Sponsored by our friends at Veeam Software! Make sure to click here and get the latest and greatest data protection platform for everything from containers to your cloud!
Sponsored by the Shift Group – Shift Group is turning athletes into sales professionals. Is your company looking to hire driven, competitive former athletes? Shift Group not only offers a large pool of diverse sales candidates from entry level to leadership – they help early stage companies in developing their hiring strategy, interview process and build strong sales cultures that attract the best talent for early stage companies.
Sponsored by Diabolical Coffee. Devilishly good coffee and diabolically awesome clothing
Does your startup need strategic technical content? The team at GTM Delta delivers SEO-optimized, compelling content that connects your company with technical users to help grow your credibility, and your pipeline.
Matt Munson is a CEO and Executive coach with Sanity Labs, a boutique leadership coaching firm he founded in 2019 that provides coaching to dozens of venture backed and bootstrapped companies.
Matt draws on his own experience as a venture-backed CEO, as well as a variety of coaching disciplines, to help others navigate the perilous journey of leadership and organization building.
Check out Sanity Labs here: https://www.sanitylabs.co/ You can get in touch with Matt here: https://www.mattmunson.me/
Sponsored by our friends at Veeam Software! Make sure to click here and get the latest and greatest data protection platform for everything from containers to your cloud!
Sponsored by the Shift Group – Shift Group is turning athletes into sales professionals. Is your company looking to hire driven, competitive former athletes? Shift Group not only offers a large pool of diverse sales candidates from entry level to leadership – they help early stage companies in developing their hiring strategy, interview process and build strong sales cultures that attract the best talent for early stage companies.
Sponsored by Diabolical Coffee. Devilishly good coffee and diabolically awesome clothing
Does your startup need strategic technical content? The team at GTM Delta delivers SEO-optimized, compelling content that connects your company with technical users to help grow your credibility, and your pipeline.
Dr. Andrew White is an experienced programme director, teacher and researcher at the Said Business School at Oxford. Andrew’s areas of expertise include innovation management and leadership development. Andrew is a Senior Fellow in Management Practice, and was previously the Associate Dean of External Relations (2020-2021) and Associate Dean for Executive Education and Corporate Relations (2010-2020) at Saïd Business School.
This was very enjoyable discussion that covers a lot more than just leadership and modernizing business education. Andrew was an absolute pleasure to chat with and shares lots of insights into the leaders of today and research he and his team are coming out with soon.
Welcome everybody to the podcast. My name is Eric Wright and gonna be your host. This is the DiscoPosse Podcast with the one and only Andrew White. Dr. Andrew White is a senior fellow in management practice at the Saïd Business School at Oxford. This was a really enjoyable discussion where we talk about traits of leadership, really the transition from what we often talked about as traditional leadership, the Silicon Valley culture, start up culture in general, and what we can do. We also talk a lot about sustainability, the impact that we can have both personally and organizationally on each other, on the world, literally on the Earth. We cover a lot of very exciting stuff. Super excited because Dr. Andrew and his team are doing a lot of work and research, so we’re going to have him back to talk about what’s going on there. But anyways, I don’t want to pre-podast the podcast because it’s literally just so much fun to listen to. And speaking of making this stuff happen and our impact, I am super happy because I’ve got great supporters who are impacting you and I’m hearing the good news. So I want to give a shout out to the folks over at Veeam who make this podcast happen.
If you want to head and find out what you need for your data protection needs and how Veeam can help you, go to vee.am/discoposse. They got you covered from cloud to on-premises, physical servers, application, SaaS, the whole gamut. So go out there, get it done, protect your assets, go to vee.am/discoposse and find out more. Speaking of also amazing supporters, holy heck, you’re building a start up. You want to build a sales culture that actually can be impactful, then do it with the Shift Group. So we are proud to be sponsored by the Shift Group. They’re turning elite athletes into sales professionals with training and also helping you with your go-to market strategy. So JR and the team at Shift Group are doing amazing stuff, really connecting fantastic people with fantastic opportunities. So if you’ve got an opportunity, you want to fill your boots and get your sales machine rolling, do it with great people. So go to shiftgroup.io, find out more about that and also go back and check out, I had a great podcast with JR talking about what he and the team are doing. All right, this is Dr. Andrew White from Oxford and he’s a fantastic human. Enjoy the show.
Hello, my name is Dr. Andrew White. I’m a senior fellow in management practice at Saïd Business School at the university of Oxford. I’m delighted to be here today with Eric Wright, host of the DiscoPosse Podcast. Great to be with you.
Fantastic. Thank you, Dr. White. One of those beautiful occasions where when I see a guest opportunity come up and your practices, your studies and your research are in real alignment with a lot of the work that I’ve been exploring. So I am selfishly going to take a ton of lessons out of our discussion today as well. Luckily, a lot of folks who do listen. So thank you for joining. If folks are brand new to you, Andrew, if you don’t mind, give a quick sort of bio on your background, and we’ll talk about some of the research that you’re working on and really what folks can take away as we think of the future of transformative leadership, which is becoming something we really had to be keenly aware of.
Yes, thank you. And thank you for the opportunity to be here as well. So a little bit about me. I started life as an academic. I did a doctorate in innovation management, really looking at where ideas came from for successful businesses. That was about 20 years ago. I then started my academic career, and very quickly I moved into leadership roles. The biggest of those was I was associate Dean for executive education in the business school I’m currently in at Saïd Business School at the university of Oxford for ten years. And in my capacity there, we worked with thousands of leaders around the world. Every year we launched a big digital platform, but now it’s about 25,000 people training with us or going through leadership programs. And I got to know what was really going on. I didn’t have time to teach. I didn’t have time to research. I sponsored a research project where we interviewed 150 CEOs back in 2015-2016. But then after doing that job for ten years, with all the complexities of running a PNL and the HR stuff and the global business development, I really wanted to get back to teaching and research because I felt there was an agenda I wanted to pursue.
And that agenda, if I put it in simple terms, is what the leaders need to be doing today. What do they need to be addressing? How do they need to be leading? With a particular focus on that, I think the time we’re living in is critical. Between now and 2050, much of the science suggests that we’re either going to be in an existential crisis due to the climate challenge or we’re going to have solved it. And I think when you look back at humanity, we’ve got the creative ability, the entrepreneurial ability to have sold it. So I really wanted to know who are the leaders that are transforming businesses, starting businesses that are really having an impact on what the future looks like for humanity? And what does it mean to be a successful leader today in terms of shareholder returns, in terms of profitable growth? But also, as we both know, more is being asked of leaders. And businesses don’t exist in isolation just with their own competitors. They’re actually part of a group of stakeholders that have or they have a stakeholder base that requires them to think about the impact they have on the world.
So that’s what I’ve done. I’m a host of the Leadership 2050 podcast. I have a Leadership 2050 newsletter on LinkedIn which really focuses on these things. And I’ve begun the research that I wanted to focus on by looking at transformation. And I’m in the midst of a major global study on that at the moment.
Fantastic. Now this is going the interesting thing. I think it was the dichotomy of leadership in that you have both a fiduciary responsibility as well as a very human responsibility in leading people through change. But with the shareholder responsibility to bring growth and returns to the investors and ultimately the responsibility of the business, it is really an interesting challenge where we often see folks that are fantastic on one and struggle on the other, and often why there’s a leadership team. So you have more sort of the COO who will be the driving the functional business growth, and then the CEO is more the vision and leadership. But we’ve always here, or at least because social media brings the noisiest voices forward. We hear about the moment someone is a very strong leader. We immediately try to sort of find something wrong with them in that they’re so disconnected from the average worker within the organization. For me, I look at it with a sadness because we need leaders to be doing something almost like sports years. You never want to meet your sports here because they’re probably not good people to get along with. They have this drive and this different thing that lets them be great at what they do. So when you look at transformational leaders as well, really, what do you see as sort of traits and how we’re viewing those personalities?
I think you’ve got two things going on currently in business. I think on the one hand, you’re right. The world has a challenge in terms of what I would say is the disconnection fixing large companies between the salaries of those people at the top and the salaries at the bottom. And I think that adds to what you were talking about, that sense that they’re not us and they’re different and they live in a different world. And there’s no doubt that that phenomenon is out there. But like many things in the world, I don’t think it’s one or the other, and I don’t think it’s black or white in that sense. What I see is a cadre of leaders who are really, and this is the ones I focus and I study, who are really understanding what it means to put humanity back at the heart of leadership. And I mean that in a number of different ways. Firstly, they understand their role is about fiduciary duty to shareholders and profitable growth and all of these things. But they also know that what they do and the footprint they have and the impact they have is far greater than that.
And I’ll give you a couple of examples. One is a company which I recently profiled called Pave Gen, which is a fantastic company. Full disclosure, I’m an investor in it as well, but they created paving slabs, indoor and outdoor flooring that when you step on it, generates electricity. So in the same way you have solar on the top of a building, and that plugs into the building’s electricity infrastructure. If you’ve got buildings like hospitals or shopping malls where there’s high footfall, they’re even doing it in concerts. I think every time a person takes a step, electricity is generated. Now that has huge potential for shareholder growth, huge potential for profitable growth and all of those things. But actually, if that company does well, it’s harnessing a source of electricity, which is our footsteps, which at the moment is just going to waste. So to me, that’s a great example. And the leaders there have got a real sense of how do you bring people on a journey? There’s something about society and how do you bring people with you on a journey. There’s something about the way they’re leading. The research we’ve done on transformation, that the phrase we’re using is about putting the humans at the center.
And what we’re seeing is these leaders. If I could give you a bit of a picture in your mind, imagine a CEO with one arm, and that arm represents line management, their hierarchy, their It systems, their finance, and all of that stuff. But it’s tied behind their back, and they have to use their other arm and their other arm. The only skills they’ve got is their speech, their ability to listen, their empathy, their concern for people, their ability to draw out of people what their values are. And I think that’s the secret weapon. Most of them know how to do the other stuff, but the ones that can really not just inspire but listen to what people’s concerns are, what their values are in their employee base, but also in their customer base, and weave that into a vision, weave that into a purpose. That’s not some overly simplistic statement, but really, why does this company exist? Who does it exist for? I think these two things of, let’s call it social impact or human impact, and profitable growth and shelter grid, they no longer become two separate things. They’re embodied in a vision. They’re embodied in individuals who are able to do both.
That is interesting. And I’ll say when we hear transformational leadership, there’s an implication that they’re beginning at a place and carrying to a different destination, especially now when we see a startup come up, I almost have to look at it with a grain of salt. This idea that they’ve come from zero to one. So the transformation is in what the platform or the company is achieving. But when you see leaders that especially are in an existing organization, the sort of steering of a cruise ship, there’s a very different challenge I find. And look when we look back on great books that we use today still to study like Built to Last. And then if you look at the story, it’s about most of them actually didn’t last. If you took it outside of the context of the five year research term in which they research the book, most of those businesses actually struggled greatly in the decade that followed have continued, but not with high growth. So when you get to leaders of especially large organizations, Andrew, how does one stay empathetic when there’s such a broad audience to have to listen to?
I think it’s a great question, and I think it’s a question which has been rumbling for decades, if we think of Polaroid and Kodak, of the video rental stores that didn’t make the change, BlackBerry and some of these other companies. So I think what’s changing is that the rate and the impact of disruption is pretty much affecting everybody. So it’s no longer something that comes out of the blue. It’s no longer something that you’re unlucky if you’re experiencing a career, it’s everywhere. But I think you put your finger on the challenge for the incumbents. And I would describe it as this. There is a status quo which is all consuming. If you think about the schedules that most leaders of those businesses have, they’re probably starting at 6-7 AM in the morning. Some of them are going through till very late in the evening, particularly if they’re responsible for global activity and they’re working across multiple time zones. They’re probably back getting on planes with the relentless travel schedule as well. And it’s all consuming. They don’t have the mental space in a sense, they’re addicted to the machine and the machine that demands continual returns, the machine that demands continual effort.
The companies that I have seen that have broken this, they’ve done something that I’m going to describe as a conscious disconnection from the status quo. They’ve had a CEO or another senior leader that has effectively said, we have to take ten days out to think about the future, not two days, not one day, but ten days. And we have to go somewhere. And that is either to look at a set of emerging industries, spending time in nature away from everything to give the human mind and heart and soul chance to refresh and to think differently, building a different group of suppliers around us. But that notion of a conscious disconnection from a status quo I think is such a powerful one for me because it’s like an addiction. There’s an addiction to the returns, there’s an addiction to activity, there’s an addiction to processes where it’s very hard to get space from that. And those that are successful consciously disconnect. And I think in some ways it’s becoming easier because the problem is becoming clearer that if you don’t do that, you’re not fulfilling your responsibilities as a leader and you’re not thinking about the next certainly the next three years, five years, ten years.
So there’s a need to go through some form of conscious process of disconnection and then think about what is the best place for us. And as I say, my recommendation, if I was working with a firm, this is at least five days. And you need to put in place the infrastructure around you that allows you to take that time out and to really spend the time sinking into why we exist separate from our current operation, separate from how we currently work. To think about what the future might look like, to think about what a reinvention might look like and from that place, then go back in and lead in a different way.
This is one of the things that I’ve often promoted, even in my own work and my own teams. This idea of the off site where we have to visually disconnect from your day to day processes because it’s habit forming. Right? We go to the office, we say we’re going to go into the big meeting room. And so what does everyone do? They bring their laptop. They pop their laptop open, you see them looking at their screen and tapping away. So I would say, like, no, here’s what it is. You sit at the table, you’re either in a hotel or somewhere else where it’s quiet or even if it’s in an existing room, you have one person with a laptop. They’re the scribe. They’re on screen so you can’t see them. You make sure they’re not on instant messaging and email. The rest of us, we have pad and paper and really go through that disconnected discussion. And it can’t be a half day. It’s got to be something where you’re taken away because there’s nothing worse than somebody comes up and it’s like, oh, I’m just going to go down and check on something or I’m going to check my email real quickly.
But it’s really a human behavior problem where we feel like we’re missing something. And yet the irony is it’s completely the opposite. You’re right. You are missing something because you’re involved in it every day. You’re missing what you could be doing. And it’s so hard to hammer that into people’s minds that this is how they need to behave.
A couple of points. I think you’re absolutely onto something. I coached an executive once, and they spoke about their iPhone, and they said they had more anxiety putting their iPhone down than they did when they had a baby. And the coaching was about how long can you not go without holding the iPhone? So we started off with a minute. We got to two minutes. We got to ten minutes. We got to walking around the garden without the iPhone and what it felt like because it was an addiction. And I think there’s a whole conversation around social media, which I don’t think is today’s topic. But what I would also say is I’ve run events where we gave people the option of handing over their mobile phone and the mobile phone being locked in a safe for a day. Now you have to put some with executives, you have to put some infrastructure around that. So everyone lets their PA no, there’s somebody outside who has got a phone. They give them the number, and if there’s an emergency, either in the family or in the business, they call that person and we commit, we’ll bring that person out and then they can get access to their device.
What was really interesting, Eric, at the end of the day, we got to like 05:00 A.m.. He said, right, phones back. And a few of them said, no, can you keep them for a few more hours? We just love this time of being able to think and be with ourselves and be with the bigger questions that this company is facing. So could we extend this to 08:00 P.m.? And then we’ll have our phones back. So to me, it was a really interesting it was like taking a toy off a toddler at the beginning. And at the end of it, there was a few people that didn’t want it back because of what it gave back in terms of space and that space to reflect, which I think is so important today.
Yeah. I mean, I often recommend people read Cal Newport has fantastic writing on the idea of the digital minimalism and Deep work is another fantastic book. And it’s funny, when I read Cal Newport, I sort of had this vision of some scholarly 65 year old gentleman. He’s a young guy, he’s probably going to be my cousin. He’s well studied on the idea of this disconnection. But it’s funny that going through that first part of putting it down and you hear people go through like you can see them change when they realize their phone is at their desk and they’re in a meeting room. And I agree with you that when we’re doing it with purpose, we have to know like, hey, I’m going to be offline if you need me. But another thing I do as well with work. I often talk to people at this idea. So if you ask for a week off, the first thing that happens is people say, what’s your project schedule look like? Who else can we get to back you up? We begin to wrap the machine around. Is it possible for you to get away now? It’s a very North American thing, especially as well.
But if you say, I’ve got to go to hospital, I’ve got a family issue immediately. The response from everyone on your team is no problem. Go for it. Let us know anything we can do to help. We’ve got you covered. And I often think about this, why we should be able to have everybody should just have a big red button that they could just say, this is my day, I’m taking the next three days and just, like, hit the button, no one questions it. We had this belief that we need to overly plan escape. And Ironically enough, when you just do it, the machine rolls on. In fact, it gives you freedom of thought. Like when I go for a run, the moment that I can’t look at my phone, especially on a bike, because I have no headphones, I don’t listen to any music. So I’m just out for 5 hours. It’s the most incredibly creative time because you just have nothing to do but be introspective. And when I get back, I’m like typing and scribing and all these fantastic ideas have come because there’s no access to distraction.
Yeah, exactly. And I think you’re making such a good point. So over the lockdown period, the first lockdown period, I got bored. I was literally like an express train that came to a halt at that point. I was probably on a plane two or three times a month, and so I had a lot of pent up energy. I still have the work schedule, but the social life and all the other things that we weren’t able to do at that time. So I trained as a meditation teacher, so I’d meditated on and off for about ten years. And I’d always had a hunch that this has got a real purpose with leaders. And it’s for this exact reason that meditation forces you to just stop, focus on your breathing or any other of the techniques you’re using. And it’s that discipline. And you suddenly realize after a while, when the mind quietens, that you go into a place of stillness. And it’s that stillness that real innovation, I think, can come from real creativity. And it’s another form of that separating from the machine, separating from the busyness, separating from the thinking mind, which I just think there’s so many things in today’s world has just put that on steroids.
Social media being a big one with the like and dislike, which is the same as the Buddhist concept of attraction and being repelled from things. But just bringing awareness to that takes us into a place where we realize that is not me. My thoughts are not me, my work is not me. And that subject object separateness is essentially what I’m talking about when I’m saying a conscious disconnection from the status quo. Our company is not our current way of operating. It’s the current expression, but with something bigger than that. And what are we in service of? To me, these two things started to come into alignment. I’ve not fully finished that journey of exploration of bringing these two worlds together. And there’s others working on this as well. But to me, that’s why I went there during that lockdown period.
When you think of that sort of forced introspection where we had obviously the last two years, even like, people still have trouble at this point remembering when it began. It’s been so long. And I remembered going through an airport in February of ’20. It was the beginning of being concerned that something could be happening, but things weren’t locked down yet. And I remember sitting in this airport looking around, going like, there’s nobody here. I was in Calgary, Alberta, so there’s generally not that many people anyways, but still so vastly different than I’m used to. And like you, I travel a lot as part of my function for work. And I would get I got those creative breaks. I would be – my favorite thing was to be on a plane. I’ve got so many colleagues, and they would say, oh, I really dread airplane WiFi. I said, do you know what’s better than having to worry about your airplane WiFi? Never getting it. You don’t need it. You’re in a bloody plane. Just disconnect. And the moment that I’ve got this white noise around me, I put in noise canceling headphones, and I usually write a blog. I create presentations. I get very creative because, again, there’s zero access to things. It’s that sort of meditative creative state that I get into.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that about planes, by the way, before WiFi on planes, the planes where the planes, the busy executives went to rejuvenate, they had some of their best thinking. They could write. There was just not that interference. Yeah. So I think there was something about that which hopefully we don’t lose with the plane’s WiFi.
But it definitely did change my work patterns and my creative patterns when I had none of that all of a sudden. It took a while. I’d been a remote worker for a long time, and I was used to managing team experience in how I would engage with them. They were all in an office or fairly central, and I was the remote worker. And then all of a sudden, everybody was suddenly remote. And people say like, oh, this must be sort of normal for you because you’re used to being a remote worker. It was normal for me, but it’s not normal for most people because they are now treating remote work and remote leadership like it’s the office. And all of a sudden, I went from 5 hours a week of meetings to 19 hours a week of meetings because there was this culture of presence that was incredible. It’s a very challenging thing. And then the leadership, if they’re used to that culture of presence as part of the leadership, it was very difficult for them to adapt. And this is, again, when I think of the good leaders can be away from the direct experience, but not actually away from it.
Maybe that’s when I think of the large organization leaders that are empathetic, they don’t have to sit beside the worker to understand the challenge of the worker and the needs of the worker and the capabilities of the worker and the pandemic I think highlighted a lot of people who were leaders by time in the company, not by actual capability.
Yeah, there was something about that I’ve seen recently, companies starting to put on LinkedIn. This is a no meeting week. In this week no meetings. Just get on with you. I would love to go in and see a how do they define a meeting? Because in the virtual world, is that anything beyond a one to one or does a one to one include that? But then what work actually fills the gap when you take the meetings out? What happens to the productivity, what happens to the output from people? What happens to the creativity, what happens to the motivation and the energy within people? So the way of tracking that would be super interesting. But I also think I think your point is really interesting that have we just transferred in, going into the lockdown and remote working as it’s now sticking in many places, a culture of meetings into this online world. So people are in just back to back Zoom meetings all day rather than as you’re saying, if you’re working from home, working remotely, you probably need about 5 hours to check in, but the rest of the time you’re working remotely and that’s the job you’ve got to do.
I don’t think we’re at the end of this process of this transformation to come back to our theme in terms of the future of work, we’ve disconnected from the status quo that Toby did that, but we’ve not landed, I think, on what the norms are of when do you go in? When do you not go in? How many meetings a day is optimal, really?
And what people didn’t realize, it’s odd because maybe I just think a little too hard about these things, but they don’t understand that being in a Zoom meeting is cognitively tiring like much more so than being in a room full of people in a meeting. Because I actually studied for a long time the dynamics of physical placement at the table in a meeting room, when you sit up across from somebody, there’s a natural adversarial relationship. When you sit beside somebody, directly beside somebody, there’s a different relationship and how you collaborate versus somebody who’s at the end of the table, but you’re looking down towards them and they need to look. There’s a reason boardroom tables are designed a certain way and that people sit at the head and at the side and at the middle, there’s a very ergonomic pattern to behavior. Well, in Zoom we suddenly are – am I in the middle of the frame? Am I looking at the camera? There are things we never had to think about. I guess I’m technically I’m a broadcaster now, so I’m staring into the lens of a camera because I know I’m supposed to, but often you see me looking down because I want to see nonverbal cues and I enjoy that part of the experience. We don’t get that. Like twisting a pen on the table like little things that you would enjoy. You’d see somebody doing something and you’d say like, oh, that’s neat. Where did you learn to do that? Which would never come in a Zoom meeting. We were missing so much of that non-verbal cue.
I had a couple of funny experiences. One was at the beginning of moving on to Zoom and moving on the lockdown, and I was in conversation with somebody I’d met a few years earlier, and he came on and he said, Are you okay? And I thought he was asking about covid, I said, oh, fine. None of the family is affected. It’s all great. Thank you.
No, no, no. He said, you’ve lost a lot of hair. And I suddenly realized I’m six foot ten tall. Now, I don’t come across a six foot ten. I said, no. I said, I’ve not lost a lot of hair. You just don’t normally see me from this angle. And then I run a leadership program at Oxford, and we’ve had to do the whole front end virtually. So I got to know a group of 43 leaders from around the world all through this medium. And then they turned up in Oxford. And the shock at my height, even though I told them, I said, guys, I told you I was six foot ten coming in. I think because in their mind’s eye, they had this assumption of me as, you know, we’re all normal on this. There’s an equalizing effect. And it took some of them a couple of hours to really just recognize. And it was more than I mean, I often shock people when I stand up, but this was notably more so when they’d got to know me in the Zoom world, and then they’d see me in this other world and then the world of real human interaction.
Yeah. I remember when I first saw one of your Ted talks. And like, even there, there’s no frame of reference because no one knows how tall the stool is. But I could immediately tell them, good golly, this man is a tall gentleman. And it’s funny. That another interesting thing. I’ll say it’s good in a way that we’ve sort of democratized people’s existence in a way that it does take away other things that may detract from it or distract more than detract, I should say. There’s one felt I worked with for months, and it was fantastic gentlemen, we got along great. We did a lot of collaboration together. And then I saw a LinkedIn profile about him, and I talked about him being a military veteran, and I’d known he was a military vet. And then I saw the picture of him standing and he has no legs at mid thigh below. He’d lost both his legs in an explosion and thought like, it’s amazing that I’ve worked with this man for eight months. I had no idea, because even if you stand up on camera, you wouldn’t even get as low to be able to see that.
And it was fascinating to me that there’s no focus on it, and that can be good or bad because there are things that you do want to bring attention to. But it was very interesting that it just sort of we could only focus on what we were working on, and it takes away stuff that may impact your belief in someone’s capabilities.
Yeah, I think there is something in all of this, and I’ve noticed as well that on certainly teaching on Zoom because of the chat function, we get a more diverse set of people asking questions and making points. There’s a bit of a fight with getting hands up, and you need a good person to work through that. But the chat function just broadens out the voices that can come into the conversation. I think particularly for the introverts, in my experience, it’s the extroverts who often dominate when the professor asks, does anyone have any questions? But then you’ve got that space for people who perhaps are not as confident or want to put a more thoughtful question into chat rather than make a more rambling point, if that makes sense.
Yeah. Especially having given a lot of talks myself and doing lecture work at events, it’s always funny when the person that stands out, like the first person that gets up, I’ve got a question for you. What you actually have is a statement, and you’re framing it with a question mark at the end because there’s sort of the overly learned person that wants to make their point. They effectively want to sort of begin this Dodge thrust Parry of like, I could be on stage and I applaud it. I love that people are willing to do that. But then there’s so many people in the room who, as you say, like, they’ve got fantastic insights and questions, but they just don’t want to stand up, they don’t want to look bad, they don’t want to sound bad. But in chat, it’s a beautiful way to democratize access to that intellectual back and forth, which I think is something we’ve really gained and I hope we hold onto.
Yeah. One of the best tools that I found is Mentimeter. And this is within boardrooms. It’s within executive teams. So I’ve got four quite challenging questions that I often use in discussions. One is tell me what you are not talking about, but that you need to talk about. Tell me what you always talk about but never resolve. Tell me what spaces you need to create in this organization to have those conversations and what would be different in, let’s say, one or three years time if those conversations led to the right decisions and the right actions. And what’s interesting is when I ask the first question, tell me what you don’t talk about, that you need to talk about if I’m in an executive team, half of them will look at the floor. They can’t hold my eye contact. The second question, tell me what you always talk about but never resolve. Half of them will laugh because there’s always things that they’re really good questions. So I call them my diagnostic questions. But what I found is they’re even better if you put them on mentee because people can just put stuff up and it’s cathartic, it gets stuff onto the table.
It gets out of the political angst. What are people going to think about me? How this could be Christine as critical of the CEO and all those little questions or points come up on the mentee screen, you can also get people to score stuff. So if I work with an executive team and they come up with a 100 day plan, we meet after 100 days and there were four elements in the plan. I get them to score themselves out of ten on how well they did. And the little bar arrow moves up and the bar moves up and down as the scores come in. And it brings a ruthless and really important honesty which I think is at the heart of some of the transformation we’re talking about. So some of these digital tools which you can now use embedded within a Zoom or alongside a Zoom or Teams meeting can be really powerful. So I think there is something as I say, we’re learning to work in this new digital world.
There’s an interesting that concept is something I’ve embraced and one of the sort of leaders in that very open radical. We talk about radical transparency and such. Ray Dalio, of course, author of the book Principles and Bridgewater Capital and I’ve been lucky to be exposed to their in room experience where they record every meeting. Everything is very open. The downside to radical candor is often people believe it’s a reason to be able to say anything, that maybe some stuff should be not rewarded. I’ll say not unsaid. But I’ve talked to many former Bridgewater employees and they say you find people go from the idea of radical candidate to becoming a radical arsehole because they just freely say things that are negative, not thinking of contextualizing it, which is.
And so therefore it needs the right values around it. It has to be done in a constructive way with the right questions, with the right behaviors for it to work. I think you’re right. All these things can be abused, can’t they?
I love your questions because it is something even when I so one of the environmental impact, right. Sustainability, it drips off the tongues of everybody these days. Right. I sort of joke and say if you want something to be more successful, rub some sustainability on it. Right. Like if it suddenly gets us increased focus as it should because we have an opportunity to continuously change the future with what we do immediately and in the near future. And then we hear people, they say all these organizations have come up with these strategies and promises and 2030 impact statements and all these things they’re doing. And then whenever I talk to an organization or talk to a team, the question that I ask is, what have you done in the past twelve months towards these goals? And it’s amazing to hear, like, everybody’s like, yeah, we’ve got a promise we’re going to be carbon neutral by 2030. We’re changing the way we do business, we’re changing the way we operate infrastructure. Tell me precisely tactical things that you’re doing that are working towards that goal. And as you mentioned before, people are like, there’s a lot of navel gazing and, well, we’re coming up with a plan, but it’s done in a constructive way that they say, okay, what have we done? And they do find good things, and they then start to think more strongly about what can we actually do to affect this vision, this goal, and tactically begin to take action towards it.
Now, I’m struck by how much innovation has actually taken place over the last two decades around things like alternatives to plastic. Now, all of that, if I get magazines delivered, they come in biodegradable plastic bags. So when I see a company not using that, I’m thinking, you’ve got no excuse. The company is making it work cost wise. The technology is there. My house opposite. Where the building I’m in here. We rebuilt it. We put solar on the roof. On a day like today, as it is in the UK, we’ve got bright Sunshine. That house is a net contributor to the grid, to the electricity grid. Such is the case across large parts of the world with wind farms. Now we have the technology. The question is, are we going to sit on old business models with old products, or are we going to accelerate and really lean into the transformation? And I think, to be honest, we’re at a point now where if you don’t, it’s bad business practice. It’s not just bad for the environment, but it’s bad for your shareholders and it’s bad for the future of your organization because you’re just not going to be part of the future and what the future looks like. And I think it’s taken pioneers like Elon Musk to kind of move the needle in the automotive space. But you can see when someone like that does that, then the rest of the industry starts to really get its act together and go on that transition. So I think we are at a pivotal point in history where, in a sense, the commercial world and the environmental world and the human world are coalescing and the leaders are the ones that get all those three things and are able to drive forward with the right products, technology, commercial solutions, which will generate the shareholder returns of tomorrow.
I’m going to put two personalities up. And this is from my own experience, and I’d love to get your thoughts on the sort of the transformational leader. And I’ve met a lot of CEOs and in everything from solar printers to small organizations to startups to massive organizations. I’ve worked in major financial institutions for a long time. And you would meet people who are good CEOs. And it’s as if they were cut from a cloth and sort of printed. And they have perfect answers, which are no answers. Quite often they’re media ready. There is that sort of vision of that type of leader. And they lead a financial institution or a healthcare company, and they’re very good and they have to do there’s a certain amount of that that’s necessary. They can’t just sort of go off the cuff and be natural. But the tough part is I would struggle with believing in them, in their people impact and their human centric impact, because they’re giving beautiful canned answers, almost political in the way of like, how are we going to handle this problem? And then they know how to do it so well. First, let’s look at the four macro trends that are facing… And like, they’ve got the answer, sounds fantastic. And then you see them twelve minutes later on CNBC giving exactly the same answer, right? I saw Elon Musk, sometimes a polarizing figure. But when he was on actually a great podcast with Lex Friedman and Lex Friedman asked Elon, how do you prepare for engineering something that’s so massive that it’s got a high chance for failure? And first of all, among the most fantastic interviewing techniques ever, he stared at him for 25 seconds, I think, no words. And you could see Elon. He’d actually see his eyes darting around. We don’t architect. We don’t engineer for failure. We engineer for mitigation of failure.
We know that failure is not an option. Ultimately, we can’t fail. We have to believe in the outcome. We have to like the ability for him to not be media ready, not be perfect diction. And to let that air out, first of all, as an interviewer is like the most fantastic thing I’ve ever seen, the best 20 seconds of an interview I’ve ever seen where we didn’t just fight to fill dead air. So there’s very dichotomous leadership styles. In the business, I’m curious, how do those two personalities play out?
I would put it this way. If you put both of those people in front of a panel of 1000 members of the general public, which one would they trust more? Which one do they believe more? Which one would they like to hear more from? I suspect it’s Elon Musk. And I think we went through the whole world of the sound bite and the slick press operation saying everything and saying nothing. And I think there’s a craving for leaders to turn around and use phrases like, I don’t know, we’re not there yet. This is our aspiration, but we haven’t yet thought through what the plan looks like to get there. We don’t plan for that. And I’m more honesty about things, and I think COVID was a really good case, certainly at the level of political leaders and perhaps down in corporates as well. We didn’t know so much at the beginning. Has it ever been a thing that hit the entire world where we just didn’t know what the next four weeks were going to look like? The next two weeks? We’d never lock down entire societies like this, and it happened in parts of the world, but never at such a global scale and never with such the industries that got stopped as they did.
And we saw some people thrive in that and some people didn’t. But I think if you tried to almost take the approach you described in the first instance, you just come across as stupid. And it was far better to be honest about the situation and honest about the potential risks and consequences of what was being spoken about.
Do we find this or do we teach it, Andrew.
I suspect we can teach it. I suspect we can create the cultural conditions for it. I think the press has a responsibility here, but ultimately it’s down to individuals who’ve got the courage of their convictions and the courage of their values. I think he’s probably at the heart of this.
Obviously, you’re entrenched in the research side as well as in higher Ed institutions. Do you find that those institutions are catching up to industry and changes in the world? One of the things that I’ve often struggled with, especially in higher Ed, you’d see, like startup leadership courses, and they were so disconnected from a real, true startup leader experience or even in telecom and technology because of the tradition of education, was deep research that led to curricula and syllabus that could be tested and trusted meant that it had to move at a slower pace, but the world moved at a slower pace. So in this day and age, I think it’s getting better, but you’re obviously much closer to it. Do you think that the education is catching up to the pace of the world?
I can only speak for what we do in the business school at Oxford, and I think, yes, we’ve got a whole structure we’ve set up around entrepreneurship. A good proportion of our MBA students go into setting up entrepreneurial businesses. And I think we’ve got a very good curriculum there in terms of the leadership program I run, which is at the opposite end of the spectrum, which is people who are 2030 years into their careers. I think we’re very much on the cutting edge of what’s going on in the world. We have the benefit of having the Oxford Martin School in the University looking at the challenges of the 21st century. We bring that onto our program. We have some brilliant research around scenario planning. We bring that onto our program. We’re doing cutting edge research around transformation, where we’re interviewing leaders who are at the forefront of that. We’ve got an 1800 person survey globally around that as well. So I’m not suggesting we’re perfect, but I certainly don’t think we’re sitting on our laurels with a curriculum that was from about three or four decades ago. That’s definitely not the case.
One thing in the time we got left, I want to explore an area of leadership success and leadership proof is not defined by successful times. But I think adversity. And also one of the challenges we have. Right, is that we don’t introduce adversity into someone’s experiences. We sort of have helicopter parenting, and that translates into easing them through public schooling and then getting them onto higher Ed. And, well, we’re paying for this University. So I want my child to have a good experience. So they yell at the professors, make sure you do a good job, and stop making negative comments. We’re seeing this sort of unfortunate pervasive trend of the normalizing of existence, taking the edges off a bit. But when you take those sharp edges off, then you get out of the school and the world has sharp edges. But for leaders as well, right. Leaders are often defined by getting through difficulty. Just like a marriage, right. Every marriage goes great for five years, and then you have children. You’re like, oh, boy, this is difficult. Now you really see the test of collaboration and partnership.
Yeah. I think you’re on to something. It’s a big topic, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. What I’m minded of is my late grandmother, who was a pharmacist during the Second World War, and this was old school pharmacy where the pharmacy was full of jars of powders and potions, and a bomb went off near to where the pharmacist was. And she described how she was up to her knees suddenly in glass and powder. And I said, well, what did you do, Grandma Darling? We just brushed it all away. And we opened up the next day. And to me that’s my high watermark of resilience. A bomb goes off, you’re up to your knees in glass and whatever chemicals were in the pharmacy, you brush it all up. And then your duty is to have that shop open the next day, not just for the shop sake, but for the community and for the whole war effort and for the country. And I do wonder if we need adversity in life. And I suppose it’s only a question. That generation that came out of the war, there was a resilience about them. And it’s almost every generation it halves.
And maybe what we’re going through at the moment with a much more uncertain world is actually good for us. It’s painful. We don’t like it, but it’s a bit like a muscle. It needs to be stretched in order to grow and resilience, I think, is like a muscle. It needs to be stretched. And I wouldn’t wish Adversity on anybody, but there is something about it which is perhaps necessary. And if you think about the survival of the fittest and the evolutionary processes which we’ve come through, there’s something about that as well. So I think you’re right. And one bit from our research, we’re finding companies that do transformation well then are able to do transformation well, it has a virtuous cycle about it, and the opposite is true. You muck up a transformation, it has a vicious cycle about it.
Yeah, that is the interesting thing. It begets a better response in future. I mean, I think of telev’s research and concepts around anti-fragility. Often difficult to quote him because it’s a bit of polarizing figure as well, but still, that concept of natural exposure in the same way that our immune systems react by creating antigens to these situations. If you experience difficulty and you see the reaction to it and the response to it, then you have preparedness for the next time. And I often find personally, my favorite thing in a weird way is when it all goes sideways. I worked in data center operations, and It operations for years. And the moment that it would get out of control, I would just feel this calm of like, okay, let’s immediately go into sort of triage. What can we do right now? What’s necessary? And you were forced to immediately prioritize things. I don’t like being in a well, let’s develop a steering committee, and then we’ll set up some cadence calls, and then we’ll set up a nine month plan. If the power went off, what do we do right now? I thrive in that experience, and I struggle with the very plan for long term views of things.
There’s definitely going to be personalities that can do both sides, but I often find the people that require the planning when something does go wrong, they really struggle, and ultimately they aren’t able to contribute as well, because I’ve never seen it and they don’t get that exposure to it. It’s an interesting thing. Maybe because I threw myself at adversity a little early. I got used to it.
I think it’s a really interesting concept, and it reminds me of just the human body. If you sit in front of the TV all day and don’t move, you’re atrophy. If you get out on a bike, go for a walk, go for a run, lift weights – that stress that you put the body under, stimulates growth. And you’re also more prepared. If you ever need to really pedal fast to get out of trouble, run fast, walk fast. You’ve done the preparation in that sense.
Yeah, I used to do track cycling. I’m a longtime cyclist, and I started doing track cycling just for fun ’cause I lived in an area where there was a velodrome, and it was exciting. One of my favorite races was this like timing was flying 200 where you basically do like five laps and then you say, okay that’s it, I’m going to go on the next lap and you start at the top and then you immediately go to the bottom eldrum. So you’re going to fall out for a 200 meter lap. And the reason I was particularly good at because when I was a kid, I lived in the middle of nowhere on a farm and the person up the road for me had two German shepherds. So if I wanted to go for a bike ride, I’d have to literally be like preparing for this ride. And then I would hear the barking and I would immediately have to just sprint because I had to outrun them before they could come to the road and catch up.
They’re quite some dogs to outrun as well.
They are fast little fiends, those ones. But like that sort of natural exposure to difficulty and seeing my dad go through difficulty with work through the 80’s when the tech sector fell apart and seeing it go around. That’s why I look to leaders. It’s very easy for someone to be in a leadership role, but not a leadership function. And they’re very different. Like just being the team lead because you’ve been there longer than the rest of the developers does not actually make you a leader. It’s often by title, not by function. And that’s why I try and tell people to differentiate between the two. You deserve this role, you deserve this title. But when it comes down to it, there are different skills required for leadership. And I think that especially in transformation, you can’t just look back and say, well, this is how it’s been done for X number of years. What is to use the playbook? I have to be able to have something suddenly shift and then be able to understand and get through it, not just for me, but for my entire team and my organization.
Yeah, I think we’re seeing that with President Zanelleski in the Ukraine at the moment. This guy was an actor and is now taking on arguably the most difficult leadership role that’s been seen for decades in the most difficult of circumstances. But the way in which he’s working both locally and internationally in getting consensus, getting coalition, is remarkable to see.
Yeah, I think that is, in adversity we have surprising leaders that rise to the top or surprising personalities that you discover through it. And being able to see them as well in an organization, I think it’s part of that empathetic need of to be able to say like as a leader, I can recognize other people that I can bring up, I can rely on and I can empower them to do more. One last thing, decentralized leadership and giving up sort of control of it to a decentralized group. How are you finding that as a transformation in leadership styles.
I will rehearse a conversation I had with one of the executives I coach. This guy is brilliant. He’s top quality performer with his brilliance comes a bit of a shadow in that he demands excellence from his team, and he does that through controlling. And I was coaching him on this, and it come through on a 360 process he’d been through. And we went through the session, and I thought the session was good, but I didn’t feel we fully landed. And we were packing up our stuff about to go. And he said to me, so I guess, Andrew, what you’re saying to me is and what I’m learning is it’s about their energy and not mine. And I just said, you got it. How do you find a way to release their energy and you will get so much more out of it? Yes, you have to put a guiding framework around it because it’s your vision, but it’s how do you engage and get their energy involved in this rather than a passive response? And he went away and did some stuff and came back and said, I just cannot believe the difference in the output I’m getting from people by kind of taking this mentality, I wouldn’t necessarily call it centralized or decentralized. It’s about energy. And as a leader, do you energize people? Do you bring their energy to the table, or do you crush their energy with your energy? So that’s how I would frame it.
It’s fantastic. Yeah. So what are you looking forward to in the coming year as we sort of re-opened the world a bit now? Of course, given the conflicts that are going on, there’s bigger challenges that we probably had to weigh into what we believe the next twelve months will look like. But as you head into the next batch of your work with research, what is your goal to come out at the end of this year?
Yeah, that’s a great question. Thank you. I think a number of things I’m looking forward to getting out and visiting the world again. So I’ve done one international trip already. I’ve got another one in April. I love people, and I love being part of a business that takes me all over the world doing the work I do. So to be able to be back on a plane visiting people is really great. I’m working with 160 leaders this year on the advanced management and leadership program that I’m working on, all of them face to face, all of them in Oxford. That’s going to be great. And we see huge transformation taking place in them and with the plans that they take back to their organizations. And I have a couple of other projects. So I’m going to get to 21 podcasts this year of leaders who I think are making a transformative impact. I’m planning to write a book, 21 Leaders for the 21st Century, so I’m not sure that will be out this year, but it will certainly be written this year. And more of the research around transformation, just taking that into the public domain as well.
That’s a fantastic set of goals. And as you said, getting back out and really engaging and collaborating back the earlier point, we said people went to many meetings and I often get asked said, you love people, so you must like meetings. I said, no, I like collaboration, which is why I hate meetings. Meetings are not collaboration. When done right, they are, but they are seldom done right. And I think we’ve learned to value collaboration over meetings. And I’ve seen now more of people getting like, I’m going to focus on what matters. So that 60 minutes meeting, when we feel like we’re done at 25 minutes, we just cut the call because we’re done and it’s so good instead of before. It’d be like, okay, well, we’ve got some more time here. What else can we talk about? Like, no, perfect. Let’s just get onto something else. And what we needed to get done is done. And then there are those moments where we’re getting back to just chatting and meeting in person and breaking bread and enjoying time together. I look forward to it, for sure.
I hope I bump into you at some point in those travels around the world.
It would be fantastic. I would really take pleasure in it. So, Dr. Andrew White, if people do wish to reach you and get connected, what’s the best way they can do that?
Best way is on LinkedIn. I’m very active. You can find me there. If you just search for my name and Oxford, or you search for the Leadership 2050 newsletter. And it would be great to hear from folks.
Yes, definitely. I’ll have links, of course, to both the newsletter and make sure that people can get access and to your podcast, which is amazing. That’s just such a beautiful opportunity now to bring the world, those stories in that format and explore this. And then, as you said, now, do you think like 20-30 years ago or even a decade ago, the idea of being able to do a podcast and then take that content like, oh, this is a book. Now, people often say, like, well, you’ve been at all in the podcast, but there are many people who will not hear it, nor would they want to do it in that format they like to read. So I love that you can take research, practice, beautiful work with the podcast and the newsletter and then now bring it together in book format. I will be anxiously awaiting the release of the book for sure and look forward to it.
But the book also gives an opportunity to do synthesis. So it’s not just going to be like a transcript to the podcast. It’s going to be learning what are the cross-cutting themes. So maybe you’ll have me back at some point, Eric, and I can talk about what those findings were when you put the whole set of those podcasts together, are there ten themes, the ten lessons that come out of that?
Absolutely like any great special, the end gets you right back to the beginning. It’s that whole thing. The executive summary is written last. People forget that sometimes, you now look over this body of work and said this is what we’ve actually done and then to see that thematically played out so good, like I love the free form. Like the podcast style is great because you can go in many directions and then you’d be like, okay, what did we actually discover? But definitely, it would be an honor to have you on again. Look forward to catching up. Hopefully, in real life and in travel it would be fantastic. Andrew, thank you very much.
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Shira Shamban is an engineer, Cybersecurity expert, Cloud entrepreneur CEO and co-founder of Solvo. She and the Solve team are aiming to automate and shift left cloud security, so that software developers will focus on coding.
We eplore the importance of moving security into the early phases and pipeline, and also a very open convesation on how to empower teams, create opportunity, and mentoring.
Jeff Bermant is the founder of Cocoon MyData Rewards™, an app that pays users cash just for sharing their online data anonymously. This discussion explores empathetic leadership, selling when you’re not in sales, and how adversity and challenge formed Jeff’s future and what his story could unlock in empowering you.
Well, good morning, good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are, folks, my name is Eric Wright. I’m going to be the host of your DiscoPosse podcast. Thank you for listening.
Wow. We’ve had a really great, great set of shows. It’s 150 this 150 episode. That’s kind of crazy to imagine.
So I’m extremely proud of the conversation that you’re about to listen to.
And it is really good to be true and to end personal reward.
You’re going to hear some really great stuff. But before we get started, I have to give a shout out. And thanks to the sponsors and supporters of our podcast today. This podcast is sponsored by our fine friends at Veeam Software. So everything you need for your data protection needs. That’s right. Your data is not safe. So make sure you do your data protection. Whether it’s on premises in the cloud can cloud native and containers.
They’ve got this really great thing they just bought called Kasten recently. So lots of really neat stuff if you want to find out more.
And trust me, you do you want to go to vee.am/discoposse again, go to vee.am/discoposse. You can check it out, find out more. I’ve been a long time user and supported the platform in the team and I really love it anyway. So go check it out again. Go to Vietnam forward slash. Just go and find out all about it.
It’s also brought to you by the four step guide to delivering extraordinary software demos that win deals. I’ve been lucky enough to be in the industry and learn from amazing folks and see stuff that’s played out and how to better connect with people. When you’re talking about technical demos and doing product management, product marketing. How do you make sure you can connect with people who want to use your product and platform?
So check it out. You can go to velocity closing dotcom and you can download the ebook.
You get access to the audio book read by yours truly. That’s right. So not only am I the author, but I read the audio book, which is super cool, excited by that really neat announcements actually come up. So if you go and you buy the bundle right now, you get set out for an upcoming course as you can go to velocityclosing.com . All right, let’s get to the Good Stuff. This is a show featuring Jeff Bermant.
Jeff is the founder and CEO of Virtual World Computing, and they’ve got a really, really neat product called Cocoon. My data rewards this. The idea of being able to do stuff around, taking your data and monetizing your own search data instead of just giving it away to the big guns over there at those big search providers. At any rate, this is we start off there.
But really, Jeff is a real estate provider.
He’s a CEO and he has gone through some personal adversity which will really open your eyes to the power of people and what you can do for yourself.
So check it out, Jeff, Fermat. Hi, I’m Jeff Permit, I’m the CEO of Virtual World Computing and our flagship product is Kitsune. My reward’s where you get paid for your data and you’re listening to Desco policy podcast.
You’re listening to. Today’s Capozzi. And with that, will will jump right in. Right. So, Jeff, thank you very much for joining us.
I’m I’m really excited by the both your history, your background, where we’re going to talk about how you got to where we are today, but as well, just the platform and the stuff that you’re doing with your team.
But for folks that are maybe new to your name, if you want to introduce yourself and we’ll talk about virtual world computing, we’re going to get into the cocoon, my data rewards platform and kind of why that’s important.
I’m a I’m cheering and cheering for what you and the team are doing.
So but with that, like I said, introduce yourself and talk about.
But where you’re at with things.
Sure. Well, thanks, Eric, and thanks for having me on the show. It’s a real pleasure to speak to you and to speak to your audience. So my journey, which I’ll just give you a brief background. I’m originally from Rye, New York. So I know that Jersey area a little bit and moved out to California to play tennis. I went to USC there, had a scholarship and played tennis there. It was always like the seventh man on the team.
So it wasn’t great. I got into the real estate business after a terrible year on the pro circuit and my father said, go find a job. And I decided, well, I’ll get into something that made sense. My family was in real estate, so I actually got into the real estate brokerage business and I was with Coldwell Banker, which for seven years as a office and industrial development broker and then salesman, and then decided to open my own development company.
And this is in eighty six. So it’s a long time ago. Some of your listeners probably weren’t even born in.
They said, yes, maybe a variety of folks that have been through it. So I was there. I remember those days.
So days of high interest rates of want everybody but 19, I think they went as high as 19 percent. At one point they were busy.
You remember that people were actually locking in long term rates at like seventeen because they were worried it was going to go even higher.
And it’s if you told somebody today that they were going to pay 20 percent on anything, they would lose their minds like theirs. They just can’t even fathom what it’s like to even have double digit interest rates, let alone you heading into the high teens and twenties.
You’re absolutely crazy. And in fact, I remember my dad who passed away many years ago in 2000. He was boasting about his four percent real estate deal interest rates. And today we’re down in threes. And some of them I’m seeing the high twos for off, not for office, but for other spaces. So history does repeat itself. And we’re at a great time for interest rates and and actually pretty good time and business. Overall, though, obviously with covid, it’s been really rough.
And I do feel terrible for the small and I know exactly what they’re going through. For small business owners, it’s a total disaster. And of course, you know, the trade off is you get people sick. So there’s no good answer for this covid, but it’s different for me. You need to find ways to get through even these terrible times.
And it’s it’s really interesting. And I, I say I’m sorry.
Same with the sort of, you know, the the feeling of of, you know, it’s tough to even say like we trying to look for the outside, like the positive outlook, anything we could do to capture like what’s what’s good about where we’re at. Obviously there’s so much that we wish we could I would give up so many things to know that I could get rid of the greater problem, but. You know, the one thing that we haven’t necessarily seen is so I worked at an insurance and investments companies before and seen like the REIT is like the real estate trust was like a really strong area.
It was slow moving, but it was like you could always you always knew it was a gentle but rising returns. And I think we are very much had a really tough spot market wise for that, which is and I heard an ad on the radio and every once in a while they have those things. And of course, it’s like read the prospectus before you do this.
And, you know, but they they’re talking about like we’ve seen, you know, returns are analyzed, like all the little small print stuff gets said. And they said, like we saw like a 15 to 40 percent gain in some areas. And this was a real estate. They’re talking a real estate investment. And I thought, good golly, if anybody’s listening to this now and they don’t understand where this impact is going to be, I feel for anybody who puts money towards those areas right now thinking for like high returns.
Anyway, I’ve heard that. I know the ad you’re talking about and I worry anybody gets on who does this, I start to worry exactly about the company. So I’m I’m I’m in lock step with you, which is this is not my kind of advertising. I’m much more of a person that and I’m really enjoying, by the way, this move from real estate into tech. And, you know, most people say, what the heck?
Yeah, that’s quite jumping crazy.
I mean, you know what it is. So there’s a fascinating story, but my personality is one of inquisitive and trying to solve problems. And I happened to be really I was terrible math. It’s terrible in English, but I was a really good problem solver. And it’s probably because I have dyslexia and have maybe some form of autism or I forget what the other thing is that makes you figure out puzzles that are most people would go, oh, God, that’s way too complicated to figure out.
But for me, it’s it’s what I love to do. And so when I got sort of bored with real estate and it is boring, I mean, it’s hard work.
And particularly if you’re in Santa Barbara and nobody wants you, you’re the most hated person in the world, but not a popular you’re right up there with dentistry as far as popular careers, actually, I was the most loved, hated developer.
I mean, they loved me because I figure out ways to give open space and wouldn’t take all the land for developers and very honest about stuff. But it was a terrible business to be in here in Santa Barbara. So when I finally decided, you know what, I need to do something different just because I wanted to, I got into tech. I didn’t know I was getting into honestly, but and it’s a whole different world. But I’m I’m actually happy I’m here.
I wasn’t very happy last year, the year before as I continue to lose money. But, you know, if you rummage around in in your profession, sometimes ideas come to you and sometimes not even your ideas come to you, which I’ll I won’t take the credit for the my dinner rewards happily give it to my son who said, Chief, did you know a lot about building browser’s what about people’s data. And the lights turned on for me but I hadn’t.
I stayed in this realm. I stayed in this vertical of browsers and left again and going back to real estate, I never would have picked up on this wonderful idea of what we where we’ve been taken for the last 15 or 20 years and the Internet. And it’s kind of like the wool’s been pulled over our eyes and I realize, holy smokes, this could be great for everyone. So, you know, it’s interesting that you get into one business and I will tell anybody who is entrepreneurial stay at it.
I wouldn’t say be foolish. I would almost recognize recognized as being foolish. But if you can stand it and you can figure something out, it can be really fun and rewarding and hopefully rewarding to your customer as well. Well, you bring up a very interesting thing, Jeff, and and I appreciate your openness to and you talk about dyslexia.
I share the challenge you had I, I would have this real problem.
And I talked to more and more folks who are founders.
And it is not uncommon to find a lot of founders and leaders who struggle with dyslexia was the best burgers I have.
That’s what they’ve said. You’ve got a form of Asperger’s, not as heavily as some people, but it’s there. And my wife says you come up with the weirdest stuff and we think we think differently than a lot of people think.
In a in a sense, it’s a necessity, as you talked about, like. Getting into founding a company and taking the is sort of like this idea of risk. Most people it’s really we talk when we describe it is often, you know, delaying and deferring as much risk as you can and eliminating risk, especially as a CEO.
But just the fact that you take the first leap, you have to have a certain sense of a different type of personality that’s willing to kind of step off the diving board the first time when everyone else is looking and saying, no, I’m good. I don’t I don’t need to do this. It’s a very elite set of folks who will say, OK, well, I, you know, risk aside, let’s say let’s go for it.
Yeah. You know, there’s no doubt about it. And I would tell you, in fact, I had a discussion with a guy and we had a bet because he said, well, you have Aspergers. What are you doing running the company as a CEO? And I said, well, let me show you all the people that are just, you know, have Asperger’s that are running companies. And I’m saying I’m not comparing myself to them, but I gave them a list of these and he was kind of in shock.
And he had much more to say to me, because it is true that that we tend to be and I can tell you part of this is your tenaciousness and you’re looking at problems that most people would go, oh, that’s just way too complicated to figure out. And yet you’re in there in your brain undoing the puzzle or doing the puzzle and figuring out the pieces and finding little strikes, a goal that most people would. And I’m kind of surprised that my team is a really great team.
But half the stuff comes for me. More than half of it comes from me going, hey, wait, what if we just did this and it’s so out of the box? Like I came up with this idea, you know, where we should be advertising? Well, you know, they’re like, where? Well, what do we advertise in gas stations? And it’s like, what? That’s not tech. What are you talking about? Well, most of my best customers, in my opinion, are going to be truckers, Uber drivers, people who are on the road a lot commuters.
So if a trucker is going to do sixty or eighty thousand miles a year, how best are you going to get in front of them? Well, it turns out that those gas pumps where they’re sitting to, you know, fifteen to twenty five minutes to to gas up one of those big trucks. And while they’re sitting doing that, you could have a sign in front of them saying, why don’t you sign up and earn money for it? That’s just off the wall.
It is interesting that you definitely have the and I always say, like when people when adults play video games, he sort of another sort of example of the way that your brain is wired that we’ve by nature have built in all these constraints.
And so if you see an adult play a video game, they typically will have swollen thumbs by the end of it. And they’re physically moving, trying to, like, force this thing. You believe that physical effort can change things, but kids.
Because they haven’t got those constraints built in yet, don’t fall victim to that belief that they’re going to affect the outcome in these other ways and that freedom of thought.
Is where it is, and so when we look at Ivancich personality disorders, but differences in sort of like the spectrum of of personality types and where Asperger’s and other things fall onto the spectrum.
A lot of times it is the fact that you’ve got so much. In one area of like capabilities, like cognitive capabilities, and there’s also it’s a trade off of some parts of the personality are very different, but it also means that you probably have less constraints in the way you approach a problem. You just you see through the constraints and say, well, what if we try this?
And most people are before they say that they’re looking for all the excuses why it wouldn’t work before they suggest the idea.
I have a team that will do that to me all day long and I just push through it and go. Now, we’ve got to go test this because it makes logical sense and may turn out to be wrong. I mean, that’s possible, but it makes logical sense. If your best if if you’re paying people for geolocation, for example, that’s one of the things we do that we pay for GEULA location data. Well, that means your best you’re your best customer might be the truck driver that I mean, I have competitors.
I don’t think I’ve thought of that. Like, well, if I want to collect geolocation data, what about truck drivers? What about Uber drivers? What about people that are on the road a lot? Those are interesting customers. And if they don’t mind sharing their data and getting paid for it, so it’s a win for both of us. But that that I had to push through two guys on my team going, I don’t know, that’s really weird.
Why would you think of that? Then I showed him the sign on the Petru on the station where you’re pumping. And I said, so that guy is going to look at the sign for at least two or three minutes while he’s sitting in his car. And he’s going to start thinking, I’m so glad I can make hundreds of dollars just letting this app run in the background. I had we had a truck driver call up our service guys today, and I think they’re a little bit a little bit off.
He says it looks like I’m going to make one hundred dollars in the first month and it’s not. We have something off on our on our data. It’s more like probably twenty five or thirty dollars. But I mean, you make twenty five to thirty dollars doing nothing. I mean where do you get to do that. And I guess this is the perfect time to let’s talk about what it is that that your team is doing and the idea of being able to do this mid to rewards those platforms.
Let’s open up.
Jeff, what exactly is it that that you folks are doing? It’s you know, I don’t want to call the Lexar because Alexia’s don’t work, so I don’t. I can tell you that this is not something you’d get at one of those shows. So what I what I discovered in my years now nine years in the technology business, and I’ve gone through a lot with the browser, dealing with browsers, trying to figure out how to make money with browsers.
Browsers are difficult. It’s a difficult vertical to be in, and particularly because the word free means you’re not going to get paid. And also on top of the browsers, unless you. I was big on price target, big on privacy. But I’m learning to realize that honestly, there’s very little privacy now in in the Internet and your geolocation. You might, for instance, have a VPN that you’re using and that will give you a certain degree of privacy.
But OK, so how is that VPN going to help you when you get in your car and you’re driving around? Well, if you have your VPN on all the time, I guess it might block the Geode geolocation data. I don’t think it does, though. So you’re just being tracked everywhere. And my son said something to me in one day and he says that, you know, your a plan is not working out with your browser. What about a B plan, which would be the data?
And although you like privacy, there are a lot of people like me that, you know, I don’t really care where my my data goes because I’m not doing anything that I would offend anybody with or do anything wrong. So to me, it was like, yeah, they already have my data, so why don’t we figure out how we can profit, how people can profit off of this. And I would tell you five years ago, I don’t think we had the machinery or the servers that could do that for an individual today with the power of the servers and the computers, it’s a lot easier to track somebody.
And obviously they’ve been doing it for the last five or six years. And I kind of came up with the idea, why don’t we why don’t we I’m including myself. Why don’t we get paid for our data? Who’s making all this money off of it? And obviously became a parent with a little bit of a background study, which was, you know, Google, Facebook, you name it. All these advertisers, they’re all collecting your data and selling it.
And guess who’s not making any money?
Well, you me. Right. And it dawned on me like, well, that doesn’t seem fair to me, that Google, Google, I think revenue last year and don’t quote we have is right or wrong. I think with three hundred and sixty billion dollars. And a lot of it was not the sale of data. It was they give this data away to their advertisers in order for the advertisers to then serve you ads. And they make money off the ads, right?
Yeah. It’s the right. You are not the fish, you’re the bait. And the fish is the purchaser of ads, and that is the business they’re in. But you are, in fact, beating every hook.
You are right. And I would say, you know, as we say in the business, if it’s free, you’re the product. Yeah, right. And so I thought of it in this sense. And, you know, I’ve done pretty well in my real estate career. So this was just like, holy mackerel, you know, maybe I could help change the world. And in fact, this morning I was just reading about a lawsuit that Google, the Justice Department filed against Google for a monopoly.
And I thought I started reading This is Me, because when I went out to Google to start advertising Cocoon, where you could you could actually make money off your data, they called me a scam and they they denied me advertising. I wrote them six different letters, begged somebody to come on to talk to me. No one would. And I realized after reading what’s going on with the Justice Department, they’re doing this to a lot of people. Anybody who is in competition with them, they’re like, we’ll make something up and they won’t be able to advertise on our site.
And it’s a very opaque system, too, like that I I’m in a similar challenge, so one point I don’t even know, probably 10 years ago I I was doing some testing of of like website performance testing for I was setting up a site and let me just see how it works.
And I had Google ads on my site. And so I was basically like battering my site with hits. And I realized that as it’s scraping the site, it’s also scraping the ad and effectively probably virtual clicking the link. And so all of a sudden I get up in the morning and I look at my Web site and it’s just got a bunch of gray boxes on it because there was no ad there. And I look in and says, you’ve been banned from the ad since platform.
And and they said, and that’s it. Like that’s literally all you get is an email saying if you wish to appeal, fill out this form. And there’s no phone numbers, no people, there’s no nothing. And every year, like the way the same way that, you know, Charles Manson’s family goes back and they apply for parole and it gets denied every year. I do the same thing with accents. Every year I say, hey, by the way, I’ve been kicked off the platform since probably the beginning of Google.
And can you tell me why? And then, like, we can’t tell you why.
And I say they a form response from, I guess you we due to the complexities and not being able to expose the algorithms that make the decisions, we cannot tell you why.
We can only tell you that you’ve been denied. Please feel free to reapply again in the future.
My my gal, by the way, over at Google, her name is Elizabeth. She’s not a real person. She’s a I. So every time I’ve tried to go up the ladder now I might give it a go up the ladder with Google only because they’ve just become a tenant of mine in my office park and they’re just about they took like twenty thousand square feet and they’re just about to take twenty five thousand. And what they’re doing in our office park in Santa Barbara is quantum computing.
So no secret there that’s been announced. And they’re taking up as much office space as I can. And I own we own about three hundred thousand square feet. I wouldn’t be surprised if most or all that goes to them in the long run. But my my point was I didn’t even bother to talk to them. But I was like, you know, the government because it’s not just the right. It’s both the left and the right do not like the monopoly that’s going on.
And they could find themselves in deep trouble with this kind of attitude, which is, well, if you’re a competitor of ours, we’ll just block you. And that’s what they did to you or they thought you’re doing something you didn’t have as a way to appeal it. I gave up. I was like, I don’t really need you guys. And that’s by the way, this is how people with Asperger’s look at things a lot of times. Like what?
I’ll need you. I’ll figure this out without you. And I do this all the time, I just go, OK, that road is not working, I’ll just go a different road. And so the gas stations for me, sitting at the gas station with, you know, with the truckers as a bus. And I actually like people. I like people who are like that. So I’m happy to go sit and chat with them over coffee.
Then I am going over to talk to Google and talking some intellectual nonsense with them.
Well, enough to talk about an example of, you know, a big bit of a roundabout of of how things come back together in this weird you know, the convergence is remember Microsoft when they were taken and their answer to antitrust lawsuit by the U.S. government and the the firm that represented them was and was Boies Schiller. And if it was boys and at the time I was. But David Boies, famous lawyer, famously struggles with dyslexia, all sorts of really, really interesting, you know, cognitive challenges that he faces and the way that he dealt with it, stuttering and also with memory challenges.
And so he had a terrible rote memory. And so he had to do was like to really train himself to respond. And as a result, when it came to doing legal briefs, he had this incredible ability to sort of attack it in a very different way. And like you talked about, is that you just kind of you see the puzzle and it’s not even a puzzle. You just you see the solution and you end up. He said he would look around at people saying, why aren’t you willing to do the work?
This just this just makes sense to me. And and thus it created the success.
And then so I said the roundabout thing was Microsoft, you know, it led the way for what I believe Google is probably about to face and.
Exactly, exactly. I mean, they’re now faced with I don’t know what I don’t know if there’s a political hiding place for them or not, but their soon to be faced with this. And, you know, I say to myself, well, just how similar these guys for blocking people with other good ideas and they need to go. The way I look at this is they need to keep up with the other guys, too. So it is a problem for them.
And I’ll explain why. So in in this world and remember, I’m a browser and an app, so I’m not a search engine. And people sometimes get confused. And they’re they’re their biggest profit center, I believe, is their search engine. And everything else is smaller, but still it’s all revenue. But by them blocking other people instead of just saying, oh, yeah, it’s competition now, people are in my interest. I think they’re going to a lot be a lot of knives coming out and hurting Google because they’re not following the new path and the new path, which is what I believe it is more of a shared path you’re doing have to work on your computer or you’re driving around there collecting all this data for free.
You think they’ve kind of talked you into, hey, you’re getting free service and that’s why you’re giving up all this data? Well, I did the math, sat down one day and went, that’s not necessarily true. I could give my user sixty seventy percent of the profit take 30 or 40 percent, which is far better than what you’re getting today, which is zero. And yeah, it’s small dollars to start. But if we start a movement and people catch on to this and go, yeah, I’m giving up my data anyway for free, so why not get paid for it, that will hurt Google in the long run because their model of not paying anybody for anything will eventually eventually make it hurt.
I say May because, you know, they’re the giant gorilla of one point five billion people using their browser. But, you know, there could be a lot of knives coming out. And I don’t mean in a bad way, but just in a fair way for people. After all, why shouldn’t you get some of the profit? And I by the way, I commend Andrew Yang, who is a, you know, the presidential candidate for going after Google and trying to get them to do something.
I don’t have high hopes for him because, you know, a hundred or two hundred thousand, unless they can he can pull something off politically on them. They’re not going to give up anything.
No. And but it’s interesting that you raised the idea of it’s effectively a margin business. Right.
So we are in the it’s you know, you can’t get it all.
But if you can at least take a margin, give folks a way in which they can recapture value in Little League revenue from their own data consumption, that not not them consuming, but their data being consumed, like, why shouldn’t we do that?
Why shouldn’t we we’re seeing it in other areas of the industry, like what Rakuten does with with shopping. Effectively, they’ve looked and said that we can at scale do something that effectively is a margin. Business, so we will share that margin with you and that works out to discounts, everybody, in effect wins because you are going to do the stuff anyways.
So why wouldn’t you, you know, put something in the middle that allows you to personally have gains from from what you’re doing anyways, instead of giving it all to the these massive back end providers?
You’re 100 percent right. In fact, I built the Staats. It’s in the weightings. I built my own rack store because what I wanted to do is when you come to NDR, I want you to get all the savings or all the profits I possibly can give you because I want the customer to be the winner. I mean, I ran this real estate company and I was always looking out for my tenants, giving them the best possible deal. I could lose one guy who showed up one day and he invited me to lunch news that one of my competitors and he said, let me ask you a question.
I’m a window broke in my building and it cost me a thousand dollars. I could not convince the landlord to fix it. It cost me a thousand dollars and I just moved in. What would you have done? I said I would have just fixed it for you. I wouldn’t ask any questions. So stupid. He said, as soon as my lease is up, I’m coming to you. Well, four years later, indeed, he showed up and signed a 10000 thousand square foot lease with me.
It’s right, we just made common sense to to work with people and to and if you can figure out I’m excited about nonprofits for interest, I would love to work with nonprofits. Not only had people share some of their profits with them, I’m happy to share some of my profits with them as well. Well, and this is another thing that came up recently, and I’ll say I’ll say this is my point, Jeff, because I want to pull you into my sort of opinion piece here.
But somebody raised that the concerns about Amazon Smil, where they take a sort of a percentage of of every sale and it goes towards charities, you can select the charity. Right.
And because it’s hosted by Amazon, they effectively are getting so you do the charity, you give the money, and then Amazon as the collective gets the tax rebate for it.
So there are a lot of people are sort of torn and they said, well, I don’t like that.
I say like Boo on Amazon smile because it’s just another multibillion dollar company getting more billions of dollars.
But at the same time, like, the charities are getting money.
And so it is an interesting conundrum, like you said, with privacy, where, look, we’re we have 100 percent privacy laws. If we can ratchet it back, we’re not going to get zero. But there are somewhere in the middle where we can at least find some medium where we can we’ll never be fully satisfied.
But that was another is again, like margin level major, you know, at scale model where stuff can have a drastic effect. A lot of companies can get some good money in. Non-profit is a place where I think people would really agree we should put our attention. Right.
I didn’t even think of the tax. I don’t think that way. So I didn’t think of the tax ramifications. I just, you know, I really care about people. So for me, sure, I’m happy if we can get something going. And look, it helps the company. So our company grows because we’re active with nonprofits. People are happy that we’re doing that. They want to give they don’t have to give a penny. You know, they could choose not to take all the money.
And I wouldn’t think anything, you know, less of them. But I just think it’s a great way and here’s what I’m seeing, and this is kind of a cultural change. I think it’s a cultural change is coming is that we is growing up and I’m I’m pretty old. So I’m I act like a 12 year old or 16, but I get it.
And we’re much more of a sharing type of thought process than than we are. And I’m not saying it’s it’s bad to go and make a profit. And it’s and I believe in, you know, in some great American dreams. But I also think that there’s a there’s a little bit of a wave coming where it’s not just about me, the company. And so I’m one of those guys, which is, well, wait, I can help see, I love this.
This is the biggest win win you could possibly have in business where you’re not taking anything from the customer. You’re actually on the customer side making money for the customer and you get to make some money with. And I look at them go, oh, my God, how great is that? It’s it really is a win win and. It it definitely comes out in everything you say, Jeff, that the the focus is always on the customer like the person, the somebody, a real human, you really seem to focus very much first on them.
And you are the secondary benefactor in every way you describe things.
Is that something that’s kind of always been in your personality?
Oh, I have always thought like that. I have always been for the other guy first. And I figure out I may not be the richest guy in the world, but I’m very happy with putting people before me. You know, you can ask my wife, I have that personality like I’m the last guy off the ship. And I really think that way, although, you know, I have to work really hard at what I’m doing. I’m always the last.
I always think of myself as last. Let me get her taken care of. Let me do this for people. You know, let me people ask me, why did you give me one hundred bucks? It’s like you look like you needed some money. You know, I you know, I’m just that way. And I look at business that way, like I don’t have to have every penny in the world. It’s not necessary. And I actually have told people if I had a billion dollars, I would never owned a yacht.
I would give my money away before I’d get a yacht. It’s it’s funny. You want to go on a nice vacation, you want to rent a yacht because you’re worth a billion dollars. Go ahead. Yeah, but to own one and then instead you could you could help other people with that money. Maybe I’ve gotten too old to be that greedy.
Well, another thing that’s interesting is you’re you’ve had many careers.
And I would say that you’ve approached them all. But the one that I’m interested in because you have a you have a let’s just get it done like you are definitely willing to do stuff. And so competitive tennis was your example where. You did very well at that, you’re getting scholarships for it. So it’s an interesting dichotomy that you have that competitive capability, but you also have the very human, empathetic understanding of experience.
So how did that how did it feel to you when you were a competitive sportsperson?
Did you ever sort of struggle with. You’re being competitive and successful in the sense of you probably didn’t celebrate as much as you deserve to because it’s in your purse. Now, think about somebody else first. So intense, is it it’s interesting you bring that up and it’s once again, it’s part of my personality. I was not a good tennis player. In fact, I had a match one time with a kid. I won’t mention his name. And if he’s still around and he told me he walked up to me after we played two sets, he said he’d beat me love and love the 00.
And he said, you’re never going to be any good at the sport. You should go do something else. And I was heartbroken. I was what I go I didn’t go home and say I’m quitting. I went home and asked my dad to build me a backboard, you know, so I could hit a thousand four hundred thousand back and forth. And I was out there every single day practicing practice until, you know, until it became a really good tennis player and I had to play it, which means I have a problem with my eyes.
My eyes don’t fuse like everybody else’s. So a ball will jump around on me. And yet, you know, I turned out as a really good tennis player and with all these things that I had to overcome. And so, you know, I just had this personality where, like, if if the ball was close, I’d call it in for the other guy. It just it was like, well, I don’t know. And it was clearly not out.
And it was clearly, you know, I couldn’t tell. So I actually could actually I won’t mention the coach’s name, but actually when I looked at USC and UCLA, a school, I actually wouldn’t go to UCLA because I knew the coach, a few of the kids on their team cheat. And then we thought I was just kidding. One of my fellow tennis players about that, that we had a saying that he would say the kid would say out and we’d all say, mutter under my breath, under water of your reach, out of your reach.
That’s what it was. It wasn’t out. It was out of your reach. So, yeah, it’s it’s an interesting thing to have this this kind of dual personality that wants to be successful. But I want other people to be successful along with me. But that’s not unusual. But what’s unusual is, is so focused on your customer rather than your company. And I think that is a little bit unusual.
And it needs to be celebrated more and unfortunately, the reason why it’s as you even even you describe what you’re saying, it’s tons of people out there that are like me, like, well, it’s that may be true, but I the problem is the news is sort of filled with the hubers of the world.
And, you know, while we talk about the Uber of something being an idea of like the way in which they approach business, unfortunately, there’s also many negative connotations to sort of the early management team at Uber and sort of their some of their business techniques. And there’s lots of companies that, you know, have done that also.
At the same time, though, I think inside inside some of those folks, they just they were much more willing to do things that were negative in hopes of doing a positive thing versus you just don’t have that in your you when you’re when your needle goes to 50 percent and it says someone’s going to get hurt as a result of this decision, you’ll never let it go to 51. Judging by the way that you’ve, you know, the way you do business, the way you treat people, you sure try.
And I have to say, you sure try and think like that. I like to get up in the morning, look at myself in the mirror and go, you’re doing a good job and you care about others. Now, that’s not to say so. An investor doesn’t say, gee, I don’t know if I’d invest with this guy. He’s not after every dollar. And the truth is, this is the greatest part about this is I’m after every dollar I can get because I’m helping my customers make money.
And to me, it’s like, sure, I’ll bargain the heck out of other people if I could earn a little more. Not being unfair, I’m not the type of person. I’m not I don’t I’m not a person who takes advantage of you, but I am. But I’m aggressive in getting the best deal I can for my particularly for my customers, because they’re my clients and they’re making I mean, this deal is, you know, if there’s there’s right now, it’s the cocoon is MVR by data rewards is a desktop and it’s also a mobile.
And the mobile does two fabulous things. One, it collects your geo data and we can sell that. And then two, it does the browsing and hopefully other things will come to pass that we can sell for you. But by doing that, I’m actually making money for you and I’m getting just a piece of the action. And the more you make, maybe the more I can actually give you. Right, because we’re all doing great together. We’re in the boat together and it’s so unusual to be on the same side as the customer.
Even in real estate, it’s hard to be you can’t really be on the same side as a customer. But here my customer and I are simpatico. We’re we’re together. And I just can’t think of a better all my business career, I can’t think of a better position to be in a lot of us both making money together and and also doing the right thing.
It’s it is a wonderful thing and. I’m I’m betting that this started fire before your your tennis days and your real estate days, when when was the first time, Jeff, that you realized that you were thinking differently in the way that you were looking at life? I know exactly when that would be, I was in the third grade and my parents held me back and they told me, don’t worry, you don’t have to tell anybody. We’re moving to a different city.
We moved from White Plains, New York, to Rye, and that was musclemen health for me. It was hard for me to realize I thought I was stupid. I literally thought I was stupid. And today I still sometimes think I’m dumb. So this goes all the way back to my eye surgery. So when I was a child, I had eye surgery, I had a clubfoot. I didn’t talk until I was I think I was almost either four.
I didn’t say a word. My parents were. I remember having, you know, I whatever all those things on your brain to see if you had a functioning brain because they’re all going, what is wrong with this child? And there was nothing wrong with me in that way. I just thought differently. And so there was different. And I use all these different things to I hope to be a better person and to, you know, think out of the box.
And if you’re going to be an entrepreneur, even in my real estate career, I was the first guy in Santa Barbara to figure out how to bring workforce housing to the marketplace. Nobody had figured out how to do that. And I did. I mean, it took me a long time to figure it out. You know, I was proud of building things that that most people go to. This case, it’s weird to me, was creative.
Right? So, I mean, if you ask people in our town, if you love the most hated developers who you hated the most love developer, it was always, yeah, this guy I mean, I was always true to my word. If I said I was going to donate land, you know, people just to try and kill the project, which is not going to donate the land. And of course, I did. You know, just.
That’s how I act, I tell you, I’m going to do it. We’re going to get it done. There’s a very strong. Story and and like the the adversity that you faced from from early on.
And the way that you built sort of compensating capabilities for those things, like when did when did you understand that you were, you know, as we say, sort of different in the way that you described it or that, but you knew.
That you could do you could have a good outcome despite that, and in fact, maybe even because of it, I would say that you’ve through adversity, you became much stronger than if you hadn’t faced much of the adversity that you faced.
First of all, I’m hiring you as my therapist and you’re dead on, right? And I think it was you know, I really had some dark moments growing up where I really was convinced that I didn’t have the self-worth and that was part of the driving force for me. I mean, when, like your parents say you’re going to be left back, you know, maybe today it’s not as bad. Back then, I was like the most horrible thing they could ever say to me and I interpreted as being done.
And so it wasn’t true. I wasn’t dumb. I just I still can’t write a sentence properly and I probably can’t do all the math. But it’s interesting. I can do math in my head and do fairly complex math and figure it out and be pretty close and not know how to do it on a piece of paper. And just, you know, I have no clue, but I can do it in my head. So probably after college, when I first got my job, my first job and I worked my whole way, I was from a fairly well-off family.
I worked all the time. I loved to work. I mean, as a kid, I tweet tennis courts. I run an indoor tennis club. I worked on a grocery store truck. Anything to me was fun. Working was fun. And so I’ve kind of grown up that way. And I’ll admit, maybe I haven’t been the best. I’ve tried to be a really good parent, but, you know, it’s I don’t want to compare myself to Steve Jobs, but it is hard to be this kind of person and have these struggles going on.
But yet you have these talents that most people don’t understand. And when I hear these guys, as investors say to me, I don’t know if I want to invest in you, they may have good reason, but they certainly haven’t talked to me. They just maybe don’t like the product. But if you sat down and talked to me, you’d go with this guy is you know, he’s got a purpose. He’s he’s out there to win. And in fact.
I never asked my current investors for any money, I just put the money in myself until I think, hey, we really have something and I think now, hey, we really have something. But I didn’t for seven years. I didn’t ask anybody for any money. And I just put it in myself like, it’s not really I can’t ask people for money. It’s a challenge in the industry that, of course, like venture capital and the whole basis of the system is that their investors who are looking for outsized returns in general within a fund, and that means that they are going to bet and they know that the the bets are mostly losses.
And so they have to bet moderate amounts across a spectrum of companies knowing that, you know, in the preto sort of principle that 80-20 that 20 percent of the investment will return 80 percent of the value, but they have to go their whole purpose.
People always say, you know, hey, they could celebrate. Yeah, we just had a funding round of, you know, forty eight million dollars or whatever.
It’s like whatever that thing is, it’s it’s funny when I talk to folks that are on there that are receiving that that fund, that they’re receiving dilution, they’re receiving all of these side effects and IOUs and obligations. But it’s sort of the nature of the industry that they have to take that’s they’ve just accepted, that’s what it is.
And you’re on the right side of the model, in my belief, because you are you probably when you do take an investment, it will be for a fantastic return for that investor, because you’ve already done the hard yards. You’ve already taken the risk yourself, because in the same way you treat people, you’re going to treat your investors the same way that you wouldn’t let them put money in if you didn’t fully trust that you are going to be able to deliver an outcome that will be in their favor.
That’s 100 percent right. I mean, that’s exactly what you should be my therapist, because that’s exactly how I actually think of it. And I wouldn’t put it. I wouldn’t take anybody’s money. I had a woman who said I want to risk more money. And I was like, no, you’re not putting any more money in until I tell you. I think we’ve put all these pieces together and we’re still compiling all these pieces. I mean, today, I couldn’t tell a user that they’re going to make unless they’re a long term driver that are make three or four dollars a month from this.
It’s really hard to do. But I can tell you, if we stay at it and we all collectively work together, all of a sudden that four dollars return and eight dollars and eight dollars turn into twelve dollars. And it’s the tenacity. The smartness is letting our investors know I am their one hundred percent to make this a winning hand and a fair hand so that, you know, the investors may not like to hear that. And I would tell you if if I think treating people fairly is a good way of going and and it’s not always about the dollar, because treating people fairly is about the dollar.
And I can prove it in my office buildings. I had less vacancies that anybody around because they took care of my customers. They never wanted to leave. I mean, I got guys going, fine, you know, they need to downsize. I talked to a tenant today. I need to downsize. OK, let’s downsize you. I got a tenant. I think I can step into your space. What do you want from me? I don’t want anything will help you move and we’ll bring in this other tenant.
And so it’s thinking out of the box that’s super important in in any kind of technology, any kind of thing. It’s super important. And I would say about investors vs.. As I look at them and they seem like they follow each other and they wonder why they don’t make any money in it is because they’re all they’re all following each other. If it’s food that’s hot, they’re all in it. And ninety six percent are going to lose their shirts.
But they’re all in and it’s like, wow, why would you guys all step into that same room? Why don’t you? Take a bit off the wall, I’m in off the wall idea and you go, oh, you’re competing with Google? Yeah, in a way I am, but I think in the long run will hurt Google and you’ll make money doing it. I’m not doing it on purpose to Google. Google really can’t afford to do my business plan because their whole business plan is based on 100 percent.
Yet they’re giving up their own margins to run away from themselves. It would be a fundamentally bad business practice in their mind. Right? Right.
It would be a terrible business idea. What about a search engine? What if we developed a search engine that paid you for your data and then they’d even be more hurt? So this is what they have to worry about is, is people finding ways. And so the time has come where sharing is OK? It doesn’t always have to go just to our bottom line. It could go to. You know, to to my customers bottom line, and it’s it’s it’s a great model and it’s it’s hard to beat up on that LOL.
And in the end, when you look at there, they are still obviously vastly successful. There’s no doubt that even if you were able to scale, you know, and when we see the scaling of of what you’re doing with Cocoon MDR.
You’re still not putting them out of business, in fact, you’re keeping them in business because you still they still have customers, they still have flow of data. We’re not cutting them off. They’re not cutting us off. It is a beautiful sort of.
And it’s fair is a is an odd word because I think of like sort of the Chris Voss method of talks about, you know, fair is a difficult world in negotiations because fair is really the ideal non negotiated outcome is. But each side has a sense of fair.
And when we think of fair in a human term, it’s it really does move to a binary sense of fairness. But in fact, that’s not what it is.
It’s that both sides have to agree to accept some non negotiated outcome of both gain and loss, right?
Exactly. Absolutely. You know, in my in my real estate career, I did really well, a taking care of my customers and B, being smart about how I used money, how we build things. And that’s just a matter of then just as you’re saying, is that compromising that you can’t get it all? And in my case, you know, I like the sharing and I love the idea of building something that’s good for a lot of people.
And look at this. I mean, the advertisers, when they get the data they want, the customer wins finally because they get money in their pocket and and we win because we’re helping the customer make money. And so to me, this is the this is like a I mean, this is a dream come true for a businessman who has strong ethics, which is, hey, everybody wins. And I think the I’m actually seeing a stronger move nowadays that some of the folks that went through sort of Silicon Valley, the you know, so we’ve got the we’ll see the old school, the Sandhill Road, like the classic, you know, big groups of voices.
But they have spawned a lot of companies, which spawned a lot of founders who made a lot of money. They had a good, good, you know, windfall. And they’ve taken that now and they’re doing seed investment, angel investment.
And what’s interesting is that we’re seeing a move towards a very ethical investment method because those people benefited, but they understand that they benefited. And what the wins and losses and what those trade offs were, what how fair worked in that market, and so I really like that we’re seeing folks that took that capability and they’re doing what you’re doing, Jeff.
And they’re seeing look, can I take this money that I’ve made?
And recognize that I did it and I won the lottery in effect, but with that, can I help somebody else feel like they won the lottery? And we are really seeing this new batch of founders that are being given the the chance where a traditional VC investor would just purely have looked at the spreadsheet and not cared about the business like the the human outcome of their business.
Yeah, I. I totally agree. We’re still you know, we’re still underfunded and looking for the investors. But I have to say, I met somebody on the street who just was looking out for themselves, period. I might not do the deal with them because what I want is if you hear, I guess, the perfect answer, which makes this really a lot easier for an investor to understand, because my customers making more money and I’m out looking for them, you, the investor, are actually ending up making more investment versus saying to me, well, why don’t you just keep cutting their margins?
And I can say, if I keep cutting the margins of the customer, the customer is going to go away. And that four dollars turns into two dollars. Sure. For two months you got a little more money, but now I don’t have a customer. Why would you do that? That doesn’t make so being in business for 25 or 30 years makes me a lot smarter about how this whole system can work and what I can say to an investor.
Sure, we’ll take 50 percent, but now I don’t have a customer because I took too much money from that. So they’re not around anymore, so now I have to buy a new customer. Thanks a lot. Yeah, well, and in the area that you’re working, we know the business model that you’re effectively pitted against is certainly not going away. And in fact, their margins are increasing.
There’s definitely a win for your customers all the way through, like the end for the foreseeable future.
This is not a it’s not a temporary win.
This is something that we are going to be up against in the economics of advertising and data sales and data privacy, subjugation.
To to that stuff. It’s. It’s not going away, and in fact, this is an opportune time for for what you’re doing. And and like I said, I appreciate, you know, how you’re approaching it.
What you’re doing is amazing. What the way in which you’re approaching it as a person is even more important, I think, in what will derive a positive outcome for you and for your customers.
I sure hope so. And let me say this. You touched on privacy. I think privacy. I actually built the browser, which will eventually combine into this browser that’s I think one of the most private secure browsers ever built. That was the first thing I ever built. So I like the idea of privacy. But when you get to the point of realizing, well, OK, so maybe my browser could be private, but my geolocation is really not private.
It’s kind of like, you know, unless this is really harming you a lot, either sit home and don’t go anywhere or you kind of have to go, well, you know what, they’re getting it anyway. So why don’t I get a piece of the action and maybe it’s, you know, you kind of given up in a way. But the answer is, well, maybe I had to, because really, you’re fighting these giant companies that are going to take all the information they possibly can get about you and turn it into monetizing because that’s their model.
My model is different, which is a you and I together are going to do this with your data. But finally, you’re going to get paid for your data versus just giving it to some company and you never get anything out of it. Now, it may be only a few dollars to start, but I guarantee you, if we stick together and we build the company, this will turn into a lot more money, maybe as much as, you know, a couple of thousand dollars a year for a person.
And that that’s a dream right now. But it’s you know, it could be reality in years and still have some privacy. But at least you’re making some money off of what everybody else is using on you and you don’t even get it. You don’t even know that you are the product. It’s it’s a terrible, terrible situation to not realize that you are the product and you’re not getting anything for your data.
Yeah, it’s it’s the problem we face of like the some of the like the pundits, the strong voices out there that are very like, you know, and I’m all I’m pro privacy.
I’m I’m I would say I’m island. And instead of a lot of libertarian categories and sort of the like, the way I think about, you know, like Google, I’m like, hey, I love the idea of free markets at some point, then I’m torn of how do we regulate it, because there is a point where sometimes it’s necessary, but when it comes to privacy and whatever, so the people like me, you know, or the really strong advocates for privacy, they’re going to do kind of what you talked about, where they’re going to use a a Tor browser.
They’re going to do VPN everywhere.
They’re going to do all this crazy stuff. But the truth is, it’s a minuscule percentage of the population. And what you’re doing is you’re effectively creating opportunity for the larger mass of the population who just can’t they don’t have the technical know how to do that and nor they should they.
So why not reward them with the data that they’re already giving away, at least in. Let’s let’s find a way that we can I think through that.
You know, even as the second phase of of what your team will do is there’s there’s a next chapter and it will probably be can we empower more privacy through now that we have a customer base like it’s your customers are in the beginning of a journey and it’s a journey towards them getting value from their own.
Selves. Well, how would you like. Let me put this out as a big as a big picture. How would you like that? You have the control, I’ll say, on almost everything you have to control to decide. I want to sell it just like you do it today. I want to sell it. And I don’t want to sell. I mean, to me, that’s how we act as human beings. We don’t have this one side like, oh, I’ll just sell everything or we don’t have the side that I’m just going to be private about everything.
There’s these you know, we have two different personalities going on. And I would submit to you what we’re building when I eventually match in Cocoon, the private browser, you then have the best of both worlds. So you can say to yourself, instead of spending one hundred and twenty dollars on a VPN, unless you’re sending documents through, I don’t see a need for that. But if you’re on the Web, you could use our browser, which hides your IP address, stores, everything in the cloud, nothing is on your computer.
I mean, I’m a whiz kid at this part. It’s probably one of the better browsers ever had built in that sense of privacy. And and we have know antivirus on it. So all types of things. And yet you could have best of both worlds. So you in a switch, which is what I plan in the future, is you can hit I want to be in stealth mode. Nobody can see anything you’re doing. And to me, that’s the perfect solution, which is take your choice, you know, if you want to be private, you don’t want anybody know what you’re doing, put that on.
If you don’t care about where you’re going day to day, turn on your geolocation, let it flow and make some money. It’s a. It’s a win. It truly is a win win, and I think that for folks who who need to look into this will we’ll include some some links in the show notes as well.
But just to go back to your. Your way of approaching things, Jeff, adversity very much played a part in your ability to succeed because of the way you’ve developed methods to deal with that adversity, which resulted in you being able to deal with other externalities, other adversity for folks that.
If they came to you and they said, Jeff, I love your story, I haven’t, I want to be able to.
Take on risk, I want to be able to move they start a business, do a thing.
What’s the advice that you would give, maybe just to folks that how do they prepare themselves for that adversity when they may not have experienced it yet?
Yeah, great question. So a couple pieces of advice from my staff. First of all, which I’ve made a hundred mistakes, so make sure you do your research, whatever, you’re going to go in to do a deep dive and twist this around before you spend a penny twisted around. You’ll still find when you start to develop it that you’ll have surprises you never thought of. Like who would have thought that? Maybe Mike, maybe the trucker’s or or Uber drivers would be my best customers and their best customers, so to speak.
So would you have to do is you need to have an idea. You need to focus in on it, do the research, and then don’t be afraid to twist and turn as it comes along, because the people who get just like tied into their one idea and if it doesn’t work, they give up, then I would tell you, you probably shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. You’re probably and it’s not for everyone. Taking these kinds of risks is a scary deal.
And, you know, I woke up this morning thinking, how am I going to get all my bills paid? And, you know, I’m done really well in business, but you take these risk and you’re willing to take them and you have a spouse that doesn’t mind, hopefully, if you’re married, but you have to be able to twist and turn, persevere, and then you have to know when to let go if it’s not working. I mean, I’m a perfect come see me on my first project and I tell you, you should learn a lesson for me.
I should have let it go. However, when I didn’t let it go because I had the money to keep going and my own money, I think that hurt. I think because I’m not there yet. I think I’ve turned this into a wonderful project. So that’s my advice to people, is focus and do your research first. Do not go out and think you’re going to create the next pair of glasses if they’re already existing or if you’re going to compete, you’ve got to have an angle that the other guy doesn’t have a price point, something that the other guy doesn’t have.
Otherwise it may not work out for you. Restaurant, even a restaurant. You’ve got to look in your marketplace. If there’s four Thai restaurants, I wouldn’t be proposing opening a Thai food Thai restaurant unless you have a special formula that the other guys don’t have. And I do hope that people take a lot from your story, Jeff, it’s inspiring both as far as what you’re doing through your team, your platform and personally, it’s it’s been a real pleasure to share the last the last seventy five minutes with you.
And I hope that folks enjoy it.
And if so, if somebody wanted to get a hold of you or wanted to get in contact. Jeff is there what’s the best way that they could do that?
Well, if they want to reach me personally, which I’m always happy to take people’s e-mails, it’s Jeff. I’m a different kind of CEO. I will answer you. You send me something, I will respond. And I learned this, by the way, from the president of American Express. I was a customer of theirs for 20 some odd years. And all of a sudden during the last recession, big recession, they said, we’re going to cut off your credit or do something.
I wrote the CEO, the president of the company, and he responded in writing back to me with not only I’m sorry, but with a gift card of one hundred and fifty dollars. So don’t be afraid to send me an email. It’s Jeff Jeff at the Lake and Victor World, WRAL, D. C. and Charlie dot com. No crackpots, please. I don’t think I have time for that. You have an interesting question or you liked what I was saying.
And if you want to look at our website, go to try Cun Seo Seo. And if I’m from Jersey, you get to see a bit fast growing. That’s great.
Seo Seo and dot com try cocoon dot com. It’s only unfortunately it’s only Android for mobile and for desktop. It is both an. Both desktop is Apple or Mac and and PC. I will warn you about the desktop. I so far have not found the formula that I think pays people enough money. I’m not discouraging you from coming. I’m being honest with you. But I think mobile is a seriously great play. And as soon as we can get iOS out, we will.
But if you if you do have an Android, come and try us and write back to me. If you find something that was, you know, you couldn’t figure out, let me know was fantastic, Jeff.
And thank you. And try and talk about the platform differences.
Probably one of the reasons why iOS is more of a challenge is because they have actually more aggressively put better walls out to protect privacy for their customers. And Android is entirely based on, you know, like let’s let’s get this free OS out there because it allows us to capture more data ultimately that feeds the the machine behind the scenes versus Apple has taken a very privacy forward approach.
You’re not entirely but there more more privacy forward and more customer forward, I think.
Let me just say one last word about privacy. I think this should be up to the customer. I don’t think this should be iOS or Apple making the decision for you. They should put the safeguards in place. And then if you say, hey, listen, I want to sell my data, they shouldn’t be blocking you from doing that. I hope to God they don’t because they’re ruining not just my platform, but they’re ruining the opportunity for other.
They know this other people getting a small piece of the action. And I would have high disregard for them for doing that to people, because to me, it would just be greed if you want to turn it off. So there is just don’t download our app or don’t use our app if you want total privacy. But if you want to share in the profit, I would hope to God I so far, I think they will you know, they’ll let you do that because you said I want to do that and the power should be in you, the customer, not in them.
Cheers to an opt in lifestyle, and when it comes to privacy, that’s where it should be. I agree. Jeff, thank you very much for taking the time today. It’s been a real pleasure. And as as you mentioned, we’ll include some links for folks to get in contact. I really enjoyed the conversation.
Eric is great and once again, ready to hire you as my therapist. All right.
I’m available. I’m available now. But it’s I tell you, it’s I’ve I, I feel like every day that I get to do this thing is a part of, you know, like sort of a side gig, I guess you’d call it my my side hustle is learning.
And and what I’ve been able to be lucky enough to do is to hear all of these incredible stories of perseverance and adversity and and see these patterns and see that how stuff gets through it. And it’s it’s inspiring. I, I, I’m going to walk at it today, right now. And I’m going to be on a real high.
I’ve got a customer event I’m doing in a in a couple of hours and they are going to get a whole lot of cheer and positivity because you’ve, you’ve, you’ve given me a smile and and anybody who’s listening will will share with me and be positive.
I mean, every day I get up, I may be discouraged one day and next more. My secret is I get up and I’m positive, like, I’m going to go I’m going to go solve this problem.
It was and of course, the day we’re recording, this is what’s funny to people, that the time machine is interesting. So General Chuck Yeager sadly passed away last night. And he one of the quotes that that he has is I butchered every time.
I’m sure that everybody does. But the idea is, is that a landing that you walk away from is a good landing. A well, if you can use the plane the next day, it’s an outstanding landing.
I where I try to live by, I still use the term. Did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? From Animal House, and so that’s one of my mottos, is did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor and and today we will not give up.
And so thank you for the story. Thank you.
It’s been really great. Great. Thank you so much for your time.