commitment has gone into (blood, sweat, and tears) has gone into thinking how we can create a product or software company that addresses carbon emissions. And I think investors have a good radar of when people are really committed, and that's what we were. WILL: You've recently done a soft launch of Cloud NetZero. Can you give me more information around that? JOHN: Yeah, absolutely. We did our soft launch, so this is after the pre-seed investment. We got the 250,000. And we built the product that we laid out in that pitch, which was a software that integrates to AWS and gives you this granular breakdown of your emissions by service. And that was what we presented on our soft launch. We did an in-person event, which we just got a small room and managed to...so around 50 people turned up, which we're pretty proud of. And people do seem to be attracted to this idea. We use my marketing background [laughs] to kind of bolster those numbers. But it was a really great experience. So it was actually on the side of our co-working space where we did a hackathon originally. And it was a bit of an experience, quite a heartwarming experience that everyone has come together. I'm just like, oh, it was in that room that it started as an idea, and now 50 people coming from VC backgrounds, from sustainability, from tech are all coming together. And considering we started in COVID times, to have everyone in the room was just great. So it was great. Yeah, thanks for highlighting it. I really have good memories of that soft launch. CHAD: So people can get a demo and sign up now. JOHN: Yeah, absolutely. So the product is up and running. It went from idea to reality which we're very, very proud of the product team for hitting it on time as well. So we did a 100-day push, and on the 100th day, it was ready for us. And we actually got a big update Monday next week, which is going to be the V 1.1. I call it V2, and then my CTO says, "No, it's V 1.1." [laughter] CHAD: Oh, you need to make your CTO understand that for marketing purposes, you need to make your version numbers bigger. JOHN: Yeah, yeah, he's just like, "If you think that's V2, you don't know what you're saying." [laughter] You can contact us, and we can basically show you the onboarding to get you closer to your cloud provider. And you can have a crystal clear picture of your carbon emissions. And the companies we're talking to now so software companies, so pretty well-known brands. We're now in conversation with as well as just your heavy-duty tech companies. And they're really our ideal client we're looking to now because they have a large amount of carbon emissions, and they want to be really measuring them for their sustainability initiatives. They are actually going to be required to...from the beginning of next year, there's regulation creeping in that's going to make companies measure their Scope 3 emissions, and we have the product to do that. And once we go over that first stage of measurement, then the next step is giving you recommendations to reduce it ultimately, and that will be both in cloud emissions and costs. So we actually are a cost-saving software ultimately because we can highlight wasted cloud spend, and there's a lot of it in these tech companies. CHAD: So you've launched. It sounds like you're focused on getting customers and making sales. How does the pricing work for the product? JOHN: At the moment, we are charging 10K a year to use the software. This is for...so it would be your mid-sized tech company is really who that's aimed for. Anything that goes into really heavy-duty cloud emissions analysis would be probably just down the road just because the complication gets considerably...there's a lot more computing that we need to do on our end, which there are costs associated with that. And there's a lot more, as you can imagine, a lot more hand-holding in order to get integrated and that type of thing. So the pricing would be larger for those more developed companies who have huge AWS accounts. CHAD: A lot of companies' pricing is one of the things that they struggle with early on. I assume you'll learn, and your pricing model will change. But is there something that particularly you weren't sure about when it came to the pricing? JOHN: So the pricing it's really what we're seeing from other parallel softwares on the market more towards the cost reduction side of the cloud. They don't focus on emissions. It's...we'll plug the right place for that. And I think given the opportunity cost, especially from the sustainability and measurement perspective, the alternative is companies are spending a lot of money on sustainability consultants to try and figure out these emissions for the reporting means, and our software does the heavy lifting for you, as any good product does. And with the cost savings on top of that, it's about right for now. But as we improve the product and can accommodate these bigger enterprise clients, the price model will evolve and probably get more expensive. But not to overcomplicate; it is the logic at this point. And once we do have the ability to take on these more complex arrangements, the pricing would reflect that. Yeah, so that's the plan. WILL: Well, John, I thank you for coming on the podcast and being a part of it. Is there anything else that you would like our audience to know? JOHN: We're shouting from the rooftops about carbon emissions. This is going to be the next big issue of the climate crisis. So I truly believe that there are estimates that digital emissions will rise past 10% of global emissions by 2030. Our thirst for data isn't going anywhere. And there's a real chance that computing principles such as Moore's Law that have allowed these improvements in hardware to keep up with the demand for data won't necessarily last forever. And from that, we need to really wake up to the fact that the digital world, despite it being, yeah, it seems like it happens by magic, there is real sustainability impact. But the good news is we think that using the scalability of software...because the scalability of software that has seen so much success for companies can be used to have an equally positive impact on the planet and prevent this issue of digital emissions by using the inherent scalability of digital and availability of data. So that's really what I'm preaching at the moment. And we believe the best first step for that would be a product called NetZero because it gives transparency over these emissions. You can see it in front of your eyes, and then decisions can be made in order to reduce them. That's what I chose to be my soapbox moment. [laughter] CHAD: That's great. John, if folks want to find out more, see that demo, get in touch with you; where are all the different places that they can do that? JOHN: greenpixie.com is where you can just contact us, and we'll be straight on the phone with you. Another place to see what we're really up to and get more ideas of digital sustainability the best place is probably our LinkedIn company page. We're quite active on there. If you want to take your first steps into digital sustainability, start there. And if you think your company is ready to act on their carbon emissions or you just want to find out a little bit more, then yeah, just contact us through our website, and we'll have a chat. CHAD: Awesome. Everything that John just mentioned is going to be linked in the show notes, along with a complete transcript for this episode. You can subscribe to the show and find all of that at giantrobots.fm. WILL: If you have any questions or comments, email us at email@example.com. CHAD: You can find me on Twitter @cpytel. WILL: And you can find me on Twitter @will23larry. This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. CHAD: Thanks for listening, and see you next time. ANNOUNCER: This podcast was brought to you by thoughtbot. thoughtbot is your expert design and development partner. Let's make your product and team a success. Special Guest: John Ridd.
Giant Robot FM listeners! Head to your favorite bar, hopefully across a foggy bridge, and enjoy our discussions on Bring Back My Ghost and A Legacy of Amadeus. Schmullus joins us to cover the ghosts and beats of these fantastic episodes! Find Schmullus at these links: Twitter: https://twitter.com/Schmullus1 Linktree: https://linktr.ee/schmullus1 Tweet us @giantrobotfm and write to us firstname.lastname@example.org Support Giant Robot FM directly on our Patreon page: patreon.com/giantrobotfm Giant Robot FM is hosted by Stephen Hero (@_stephen_hero) and pmcTRILOGY (@pmcTRILOGY) Art by DuarfS (https://www.behance.net/maezurita) (https://www.instagram.com/duarfs) Music by fretzl (@fretzl) (https://www.youtube.com/fretzl)
Jade Kearney is the Co-Founder and CEO of She Matters, a digital health platform designed to improve postpartum comorbidities for Black women through community, culturally competent healthcare providers, and culturally relevant resources. Victoria and Will talk to Jade about why postpartum depression is so dangerous for women, her experience as a mother and why she founded She Matters, and what culturally competent care looks like for Black women. SHEMATTERS (https://www.shematters.health/) Follow SHEMATTERS on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/shematters.io/), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/shematters.io/), or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/she-matters-inc/about/), or YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3_drWpk9DaXakn5d1jHjIg). Follow Jade on LinkedIn (https-//www.linkedin.com/in/jadekearney/). Follow thoughtbot on Twitter (https://twitter.com/thoughtbot) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/150727/). Become a Sponsor (https://thoughtbot.com/sponsorship) of Giant Robots! Transcript: WILL: This is the Giant Robot Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Will Larry. VICTORIA: And I'm your other host, Victoria Guido. And with us today is Jade Kearney, the Co-Founder, and CEO of She Matters, a digital health platform designed to improve postpartum comorbidities for Black women through community, culturally competent healthcare providers, and culturally relevant resources. WILL: Jade, thank you for joining us. JADE: Thank you for having me. WILL: So I want to start off the podcast and really talk about the issues that you're working to solve because, to be honest, before I was a dad, I had no idea about any of the things that you're trying to solve, but now that I am a dad, I am very well aware of it. So, can you explain to our audience exactly what you're working to solve? JADE: No problem. What we're working to solve is we're trying to decrease the incidence of Black maternal morbidity and what that means is how Black women are treated in the delivery room and postpartum. I'm not sure if anybody is aware, so I always try to give the statistics upfront: Black women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy and after pregnancy than White counterparts. And here in the state of New York, we're 12 times more likely to die. So what we're doing as a company is we're looking to decrease postpartum comorbidities through culturally relevant resources, community, and culturally competent healthcare providers that we supply through our She Matters app. WILL: Those stats are so devastating to hear. You hear the stats and postpartum and things like that. Why is postpartum so dangerous? JADE: Postpartum is dangerous because postpartum starts the moment you have a child. And when you first have a child as any type of woman, Black, White, Asian, your focus is on the child, and you're not paying attention to the signs of your body. Also, postpartum is not talked about that much. After you have a baby, the focus is on the baby, and a lot of women don't understand what they're experiencing when they're experiencing it. So there may be some very, very alarming signs that are happening that are going off in your body or mind because we're talking about mental health and physical health that a woman doesn't resonate with because no one's talked to her about it. So there's no information. So a woman is experiencing...has an out-of-body experience having postpartum anxiety and depression and doesn't know what's going on because there's been no information given about it. It can be a silent killer, really, when you think about eclampsia, and you think about HELLP syndrome, which is like high blood pressure during and postpartum. These are the top killers of all women. And if you don't know the signs of that, if you don't know what to look for, you may very well think it's a part of postpartum when you're actually in danger. VICTORIA: And that sounds so important to increase awareness in the education and community around these issues. Can you tell me more about what culturally competent care actually looks like for Black women? JADE: So culturally competent care means that you are receiving care from a health provider that understands the stuff that I'm conversing with you guys about. They understand Black maternal morbidity; they understand it is due to systemic racism. They understand that cultural competence is the first step toward communication and trust. So they're meeting Black women where they are. For instance, culturally, a Black person may say, a Black mother, in particular, may say, "God told me this wasn't normal." Some people may see that as psychosis, so the person may be having terrible mental health issues. In our culture, that's something that we may just say. So to be culturally competent, you have to be aware that, oh, that's a colloquialism used in the Black community, and so I really should be focused on how this mom is feeling instead of maybe she needs to go to the psych ward. There are little differences and nuances like that that cultural competency changes the trust barrier, and it changes the communication barrier for both the healthcare provider and the mother. VICTORIA: Right. That makes sense to me. And for myself being from Maryland, I have friends who have gone to doctors who just wouldn't believe them when they brought up that they were in pain. Or if another doctor referred them to get an MRI, the new doctor wouldn't want to provide that service. And so your app is trying to bridge that gap and that systemic racism that's built into the system as well. JADE: Absolutely. That's a common complaint of Black women or Black people, but really Black women, that when we are in distress, when we are in pain, that people just don't believe us because people aren't comfortable with us being in pain, and that goes back to systemic racism. And if you're not culturally competent, you may be unaware of your cultural biases just because you've never had the conversation. And so, 89% of procedures done to Black women are done without their full consent, so Black women are not comfortable. They didn't want to have the procedure. They were coerced into the procedure because people don't listen. Doctors don't listen to us. WILL: Jade, let's take a second because I love your passion behind it. Where does your passion come from for this situation? Tell us about your experience as a mother and why you founded She Matters. JADE: Well, my passion comes from becoming a mother, becoming a Black mother to a Black child when I had my first daughter. The first doctor I went to treated me like a statistic, and she was a Black doctor. I felt so scared all the time that I knew it wasn't the right practice for me, and I switched practices at 27 weeks. And when I got to my next practice, I was able to talk to my doctor, Dr. Garfinkel, in Morristown, New Jersey, who is a Jewish man, but was culturally competent, knew the statistics, understood the system and promised me that he would do everything in his power to make sure I had a healthy birth. I did have preeclampsia. I did have an emergency birth. But my daughter and I made it out of that situation healthy. The issue was during my postpartum period; I had nowhere to go. I didn't understand that the mental illness that I was facing around postpartum OCD, where you have terrible ruminating thoughts about your child or yourself, so harming your child or harming yourself, I didn't understand that that can happen during postpartum and really felt like I was losing my mind. I felt like I was failing as a mom, and I felt a lot of shame. I went to both my family and friends, and because of the stigma around mental health in the Black community, I didn't find any support there. What I did find was shaming. I found disbelief and really just avoidance of the problem. Like, my mom said to me, "We're Black women. We don't have time for this. You have to go back to work. You need your health insurance." When I reached out to my healthcare provider at the time, I was told, "I'm going to send you Zoloft and check in with you in six weeks." That's not what I needed to hear. Because I'm a Black woman, I wasn't comfortable with taking an antidepressant. I also was uncomfortable not speaking to my healthcare provider. And I knew that there was a disconnect right there. I couldn't go to family and friends. And I couldn't go to the healthcare system because I was being completely neglected by psychiatrists, by the emergency room, by doctors. And I created She Matters because I never wanted any other Black woman to feel the way that I felt during my first 12 months of being a mother. I thought we need culturally competent healthcare providers. We need communication with each other, community so we can validate our experiences when we're having these weird things that happen to your mind or body. And we need culturally relevant resources because when I was on the internet, I couldn't find anything where Black women were talking about our problems because of the stigma. I couldn't find a lot of information around the postpartum state of Black women because we're neglected in healthcare. So that's why I founded She Matters. VICTORIA: And you founded it over four years ago. And at the time, I believe you were in the process of one of your master's degrees. And looking at the degrees you have, it almost seemed like you planned on founding a company like this. [laughter] But yeah, can you tell me more about your education and how that feeds into your ability to perform as a founder? JADE: Sure, I did not plan this. [laughter] I was definitely being over-educated, didn't want to leave school; I love to learn. And so I have a degree in diversity and inclusion management and digital media design from NYU. And at the time, I thought I was going to create continuing education platforms or blended learning programs for K through 12. I didn't know that this would be my trajectory. And so everything I did around diversity and around digital media has helped me launch She Matters. It's really allowed me to cultivate who I am as a CEO and not look at the problem only as a Black mother who experiences these things but also as a business person, also as a tech founder, and be able to zoom out and see what adjustments need to be made that aren't personal to my story. VICTORIA: And that probably is why you've been so successful, and congratulations on your most recent round of funding. What are you most excited about to be working on with your new capacity? JADE: I am most excited about working with the thousands of healthcare providers that we're getting ready to work with. It's so important that cultural competency be something that's not a new wave or something popular, but it becomes ingrained in the healthcare system. I love when hospitals are open to making these changes, and they're aware of the problems within hospitals. I'm also really excited about our new symptom tracker that can be connected to wearables. So preeclampsia, eclampsia, and HELLP syndrome are some of the things that I talked about. And we've created a system tracker on our app that can help mothers get to the hospital faster. I'm really excited about unveiling that on our version two of the app. WILL: What causes these issues in the Black community? Why are they so overlooked? JADE: Why are they so overlooked in the Black community, by Black people, or in general? WILL: Just in general. So you said that you were overlooked and your doctor was a Black lady. But then you had a Jewish doctor that said, "I'm going to take care of you." From your understanding and your view, what do you think caused that? JADE: It's systemic racism. So the status quo...systemic racism doesn't change because you're Black. We're all part of the system. And that's why cultural competency is needed. Everyone needs that regardless of your race because when you're part of the system, sometimes you're unaware of your biases. People are doing what's been done, and what's been done is unfair. There's no health equity. People are comfortable with the level of pain Black women experience. People are comfortable with the stats being where they are. Things are just now starting to change. People are just becoming uncomfortable, and that's going to take some years for everyone to become uncomfortable. But it is because this is the system as it is, and people are comfortable with the current system, Black, White, or other. VICTORIA: Right. And you talked about what new features you're excited about for your platform. And how does the app that you've created start to increase that cultural competency? Like, how does it really work within a healthcare system? JADE: The app is for our community of moms, and our learning management system is where healthcare providers go. So that's where you get the experience of the culturally competent certification. And you get the curriculum, and you get the experts in health equity leading the classes and talking about Black maternal morbidity and making connections between systemic racism and health outcomes. Our LMS system is the most important part of our training. And our app is the most important part to communicate with our moms and offer a listserv of these doctors who are taking our certification, the resources that we talked about, and those symptom trackers that we talked about. Without technology, none of this would be happening. VICTORIA: That's great. So you have really two user groups, right? You have your Black women mothers and then also hospitals that you're designing for. JADE: Yes. VICTORIA: And I wonder if you found any interesting design challenges for either group. JADE: And this is my life. The most challenging thing for the mothers is engagement because you have to understand being a mom is full-time. It's like a full-time and a part-time job together. So how do you create programming at an engagement level that's fair for moms? How do you measure a mom's engagement? It's going to be a little bit different because if you have one child or four children, your time on an app is going to be different, not to mention if you have a full-time job. So it's just about creating engaging programming that mothers will take their downtime to utilize. And I feel like we have a little bit of secret sauce there; it's around our ability to connect to our moms and to bring experts in healthcare to our mothers. When it comes to healthcare professionals, I think healthcare professionals are more than willing to take a course. It is explaining to hospitals that Black women are worth the investment because, remember, they've been comfortable with the situation as is. Having to convince people that the demographic that you've ignored is important is a job. I also feel like once a hospital decides to come on board with us, I have this huge sigh of relief because trying to explain to people why Black women deserve to live through birth and after can be taxing. VICTORIA: I can imagine being a mom yourself and having this startup and having to do that difficult work of explaining to people how systemic racism affects their healthcare and why they should care is exhausting. So how do you recharge and find time for yourself and balance your life if it's possible? [laughs] JADE: I have a great support system; I cannot lie to you, like, between the people who helped me with my children, my team here at She Matters, our board. Like, some people talk about their boards...my board is like family in terms of the support that they give to my co-founder and I. They've been committed to helping us change maternal morbidity in the United States and to have their support and to have the support of everyone in my life is most important. And I often say to founders, "You cannot do this without support. I don't care how much money you raise. You will lose your shit no matter what your venture is." Because being a founder, being a CEO is very lonely. It doesn't look like anything that's been done before, and you don't have punch-in and punch-out hours. So support is the way that I keep my mind healthy. I'm able to have downtime for myself, and the way that I'm able to be the best person I can be so I can be the best mom. MID-ROLL AD: Are your engineers spending too much time on DevOps and maintenance issues when you need them on new features? We know maintaining your own servers can be costly and that it's easy for spending creep to sneak in when your team isn't looking. By delegating server management, maintenance, and security to thoughtbot and our network of service partners, you can get 24x7 support from our team of experts, all for less than the cost of one in-house engineer. Save time and money with our DevOps and Maintenance service. Find out more at: tbot.io/devops. WILL: You know, you're from Newark, New Jersey. What is your favorite thing about that area? JADE: I love Newark. In Newark, we say 'nurk.' I know outsiders say 'noo-urk.' But I love being from Newark because I saw kind of the best of both worlds. Newark has such a rich history. And there are so many problems currently around just systemic racism, whether it's education, healthcare, the judicial system, and you kind of see both things play out where you have great private schools, and you have great universities. Shout out to Rutgers; I went to Rutgers, Newark. And then you have all the problems that the country has. So it gave me a different lens. I own where I'm from, but I also saw the greatness of where I'm from. And I believe it's helped propel me to where I am because I have lived both lives firsthand. And I know what it's like to go to a school that's not receiving funding, to go to a hospital that's coined a Black hospital and to be treated unfairly, and then to go right into another town in Essex County and be treated differently because it's quote, unquote, "a White hospital." Newark has given me the duality that I have as a person to experience both lives. WILL: Wow, you speak of systemic racism. And in my opinion, I think there are almost two sides of it. I think you have the side that that's their beliefs and the way that they comprehend it, and that's what they're going to believe. And then you have a different side that's like; I had no idea because I've been in my bubble for so long. And correct me if I'm wrong if I'm missing a category, but in my experience, it's almost the two that I see. And especially with 2020, I think a lot of that slowly started peeling back. And so it seems like you're dealing with that head-on. How have you been received by the doctors and the hospitals in that area? JADE: It just depends on the doctors and the hospitals. Sometimes people say, "This is what we really want, oh my God, because we don't know what to do." And this is such a huge problem speaking to Black maternal morbidity. With the Black Momnibus Act that was passed in November 2021, there's been $3 trillion put into the pipeline to make these changes. So hospitals are paying attention. But paying attention and providing your healthcare professionals with the service are two different things. I've been received in both ways; wow, you guys are the second coming. And yeah, this is great, but we're not really focused on it right now. We want to pretend that we're focused on it, but we're really not. It's difficult. And I do think those two sides of the coin of systemic racism exist where there are people who are proponents of it and who know what they're doing, and there are people who have no idea. Either way, training is necessary so that you can treat people equally. WILL: Yes, I totally agree with that. Totally agree with that. If you had one message you had, you know, however long you want, what would be the one message that you would want the audience to know about She Matters and what you're solving? JADE: She Matters is solving for an American problem. This is an American healthcare problem. And people assume when you say Black maternal morbidity that it is not an American problem. Black people are Americans. And I know that sounds crazy because if you're born here, you're an American. But it's not crazy. People act like this is a separate problem from themselves. No, this is our problem, everyone's problem. When women are dying, that's everyone's problem. When there are health inequities in your hospital, it's everybody's problem. We should all care about Black women dying, period. VICTORIA: Yeah, I think there's a book out this year that calculates the cost of systemic racism, and this area, in particular, the amount of death and the hospital costs related to this is, for no other moral reason, it's very expensive. And addressing it and protecting our community keeps us all healthy, and safe, and good. I love what you're doing with the app. And I think it's so important, and I'm really glad you came on the show to tell us about it. I'm curious, if you could travel back in time to when you first started, what advice would you give yourself? JADE: Prepare for the long haul, prepare for the long journey, prepare for the long road. Pace yourself. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It is going to be harder than you think. I didn't think it was easy at all. But I did think that people would understand the severity of the problem we're solving for, and that's just not the case. [laughs] So the convincing part, like I mentioned earlier, is very taxing. I become exhausted with explaining the value of my life as a Black woman. It's exhausting. WILL: Wow. If you can sum up (This is a two-part question.) your toughest decision or time since you founded She Matters, and let's end it on your best, successful, happy moments since you founded She Matters. JADE: Okay. The toughest was raising our most recent round. There's a lot of systemic racism there as well. Black women get less than half a percentage point of the venture capital given to startups. And knowing that challenge and speaking to investors who claim that they have interest in people of color and women of color, and when you get in front of them, it becomes the same stats that you use for all startup and tech companies when this is different. This is not a chip. This is not something that people are familiar with. So people not understanding that when it comes to something like this, which has not been done before, sometimes you have to use a different metric system. We should present to you in a way that is comfortable in Silicon Valley. So I'm not saying we shouldn't do anything that everybody else does; no, we should. But when we're presenting to you, you have to understand the hurdles and the challenges that it took for us to get in front of you. If Black founders are in front of venture capitalists, we are unicorns. We're the best of the best because for us to get there, we had to go through hell and fire. So that's the one thing. And when it comes to the most positive thing, it would be the amazing feedback we get from mothers and from healthcare professionals. Some people send us donations; some people just volunteer their medical experience, which is expensive. Anytime a healthcare professional says, "I have 10 hours that I can volunteer to a Black mom," that's huge for us. A therapist saying, "I'll offer any She Matters community member 45 minutes free," do you know how much my therapy is? [laughter] I'm like, oh my God, that's so amazing. And those things matter to me. Like, it's not about revenue for me as much as it is about getting the women the help that they need. And so every time what I say lands with a healthcare system or professional, it warms my heart. Every time a mother is helped, it warms my heart. VICTORIA: Well, that's wonderful. It's been amazing to hear more on this issue. And I hope our listeners appreciate getting educated on this topic. Is there anything else you want to promote or take a second to leave our audience walking away with? JADE: Yeah, sure. Just go to shematters.health to learn more about what we're doing. And if you're a Black mother, download the app. If you're a healthcare professional, sign up for our next cohort November 7th. If you just want to learn more, send us an email. Follow us on social media, @shematters.io, on Instagram. We're around, and we love to hear people's feedback. We're here for the volunteering. We're here for it all. We're here if you just want to learn more really. WILL: Jade, thank you so much for, one, being on the podcast, but most importantly, the impact that you are having on our community, the United States, the world because I think you are going to have that impact on the world the longer you're in this, and the more you go. So just thank you. Thank you for everything. JADE: Thank you, guys, for giving us a platform to reach more people, and thank you for caring enough to have me speak for Black mothers and for She Matters. I appreciate it. VICTORIA: Well, thank you so much. I really enjoyed our conversation today. WILL: You can subscribe to this show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at giantrobots.fm. VICTORIA: If you have questions or comments, email us at email@example.com. WILL: You can find me on Twitter @will23larry. VICTORIA: And you can find me on Twitter @victori_ousg. This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. WILL: Thanks for listening. See you next time. ANNOUNCER: This podcast was brought to you by thoughtbot. thoughtbot is your expert design and development partner. Let's make your product and team a success. Special Guest: Jade Kearney.
Hello Everybody. Special Podcast recorded by The Great Derelict where I guest on it. This week Andy is preparing for 3rd Impact as he is joined by Daria from the NERV 4th division in Australia, and the anonymous monolith that is Eddie from Food and Cosplay as they dive into the world of Evangelion. We discuss our first experiences with is in the late 90's and thoughts about the Rebuild movies and some discussion about the nature of Canon in fandoms As they say, Come for the Giant Robots fighting monsters, stay for the what the hell did I just watch!? You can hear more from Eddie here: https://foodandcosplay.libsyn.com/ And on Social Media: - https://linktr.ee/foodandcosplay You can find more from Daria on Twitter https://twitter.com/vindaloo_vixen And on her casts Podspolotation - https://anchor.fm/podsploitation and Not so Giant Women - https://anchor.fm/notsogiantwomen/ And you can find more of Andy and his other casts over at Rogue Two Media - http://www.roguetwomedia.com/ - https://twitter.com/GreatDerelict - https://www.facebook.com/groups/GreatDerelict/
In this edition of Giant Robot Radio with Big Daddy Suede, we discuss Saweetie's lackluster sales, Strange World's lackluster performance at the box office, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones finding himself in some controversy from yesteryear and more.
Hello Giant Robot FM listeners! Having electricity problems? Wondering what's underground? Chef Lu Bu steps into Giant Robot FM to help Stephen and pmc explore the mysteries of Electric City and Underground Terror, eps. 3-4 of The Big O. Find Lu Bu here: Twitter: https://twitter.com/ChefLuBu_ATL YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/ChefLuBu Tweet us @giantrobotfm and write to us firstname.lastname@example.org Support Giant Robot FM directly on our Patreon page: patreon.com/giantrobotfm Giant Robot FM is hosted by Stephen Hero (@_stephen_hero) and pmcTRILOGY (@pmcTRILOGY) Art by DuarfS (https://www.behance.net/maezurita) (https://www.instagram.com/duarfs) Music by fretzl (@fretzl) (https://www.youtube.com/fretzl)
Jordyn Bonds is the Director of Product Strategy at thoughtbot. Jordyn helps companies validate new product opportunities and reach that first key milestone, from validating an early adopter market to creating a pitch deck to building a prototype, proof of concept, or an MVP launch. Chad talks to Jordyn about what a Director of Product Strategy does, how Jordyn's career has evolved (She got to build madonna.com for the Confessions on the Dance Floor release and tour!!), and finding practices that keep you motivated and inspired to be working towards long-term, large goals. Follow Jordyn on Twitter (https://twitter.com/skybondsor) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/skybondsor/). Follow thoughtbot on Twitter (https://twitter.com/thoughtbot) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/150727/). Become a Sponsor (https://thoughtbot.com/sponsorship) of Giant Robots! Transcript: CHAD: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Chad Pytel. And with me today is Jordyn Bonds, the Director of Product Strategy at thoughtbot. Jordyn helps companies validate new product opportunities and reach that first key milestone, from validating an early adopter market to creating a pitch deck to building a prototype, proof of concept, or an MVP launch. Jordyn, thank you for joining me not only on this podcast but at thoughtbot. JORDYN: Thank you. It's wonderful to be here. CHAD: You joined us in September of this year. And it's been really fun to watch...well, let me say it's always fun to watch people come into the company and begin to digest everything that's there, begin to, like, okay, I can see how this is working, and then to start to make your mark on things. And so thank you for everything you've done so far. And I look forward to seeing everything in the future too. JORDYN: I look forward to it too. It's been a super interesting experience. I think thoughtbot has a really unique culture, and it's been really fun to get on-boarded into it. CHAD: Cool. I'd love to talk a little bit more about that in a bit. But you have joined us as the Director of Product Strategy, which is actually a new position for us in the Ignite team, which is the team that focuses on those early-stage ideas, products, companies. Obviously, if we added the position, we thought it was important. We don't take those things lightly. What led you and made you perfect for that position? JORDYN: [laughs] I think taking something from a nascent notion, whatever that is, an idea for a product or newly identified market opportunity to that first concrete thing out in the world is a really special phase of the work of new product launches. And it is, over the course of my career, just the thing I have really zeroed in on professionally over time. That's kind of my wheelhouse. And so I think that's thing number one. But what makes it special is that I like to think of it like it's almost like the first few seconds of the existence of the universe after the Big Bang... CHAD: [laughs] JORDYN: where you are inventing the ground rules of the thing you are building as you are building it. And that is a very...it's just a really special time. And some people love it, and some people despise it. There's a lot of chaos and uncertainty, and you have to move forward despite all of that chaos and uncertainty. And some of us love the; I don't know, there's just this feeling that anything is possible, a sort of sense of newness and really paving the road while you're hacking through the jungle, and I just love that. And I feel like I want to help other companies love that phase too. [laughs] It's like a weird thing to say. I'm almost like an evangelist for that time. But I'm an evangelist for it because I feel like it's really important to make sure that you're tying the mission and vision of the business; you're weaving it into what it is you're doing in the product ASAP. Do it early. Make sure you're thinking about this stuff from the jump. And if I can be an evangelist for that kind of thinking and the processes that make it possible, it's just a really exciting thing for me to be able to do. CHAD: That's really cool. You saying that made me think about this sense that I have that oftentimes when you're faced with that period of time where everything is possible, and you're literally defining what the product and the business is going to be, maybe there are more than two buckets. But I think, generally, people fall into one of two buckets. There are the people who look at that and say, "Okay, here's what we're not going to do." And they're really good at saying no to things and narrowing down from that. Another group of people who maybe even really struggle with all of the possibility, and their reaction is to say "Yes," to everything. JORDYN: Right. Yep. CHAD: And you can probably say judged by the way that I introduced the concept which one I think is better. JORDYN: [laughs] CHAD: But that's the two buckets I see. Do you see that too? JORDYN: Oh, absolutely. And I will say partly why I am so enthusiastic about this phase is that I was a bucket number two person and worked very hard to become a bucket number one person because that's the mindset you have to get in. But it's a real delicate balance. It's not always clear; you have to be open to things changing. But saying no is way more important than saying yes in the sense that, you know, I think the phrase people like to use in startup land is you can't boil the ocean, and that is true. So it's much easier...the path is much easier and clearer if you start small. But if you're an entrepreneur, by nature, that's going to feel really uncomfortable to you because what you see out in the world is possibility and probably endless possibility, right? CHAD: Right. JORDYN: So the notion that you are going to squeeze yourself into the tiniest space to start when you see the giant opportunity. And PS, everyone is asking you to articulate that giant opportunity. You need to be able to tell that story so that you can recruit people to your cause. But at the same time, you need to be ruthlessly focused in the here and now on the small things, like, the constrained things you're going to do, for now, all the things you're going to say no to for now while keeping your eyes on this larger, expansive prize. It is just a really...it's an art; it is a hard thing to do. CHAD: How did you shift your mindset? JORDYN: Through failure. CHAD: [laughs] JORDYN: It was through painfully failing at doing this. [laughs] I made every textbook mistake, some of them fairly recently. [laughs] So there's a lot of folks out there who their first venture, their first foray into this world, was a success, and that's wonderful for them. That's great. But their advice is sort of suspect for me and for a lot of founders because it's like, well, you didn't... [laughs] maybe it was skill, maybe it was luck; it was probably a combination of both. Like, good for you that you did this. But if you've started a business, launched a product one time, and it was wildly successful, how are you in a position to teach me who might be on failure number two, or three, or whatever, how I need to change in order to be successful, what needs to change in order for me to be successful? Like, you're not going to be that useful to me. And so I find I'm in a much better position to help other people not fall into the same potholes that I did because I fell into them. I can look at folks and say, "I know what you're thinking. I know you've got your eyes on this large market opportunity. And you can see the mass market future ten years from now for this thing that you're building, that's great. But you have to start with the narrowest of early adopters." And you have to start with a pain point that is, quote, "hair on fire" is another phrase people like to use, like, just some pain point that people have that is just so painful for people right now that they are willing to pay someone to fix it. You got to focus on that despite this large, open-ended opportunity that's in the future. I can only really give that advice to folks credibly because I have done the opposite so many times that I can both empathize with where they're at in that impulse to boil the ocean, but I can also tell them how one way of disabusing yourself of that mindset. So I think back to actually...so I have an older sister. She was really terrible at math when we were younger. [laughs] And she was the best math teacher for me because it didn't come easy for her. Going to someone who's a math genius to help teach you what greater than or less than is is [laughs] not going to help you because it's self-evident to them. Like, how are they going to break that down for you? My sister was a great math teacher for me because her understanding of math was quite hard-won. So if I came to her and said, "Hey, I don't understand greater than or less than," which, PS, is truly what happened. CHAD: [laughs] JORDYN: I was like, I don't really...however, it was being explained to me did not [laughs] resonate. She was a great person to go to because she would not judge me for not understanding it, first of all, and she would have ways of breaking that down. So I'm that person for new founders, people just starting out trying to come up with a new product or explore a new opportunity. I have learned all the painful lessons on their behalf. So it's not like I'm coming to them with advice; that's just boilerplate advice I have read somewhere, and I'm now repeating to them. No, I have painfully learned these lessons. [laughs] Let me help you avoid that. CHAD: And you said it earlier...you used the phrase like not now or not yet. And I think that's a great way of just slightly...no doesn't mean no forever. [laughs] It just means not right now, not yet. Now's not the right time. JORDYN: Exactly. CHAD: And I think that's a healthy way of reframing it. You're trying to strike that balance between the opportunity and the future and what you're doing today to make the product successful and get it out the door. JORDYN: And you can do a lot of work around those bright, shiny, attractive future possibilities that make it feel...you can basically say, "Not yet, and here's what will have to happen for it to become now." You can kind of nurture those opportunities over time, and what will be the criteria to make them something you want to pursue now. It can kind of sate your desire to pursue them if you nurture the plan over time. So it's not like you just say, "Not yet," you say, "Not yet, and here's the evolving set of things that will tell us it's the right time." And having that shared alignment on the team around what those things are but keeping your eyes on them, actively monitoring the situation to be on the lookout when now is the time can satisfy your urge to be working toward that. I think that's what's really hard for founders who really have their eyes on this big opportunity is you can sometimes feel like you're not making any progress toward it because the progress is so incremental. So finding those practices that feed that thing for you, that keep you motivated and inspired to be working toward that long-term large goal, finding those ways to keep at it, to see the progress, keep refining why it is you're doing what you're doing and how it is you're getting there, can make you feel like you're pursuing and even when you're not [laughs] if that makes any sense. I just acknowledge that people need to do something. Just telling yourself or your team not yet is sometimes not enough because you're in it for that big vision, right? CHAD: Right. Yeah, that's great. One of the things that stood out to me when we first met was the variety of different experiences that you've held, different positions, different roles, different things you've done. You started doing web development. You've done user experience, product management, you've been CTO, you've been CEO of companies. You did product lead and VP of product. That variety of experience, I think is more than I have. [laughs] You have held those different roles. How has that evolved for you in your career? What's been driving that forward for you? JORDYN: I was always this product strategy person inside. I didn't necessarily know it. I didn't really even know. I mean, back in the early days of the web, a product mindset wasn't even really a thing, and advertising got a hold of the internet first. And so it was really about graphic design for a long time and a bunch of other things. But throughout that first decade that I spent as an engineer, as a front-end engineer, I was just constantly that annoying person on the team who was like, "Why are we building this? Who are we building it for? Why are we building this?" Because what I learned is as much as I liked to code, and I liked the puzzle of solving the problem of how to turn a design into a thing people could click on, that was really fun for me, but it was only fun for a while before I started to become really sad, disappointed that we would launch things that would be market failures in the sense of, yeah, we launched a thing, and we checked the box, but no one was using it. And I would come back and say...and I was mostly doing agency work at the time, and so there was not a lot of follow-up. We'd launch something, and then it was, like, move on to the next project. I wanted to know, was this successful? Did people use it? Are people using it? Like, how are they using it? Is it easy to use? And I wanted to answer those questions. And then, when I started to do more of that follow-up work, and then I was finding that most of the things we were launching were failures by my standards. No one cared about them. No one was using them. They were hard to use. And I wanted to make impactful things. And so I kept asking the questions, and I kept asking them earlier and earlier. This is how I ended up in user experience design. I was like, well, can we answer these questions first? Can we make a plan before we ever put pixels to screen, so to speak, [laughs] before we start building? Can we know something so that when we do build...which I had intimate understanding of how much work it is to build software. It's not nothing. It's a big investment of time and energy. And what I wanted increasingly was for that to be time and energy well spent for the entire team and for the universe. [laughs] And so that's how I ended up...I think of it as like swimming upstream in the sense that there's still a lot of waterfall process going on in software. And I was just constantly asking why and for whom earlier and earlier in the process, just so that we could make sure that what we were building was "The Right It," to quote a book title that a lot of folks [laughs] in startup land have read. Like, let's make sure it's "The Right It" before we invest a lot of time and energy, and, frankly, emotion into building something. That was really where this was coming from for me is that I think at heart, secretly or not so secretly, I'm still that engineer, that front-end engineer. And I want cool projects. I want to work on cool projects with cool people that are impactful. And I think that's true of most engineers. [laughs] No one is purely satisfied to just be given an assignment that they're supposed to execute without thinking about it. And getting into UX and then getting into product management was for me almost like a mission to make sure that by the time something got to engineering, it was a good idea. I just wanted to save engineers from terrible projects; that was my whole mission. [laughs] CHAD: Well, at thoughtbot, we have a set of core values, and one of them is fulfillment. And in the writing around that, the phrase we often use is we want to work on products that we believe deserve to exist. JORDYN: Yes. CHAD: And that doesn't just mean that they have a positive impact on the world instead of a negative impact. But we're very intentional about the words we use, so there's a double meaning to that phrase. It's having a positive impact on the world, but it also means that it's the right product. This is what we should be building that it deserves to exist. JORDYN: Yes, because you all know, we know how hard it is to make software. It's actually really hard. I think certainly building new products, you know, what a new product meant in 1920 is a very different thing than what [laughs] it means in 2022. And while it is a lot easier to bring new products into the world, like software products, internet products, it doesn't mean it's just easy. There's a lot of effort and resources that go into doing this, so let's make sure we're spending those things wisely. Is the product idea good? Does it deserve to exist, but also, have we done our homework to validate that people want this, that they're going to use it? And to the extent that you can. There are limits to the ability of any team to forecast that. But when you bring more of this experimental mindset to it as soon as possible, it's like you up the odds that you'll end up building something valuable. And like you were saying about the word deserve, the word valuable to me is very broad, valuable to users, valuable to the business, valuable to the world. Let's create things of value if we're going to go to the trouble of creating things. Mid-Roll Ad: When starting a new project, we understand that you want to make the right choices in technology, features, and investment but that you don't have all year to do extended research. In just a few weeks, thoughtbot's Discovery Sprints deliver a user-centered product journey, a clickable prototype or Proof of Concept, and key market insights from focused user research. We'll help you to identify the primary user flow, decide which framework should be used to bring it to life, and set a firm estimate on future development efforts. Maximize impact and minimize risk with a validated roadmap for your new product. Get started at: tbot.io/sprint. CHAD: Have you found any tools, or techniques, or things that work particularly well for doing that? JORDYN: Yeah, and it's probably not going to be all that satisfying. There are no shortcuts, I think, is what's challenging about this. [laughs] The tool and the process that I always start with and come back to is talking to customers and talking to users if those two people are not the same. Talk to people, not about your product idea; talk to them about their lives. Talk to them about what is difficult for them, what is easy for them, what they value, and you will seldom go wrong if you start and return to that process and truly listen. This whole thing of talking to customers and talking to users is an art in and of itself. It's not idle, you know; it's not just a thing you toss off once in a while. [laughs] It's a skill. It's an art. And that is where you begin in it. Now, that is not the whole thing. But if you're starting there or returning there, you can always do this. I talk to teams all the time who have whiffed on this step of the process, and it's fine. Like, people who are builders, especially entrepreneurs, just want to get in there and start making something, like, I get that. CHAD: Well, I think it's the combination of really wanting to move quickly and get to something really, really quickly. But I also think there is an element of fear... JORDYN: [laughs] Yes. CHAD: that causes people so that these two things combined really set people up to not do this... JORDYN: To not do this, yes. CHAD: because they're afraid of what they'll learn. And so it's much easier to just say, "Well, I know what to build. Let's build it. And you don't need to actually talk to people who might tell you something that isn't aligned with what you think the product should be." JORDYN: 100%, 100%. Getting over that fear is hard, and you probably will just have to fail really hard without getting over it. I mean, that was certainly my experience, I mean, like several times. [laughs] I tried to build things without talking to anyone about it. I also was one of these people that built something that...and I can get into the story, but I built something that was successful enough without talking to a single person about it. And it really sent me down a fool's path for a while because I thought that's how it worked. But yeah, that fear is real. But I think the thing that got me around it eventually and gets me around it now is there's the rational side of this which is, well, wouldn't you rather know sooner than later that something is not a good idea or this is not a pain point? Sure. But the more visceral, emotional thing that got me around it is good ideas are actually a dime a dozen. You'll have good ideas. You'll have ten good ideas tomorrow morning. Your one idea that you have decided to explore and build out and build a company around it won't be your only idea. It is not the only good idea. [laughs] You will have more of those. If you had 1, you'll have 10. So talking to users means you'll figure out...you'll have the opportunity to come up with more of those ideas, and one of them will be the winner. All of them are probably good ideas on some level. Having ideas isn't the problem. People are afraid of talking to customers and learning that their idea is not good, but you got to turn that on your head. You talk to customers to learn what they need, and then you'll have 20 ideas about how to solve that for them, solve that need. The real fool's path here is to get attached to your first one idea that you had to solve a problem. It's to get attached to your problem before you have validated it. That's another pitfall here. But then to think that the first thought you had and how to solve it is going to be your only good idea, nah, you have lots of good ideas; we all do. [laughs] You'll have more. So really just focusing on that pain point and listening to people and then really doing the work to generate more and more ideas. Even if you think you have a good solution now, it's always worth thinking about what other solutions might be constantly because your solution that you've come up with might have some feasibility issues. It might have other problems that you haven't seen yet. So it's always good to have more solutions in the hopper in case the one that you're pursuing right now doesn't turn out to be the right one. CHAD: This is something that I don't know the answer to, and that is I do know you didn't originally start out as a developer, and it's not what your education is in. JORDYN: [laughs] No. CHAD: But how did you get into development? JORDYN: [laughs] I was in college. This was just such a lucky, random thing. But I was in college, and I was in a band, a rock band. And this was early '98, maybe even fall '97. We were just at practice one day, and someone in the band was like, "We need a website." And this was when this was like a new thing that people did. [laughs] And everyone in the room just turned and looked at me. And I was like, "Oh, I'm making the website? Okay." CHAD: Why? Were you a tech person in their mind? JORDYN: I don't know, I guess because I seemed scrappy and capable even then. I have no idea. But I was like, all right, I'll see what I can figure out. So I wandered into the computer lab and just went to the person running the computer lab and was like, "Hey, how do I make a website?" [laughs] And this guy whose name I don't remember which is horrible, I really wish I could reach out to this guy and be like, "Hey, I have a career because of you, thank you." CHAD: [laughs] JORDYN: He was like, "Oh, cool. Here's what you do." And he basically opened up Netscape and was like, "Hey, there's like a..." there was like an editor. I don't even remember what it was called now. If you recall, there was an editor in Netscape. He was like, "Here's the basics of this. And here's a website," which was the... [laughs] What was the name of this website? All of the articles on this website were titled something like, so you want to make a webpage? Or so you want to make an interactive image replacement? Or so you want to host a website on a server? Whatever, like, that was all the articles. And that website taught me how to code, and that guy put me on a path, and I just immediately was like, this is the most fun thing ever. I was like, I love this. [laughs] And it wasn't like two months before I had built the websites for a couple of departments on campus. My mom had a recruiting business at the time. She was like, "Can you make my recruiting business website?" It was just like, off to the races, which was great. But I graduated into the dot-com bust, which meant I could not get a job doing this. It's like entry-level folks always see a recession coming first, right? CHAD: Right. JORDYN: And everyone was like, "Oh my God, you can write HTML. You're going to get a six-figure job immediately," whatever. [laughs] And I was like, that is not what's happening here. I would have a job interview at someplace, and then they'd stop calling me. And I would find out that the company went under the day after I interviewed. That was what was happening. So I couldn't get a job, a professional job doing this for a while. But I kept doing it on the side basically for my friends and family and eventually managed to get back into some professional [laughs] aboveboard real roles doing this work, but it was a struggle at first. And it was only just because I just really loved doing it, which, again, to circle back to something we talked about before, was kind of a liability for me for a while. Liking coding makes you really unthoughtful about what you're coding because you're always happy to do it, right? [laughs] CHAD: Oh, I speak from personal experience, yes. [laughs] JORDYN: Yes, right. I just wasn't thinking, is this a good idea? I was thinking great, cool; I get to code more. I love this. That was fine early on because I did get a lot of experience. And the first real job I got doing this work was at a company that was building websites for musicians, and our main client was Warner Brothers music. And so I got to build the My Chemical Romance website. CHAD: Cool. JORDYN: I got to build madonna.com for the Confessions on the Dance Floor release and tour. CHAD: That's really cool. JORDYN: Like, it was really fun. And basically, I got to build a new website every two weeks for three years which was amazing bootcamp for me. The designers there were just fantastic. I learned more than I can ever even probably understand about doing that. But partly what I learned was [laughs] this feeling of this was where that feeling began where I was like, is this the right thing? Are we building the right thing? Or is this successful? That's when I started to ask those questions: is what we're doing what people want? So anyway, it was very fun. I got into it because I was in rock bands, which is strange. I don't think people typically find lucrative careers being in rock bands. [laughs] CHAD: I talk to a lot of people over the years through our apprenticeship program, through different things where there are people out there who connect with programming like you did and like I did. The difference is that, for whatever reason, I had that experience when I was 10. [laughs] And other people just never get the opportunity to be exposed to that until later. But it's remarkable when it happens, and you get that connection where it just connects with you at a level that almost nothing has before. It's like a constant dopamine hit when you're programming. JORDYN: Oh, it is. Yeah, I used to joke that, basically, I felt like I got to play video games for a living because that's what it felt like. It was just one puzzle game after another. It just didn't feel like work. I got to go to work every day and solve what felt like really interesting problems and puzzles. And at the end, there was a thing people used or could look at. It just felt like I'd hit pay dirt. I felt so lucky to have found it. But yeah, I haven't done this since the pandemic. But for several years before that, I was a Girls Who Code instructor, and being able to pay that experience forward and help middle school, high school-aged girls who hadn't necessarily had this experience yet find themselves in coding, that was really the mission me and my co-teacher had decided that was really what we were after. We didn't care if they walked away from doing this with any hard coding skills. What we wanted them to have in their minds was I can be a programmer, and that seems like fun or possible for me. That was all we wanted. And it was so amazing to see that moment where it clicked for them where they were like, "Oh, there's like a pattern here." And yeah, see that dopamine hit thing start to set up, you know, in their brains and know that it was only going to help them. I mean, I often said to them, "Major in whatever you want in college, but get a minor in computer science; that's where your job is. [laughter] Sorry to break this to you, but this is where your job is." [laughs] CHAD: Another thing that you've done is you've advised a lot of companies through a few different organizations: Underscore VC, the Harvard Innovation Lab. What makes a good advisor as opposed to a bad advisor? JORDYN: This is a really hard question, actually, because it's not often entirely clear in the moment whether a given advisor is...if you feel a lot of rapport with someone and they're helping you out in the moment, that's great. But often, one finds that something an advisor told you that did not land at all at the time comes back later to be something that's really useful. So I want to say up front that what makes a good advisor is really idiosyncratic to the founder, and to the advisor, and to the moment they find themselves together in. So with that as a big caveat, I think what I bring to this, what I go out of my way to bring to it, is that I've been in the trenches. I know what that feels like. And I trust founders, like, my job there is to just add some perspective. I've participated in building over 30 products, so I can help them. They might be doing their first product or business, and all I'm there to do is bring a bunch of other experience for them to pick some insights from. It's not actually my job, I don't think, to pre-filter that stuff for them. I'm very practical and hands-on. They bring a problem to me, and I'm like, "Okay, here's three times I've seen that situation before. And here are three things that happened." And I basically multiply their historical experience that they can draw from; that's sort of what I bring to this. There's another thing here when I've had valuable advisors, this thing that's kind of hard to articulate. But it's like, often early on, what you need is just someone to take you seriously, just really take you seriously as a founder and a leader. I go way out of my way to make it clear that I am doing that with them and that it is my assumption 100% that they will rise to that occasion, that they will figure out who they need to be, what resources they need to bring to bear in order to be successful. And doing that, taking them seriously and taking their ideas seriously, taking their experiences seriously, and really demonstrating that I think they have what it takes and I think that they can rise to this occasion, I think is probably the most valuable thing because most people don't do that. They come to your idea looking to tear it down, and I think it's well-meaning. They want to stress test you and your idea. That's all well and good. But, I mean, I'm often advising underrepresented founders and what they need is confidence. They need to be built up, not torn down. That doesn't mean I don't bring skepticism and help them try to think evermore clearly about what it is they're doing and why; I definitely do that. But there's this baseline of I think you are capable of doing this. I think you are a person who gets to do this; that is not in question for me. And that alone I think is probably the most valuable thing you can get from an advisor, [laughs] is just someone to take you seriously. CHAD: That's great. So for folks who have been familiar with thoughtbot for a while, we have a lot of advice out there in the world for how to build products, how to validate things, exercises to run, all that kind of stuff. And we bundle all of that up in what we call our playbook. And now, as we're sort of almost 20 years into this now, that's a big resource. And so we're doing something new, which is extracting the information that we have specifically targeted towards those earliest stages of a new product or a business into a separate playbook. You're taking your wisdom, and you're going to be able to add it to that as well. And it's going to be a little bit more targeted. So we've just launched that. And you can find it at thoughtbot.com/research-strategy-playbook. I would encourage folks to check that out. Jordyn, when it comes to sharing, we're big at that at thoughtbot, and I'm excited to have you as part of that. Is there something that you think our approach from the fact that we're a consulting company or an agency makes it either in good ways or bad ways different than joining a product company and what you might do in a new role, or in sharing, or in working on things that we work on? JORDYN: Yeah. I mean, I'm sure I'll have more to say about this when I've been here for a year. Having been here for a month, [laughter] this answer might be suspect. So far, anyway, the way I think about the differences here is that our role in working with product companies is to help them build the muscles to do this work, not to do it for them because they need to be able to do it going forward. We're not going to embed with them for the rest of time. So that's a big difference, and that's both good and bad in the sense that we can maintain a certain amount of perspective because we can bring a kind of insider-outsider, like, we've done this lots and lots of times. We've seen the myriad ways that can go. And so we can bring that experience to bear while also remaining somewhat, I mean, objective is maybe a problematic word here, but some flavor of that while remaining outside of the everyday operational reality of the business. So that can be a really helpful perspective. But I think the sort of risk there that I see is not being able to fully appreciate...that's the wrong word, but it's like, maybe not having the credibility we could have because we aren't going to be around to see this thing through. There's really, especially at early stages with projects, you really need people who are in it to win it, in it for the long haul. And so, I can see this looking like a tough sell for certain founders. But from what I know so far, what I know about myself, what I know about thoughtbot so far is that that couldn't be further from the truth for us. We really are invested in folks' long-term success. And we do want to leverage our ability to focus and stand slightly outside of day-to-day operations to help them gain that perspective. But that is really the give and take, I think, of being a consultant rather than being part of the company. CHAD: Now, it does make us...there are companies out there that that's not the goal, the goal is to make you dependent on them. JORDYN: Yes, right. [laughs] CHAD: That definitely is one of the unique things about thoughtbot is that that is not our goal. Our goal is to teach people to do what we do. But we do sometimes get criticized for, in those early stages, exactly that. It's like, where's your sense of urgency or your passion about this? And actually, we do have it. It's just the analogy I often use is we're like a professional sports team. [laughs] We make it look easy because we're really good at it. And a lot of environments are ones where in order to make things happen, you need to create an environment of stress or those kinds of things. And that's what people are used to. And so when they start working with us, and they don't see that, they think something is wrong. JORDYN: Yes, yes. 100%. And that is a huge cultural challenge with working with startups in general, where there is a real fire-fighting mentality. Like, let's get in there and make some stuff happen. Things are shifting constantly, and you've got to react. And I'm working 80-hour weeks to just make sure everything gets done. And I would hope..., and I've seen this to a certain extent in my month here so far, but the goal is for us to help folks work smarter, not harder, in the sense that more output does not mean more success. We do have the experience of having worked on so many products, each of us individually and then collectively as a company. It is our goal, and it is my personal sincere hope that we can help these companies see how to do this work better and more sustainably without burning yourself out. If you happen to be successful while focused on this kind of work more output, it's only by chance you were successful there. It wasn't because you worked that hard. [laughs] And it's hard to see. There is a lot of like hustle culture stuff out there that makes you feel like unless you are burning your candle at both ends, you're not doing it right. I think thoughtbot has the depth of experience to say," No, we can say otherwise," and to help companies figure out how to do that. I can absolutely see what you mean that people are like; these people don't have the fire in their belly, which couldn't be further from the truth. But it does feel very different from the inside. CHAD: I feel like I could talk to you all day, [laughs] but we have to keep the episode somewhat within our normal constraints. Jordyn, thank you so much. If folks want to follow along with you or get in touch with you, where are the best places for them to do that? JORDYN: So I am @skybondsor S-K-Y-B-O-N-D-S-O-R pretty much everywhere that you might want to... [laughter] A friend of mine gave me that nickname years ago. That's my handle pretty much everywhere. I spend a lot of time on Twitter, so that's probably the best place if you want to follow me or interact with me. But I'm also on LinkedIn and a lot of other places. CHAD: And you can subscribe to the show, find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at email@example.com. You can find me on Twitter at, not as an exciting username as @skybondsor, but @cpytel. This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. Thanks so much for listening, and we'll see you next time. ANNOUNCER: This podcast was brought to you by thoughtbot; thoughtbot is your expert design and development partner. Let's make your product and team a success. Special Guest: Jordyn Bonds.
GOIN' OUT WITH A BANG! We're finishing off Anno month with an anime that Hideaki Anno created (Fancy that!?) but this one came BEFORE Evangelion! We'll dive in to some details, comparisons and ultimately decide if this anime is bad. Leave a comment/review or message us at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on insta @badanimepod to have your lovely words read out on the show!
Acomi and Turk182 return to their Let's Watch! roots with Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot episode 8, The Challenge of the Two-Headed Monster. Once again, Johnny and Jerry fight to save the world from the Gargoyle Gang's latest monster, Dublion the Swivel-Headed Monster. But, according to Acomi and Turk's it's just another reason for Johnny and Giant Robot to destroy the world and end it all. Acomi and Turk182, along the occasional special guest, provide running commentary of awfulsome movie and TV shows. The hosts select movies that either one, or both, have never seen. All jokes and comments are improvised. NO PREPARED JOKES OR COMMENTS! During recording, the movies are watched at a low volume and with the subtitles on. Viewers may want to turn subtitles on as well to enhance the viewing experience. So, cue up the audio, ready the movie, and hit play when we say so. Note: This video is the commentary recorded by Acomi and Turk182, and selected screenshots. It is NOT a viewable copy of the film. The commentary can be enjoyed on its own, but if you want to experience the Let's Watch in all its glory, you'll need your own copy of the movie. Most of the movies viewed can be streamed online for free. #OMTWF #KorovaEntertainment #LetsWatch #LW #Acomi #Turk182 #awfulsome #JohnnySokko #FlyingRobot #ShoutFactory Follow Acomi on Twitter at @AcomiDraws and on Instagram at AcomiDraws. Follow Turk182 on Twitter at @Turk182_KE and on Instagram at Turk182_KE.
Giant Robot FM listeners! An old man is here and he needs you to save his daughter from the crooks. No, not that daughter! And not that old man! Jeez. Friend of the pod and Bomb Squad Productions co-host Ethan Halker visits the podcast to talk through the beginning pair of episodes of The Big O and explore the nature of performance in Paradigm City. Please find Ethan here: Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sundown_McMoon ZekeFilm: https://www.zekefilm.org/author/ethan-halker/ Bomb Squad Productions Twitter: https://twitter.com/BombSquadProds Bomb Squad Productions YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@BombSquadProductions Tweet us @giantrobotfm and write to us email@example.com Support Giant Robot FM directly on our Patreon page: patreon.com/giantrobotfm Giant Robot FM is hosted by Stephen Hero (@_stephen_hero) and pmcTRILOGY (@pmcTRILOGY) Art by DuarfS (https://www.behance.net/maezurita) (https://www.instagram.com/duarfs) Music by fretzl (@fretzl) (https://www.youtube.com/fretzl)
We're back together with the whole crew once again! Today we are joined by Eric Nakamura who founded the magazine and store Giant Robot. Also we welcome back Steffie from her recent trip to Brazil. The crew digs into Giant Robot's history of featuring alternative Asian and Asian American pop culture, arts, and interviews. We also get into science of making friends through hating, Pokemon collecting, Old p*rn and more! Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Heather Maio-Smith is the Co-Founder, President, and Chief Visionary Officer at StoryFile, bringing global audiences an interactive ecosystem that records and preserves human conversations in a way that removes the traditional boundaries of time and space. Victoria talks to Heather about why this product needed to exist in the world, supporting human connection and storytelling, and the journey to get funding, expand, and plan what's next for StoryFile. StoryFile (https://storyfile.com/) Follow StoryFile on Twitter (https://twitter.com/storyfile), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/storyfile/), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/StoryFileApp), or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/storyfile/), or TikTok (https://www.tiktok.com/@storyfile). Follow Heather on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/heather-maio-smith/). Follow thoughtbot on Twitter (https://twitter.com/thoughtbot) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/150727/). Become a Sponsor (https://thoughtbot.com/sponsorship) of Giant Robots! Transcript: VICTORIA: This is The Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido. And with us today is Heather Maio-Smith, Co-Founder, President, and Chief Visionary Officer at StoryFile, bringing global audiences an interactive ecosystem that records and preserves human conversations in a way that removes the traditional boundaries of time and space. Heather, thank you for joining us. HEATHER: Thank you for having me, Victoria. I'm excited to have a conversation with you. VICTORIA: Yes, I am really excited to learn about StoryFile and your product Conversa. Tell me a little bit about it. HEATHER: You did a great job on the introduction; thank you. The one thing that I would add is that it's very important that people know that this is video. And this is the differentiator between us and maybe a traditional chatbot, for example. We are video-based. That could mean an actual human being creates the content. The video content is always preferable. [laughs] But you can also do it in some sneaky other ways too [laughs], so it's very interesting. VICTORIA: Right. So as I understand it, and correct me if I'm wrong, you can record a video of a conversation and then use Conversa to turn that into an interactive video where a user has the freedom to ask their own questions. HEATHER: Correct. Essentially, what you do is you answer whatever questions that you like. You're in charge of the storyline script. You create all the questions. The interviewee answers all of the questions via video record, and then all of those video clips are put into a database. Anyone can ask you basically any conversation. Most of them are open-ended conversations. If there are shorter, like, let's say you've only [inaudible 02:03] questions, and it's kind of a focus, you have a point, and it's a focused line of questioning, then that's obviously going to be you can't ask anything. But we usually have the individual introduce it and say, "For example, this is my bio. I've answered a few questions about my life and my career and me personally, so feel free to ask me anything about my career or my life." Then the individuals will know what the parameters are for that conversation. And you could just ask anything, learn anything anytime you want. So it's in real-time for you. No going on Google and searching through 20 pages to get an answer anymore. You should be able to talk the ideas. You should be able to talk to someone who's lived that experience or has that knowledge, ask them a question, and find out the information that you want to find out, or get to know somebody that you would never have the opportunity to talk to. VICTORIA: What an interesting idea. And what led you to think that this was a product that needed to exist in the world? HEATHER: Well, they say that necessity is the mother of invention. I happened to be in Holocaust education back in the early 2000s. And one of the main things that the entire field was concerned about is what are we going to do when the Holocaust survivors are no longer alive? They had spent over 60 years in the public telling their story, talking to students, for example the public. They've done documentaries; they've done books; they've done interviews. The Shoah Foundation at USC has 55,000 narrative interviews. So it's very well-documented. But the one thing that we weren't able to replicate yet, and this is what we were worried about, was they couldn't make that personal connection. And how do they make that personal connection? It's through people asking their own questions and actually engaging with those individuals that that's when the real magic happened. I mean, that's when people felt connected to these individuals and that story, that history. That was what I didn't want to lose after they had passed away. And so I thought to myself, there's got to be a way to replicate the Q&A, you know, the question and answer conversation where I can ask my own question, which leads me to learn deeper than if I was passively watching a video or even listening to a lecture. So I went to the Shoah Foundation, and I said, "There's got to be a way to do this." They said after many conversations, "Okay. You might not be crazy. [laughs] or as crazy as we thought you were at the beginning. But we still don't know how you're going to do it. So go away and figure out how you're going to do it, and then come back to us when you've figured it out." That was my challenge. And luckily, I found an amazing team to help us all figure out how to do it. And we got to the part where we had to take these individuals, like, the video recordings, and we had to have people actually ask them questions and have these conversations so that we could populate the database for a more accurate conversation. And so I was in the public for a couple of years all over the world. And the one question I kept getting the most was, "This is amazing. Can I do this myself? And can I do this with my parents? Can I do this with my grandparents? Can I do this with the founder of our company?" And people came to me, and they had so many ideas. "This would be great for this. Oh my gosh, could you imagine doing this?" And after a while, you say to yourself, okay, what would it look like if we did this for everyone? What would it look like if we made it ubiquitous, allow everybody to replace their FAQs? Every leader in this country, every CEO, every influencer, or any individual who's got something to say that we can all learn from, which, by the way, is pretty much everyone on the planet. They can tell their story, and they can talk about their experiences, and we can learn from that. Even saving time on interviewing future candidates in person. You narrow it down to 10 people. You have them do StoryFiles. You actually engage with their StoryFile, and then you just choose two that you want to meet in person, possibly saving you hours and hours of time. It's just about asking questions and getting an answer in the moment when you need it, not waiting for an email, not going through 20 pages of Google. And it's also about connecting with a real person instead of these chatbots that everybody's trying to move away from. And I think they're trying to move towards avatars because they're more visual, but it's still not a human being. So it's still kind of an automated voice, and they're not real. And there's no emotion, and you don't have any body language. So what if you could just ask a person? You probably get asked some of the same questions. And in the next 2 minutes, you could probably think of 10 questions that you get asked almost daily. So what if you did a StoryFile? You answered all those ten questions and maybe more, and then you never had to have that conversation again. Think of all the time that those people now, if they get in front of you, they don't have to waste time asking any of those typical, basic questions. They can just get right into a deeper conversation with you. VICTORIA: I love it. Yeah, I'm already thinking in the back of my mind, like, oh, I could use these for what if you're trying to show what it's like to work at thoughtbot? And you just want to ask someone at thoughtbot a question, and you could play with StoryFile. Yeah, I think it's enormously useful. And I love the story starts with a hugely impactful mission of capturing those stories. And I wonder how that experience of the importance of storytelling has had on your ability to get funding and get this project through as a founder. HEATHER: It's been a journey. [laughter] First of all, let me say that I think it has been slightly more complex than most startups because, from the onset or the get-go, or whatever you want to call it, this technology has been meant for consumers and businesses alike. So you've got a B2C play, and you've got a B2B play, which is very complicated for investors to understand maybe and really get the vision in its totality. So it's been a struggle to communicate it in a way that people really understand this can be done. You're creating a whole new medium. This is not an I'm creating a new rocking chair type of thing that's better than the other chair that you had. I'm creating a chair. It's a new kind of chair. And you have to take these people on a journey to understanding how much better their lives can be and how much time they can save if they just invest a little bit of time, which they kind of have to do anyway. I mean, look at it, you spend so much time writing FAQs for a website and finding all the answers, and then putting them all together and putting them in the website. You could spend the same amount of time actually getting all those questions, recording yourself answering them. In fact, it probably would take less time. Record the answer, and then, bam, you have it. Everybody can actually talk to you, ask you those questions, and you can guide them. And they get the benefit of actually feeling as though they've talked to a human being. They've connected with you emotionally, and everyone's better off for it. The investors have been...they either absolutely get behind you 100% and love what you're doing and want to be on the journey with you, or they are a bit we'll wait and see. There hasn't been one investor, though, that has said, "You're not onto something. I don't believe in what you're doing, and your idea is not going to work," not one. So we know it has legs. And we just have to build the body and get it from the walking stage, walk to run. VICTORIA: Right. And I see you have quite an impressive client list already. And you recently won an award for best software as a service product for education and nonprofits in the learning and CSR category, so that's impressive. And I want to hear more about how that process has been scaling from you had one initial customer who was the Holocaust Museum, and now you've expanded, and what kind of lessons you might have about that experience, getting to the walking stage, and what you have planned coming ahead. HEATHER: I don't know if I have much advice, actually. [laughter] I could probably use more advice than I can give. Every day, you know, you take it one day at a time, and you move forward. We haven't forgotten where we started, which was in enabling audiences through museums and public spaces to enable them to have these conversations with people that they would not normally get to talk to. There's this studio professional services side of this as well. Then you have, all right, we had to have a back end. We had to have a platform in order to run our business. What if we made that platform available to other companies? Okay, what does that mean? And how does one build that? Then is it built intuitively and easily enough for people to actually do what they want to do with it, which is create these interactive conversational video AI modules (We call them StoryFiles.) for a variety of different cases? I mean, think about every kid can talk to one of the best teachers in the world and learn from them. Every possible person that wants to go on a date could actually talk to potential people. And those people don't even know that they're having these first-date conversations with them, so it saves you that first meeting, that awkward first date. But it also allows you to make a better choice for that first date or, like I said, screening or even onboarding and corporate training. All those manuals that people have written everything and all the information that's in there, nobody wants to go to a manual and look up an answer. No, you're going to go to someone that you think knows the answer, and you're going to ask them. So why not just pull out your phone and do that on your phone, you know? Like, Walmart has this amazing thing that they call financial mentor. They did StoryFiles for new store managers. It's all around answering those questions that you would get as a new manager that you would have running the day-to-day of a Walmart store. So they can literally pull out their phone. They've got their own Walmart learning management system on the phone, and they can talk to a financial mentor and ask them questions. So, what do I do if I have a register that's this? Or I forgot what the form is that you use for this. Or what do I do if my endcaps aren't really churning enough buzz and businesses I think it should be? All those questions that you're going to ask in the first couple of years of taking on a new position. So it's basically anywhere that you have questions and people normally give you answers, you can do a StoryFile. VICTORIA: Yeah, it sounds like a real change to the way people do business and how you can automate some of those conversations and provide a more human touch too. HEATHER: Yeah, it's all about that human touch, isn't it? The one reason I think that people now, you know, for the last three years, everybody's been obsessed with these avatar chatbots, but they're not really solving the problem. The problem is the chatbots don't seem real. You don't feel as if you're having a conversation with an actual person, and that's what frustrates you the most because they don't understand. They don't seem like they're being empathetic. They don't seem like you're relatable. And there's also the uncanny valley, and then the automated voices, and the cadence, and all of that. So this solves all that. VICTORIA: 80% of communication is non-verbal, right? HEATHER: Yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly, but nobody really thinks about that. [laughter] We do digital recreations; notice I'm not calling it an avatar because we do an authentic version of an individual. And most of the time, 99% of the time, the person's not alive anymore. But we work with the archives; we work with the foundations; we work with the families. Nothing that we have that digital recreation say is anything that we've made up. It's always based on what they've actually said and the way that they've said it. So we review, like, we did one digital recreation that we reviewed over 1,700 hours of video. The key thing was getting an actor that physically looked like the individual, and it has to be a method actor. The method actor also reviews some of those videos and really gets a sense of who that individual was. Then they form the basis for the digital recreation for the body language, for the facial expressions, for the cadence of the voice. And then, you do the face mapping and other special effects that you might have to do to the body. Then you do the voice cloning so that you get the person's actual voice. So it's a really detailed process. And what you end up with is probably the most authentic version of an individual that can be created. MID-ROLL AD: Are you an entrepreneur or start-up founder looking to gain confidence in the way forward for your idea? At thoughtbot, we know you're tight on time and investment, which is why we've created targeted 1-hour remote workshops to help you develop a concrete plan for your product's next steps. Over four interactive sessions, we work with you on research, product design sprint, critical path, and presentation prep so that you and your team are better equipped with the skills and knowledge for success. Find out how we can help you move the needle at: tbot.io/entrepreneurs. VICTORIA: You mentioned avatars. But that process also sounds different than what I've heard about deepfakes as well. Do you want to -- HEATHER: Yeah. Well, our digital recreations are based on more authentic...they're probably as authentic as you can get to the actual individual. It's not based on, you know, avatars still; even if you do one that's based on 10 minutes of video of yourself, you will still have the uncanny valley. You will still have the broken cadence. You'll still have an automated voice where it sounds automated. They are getting better, and they'll continue to get better. But there's no avatar that you can honestly tell me is going to accurately convey emotion and those non-verbal cues. They can't do it. A computer cannot intuit it. You have to have the individual. You have to have something based from the actual person in order to get the most accurate you can get. An avatar who you're basically treating as a visual chatbot you're just typing in the answers. So there's no emotional connection. There's no body language or cadence that you can connect with in that. VICTORIA: That makes sense. And I can clearly see the...we've talked about the business use cases a little bit. But on the individual consumer side, I'm thinking about making a StoryFile of my grandpa from Pasadena and the value what that would be like to have that family member have a realistic portrayal of them for future generations to interact with. HEATHER: It's priceless. And he's still alive, right? VICTORIA: Yeah. HEATHER: So it's not a realistic portrait. It is him. You could do a StoryFile life. You'd go to StoryFile life. You'd pick out all the questions you wanted to ask him, add your own questions. Every family has got those five stories that individuals always tell at the dinner table during Thanksgiving or something. So you want to make sure you capture all of those. Let's say that he responds to a question that you've asked. And the beauty of it, by the way, is these are questions that you probably would not normally ask somebody in daily conversation. So you really get a sense of who they are from day one, you know, from their childhood all the way through their life today. If they say something that you're like, wait a minute, stop, [laughs] you've got to explain that, you can add a question, add a follow-up question and just say, "Can you tell me more about that?" or "Explain yourself. Like, how did you come to that? How did you make that decision? What went into this move and this shift?" or whatever you want to know more about. "Or how did that affect your family?" you know, so many questions. So it allows you to ask all of those questions. You record your grandfather, which, by the way, is an amazing experience for you; forget him, [laughter], but it's an amazing experience for you. And I guarantee you; you will learn something. To date, I have not had one family say that they haven't learned something or heard a story that they never heard before. So it's a really interesting process. And you feel bonded to that individual after you're done talking and doing this interview in a way that you didn't before. Then you have that recording of this individual that your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren will be able to get a sense of who this individual was, and what their life was like, and who they were to you even. That's priceless to be able to give, you know, we hang on, you go into ancestry.com; you pull up a ship's manifest. And you see your relative's signature. Okay, fine. But what do you really know about that person? Nothing. You know they came over on a ship. [laughs] And you see maybe how their signature looked, but that doesn't really tell you anything. So we want to change all that. We want to flip it all out. We want you to know all of your ancestors. We want your kids to know everybody and learn from them. VICTORIA: I love that. And it's an interesting intersection of this very core human emotion to AI technology or this leading-edge technology. And I wonder, what has surprised you in the technology building side about what ways it easily supports making this human connection and other ways where it's still a challenge to make everything connect? HEATHER: I would have loved to have gotten at least three PhDs [laughs], and then I can think over the last 12 years. Okay, so I started this in 2009. So you got to remember there was no Skype, really. I mean, Skype came into its own...it existed in 2008, but it didn't really come into its own until 2012. Speech recognition wasn't really a thing. We knew it was going to happen, but it wasn't there yet. That was one of the big things that people had to really take a leap of faith with me that we could even get this to work. We didn't know if it would do what we thought it would do. And we were doing this completely...it was a passion play. It was; let's see if we can do this type of thing. We actually did. It did fulfill what I envisioned it being and doing. It did finally fulfill, and I realized that in 2016, so it took that long. And in order to make it ubiquitous for everyone, and you know this because you build software, and you help people with products: to do something for the general public and to make it ubiquitous, and make it scalable, that's a whole nother ballgame. We're taking a process that was incredibly manual...everyone says, "Oh, AI is going to take over the world." No, it's not. No, it's not. It's not even close. It's still so manual. It's based on data. And whatever you manually put in is what you get out. In order to take that and make it automated in whatever ways you can and then keep dreaming about a day where, for example, the follow-up questions that I talked to you about. One day on our roadmap, God willing, next year, you will be able to get that follow-up question actually suggested to you because the computer will know what that individual has said. And the computer will figure out here's a question that you might want to ask, which has never been done before. And there are several things that we have on our roadmap that haven't been done before, but we've been in this zone where you know, other companies have tried. One of our advisors was president of Google Americas. And when she came on board with us, she said, "Google tried to do something similar to this in the early 2000s." But it was just a little too early, and they couldn't figure it out. So they scrapped the whole thing. And with software, timing has a lot to do with it. Your expectations and what you think you can do and when you can do it have to be constantly monitored and constantly re-evaluated. And do the best you can with what is technically available at the moment, and then plan to see how you might make that evolve or improve that or add to that. For example, the field of natural language processing it's at one stage right now, but we have things that we want to do with it and advances that we'd like to see happen. And we're going to have to make those happen if we want to see those happen. VICTORIA: You had both the timing and the need and just enough technology progression to make something happen when you did, and you were able to grow it. It sounds like your family is also involved in helping you along the journey. And I was curious to hear about how that has been for you and -- HEATHER: Okay, so it's not really fair because I grew up in a family-owned business. I'm totally used to it. Everybody asked me, "What's it like working with your husband, and what's it like?" You know, along this journey, we've had various family members working for us, and honestly, that's mostly been a necessity. They happened to be the most skilled and the most talented people to do the job at the moment that I had access to. They got it, you know, it's sort of like the game, okay, tag, you're it. [laughs] Some of them have gone on to do other things; one started her own app called Camber. The other started a PR agency and is doing very well. The other went on to do structural engineering, and the other one is still working for us. And Stephen's my husband's oldest, and I have told her many times even though she does want to go to law school at some point, I said, "No, I'm never letting you leave. [laughter] You're never leaving me." Yeah, it's kind of not fair because we happen to have the ideal situation where Stephen and I are both passionate and have a very clear vision of what we want to do and how to get there, which I think you do need. We respect each other tremendously. I'm in awe of him almost every day. I can see where in a lot of families, it would be problematic but somehow not for us. It worked really well. With investors, it is kind of tricky because you don't want to seem like you're a mom-and-pop shop, either. That's definitely not what we are. We're very focused, and we're very intentional. To some investors, it might seem like we're all over the place because of the B2C and the B2B thing, but it's really not. We explained to them that we're actually building one thing, and that's conversational video. That's what we're doing. It's a big vision, that's all, and it's a massive market. VICTORIA: Yeah, I believe it. I mean, having people in your corner who believe in your vision and you have respect for working for each other, whether they're your blood family or your chosen family, that's what really you need to be successful. And I think it's a common theme we see across people who are able to create these products is that they have a team around them. [laughs] It's never just one person. HEATHER: Yeah, no, it's never just one person. And I've been really, really fortunate. You talk about family that you've chosen. I've been really fortunate to have a lot of the team members who were on this journey with me back in 2010. So that's how far we all go with this and trying to evolve this technology and build this medium and this way of communicating. We're in it. We're all in it for better or worse. VICTORIA: Yeah, I agree. And I assume that that amount of loyalty from your team over that long time is a pro point for investors as well. And I'm curious, so if you could record a StoryFile for yourself now to send back in time to when you were first starting this up, I wonder what questions you would ask yourself [laughs] to be able to give you the advice you needed when you were just starting. HEATHER: To give me advice now? VICTORIA: If you were going to create a StoryFile for when you were starting out if you could be able to ask yourself questions from the future. [laughs] HEATHER: I think it would probably be very interesting to see where I was at, and what I was thinking, what we were dealing with at the time because I think it's some of the things you forget, you know, how you were feeling. We did a lot of video recording back in the early days, especially around different milestones and then different lows and highs. But if I could give myself some advice now, knowing what I know now, it would be your typical don't give up. There are days when you feel like that's it; I can't go any longer. It's not sustainable. You just don't know how it's going to turn out. And you have customers that you're really, really...we're very customer-oriented, so we work really closely with them to make them successful. And there have been times when what they've wanted to do hasn't been something that we were able to achieve entirely. So I would say just keep your head down, keep doing the work every day. Keep moving forward, and just believe in how you're ultimately going to change the world with this. So I think that I believed that 100% ten years ago as well. [laughs] I probably would have said the same thing, actually. There was a woman that had told me she wanted to do a StoryFile with her 10-year-old. And then she wanted to do the same script every five years, but especially do the same thing right before they go to college and then when they come back when they've finished college and do the same interview. I said, "It's a brilliant idea, but why specifically before they go to college and when they get back?" She says, "I want them to see how much they've changed." That makes me cry every time. It's so true. I don't know if you have kids; between Stephen and I, we have five, and they're all 20 to 31. And that time in their lives, from 17 to 22 to 24, you change so radically. I mean, it's almost like you go back, and it's almost like you've got a one-year-old to see how much they changed by the time they're six. It's that radical. I thought that was just a beautiful thing on her part to think of, you know, think of doing. VICTORIA: Yeah, that sounds great. I don't have any kids myself. I do have a two-year-old and a one-year-old niece and nephew. Maybe we'll create one for them when they get a little bit older. HEATHER: Well, then you have to do...is your grandfather their great-grandfather? VICTORIA: No, he's my husband's grandpa, actually. HEATHER: Because when you do your grandfather, then they'll get to know them. You know, there's something about our identity, and it's made up of our parents, you know, our lives, our influences on our lives, and everybody that lived before us. So our point is, why not get to know those people the best way you can? And is that by reading their story? Is it listening to a voicemail that they left you before they passed away in order to get a sense of who they are? Or is it a video of them on a vacation, you know, a video clip? Or is it a story? Or would you want a StoryFile where you can actually have a conversation? You can feel as if you're sitting down at a kitchen table, talking and asking them questions about their life. We want you to do it with everybody, [laughs] even your boss. [laughter] VICTORIA: Right? I think it's a hugely powerful way to connect with people. And if I can get my grandpa to stop watching tennis for long enough to do it, I'll do it. [laughs] HEATHER: I definitely guarantee you can do that. [laughs] VICTORIA: Right? I think we can. I think we can do it. I think you'll enjoy it as much as I will. So I really appreciate you sharing this capability with us. And is there a way you want to shout out how people can connect with the tool? HEATHER: Go to storyfile.com. If it's for your family, for you personally, go to StoryFile Life from that website. And if you're a business, you can go to Conversa also from that website and ask for a free demo. VICTORIA: Excellent. And is there anything you want to give as a final takeaway to our listeners today? HEATHER: It's easy to do. And it's always better to personally connect with someone if you can. Give them the opportunity to really see you, and listen to you, and hear you, the real you. And it doesn't take a lot of time. Everyone has a story to tell or knowledge to impart, experiences to talk about. There's no one on the planet that doesn't, honestly. But you probably doing these podcasts every one you talk to you learn from. It's sharing our knowledge. It's sharing humanity's experiences and knowledge so that we absorb that and we have that. It influences us, hopefully, in a good way. VICTORIA: I think that's beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing with us and being with us here today. HEATHER: Thank you for having me. Keep up the great work, you guys. VICTORIA: Oh, thank you. You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can find me on Twitter @victori_ousg. This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. Thanks for listening. See you next time. ANNOUNCER: This podcast was brought to you by thoughtbot. thoughtbot is your expert design and development partner. Let's make your product and team a success. Special Guest: Heather Maio-Smith.
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In this edition of Giant Robot Radio with Big Daddy Suede, we discuss the Grammy Nominations, the death of the voice of Batman, the tragedy at The University of Virginia, Donald Trump declaring his 2024 candidacy for POTUS and more.
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Leonard S. Johnson is the Founder and CEO of AIEDC, a 5G Cloud Mobile App Maker and Service Provider with Machine Learning to help small and midsize businesses create their own iOS and Android mobile apps with no-code or low-code so they can engage and service their customer base, as well as provide front and back office digitization services for small businesses. Victoria talks to Leonard about using artificial intelligence for good, bringing the power of AI to local economics, and truly democratizing AI. The Artificial Intelligence Economic Development Corporation (AIEDC) (https://netcapital.com/companies/aiedc) Follow AIEDC on Twitter (https://twitter.com/netcapital), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/netcapital/), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Netcapital/), or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/aiedc/). Follow Leonard on Twitter (https://twitter.com/LeonardSJ) and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/leonardsjohnson84047/). Follow thoughtbot on Twitter (https://twitter.com/thoughtbot) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/150727/). Become a Sponsor (https://thoughtbot.com/sponsorship) of Giant Robots! Transcript: VICTORIA: This is The Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido. And with us today is Leonard S. Johnson or LS, Founder and CEO AIEDC, a 5G Cloud Mobile App Maker and Service Provider with Machine Learning to help small and midsize businesses create their own iOS and Android mobile apps with no-code or low-code so they can engage and service their customer base, as well as provide front and back office digitization services for small businesses. Leonard, thanks for being with us today. LEONARD: Thank you for having me, Victoria. VICTORIA: I should say LS, thank you for being with us today. LEONARD: It's okay. It's fine. VICTORIA: Great. So tell us a little more about AIEDC. LEONARD: Well, AIEDC stands for Artificial Intelligence Economic Development Corporation. And the original premise that I founded it for...I founded it after completing my postgraduate work at Stanford, and that was 2016. And it was to use AI for economic development, and therefore use AI for good versus just hearing about artificial intelligence and some of the different movies that either take over the world, and Skynet, and watch data privacy, and these other things which are true, and it's very evident, they exist, and they're out there. But at the end of the day, I've always looked at life as a growth strategy and the improvement of what we could do and focusing on what we could do practically. You do it tactically, then you do it strategically over time, and you're able to implement things. That's why I think we keep building collectively as humanity, no matter what part of the world you're in. VICTORIA: Right. So you went to Stanford, and you're from South Central LA. And what about that background led you to pursue AI for good in particular? LEONARD: So growing up in the inner city of Los Angeles, you know, that South Central area, Compton area, it taught me a lot. And then after that, after I completed high school...and not in South Central because I moved around a lot. I grew up with a single mother, never knew my real father, and then my home life with my single mother wasn't good because of just circumstances all the time. And so I just started understanding that even as a young kid, you put your brain...you utilize something because you had two choices. It's very simple or binary, you know, A or B. A, you do something with yourself, or B, you go out and be social in a certain neighborhood. And I'm African American, so high probability that you'll end up dead, or in a gang, or in crime because that's what it was at that time. It's just that's just a situation. Or you're able to challenge those energies and put them toward a use that's productive and positive for yourself, and that's what I did, which is utilizing a way to learn. I could always pick up things when I was very young. And a lot of teachers, my younger teachers, were like, "You're very, very bright," or "You're very smart." And there weren't many programs because I'm older than 42. So there weren't as many programs as there are today. So I really like all of the programs. So I want to clarify the context. Today there's a lot more engagement and identification of kids that might be sharper, smarter, whatever their personal issues are, good or bad. And it's a way to sort of separate them. So you're not just teaching the whole group as a whole and putting them all in one basket, but back then, there was not. And so I just used to go home a lot, do a lot of reading, do a lot of studying, and just knick-knack with things in tech. And then I just started understanding that even as a young kid in the inner city, you see economics very early, but they don't understand that's really what they're studying. They see economics. They can see inflation because making two ends meet is very difficult. They may see gang violence and drugs or whatever it might end up being. And a lot of that, in my opinion, is always an underlining economic foundation. And so people would say, "Oh, why is this industry like this?" And so forth. "Why does this keep happening?" It's because they can't function. And sometimes, it's just them and their family, but they can't function because it's an economic system. So I started focusing on that and then went into the Marine Corps. And then, after the Marine Corps, I went to Europe. I lived in Europe for a while to do my undergrad studies in the Netherlands in Holland. VICTORIA: So having that experience of taking a challenge or taking these forces around you and turning into a force for good, that's led you to bring the power of AI to local economics. And is that the direction that you went eventually? LEONARD: So economics was always something that I understood and had a fascination prior to even starting my company. I started in 2017. And we're crowdfunding now, and I can get into that later. But I self-funded it since 2017 to...I think I only started crowdfunding when COVID hit, which was 2020, and just to get awareness and people out there because I couldn't go to a lot of events. So I'm like, okay, how can I get exposure? But yeah, it was a matter of looking at it from that standpoint of economics always factored into me, even when I was in the military when I was in the Marine Corps. I would see that...we would go to different countries, and you could just see the difference of how they lived and survived. And another side note, my son's mother is from Ethiopia, Africa. And I have a good relationship with my son and his mother, even though we've been apart for over 15 years, divorced for over 15 years or so or longer. But trying to keep that, you can just see this dichotomy. You go out to these different countries, and even in the military, it's just so extreme from the U.S. and any part of the U.S, but that then always focused on economics. And then technology, I just always kept up with, like, back in the '80s when the mobile brick phone came out, I had to figure out how to get one. [laughs] And then I took it apart and then put it back together just to see how it works, so yeah. But it was a huge one, by the way. I mean, it was like someone got another and broke it, and they thought it was broken. And they're like, "This doesn't work. You could take this piece of junk." I'm like, "Okay." [laughs] VICTORIA: Like, oh, great. I sure will, yeah. Now, I love technology. And I think a lot of people perceive artificial intelligence as being this super futuristic, potentially harmful, maybe economic negative impact. So what, from your perspective, can AI do for local economics or for people who may not have access to that advanced technology? LEONARD: Well, that's the key, and that's what we're looking to do with AIEDC. When you look at the small and midsize businesses, it's not what people think, or their perception is. A lot of those in the U.S. it's the backbone of the United States, our economy, literally. And in other parts of the world, it's the same where it could be a one or two mom-and-pop shops. That's where that name comes from; it's literally two people. And they're trying to start something to build their own life over time because they're using their labor to maybe build wealth or somehow a little bit not. And when I mean wealth, it's always relative. It's enough to sustain themselves or just put food on the table and be able to control their own destiny to the best of their ability. And so what we're looking to do is make a mobile app maker that's 5G that lives in the cloud, that's 5G compliant, that will allow small and midsize businesses to create their own iOS or Android mobile app with no-code or low-code, basically like creating an email. That's how simple we want it to be. When you create your own email, whether you use Microsoft, Google, or whatever you do, and you make it that simple. And there's a simple version, and there could be complexity added to it if they want. That would be the back office digitization or customization, but that then gets them on board with digitization. It's intriguing that McKinsey just came out with a report stating that in 2023, in order to be economically viable, and this was very recent, that all companies would need to have a digitization strategy. And so when you look at small businesses, and you look at things like COVID-19, or the COVID current ongoing issue and that disruption, this is global. And you look at even the Ukrainian War or the Russian-Ukrainian War, however you term it, invasion, war, special operation, these are disruptions. And then, on top of that, we look at climate change which has been accelerating in the last two years more so than it was prior to this that we've experienced. So this is something that everyone can see is self-evident. I'm not even focused on the cause of the problem. My brain and the way I think, and my team, we like to focus on solutions. My chairman is a former program director of NASA who managed 1,200 engineers that built the International Space Station; what was it? 20-30 years ago, however, that is. And he helped lead and build that from Johnson Center. And so you're focused on solutions because if you're building the International Space Station, you can only focus on solutions and anticipate the problems but not dwell on them. And so that kind of mindset is what I am, and it's looking to help small businesses do that to get them on board with digitization and then in customization. And then beyond that, use our system, which is called M.I.N.D. So we own these...we own patents, three patents, trademarks, and service marks related to artificial intelligence that are in the field of economics. And we will utilize DEVS...we plan to do that which is a suite of system specifications to predict regional economic issues like the weather in a proactive way, not reactive. A lot of economic situations are reactive. It's reactive to the Federal Reserve raising interest rates or lowering rates, Wall Street, you know, moving money or not moving money. It is what it is. I mean, I don't judge it. I think it's like financial engineering, and that's fine. It's profitability. But then, at the end of the day, if you're building something, it's like when we're going to go to space. When rockets launch, they have to do what they're intended to do. Like, I know that Blue Origin just blew up recently. Or if they don't, they have a default, and at least I heard that the Blue Origin satellite, if it were carrying passengers, the passengers would have been safe because it disembarked when it detected its own problem. So when you anticipate these kinds of problems and you apply them to the local small business person, you can help them forecast and predict better like what weather prediction has done. And we're always improving that collectively for weather prediction, especially with climate change, so that it can get to near real-time as soon as possible or close a window versus two weeks out versus two days out as an example. VICTORIA: Right. Those examples of what you call a narrow economic prediction. LEONARD: Correct. It is intriguing when you say narrow economic because it wouldn't be narrow AI. But it would actually get into AGI if you added more variables, which we would. The more variables you added in tenancies...so if you're looking at events, the system events discretion so discrete event system specification you would specify what they really, really need to do to have those variables. But at some point, you're working on a system, what I would call AGI. But AGI, in my mind, the circles I run in at least or at least most of the scientists I talk to it's not artificial superintelligence. And so the general public thinks AGI...and I've said this to Stephen Ibaraki, who's the founder of AI for Good at Global Summit at the United Nations, and one of his interviews as well. It's just Artificial General Intelligence, I think, has been put out a lot by Hollywood and entertainment and so forth, and some scientists say certain things. We won't be at artificial superintelligence. We might get to Artificial General Intelligence by 2030 easily, in my opinion. But that will be narrow AI, but it will cover what we look at it in the field as cross-domain, teaching a system to look at different variables because right now, it's really narrow. Like natural language processing, it's just going to look at language and infer from there, and then you've got backward propagation that's credit assignment and fraud and detection. Those are narrow data points. But when you start looking at something cross-domain...who am I thinking of? Pedro Domingos who wrote the Master Algorithm, which actually, Xi Jinping has a copy of, the President of China, on his bookshelf in his office because they've talked about that, and these great minds because Stephen Ibaraki has interviewed these...and the founder of Google Brain and all of these guys. And so there's always this debate in the scientific community of what is narrow AI what it's not. But at the end of the day, I just like Pedro's definition of it because he says the master algorithm will be combining all five, so you're really crossing domains, which AI hasn't done that. And to me, that will be AGI, but that's not artificial superintelligence. And artificial superintelligence is when it becomes very, you know, like some of the movies could say, if we as humanity just let it run wild, it could be crazy. VICTORIA: One of my questions is the future of AI more like iRobot or Bicentennial Man? LEONARD: Well, you know, interesting. That's a great question, Victoria. I see most of AI literally as iRobot, as a tool more than anything, except at the end when it implied...so it kind of did two things in that movie, but a wonderful movie to bring up. And I like Will Smith perfectly. Well, I liked him a lot more before -- VICTORIA: I think iRobot is really the better movie. LEONARD: Yeah, so if people haven't seen iRobot, I liked Will Smith, the actor. But iRobot showed you two things, and it showed you, one, it showed hope. Literally, the robot...because a lot of people put AI and robots. And AI by itself is the brain or the mind; I should say hardware are the robots or the brain. Software...AI in and of itself is software. It's the mind itself. That's why we have M.I.N.D Machine Intelligence NeuralNetwork Database. We literally have that. That's our acronym and our slogan and everything. And it's part of our patents. But its machine intelligence is M.I.N.D, and we own that, you know; the company owns it. And so M.I.N.D...we always say AI powered by M.I.N.D. We're talking about that software side of, like, what your mind does; it iterates and thinks, the ability to think itself. Now it's enclosed within a structure called, you know, for the human, it's called a brain, the physical part of it, and that brain is enclosed within the body. So when you look at robots...and my chairman was the key person for robotics for the International Space Station. So when you look at robotics, you are putting that software into hardware, just like your cell phone. You have the physical, and then you have the actual iOS, which is the operating system. So when you think about that, yeah, iRobot was good because it showed how these can be tools, and they were very, in the beginning of the movie, very helpful, very beneficial to humanity. But then it went to a darker side and showed where V.I.K.I, which was an acronym as well, I think was Virtual Interactive Kinetic technology of something. Yeah, I believe it was Virtual Interactive Kinetic inference or technology or something like that, V.I.K.I; I forgot the last I. But that's what it stood for. It was an acronym to say...and then V.I.K.I just became all aware and started killing everyone with robots and just wanted to say, you know, this is futile. But then, at the very, very end, V.I.K.I learned from itself and says, "Okay, I guess this isn't right." Or the other robot who could think differently argued with V.I.K.I, and they destroyed her. And it made V.I.K.I a woman in the movie, and then the robot was the guy. But that shows that it can get out of hand. But it was intriguing to me that they had her contained within one building. This wouldn't be artificial superintelligence. And I think sometimes Hollywood says, "Just take over everything from one building," no. It wouldn't be on earth if it could. But that is something we always have to think about. We have to think about the worst-case scenarios. I think every prudent scientist or business person or anyone should do that, even investors, I mean, if you're investing something for the future. But you also don't focus on it. You don't think about the best-case scenario, either. But there's a lot of dwelling on the worst-case scenario versus the good that we can do given we're looking at where humanity is today. I mean, we're in 2022, and we're still fighting wars that we fought in 1914. VICTORIA: Right. Which brings me to my next question, which is both, what are the most exciting opportunities to innovate in the AI space currently? And conversely, what are the biggest challenges that are facing innovation in that field? LEONARD: Ooh, that's a good question. I think, in my opinion, it's almost the same answer; one is...but I'm in a special field. And I'm surprised there's not a lot of competition for our company. I mean, it's very good for me and the company's sense. It's like when Mark Zuckerberg did Facebook, there was Friendster, and there was Myspace, but they were different. They were different verticals. And I think Mark figured out how to do it horizontally, good or bad. I'm talking about the beginning of when he started Facebook, now called Meta. But I'm saying utilizing AI in economics because a lot of times AI is used in FinTech and consumerism, but not economic growth where we're really talking about growing something organically, or it's called endogenous growth. Because I studied Paul Romer's work, who won the Nobel Prize in 2018 for economic science. And he talked about the nature of ideas. And we were working on something like that in Stanford. And I put out a book in 2017 of January talking about cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence but about the utilization of it, but not the speculation. I never talked about speculation. I don't own any crypto; I would not. It's only once it's utilized in its PureTech form will it create something that it was envisioned to do by the protocol that Satoshi Nakamoto sort of created. And it still fascinates me that people follow Bitcoin protocol, even for the tech and the non-tech, but they don't know who Satoshi is. But yeah, it's a white paper. You're just following a white paper because I think logically, the world is going towards that iteration of evolution. And that's how AI could be utilized for good in an area to focus on it with economics and solving current problems. And then going forward to build a new economy where it's not debt-based driven or consumer purchase only because that leaves a natural imbalance in the current world structure. The western countries are great. We do okay, and we go up and down. But the emerging and developing countries just get stuck, and they seem to go into a circular loop. And then there are wars as a result of these things and territory fights and so forth. So that's an area I think where it could be more advanced is AI in the economic realm, not so much the consumer FinTech room, which is fine. But consumer FinTech, in my mind, is you're using AI to process PayPal. That's where I think Elon just iterated later because PayPal is using it for finance. You're just moving things back and forth, and you're just authenticating everything. But then he starts going on to SpaceX next because he's like, well, let me use technology in a different way. And I do think he's using AI on all of his projects now. VICTORIA: Right. So how can that tech solve real problems today? Do you see anything even particular about Southern California, where we're both at right now, where you think AI could help predict some outcomes for small businesses or that community? LEONARD: I'm looking to do it regionally then globally. So I'm part of this Southern Cal Innovation Hub, which is just AI. It's an artificial intelligence coordination between literally San Diego County, Orange County, and Los Angeles County. And so there's a SoCal Innovation Hub that's kind of bringing it together. But there are all three groups, like; I think the CEO in Orange County is the CEO of Leadership Alliance. And then in San Diego, there's another group I can't remember their name off the top of my head, and I'm talking about the county itself. So each one's representing a county because, you know. And then there's one in Northern California that I'm also associated with where if you look at California as its own economy in the U.S., it's still pretty significant as an economic cycle in the United States, period. That's why so many politicians like California because they can sway the votes. So yeah, we're looking to do that once, you know, we are raising capital. We're crowdfunding currently. Our total raise is about 6 million. And so we're talking to venture capitalists, private, high net worth investors as well. Our federal funding is smaller. It's just like several hundred thousand because most people can only invest a few thousand. But I always like to try to give back. If you tell people...if you're Steve Jobs, like, okay, I've got this Apple company. In several years, you'll see the potential. And people are like, ah, whatever, but then they kick themselves 15 years later. [laughs] Like, oh, I wish I thought about that Apple stock for $15 when I could. But you give people a chance, and you get the word out, and you see what happens. Once you build a system, you share it. There are some open-source projects. But I think the open source, like OpenAI, as an example, Elon Musk funds that as well as Microsoft. They both put a billion dollars into it. It is an open-source project. OpenAI claims...but some of the research does go back to Microsoft to be able to see it. And DeepMind is another research for AI, but they're owned by Google. And so, I'm also very focused on democratizing artificial intelligence for the benefit of everyone. I really believe that needs to be democratized in a sense of tying it to economics and making it utilized for everyone that may need it for the benefit of humanity where it's profitable and makes money, but it's not just usurping. MID-ROLL AD: As life moves online, brick-and-mortar businesses are having to adapt to survive. With over 18 years of experience building reliable web products and services, thoughtbot is the technology partner you can trust. We provide the technical expertise to enable your business to adapt and thrive in a changing environment. We start by understanding what's important to your customers to help you transition to intuitive digital services your customers will trust. We take the time to understand what makes your business great and work fast yet thoroughly to build, test, and validate ideas, helping you discover new customers. Take your business online with design‑driven digital acceleration. Find out more at tbot.io/acceleration or click the link in the show notes for this episode. VICTORIA: With that democratizing it, is there also a need to increase the understanding of the ethics around it and when there are certain known use cases for AI where it actually is discriminatory and plays to systemic problems in our society? Are you familiar with that as well? LEONARD: Yes, absolutely. Well, that's my whole point. And, Victoria, you just hit the nail on the head. Truly democratizing AI in my mind and in my brain the way it works is it has opened up for everyone. Because if you really roll it back, okay, companies now we're learning...we used to call it several years ago UGC, User Generated Content. And now a lot of people are like, okay, if you're on Facebook, you're the product, right? Or if you're on Instagram, you're the product. And they're using you, and you're using your data to sell, et cetera, et cetera. But user-generated content it's always been that. It's just a matter of the sharing of the economic. That's why I keep going back to economics. So if people were, you know, you wouldn't have to necessarily do advertising if you had stakeholders with advertising, the users and the company, as an example. If it's a social media company, just throwing it out there, so let's say you have a social media...and this has been talked about, but I'm not the first to introduce this. This has been talked about for over ten years, at least over 15 years. And it's you share as a triangle in three ways. So you have the user and everything else. So take your current social media, and I won't pick on Facebook, but I'll just use them, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Twitter's having issues recently because Elon is trying to buy them or get out of buying them. But you just looked at that data, and then you share with the user base. What's the revenue model? And there needs to be one; let me be very clear. There has to be incentive, and there has to be profitability for people that joined you earlier, you know, joined the corporation, or become shareholders, or investors, or become users, or become customers. They have to be able to have some benefit, not extreme greater than everyone else but a great benefit from coming in earlier by what they contributed at the time. And that is what makes this system holistic in my opinion, like Reddit or any of these bloggers. But you make it where they use their time and the users, and you share it with the company and then the data and so forth, and whatever revenue economic model you have, and it's a sort of a three-way split. It's just not always equal. And that's something that I think in economics, we're still on a zero-sum game, I win, you lose sort of economic model globally. That's why there's a winner of a war and a loser of a war. But in reality, as you know, Victoria, there are no winners of any war. So it's funny, [laughs] I was just saying, well, you know, because of the economic mode, but Von Neumann, who talked about that, also talked about something called a non-zero-sum game when he talked about it in mathematics that you can win, and I can win; we just don't win equally because they never will match that. So if I win, I may win 60; you win 40. Or you may win 60, I win 40, and we agree to settle on that. It's an agreement versus I'm just going to be 99, and you'll be 1%, or I'm just going to be 100, and you're at 0. And I think that our economic model tends to be a lot of that, like, when you push forth and there needs to be more of that. When you talk about the core of economics...and I go way back, you know, prior to the Federal Reserve even being started. I just look at the world, and it's always sort of been this land territorial issue of what goods are under the country. But we've got technology where we can mitigate a lot of things and do the collective of help the earth, and then let's go off to space, all of space. That's where my brain is focused on. VICTORIA: Hmm. Oh yeah, that makes sense to me. I think that we're all going to have to evolve our economic models here in the future. I wonder, too, as you're building your startup and you're building your company, what are some of the technology trade-offs you're having to make in the stack of the AI software that you're building? LEONARD: Hmm. Good question. But clarify, this may be a lot deeper dive because that's a general question. And I don't want to...yeah, go ahead. VICTORIA: Because when you're building AI, and you're going to be processing a lot of data, I know many data scientists that are familiar with tools like Jupyter Notebooks, and R, and Python. And one issue that I'm aware of is keeping the environments the same, so everything that goes into building your app and having those infrastructure as code for your data science applications, being able to afford to process all that data. [laughs] And there are just so many factors that go into building an AI app versus building something that's more easy, like a web-based user form. So just curious if you've encountered those types of trade-offs or questions about, okay, how are we going to actually build an app that we can put out on everybody's phone and that works responsibly? LEONARD: Oh, okay. So let me be very clear, but I won't give too much of the secret sauce away. But I can define this technically because this is a technical audience. This is not...so what you're really talking about is two things, and I'm clear about this, though. So the app maker won't really read and write a lot of data. It'll just be the app where people could just get on board digitalization simple, you know, process payments, maybe connect with someone like American Express square, MasterCard, whatever. And so that's just letting them function. That's sort of small FinTech in my mind, you know, just transaction A to B, B to A, et cetera. And it doesn't need to be peer-to-peer and all of the crypto. It doesn't even need to go that level yet. That's just level one. Then they will sign up for a service, which is because we're really focused on artificial intelligence as a service. And that, to me, is the next iteration for AI. I've been talking about this for about three or four years now, literally, in different conferences and so forth for people who haven't hit it. But that we will get to that point where AI will become AI as a service, just like SaaS is. We're still at the, you know, most of the world on the legacy systems are still software as a service. We're about to hit AI as a service because the world is evolving. And this is true; they did shut it down. But you did have okay, so there are two case points which I can bring up. So JP Morgan did create something called a Coin, and it was using AI. And it was a coin like crypto, coin like a token, but they called it a coin. But it could process, I think, something like...I may be off on this, so to the sticklers that will be listening, please, I'm telling you I may be off on the exact quote, but I think it was about...it was something crazy to me, like 200,000 of legal hours and seconds that it could process because it was basically taking the corporate legal structure of JP Morgan, one of the biggest banks. I think they are the biggest bank in the U.S. JPMorgan Chase. And they were explaining in 2017 how we created this, and it's going to alleviate this many hours of legal work for the bank. And I think politically; something happened because they just pulled away. I still have the original press release when they put it out, and it was in the media. And then it went away. I mean, no implementation [laughs] because I think there was going to be a big loss of jobs for it. And they basically would have been white-collar legal jobs, most specifically lawyers literally that were working for the bank. And when they were talking towards investment, it was a committee. I was at a conference. And I was like, I was fascinated by that. And they were basically using Bitcoin protocol as the tokenization protocol, but they were using AI to process it. And it was basically looking at...because legal contracts are basically...you can teach it with natural language processing and be able to encode and almost output it itself and then be able to speak with each other. Another case point was Facebook. They had...what was it? Two AI systems. They began to create their own language. I don't know if you remember that story or heard about it, and Facebook shut it down. And this was more like two years ago, I think, when they were saying Facebook was talking, you know, when they were Facebook, not Meta, so maybe it was three years ago. And they were talking, and they were like, "Oh, Facebook has a language. It's talking to each other." And it created its own little site language because it was two AI bots going back and forth. And then the engineers at Facebook said, "We got to shut this down because this is kind of getting out of the box." So when you talk about AI as a service, yes, the good and the bad, and what you take away is AWS, Oracle, Google Cloud they do have services where it doesn't need to cost you as much anymore as it used to in the beginning if you know what you're doing ahead of time. And you're not just running iterations or data processing because you're doing guesswork versus, in my opinion, versus actually knowing exactly specifically what you're looking for and the data set you're looking to get out of it. And then you're talking about just basically putting in containers and clustering it because it gets different operations. And so what you're really looking at is something called an N-scale graph data that can process data in maybe sub seconds at that level, excuse me. And one of my advisors is the head of that anyway at AGI laboratory. So he's got an N graph database that can process...when we implement it, we'll be able to process data at the petabyte level at sub-seconds, and it can run on platforms like Azure or AWS, and so forth. VICTORIA: Oh, that's interesting. So it sounds like cloud providers are making compute services more affordable. You've got data, the N-scale graph data, that can run more transactions more quickly. And I'm curious if you see any future trends since I know you're a futurist around quantum computing and how that could affect capacity for -- LEONARD: Oh [laughs] We haven't even gotten there yet. Yes. Well, if you look at N-scale, if you know what you're doing and you know what to look for, then the quantum just starts going across different domains as well but at a higher hit rate. So there's been some quantum computers online. There's been several...well, Google has their quantum computer coming online, and they've been working on it, and Google has enough data, of course, to process. So yeah, they've got that data, lots of data. And quantum needs, you know, if it's going to do something, it needs lots of data. But then the inference will still be, I think, quantum is very good at processing large, large, large amounts of data. We can just keep going if you really have a good quantum computer. But it's really narrow. You have to tell it exactly what it wants, and it will do it in what we call...which is great like in P or NP square or P over NP which is you want to do it in polynomial time, not non-polynomial, polynomial time which is...now speaking too fast. Okay, my brain is going faster than my lips. Let me slow it down. So when you start thinking about processing, if we as humans, let's say if I was going to process A to Z, and I'm like, okay, here is this equation, if I tell you it takes 1000 years, it's of no use to us, to me and you Victoria because we're living now. Now, the earth may benefit in 1000 years, but it's still of no use. But if I could take this large amount of data and have it process within minutes, you know, worst case hours...but then I'll even go down to seconds or sub-seconds, then that's really a benefit to humanity now, today in present term. And so, as a futurist, yes, as the world, we will continue to add data. We're doing it every day, and we already knew this was coming ten years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago, even actually in the '50s when we were in the AI winter. We're now in AI summer. In my words, I call it the AI summer. So as you're doing this, that data is going to continue to increase, and quantum will be needed for that. But then the specific need...quantum is very good at looking at a specific issue, specifically for that very narrow. Like if you were going to do the trajectory to Jupiter or if we wanted to send a probe to Jupiter or something, I think we're sending something out there now from NASA, and so forth, then you need to process all the variables, but it's got one trajectory. It's going one place only. VICTORIA: Gotcha. Well, that's so interesting. I'm glad I asked you that question. And speaking of rockets going off to space, have you ever seen a SpaceX launch from LA? LEONARD: Actually, I saw one land but not a launch. I need to go over there. It's not too far from me. But you got to give credit where credit's due and Elon has a reusable rocket. See, that's where technology is solving real-world problems. Because NASA and I have, you know, my chairman, his name is Alexander Nawrocki, you know, he's Ph.D., but I call him Rocki. He goes by Rocki like I go by LS. But it's just we talk about this like NASA's budget. [laughs] How can you reduce this? And Elon says they will come up with a reusable rocket that won't cost this much and be able to...and that's the key. That was the kind of Holy Grail where you can reuse the same rocket itself and then add some little variables on top of it. But the core, you wouldn't constantly be paying for it. And so I think where the world is going...and let me be clear, Elon pushes a lot out there. He's just very good at it. But I'm also that kind of guy that I know that Tesla itself was started by two Stanford engineers. Elon came on later, like six months, and then he invested, and he became CEO, which was a great investment for Elon Musk. And then CEO I just think it just fit his personality because it was something he loved. But I also have studied for years Nikola Tesla, and I understand what his contributions created where we are today with all the patents that he had. And so he's basically the father of WiFi and why we're able to communicate in a lot of this. We've perfected it or improved it, but it was created by him in the 1800s. VICTORIA: Right. And I don't think he came from as fortunate a background as Elon Musk, either. Sometimes I wonder what I could have done born in similar circumstances. [laughter] And you certainly have made quite a name for yourself. LEONARD: Well, I'm just saying, yeah, he came from very...he did come from a poor area of Russia which is called the Russian territory, to be very honest, Eastern Europe, definitely Eastern Europe. But yeah, I don't know once you start thinking about that [laughs]. You're making me laugh, Victoria. You're making me laugh. VICTORIA: No, I actually went camping, a backpacking trip to the Catalina Island, and there happened to be a SpaceX launch that night, and we thought it was aliens because it looked wild. I didn't realize what it was. But then we figured it was a launch, so it was really great. I love being here and being close to some of this technology and the advancements that are going on. I'm curious if you have some thoughts about...I hear a lot about or you used to hear about Silicon Valley Tech like very Northern California, San Francisco focus. But what is the difference in SoCal? What do you find in those two communities that makes SoCal special? [laughs] LEONARD: Well, I think it's actually...so democratizing AI. I've been in a moment like that because, in 2015, I was in Dubai, and they were talking about creating silicon oasis. And so there's always been this model of, you know, because they were always, you know, the whole Palo Alto thing is people would say it and it is true. I mean, I experienced it. Because I was in a two-year program, post-graduate program executive, but we would go up there...I wasn't living up there. I had to go there maybe once every month for like three weeks, every other month or something. But when you're up there, it is the air in the water. It's just like, people just breathe certain things. Because around the world, and I would travel to Japan, and China, and other different parts of Asia, Vietnam, et cetera and in Africa of course, and let's say you see this and people are like, so what is it about Silicon Valley? And of course, the show, there is the Hollywood show about it, which is pretty a lot accurate, which is interesting, the HBO show. But you would see that, and you would think, how are they able to just replicate this? And a lot of it is a convergence. By default, they hear about these companies' access because the key is access, and that's what we're...like this podcast. I love the concept around it because giving awareness, knowledge, and access allows other people to spread it and democratize it. So it's just not one physical location, or you have to be in that particular area only to benefit. I mean, you could benefit in that area, or you could benefit from any part of the world. But since they started, people would go there; engineers would go there. They built company PCs, et cetera. Now that's starting to spread in other areas like Southern Cal are creating their own innovation hubs to be able to bring all three together. And those three are the engineers and founders, and idea makers and startups. And you then need the expertise. I'm older than 42; I'm not 22. [laughs] So I'm just keeping it 100, keeping it real. So I'm not coming out at 19. I mean, my son's 18. And I'm not coming out, okay, this my new startup, bam, give me a billion dollars, I'm good. And let me just write off the next half. But when you look at that, there's that experience because even if you look at Mark Zuckerberg, I always tell people that give credit where credit is due. He brought a senior team with him when he was younger, and he didn't have the experience. And his only job has been Facebook out of college. He's had no other job. And now he's been CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation; that's a fact. Sometimes it hurts people's feelings. Like, you know what? He's had no other job. Now that can be good and bad, [laughs] but he's had no other jobs. And so that's just a credit, like, if you can surround yourself with the right people and be focused on something, it can work to the good or the bad for your own personal success but then having that open architecture. And I think he's been trying to learn and others versus like an Elon Musk, who embraces everything. He's just very open in that sense. But then you have to come from these different backgrounds. But let's say Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, let's take a guy like myself or whatever who didn't grow up with all of that who had to make these two ends meet, figure out how to do the next day, not just get to the next year, but get to the next day, get to the next week, get to the next month, then get to the next year. It just gives a different perspective as well. Humanity's always dealing with that. Because we had a lot of great engineers back in the early 1900s. They're good or bad, you know, you did have Nikola Tesla. You had Edison. I'm talking about circa around 1907 or 1909, prior to World War I. America had a lot of industries. They were the innovators then, even though there were innovations happening in Europe, and Africa, and China, as well and Asia. But the innovation hub kind of created as the America, quote, unquote, "industrial revolution." And I think we're about to begin a new revolution sort of tech and an industrial revolution that's going to take us to maybe from 20...we're 2022 now, but I'll say it takes us from 2020 to 2040 in my head. VICTORIA: So now that communities can really communicate across time zones and locations, maybe the hubs are more about solving specific problems. There are regional issues. That makes a lot more sense. LEONARD: Yes. And collaborating together, working together, because scientists, you know, COVID taught us that. People thought you had to be in a certain place, but then a lot of collaboration came out of COVID; even though it was bad globally, even though we're still bad, if people were at home, they start collaborating, and scientists will talk to scientists, you know, businesses, entrepreneurs, and so forth. But if Orange County is bringing together the mentors, the venture capital, or at least Southern California innovation and any other place, I want to say that's not just Silicon Valley because Silicon Valley already has it; we know that. And that's that region. It's San Jose all the way up to...I forgot how far north it's past San Francisco, actually. But it's that region of area where they encompass the real valley of Silicon Valley if you're really there. And you talk about these regions. Yes, I think we're going to get to a more regional growth area, and then it'll go more micro to actually cities later in the future. But regional growth, I think it's going to be extremely important globally in the very near term. I'm literally saying from tomorrow to the next, maybe ten years, regional will really matter. And then whatever you have can scale globally anyway, like this podcast we're doing. This can be distributed to anyone in the world, and they can listen at ease when they have time. VICTORIA: Yeah, I love it. It's both exciting and also intimidating. [laughs] And you mentioned your son a little bit earlier. And I'm curious, as a founder and someone who spent a good amount of time in graduate and Ph.D. programs, if you feel like it's easy to connect with your son and maintain that balance and focusing on your family while you're building a company and investing in yourself very heavily. LEONARD: Well, I'm older, [laughs] so it's okay. I mean, I've mentored him, you know. And me and his mom have a relationship that works. I would say we have a better relationship now than when we were together. It is what it is. But we have a communication level. And I think she was just a great person because I never knew my real father, ever. I supposedly met him when I was two or one; I don't know. But I have no memories, no photos, nothing. And that was just the environment I grew up in. But with my son, he knows the truth of everything about that. He's actually in college. I don't like to name the school because it's on the East Coast, and it's some Ivy League school; that's what I will say. And he didn't want to stay on the West Coast because I'm in Orange County and his mom's in Orange County. He's like, "I want to get away from both of you people." [laughter] And that's a joke, but he's very independent. He's doing well. When he graduated high school, he graduated with 4.8 honors. He made the valedictorian. He was at a STEM school. VICTORIA: Wow. LEONARD: And he has a high GPA. He's studying computer science and economics as well at an Ivy League, and he's already made two or three apps at college. And I said, "You're not Mark, so calm down." [laughter] But anyway, that was a recent conversation. I won't go there. But then some people say, "LS, you should be so happy." What is it? The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. But this was something he chose around 10 or 11. I'm like, whatever you want to do, you do; I'll support you no matter what. And his mom says, "Oh no, I think you programmed him to be like you." [laughs] I'm like, no, I can't do that. I just told him the truth about life. And he's pretty tall. VICTORIA: You must have -- LEONARD: He played basketball in high school a lot. I'm sorry? VICTORIA: I was going to say you must have inspired him. LEONARD: Yeah. Well, he's tall. He did emulate me in a lot of ways. I don't know why. I told him just be yourself. But yes, he does tell me I'm an inspiration to that; I think because of all the struggles I've gone through when I was younger. And you're always going through struggles. I mean, it's just who you are. I tell people, you know, you're building a company. You have success. You can see the future, but sometimes people can't see it, [laughs] which I shouldn't really say, but I'm saying anyway because I do that. I said this the other night to some friends. I said, "Oh, Jeff Bezo's rocket blew up," going, you know, Blue Origin rocket or something. And then I said Elon will tell Jeff, "Well, you only have one rocket blow up. I had three, [laughter] SpaceX had three." So these are billionaires talking to billionaires about, you know, most people don't even care. You're worth X hundred billion dollars. I mean, they're worth 100 billion-plus, right? VICTORIA: Right. LEONARD: I think Elon is around 260 billion, and Jeff is 160 or something. Who cares about your rocket blowing up? But it's funny because the issues are still always going to be there. I've learned that. I'm still learning. It doesn't matter how much wealth you have. You just want to create wealth for other people and better their lives. The more you search on bettering lives, you're just going to have to wake up every day, be humble with it, and treat it as a new day and go forward and solve the next crisis or problem because there will be one. There is not where there are no problems, is what I'm trying to say, this panacea or a utopia where you personally, like, oh yeah, I have all this wealth and health, and I'm just great. Because Elon has had divorce issues, so did Jeff Bezos. So I told my son a lot about this, like, you never get to this world where it's perfect in your head. You're always going to be doing things. VICTORIA: That sounds like an accurate future prediction if I ever heard one. [laughs] Like, there will be problems. No matter where you end up or what you choose to do, you'll still have problems. They'll just be different. [laughs] LEONARD: Yeah, and then this is for women and men. It means you don't give up. You just keep hope alive, and you keep going. And I believe personally in God, and I'm a scientist who actually does. But I look at it more in a Godly aspect. But yeah, I just think you just keep going, and you keep building because that's what we do as humanity. It's what we've done. It's why we're here. And we're standing on the shoulders of giants, and I just always considered that from physicists and everyone. VICTORIA: Great. And if people are interested in building something with you, you have that opportunity right now to invest via the crowdfunding app, correct? LEONARD: Yes, yes, yes. They can do that because the company is still the same company because eventually, we're going to branch out. My complete vision for AIEDC is using artificial intelligence for economic development, and that will spread horizontally, not just vertically. Vertically right now, just focus on just a mobile app maker digitization and get...because there are so many businesses even globally, and I'm not talking only e-commerce. So when I say small to midsize business, it can be a service business, car insurance, health insurance, anything. It doesn't have to be selling a particular widget or project, you know, product. And I'm not saying there's nothing wrong with that, you know, interest rates and consumerism. But I'm not thinking about Shopify, and that's fine, but I'm talking about small businesses. And there's the back office which is there are a lot of tools for back offices for small businesses. But I'm talking about they create their own mobile app more as a way to communicate with their customers, update them with their customers, and that's key, especially if there are disruptions. So let's say that there have been fires in California. In Mississippi or something, they're out of water. In Texas, last year, they had a winter storm, electricity went out. So all of these things are disruptions. This is just in the U.S., And of course, I won't even talk about Pakistan, what's going on there and the flooding and just all these devastating things, or even in China where there's drought where there are these disruptions, and that's not counting COVID disrupts, the cycle of business. It literally does. And it doesn't bubble up until later when maybe the central banks and governments pay attention to it, just like in Japan when that nuclear, unfortunately, that nuclear meltdown happened because of the earthquake; I think it was 2011. And that affected that economy for five years, which is why the government has lower interest rates, negative interest rates, because they have to try to get it back up. But if there are tools and everyone's using more mobile apps and wearables...and we're going to go to the metaverse and all of that. So the internet of things can help communicate that. So when these types of disruptions happen, the flow of business can continue, at least at a smaller level, for an affordable cost for the business. I'm not talking about absorbing costs because that's meaningless to me. VICTORIA: Yeah, well, that sounds like a really exciting project. And I'm so grateful to have this time to chat with you today. Is there anything else you want to leave for our listeners? LEONARD: If they want to get involved, maybe they can go to our crowdfunding page, or if they've got questions, ask about it and spread the word. Because I think sometimes, you know, they talk about the success of all these companies, but a lot of it starts with the founder...but not a founder. If you're talking about a startup, it starts with the founder. But it also stops with the innovators that are around that founder, male or female, whoever they are. And it also starts with their community, building a collective community together. And that's why Silicon Valley is always looked at around the world as this sort of test case of this is how you create something from nothing and make it worth great value in the future. And I think that's starting to really spread around the world, and more people are opening up to this. It's like the crowdfunding concept. I think it's a great idea, like more podcasts. I think this is a wonderful idea, podcasts in and of themselves, so people can learn from people versus where in the past you would only see an interview on the business news network, or NBC, or Fortune, or something like that, and that's all you would understand. But this is a way where organically things can grow. I think the growth will continue, and I think the future's bright. We just have to know that it takes work to get there. VICTORIA: That's great. Thank you so much for saying that and for sharing your time with us today. I learned a lot myself, and I think our listeners will enjoy it as well. You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find me on Twitter @victori_ousg. This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. Thanks for listening. See you next time. ANNOUNCER: This podcast was brought to you by thoughtbot. thoughtbot is your expert design and development partner. Let's make your product and team a success. Special Guest: Leonard S. Johnson.