Season 14: Game-Changing Technology

177: Lloyd Lobo Reveals How to Quickly Secure R&D Tax Credits for Funding Business Innovation with Boast.AI

This Episode is Sponsored By:

                                                                                     

Every U.S. Dollar in Research & Development (R&D) tax credit yields $20 in new economic activity. With that kind of return, why don’t more small businesses take advantage of these tax credits? Answering that question is what led Lloyed Lobo on his fintech journey.

With a background in software engineering, Lloyed was already familiar with technology companies and enjoyed a successful career leading sales and marketing teams as well as being a serial entrepreneur. One venture was Boast Capital – a consulting firm focused on securing R&D tax credits for businesses. That’s when the answer to the unclaimed tax credit question became clear – the reason more than $200 billion USD goes unclaimed globally each year to fund innovation is because of the slow, archaic application-to-funding process. This led to the development of Boast.AI, a software designed to automate the tax credit application process so companies can get more money faster and with reduced audit risk.

In this episode, Lloyed not only shares how you can use Boast.AI to fund your small business’ innovation, but he also gives insights on how he and his team built this successful tech startup. Discover the business infrastructure they designed to support rapid growth not only in their customer base but also in their employee base – an increase from 30 to 100 in just five months! As a bonus, you’ll also learn Lloyed’s four stages for building a startup as well as the ingredients for his scale recipe: customer-centricity, community, and relentless prioritization.

If you want to know how you can claim R&D tax credits to fund your company’s growth and how to scale that growth sustainably, then you don’t want to miss this episode!

 

Special Guest: Lloyed Lobo, Co-Founder & President – Boast.AI

Location: 

Air Date: November 28, 2021

Show Notes:

Websites:

  • Boast.AI: the website home to the financial technology company revolutionizing the preparation and defending of R&D tax credits.
  • Boast.AI’s blog: a collection of articles from Boast offering tips and tactics for business growth, funding, and R&D tax credits.
  • TractionConf.io:
  • Traction:Boast.AI‘s community of +100k innovators that brings leaders from the fastest growing companies to share learnings on building, growing, and scaling companies.”
  • Fiverr: a digital marketplace matching freelance service providers with potential customers.

Software: 

  • Asana: a web-based project and task management tool designed to help teams better organize, track, and manage their work.
  • Trello: a web-based app to organize and prioritize work and projects with remote teams.
  • Jira: a suite of work management software products covering requirements and test case management to agile software development.
  • Slack: a communication app ideal for remote teams that offers the ability to organize work updates by topic, private groups, and direct messaging.
  • Zoom: a web-based tool that offers audio and video recording of webinars, conference calls, presentations, meetings, and more.  Also includes screen sharing for enhanced collaboration.
  • Google Hangouts: Google’s free phone app that enables users to communicate via video call, phone, or messaging.
  • Hubspot: CRM software products for marketing and sales.
  • Salesforce: a cloud-based, integrated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software that brings companies and customers together.
  • Quickbooks: an accounting software by Intuit designed for small businesses offered as cloud-based or downloadable software.
  • Sagean accounting software that also offers bookkeeping and financial management services for small businesses.
  • Gusto: a cloud-based payroll, benefits, and human resource management software for American businesses.
  • ADP: human resources and payroll management software for small businesses.

Books:

Videos:

Subscribe to Traction, Boast.AI’s YouTube Channel

 

How to Protect Your Idea with a Patent Featuring SenseHydro, LLC (a group of talented, young entrepreneurs)

 

Related Episodes: 

  • Episode 133: How We Scaled Outgrow.co to New York’s #1 B2B Tech Company Featuring Saksham Sharda
  • Episode 114: Validating Software Product Ideas with Ronan Walsh
  • Episode 132: How I Scaled and Sold Two Businesses to Fortune 500 Companies Featuring Jeff Wald
  • Episode 168: Alicia Butler Pierre and Kate Erickson Discuss the Workflows and Operational Excellence Behind Entrepreneurs on Fire
  • Episode 175: Amber Fehrenbacher Shares How to Increase Small Business Credit Scores

 

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Credits_______________

  • Writer, Producer & Host: Alicia Butler Pierre
  • Podcast Editor: Olanrewaju Adeyemo
  • Video Editor: Gladys Jimenez
  • Transcription: Jodie Maquiran
  • Sponsors: ThinkSmart Whiteboard, CavnessHR

 

More About Guest, Lloyed Lobo:
Lloyed Lobo is the Co-Founder and President of Boast.AI, a fintech platform that automates access to billions in R&D tax credits and government funding to help innovative companies fuel their growth. Lloyed also runs Traction, Boast.AI‘s community of +100k innovators that brings leaders from the fastest growing companies to share learnings on building, growing, and scaling companies via weekly webinars, regular meetups, and conferences. Lloyed has been covered in Forbes, TechCrunch, Fox Business, and VentureBeat, and has been featured on reputed podcasts such as Entrepreneurs on Fire, Leveling Up, and Rocketship.fm.

 

 

More About Host, Alicia Butler Pierre:
Alicia Butler Pierre is the Founder & CEO of Equilibria, Inc. Her career in operations began over 20 years ago while working as an engineer in various chemical plants and oil refineries. She invented the KasennuTM framework for business infrastructure and authored, Behind the Façade: How to Structure Company Operations for Sustainable Success.  It is the world’s first published book on business infrastructure for small businesses. Alicia hosts the weekly Business Infrastructure podcast with a global audience across 53 countries.

 

 

More About Sponsor, ThinkSmart Whiteboard:
Thinksmart Whiteboard is a Windows App that turns your Tablet PC into a shared whiteboard. It allows you to create a whiteboard on your computer screen, then allows other people to write onto your whiteboard, even if they are in another location! Learn more.

 

More About Sponsor, CavnessHR:
CavnessHR delivers HR to companies with 49 or fewer people through a voice enabled AI platform along with access to a dedicated HR Business Partner. We do this while taking care of our own employees and customers, maintaining transparency, utilizing active listening, practicing empathy, and being valued members of our communities.

 

176: Jason Cavness Describes How to Automate H.R. Processes for Small Businesses with CavnessHR

This Episode is Sponsored By:

                                                                                     

When Jason Cavness joined the US Army at 19, he took a test to determine his optimal career starting in the military. He had a choice between working as a parachute repairman or working in Human Resources (H.R.) He chose the latter – the allure being the opportunity to live in Germany.

25 years later, he retired and through a chance encounter met someone who suggested he fill a gap in the marketplace for H.R. services in fast-growing small businesses. Not knowing what a startup was, he took a leap of faith and started CavnessHR.

CavnessHR offers is an H.R. software as a service platform. In this episode, Jason makes the case for why H.R. processes, policies, and protocol is so important in small businesses and how CavnessHR automates these areas. If you operate a small business with 49 or fewer employees, find out how you can take advantage of a free trial of CavnessHR – available only through this podcast.

 

Special Guest: Jason Cavness, Founder & CEO – CavnessHR

Location: Seattle, WA  USA

Air Date: November 21, 2021

Show Notes:

Software: 

  • CavnessHR: an HR software as a service with a mission to help small business owners save both time and money through various solutions based on the number of workers.
  • Asana: a web-based project and task management tool designed to help teams better organize, track, and manage their work.
  • EverNote: a cloud-based app designed for note-taking, organizing, task management, and archiving.
  • signNowa web-based app that integrates electronic signatures as part of important operational workflows including negotiating contracts, accepting online payments, and generating legal agreements.

Websites:

  • Bunker Labs: an accelerator that offers community forums, programs, and courses to help military veterans and their spouses to start and grow successful businesses.
  • WeWork Labs: a global digital platform connecting and supporting WeWork’s members. The office workspace company’s mission is to “…empower inventive humans and organizations to impact the present and influence the future.”
  • Product Hunt: an online database where visitors can share or discover new tech products. Users can comment and give reviews on those products.

Podcasts:

Professional Organizations:

  • Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM): a membership organization with a mission to elevate the HR profession. “As the voice of all things work, workers and the workplace, SHRM is the foremost expert, convener and thought leader on issues impacting today’s evolving workplaces.”

 

Related Episodes: 

  • Episode 048: Automating Human Resource Compliance with Jason Cavness
  • Episode 068: Anne Sugar’s Hiring to Scale Process
  • Episode 127: Let’s Identify and Document Key Business Processes with Cornelius Dowdell
  • Episode 135: How I Built a Remote Team and Scaled Unique Designz to a 7-Figure Business with Henry Kaminski
  • Episode 147: Diversity, Digital Transformation & Hiring Vets with Len Samborowski

 

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Credits_______________

  • Writer, Producer & Host: Alicia Butler Pierre
  • Podcast Editor: Olanrewaju Adeyemo
  • Video Editor: Gladys Jimenez
  • Transcription: Outsource Global
  • Sponsors: ThinkSmart Whiteboard, CavnessHR

 

More About Guest, Jason Cavness:
Jason Cavness is an INFJ retired U.S. Army officer who served for 25 years, including 8 years as an enlisted member. He has previous startup experience with MyUnfold. He is currently the Founder & CEO of CavnessHR. CavnessHR delivers Human Resource (H.R.) services to U.S. companies with 49 or fewer people through an H.R. platform along with an H.R. Business Partner. He also hosts The Jason Cavness Experience where he talks to small business owners, founders, and other interesting people.

 

 

More About Host, Alicia Butler Pierre:
Alicia Butler Pierre is the Founder & CEO of Equilibria, Inc. Her career in operations began over 20 years ago while working as an engineer in various chemical plants and oil refineries. She invented the KasennuTM framework for business infrastructure and authored, Behind the Façade: How to Structure Company Operations for Sustainable Success.  It is the world’s first published book on business infrastructure for small businesses. Alicia hosts the weekly Business Infrastructure podcast with a global audience across 53 countries.

 

 

More About Sponsor, ThinkSmart Whiteboard:
Thinksmart Whiteboard is a Windows App that turns your Tablet PC into a shared whiteboard. It allows you to create a whiteboard on your computer screen, then allows other people to write onto your whiteboard, even if they are in another location! Learn more.

 

More About Sponsor, CavnessHR:
CavnessHR delivers HR to companies with 49 or fewer people through a voice-enabled AI platform along with access to a dedicated HR Business Partner. We do this while taking care of our own employees and customers, maintaining transparency, utilizing active listening, practicing empathy, and being valued members of our communities.

 

175: Amber Fehrenbacher Shares How to Increase Small Business Credit Scores for Access to Capital with Tillful

This Episode is Sponsored By:

                                                                                     

You’ve probably heard the expression, “It takes money to make money.” But what happens if you’re never given a fair shot at getting access to money? This is the dilemma of too many small businesses. They can’t grow, let alone scale because traditional banks won’t lend them the money required to invest in hiring more people, streamlining key processes, and upgrading equipment and technology. Flowcast is on a mission to change this narrative.

Flowcast is an ING Ventures-backed company offering Financial Technology (FinTech) platforms like Tillful to level the playing field for access to business credit. Their technology computes a business credit score based on the whole picture of a small business’ financial activities and not just part of it. Just a little over a year old, thousands of new small business customers sign up every month for a free Tillful account.

As the Marketing Director at Flowcast, Amber Fehrenbacher knows a successful startup when she sees one. With a history of working with highly ambitious teams with multi-million and billion-dollar valuations, she has a unique perspective on what it takes to evolve from a startup to a scaleup.

In this episode, Amber explains why she describes Tillful as a “portal to business infrastructure.” Specifically, she shares how the platform’s technology works on the back-end as well as the on the front-end to create an easy, hassle-free customer experience. We also talk about the importance of adding your business’ credit score to your list of metrics to monitor to ensure your business gets access to the funding it deserves. Discover how to get credit for all the hard work you’ve put into your business – literally and financially!

 

Special Guest: Amber Fehrenbacher, Marketing Director – Flowcast

Location: Columbia, MO  USA

Air Date: November 14, 2021

Show Notes:

Websites:

  • Flowcast: a San-Francisco-based fintech startup that “…provides AI-based credit models to financial institutions” so that they make smarter credit decisions.
  • Tillful Blog: insightful articles on the latest funding information every small business needs to know including tips on how to secure different types of business loans, credit cards, advance financing, and lines of credit.
  • Tillful on Product Hunt: check out Tillful’s ranking and customer reviews on Product Hunt, the online portal for discovering new tech products from around the world.
  • StartX: a tech accelerator program by Stanford University. It is a community of 1800+ serial entrepreneurs, industry experts, tenured Stanford professors, and 700+ well-funded growth-stage startups who don’t need to give up equity. Their goal is to “…find creative ways to collaborate so that each of our companies can have a long-term positive impact on the world.”
  • Business Finance Gurus Amber Recommends You Follow Online:   SBA     Sierra Nicole    Irvin Peña

Software:

  • Tillful: Flowcast’s FinTech product for small businesses that
  • Download the Tillful iOS app!
  • Plaid: a financial services company that provides FinTech developers with the tools they need to connect their apps to financial institutions and create an easy and accessible customer experience.
  • Credit Karma: a personal finance company with a mission to empower each of their customers with “…the knowledge, tips and tools they need to turn their financial dreams into a reality.” They work with two major American credit bureaus to give customers access to their credit scores for free. Next, their web-based tool offers recommendations to help customers along their personal financial journey.
  • Nerd Wallet: a personal finance company that provides the “…tools, information, and insight people need to navigate all of life’s financial decisions” through its website and app.

 

Related Episodes: 

  • Episode 032: Running Your Business by the Numbers with Charles H. Green
  • Episode 033: Pricing for Profit with John Ray
  • Episode 040: Lowering Overhead and Increasing Revenue with Forrest Tuff
  • Episode 066: Diana Wu David’s Pricing Process
  • Episode 084: Niching to Scale with Meredith Moore
  • Episode 075: Jenny Jones’ Building Business Credit Process

 

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Credits_______________

  • Writer, Producer & Host: Alicia Butler Pierre
  • Podcast Editor: Olanrewaju Adeyemo
  • Video Editor: Gladys Jimenez
  • Transcription: Jodie Maquiran
  • Sponsors: ThinkSmart Whiteboard, CavnessHR

 

More About Guest, Amber Fehrenbacher:
Amber Fehrenbacher has over 12 years of experience scaling early-stage tech companies and leading high-performing, agile marketing teams for multimillion and $1B+ startups by valuation, across a number of industry sectors including Finance, Insurance and Manufacturing focused on B2B growth.

She served as CMO for a Tokio Marine company from 2014-2017, was the Director of Marketing for YC unicorn EquipmentShare from 2017-2021, and is currently the Marketing Director for ING Ventures-backed SMB business credit platform, Tillful.

   

 

More About Host, Alicia Butler Pierre:
Alicia Butler Pierre is the Founder & CEO of Equilibria, Inc. Her career in operations began over 20 years ago while working as an engineer in various chemical plants and oil refineries. She invented the KasennuTM framework for business infrastructure and authored, Behind the Façade: How to Structure Company Operations for Sustainable Success.  It is the world’s first published book on business infrastructure for small businesses. Alicia hosts the weekly Business Infrastructure podcast with a global audience across 55+ countries.

 

 

More About Sponsor, ThinkSmart Whiteboard:
Thinksmart Whiteboard is a Windows App that turns your Tablet PC into a shared whiteboard. It allows you to create a whiteboard on your computer screen, then allows other people to write onto your whiteboard, even if they are in another location! Learn more.

 

More About Sponsor, CavnessHR:
CavnessHR delivers HR to companies with 49 or fewer people through a voice enabled AI platform along with access to a dedicated HR Business Partner. We do this while taking care of our own employees and customers, maintaining transparency, utilizing active listening, practicing empathy, and being valued members of our communities.

 

 

Transcript:

[00:00 – 01:24] We know the classifications of small businesses from startup to emerging onto scale up. And for many of us founders, we desperately want to advance through these stages onto the next level, mid-sized business. And for some to grow beyond that to a large enterprise, employing thousands of people.

Hi, I’m Alicia Butler Pierre, not only is business infrastructure vital to advancing through those stages but so is capital. As a startup, you need it to up the ante on your sales and marketing activities. But as an emerging business, you need it to hire more full-time staff and invest in new or upgrade existing equipment and technologies. Speaking of technologies, you’re about to discover a revolutionary FinTech product. That’s changing the game on giving small businesses access to credit. The company behind it is on a mission to level the playing field so that more small businesses have a fair shake at sustainable growth. Sadly, there’s a large swath of entrepreneurs who, although they have a high-demand product or service, they simply can’t scale their businesses because they’ve been unjustly cut off from funding.

It’s time to change that. After all, it takes money to make money.

This is Season 14, Episode 1 75. Let’s start the show!

 

[01:24 – 01:46] Welcome to Business Infrastructure, the podcast about curing back-office blues of fast-growing businesses. If you’re a business owner or operator looking for practical tips and solutions to scaling your business in a sustainable manner, you’re in the right place. Now, here’s your hostess, Alicia Butler Pierre.

 

[01:48 – 03:13]  Having a tough time, trying to explain ideas over a video conference? Try the ThinkSmart whiteboard. It’s the fastest whiteboard software in the world and allows you to upload flow charts and write on them while your colleagues are watching remotely. Call us today for a free demo. The number is 1-866-584-6804 or visit us online @getmytablet.com. Now that’s smart, ThinkSmart.

This episode is brought to you by Equilibria, Inc., the company behind this podcast, where we design business infrastructure for fast-growing small businesses, ready to scale. If you’ve been listening to the show for a while, then you know, this season, we’re focusing on game-changing technology. And so far we’ve explored technologies to improve operations, business development, marketing, and HR, just to name a few areas of business. And today we’re going to learn about a FinTech product.

Joining us today in Columbia, Missouri is Amber Fehrenbacher. Amber is the Marketing Director at Tillful, a technology designed to offer a smarter, more inclusive approach to business credit, scoring, and financial literacy for small and medium-sized businesses. Amber, welcome to the show. How are you?

[03:14 – 03:17] I am great. Thanks so much, Alicia. I appreciate you having me.

 

[03:17 – 03:26] And you know, Amber, I, it’s always fun for me when I can share how I meet people like yourself and it all started with the tweet.

 

[03:28 – 03:31] It did, it did. It started on Twitter. It did.

 

[03:34 – 04:19] Yes. I have a Google alert set up for any topics that are out there around small business, scaling, operations, processes, streamlining, automation. And so I came across an article about Tillful and I tweeted about it and Amber saw that and retweeted it at night. I saw who she was and the fact that she works at Tillful, until when I was like, huh, she would be a great addition to the podcast, especially this season because we’re focusing on technology. And as I started to look up more information about you, Amber, I was like, wow, she has such a fascinating background because you have a degree in journalism. Right?

 

[04:20 – 04:35] I do. Yeah. And magazine journalism actually, a very strange time to get a journalism degree. I graduated in 2009, which should be right after that, the entire, you know, the housing crisis and the recession kind of kicked off.

[04:36 – 04:38] When the bottom fell out.

 

[04:38 – 04:41] Right, when the bottom fell out. Exactly. But it works out well, it worked out okay.

 

[04:43 – 04:51] And I noticed that. So after you graduated, it looks, or maybe during the time you were still in school, is that when you had your internship at Elle Magazine?

 

[04:51 – 05:22] Yeah, so I was in New York. I landed an editorial internship with Elle Magazine and then actually had the opportunity there and it kind of kicked off my career in the digital space because my editor in my intern supervisor at the time, you know, asked me if I would prefer to work on the print side or on the, you know, the dotcom side. And she really advised me to go dot com and I’ll never forget that cause that was, I, you know, it was, I was doing HTML tags, that summer back in 2008. And so it served me very well.

 

[05:23 – 05:30] I was wondering about that. I was like, I wonder if that was kind of her introduction to digital and content marketing and it sounds like it was.

 

[05:31 – 05:32] Yeah. it definitely was.

[05:33 – 05:58] So, you obviously chose the dot com side. So can you kind of walk us through how you were able to transition from being a writer or, you know, a journalist – magazine journalism, as you, as you said specifically, into eventually becoming… I noticed at one time you were even a Chief Marketing Officer, the company, and now you’re, you’re a Marketing Director. So, how on earth were you able to make a career transition like that?

[05:58 – 06:37] I will say, you know, as much as I like to be very, very intentional and I had a really clear idea of what I was doing on the net but I felt my gut a lot. You know, I think that whenever you graduate, you’re kind of taking whatever you can get and I’ve never felt like I needed to take whatever I could get and be grateful for it. Then graduating into, like a job was job market in 2009. So, you know, obviously, my big goal is to, like, become a writer. I wanted to eventually write for, like Vanity Fair, The New Yorker or something like that. And now I still love writing. And I think that I actually do a great deal of it still at my day-to-day, which makes my parents really happy. You know, my mom’s a nurse and my dad’s an engineer.

 

[06:37 – 07:25] And so they’re like, do you want to go to journalism school? But I think that from looking back, my first job was very random and it was actually with a media buying a display ad network. It was just kind of my first base and they traded me and everything. And actually it was a kind of what you’ll see, anytime you see a display ad on the internet, you know, we, we kind of would work with different publishers to, to run those at an advertiser’s. And like one of our early advertisers was Netflix. And so Netflix actually was one of our clients that we were working with through their agency of record. So it was, it wasn’t like we were working directly with Netflix. So this is whenever they were still doing like DVDs, but we were serving ads on their behalf and, you know, helping grow that business through just like getting people to sign up for free trials.

[ 07:25 – 08:10] And it was like whenever top vendors are what they were called, which would be just ads that pop like popups really, but they were like, kind of popping behind your browser. And it was a great deal of, like, how we made money. And so we were basically just taking a cutoff of the margin on the ad buy, but then I kind of got interested, I started to work more directly with some clients. I started working directly with the people, that marketing in-house team at Coca-Cola, at Ralph Lauren. And that was really cool because I, I of got, I started to realize that he didn’t want to do want to do like sales so much as very like, basically like really get invested in starts to make a relationship with a new advertiser client and then kind of just like abandon that relationship and try to sell services to another advertiser and prospect.

[08:10 – 09:47] And so with that, I realized that I really liked digging in and doing the planning and executing and the testing. And so I wanted to move in-house. And so, you know, I got some more exposure from like SEO and kind of beyond just display digital marketing and then was able to, to get a pretty great opportunity with a InsurTech company called suretybonds.com, which was actually bought up by Houston Casualty Company, which was then bought up by Tokyo Marine. And so they’re a pretty big insurer. And so it was like a startup inside of a big enterprise company, which was great exposure. And so I was the CMO for that company and it was a startup. I was CMO for the startup inside of that, you know, giant conglomeration, but it was a great experience to kind of see just two different worlds collide and how an acquisition happens, you know, and, and what that looks like and how they operate together cause they really tried to grab us up. They bought the company further growth opportunity and the digital kind of, you know, ability to, like, create demand online and then was, actually my, my most recent posts was adequate and share, which is a YC company. And so I, you know, whenever I went on there, you know, for me, I knew very much say, the title change was not, I don’t totally care about titles either. And you know, the steam, I was, had a list for a much smaller company. The company was valued closer to like under 10 million. And so the company that I was going to is in the hundreds of billions. And so I said, you know, I like to, I’d say, very aware of, kind of where I am in the scheme of things. And so that’s actually led that company to their latest series D so we passed that $2.5 billion valuation earlier this year.

[09:47 – 09:47] Wow!

 

[09:47 – 10:17] So yeah, that was some crazy growth. If you want to talk about scale, there’s lots of tales of scale inside of that company for sure. But it was an awesome experience. And I think I’m still kind of recovering from all that, that crazy growth, but yeah. So now I’m at FinTech and like you mentioned Tillful and we’re kind of trying to do it all over again. So I’m excited to see where we can take it again, early stages, really kind of where I like to lay that. I think it’s the most exciting, I think it’s where I can add the most value and impact at this point in my career. So yeah, just kind of keeping on, keeping on.

 

[10:17 – 10:31]  So, early-stage Tillful, how long has, well first, what led you to Tillful? Did you know the founders, because it’s, it’s actually owned by a company called Flowcast?

 

[10:32 – 11:41] Yeah. Yes. Correct. So LinkedIn InMail recruiter, actually. Oh, wow. I won’t deny. Yeah. If you, I’m sure, you know, it’s kind of weird in the LinkedIn DMs, you know, it can be legitimate up until that point. I mean, I haven’t, I’ve seen some opportunities come through that were relatively like, you know, they weren’t, they, weren’t legitimate, but this recruiter was really good. You know, she just spoke very well. I kinda knew that, like I was coming up to my four years of equipment share and, you know, I kind of felt like I had done my part there and I was vested and everything like that. So it seemed like a good time to transition, but I wasn’t really looking, per se, for a new opportunity. But, yeah, I, you know, I met the founder, you know, again, there’s always, there’s more opportunity and, and again, kind of just whenever I started with equipment share, it was like the 126 employees. And when I left, it was like, you know, close to 1600 employees. Yeah. It was, it was a lot of growth and yeah, it was kind of just time for, you know, a new opportunity. I really liked the brand development. I really liked crafting more of that messaging and creating that brand equity. And I think that that really happens more at the earlier stages.

 

[11:42 – 11:50] So can you tell us what is Tillful and at what point, when did it start and at what point did you get involved in its early stages?

[11:50 – 12:52] Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, Flowcast is the company. So the company that, you know, employees need proper, is going to be Flowcast and Tillful is a product of Flowcast, a little bit. Flowcast actually launched out of StartX, which is, kind of to, to, to Stanford in terms of it’s an accelerator, that’s got some ties and associations, I believe, whatever. I’m trying to think where Stanford is. In California. In California generally, but yeah. And so our founder, he went to, you know, Berkeley. He’s Berkeley, MBA grad and kind of founded the company. It was very much of an AAL AIML [Artifical Intelligence Markup Language] company focused on credit risk assessment. And so they launched Flowcast really focused on, you know, the data science aspect of it, and really kind of like machine learning and got a lot of opportunities with, you know, some really big clients right off the gate, like Hitachi, Nike, actually still one of our clients on the enterprise side.  Standard Chartered as well.

 

[12:52 – 13:39] ING is actually, we’re backed by ING Ventures, but they’re also, you know, one of our customers too. So we have a lot of really great exposure to the enterprise, like big, large financial banking institutions for like doing financial risk modeling, kind of seeing like with vendors that they’re more likely to repay, you know, kind of what the risk is on taking on certain aspects of different areas inside of these big businesses when it comes to risk assessment and credit risk. And so that kind of evolved into, okay, how can we actually leverage all of this, like a really great, you know, machine learning technology to impact the world better. And it really kind of led us to the SMB market. So, you know, when you talk about Tillful and really the best way to describe it is the “credit karma for small business.” If that helps a little bit better.

[13:37 – 13:40] The credit karma, is that what you said?

 

[13:40 – 13:41] Yes.

 

[13:41 – 13:47] And I know I’ve, I’ve heard of credit karma, but can you remind me? Sure, yeah, yeah.  What is it again?

 

[13:47 – 14:41] So credit karma was a, you know, it was a consumer FinTech that was really pop…well, it’s still popular and it really kind of focused on just consumer finances. So providing, you know, access to, like, financial literacy for consumers, for consumer credit. And what NerdWallet is, is another good example. And what Tillful does is provide access to your credit, poor credit score, but we have our own proprietary credit scoring method first for business credit scoring. So right now, you know, if you are on the consumer side of things, you don’t really have, there’s a pretty good standardization kind of set up, that it’s going to be FICO. You know FICO, if there’s Equifax, things like that. Whereas the business credit, it’s kind of a wild, wild west there’s DNB, which is fine, you know, Experian as well, but they’re, they’re not really like the gold standard.

 

[14:41 – 15:52] And so they also require you to pay for your credit report and score. And we’re pretty big firm believers that you shouldn’t have to pay for your own data for consumer, if you need access to recover and report and score, like you can get that for free once a year, then, you know, that’s what you’re allowed to do by, you know, just like the federal regulatory standards. So in business credit is kind of a black box and we were really trying to make that black box not so black because there’s a lot of gatekeeping to opportunity, we believe, when it comes to business credit. And there’s the underserved markets that live, you know, in minority-owned businesses, the Hispanic, the, you know, Latin X, black communities when it comes to access to credit capital and to financial literacy. So we’re really trying to bridge that gap. You know, I think it’s really easy to make money when you start with money and it’s very hard to make money when you don’t, it’s much harder to make money when you don’t come from money, if you will. So we’re really trying to make that credit invisible, you know market credit visible through products, through, free resources and through, you know, empowerment through technology as FinTech.

 

[15:52 – 15:54] Okay. I have so many questions.

 

[15:54 – 15:58] It’s a lot of information I know.

 

[16:00 – 17:02] And this was why I wanted to talk to you so badly because I can remember clearly several years ago when I needed capital for, I had an idea for a software and I had, I met my patent attorney and he was trying to help me figure out some sources through the SBA for funding. And I remembered having a conversation with him way back then. This was like back in 2008. And I was like, you know how there’s like a personal, you have your personal credit score? Is there such a thing as a business credit score? And so I did, you know, I knew about Dun & Bradstreet that, your DNB number, but I never understood how it was calculated. And I didn’t know if that’s what banks and other creditors, business creditors, is that what they actually look for? So if I’m, if I’m understanding you correctly, it sounds like, with what you all are doing at Tillful is you are creating something equivalent to a FICO score, but for us. Yeah. For biz. Okay. Got it.

 

[17:02 – 17:47] Yeah. Yeah. It’s like, you know, it’s one component, it’s not terrible. I, you know, whenever I think about it, this estimate is, is kind of a good way to look at it, you know, before there was market data, that was kind of, you know, again, gate kept behind different MLS things and like you’re a real estate agent, but you know, Zillow really kind of changed in brought a lot of transparency to like home values because they’re aggregating so much data and we’re doing the same thing. And, you know, my husband is actually a, he’s a mortgage loan officer and we kind of get into it a little bit sometimes because he’s like, you know, Zillow estimate can be off. And I go, actually it’s like less often you probably think because they have more access to data than anybody does in any one place.

[17:47 – 18:29] And the same kind of goes, you know, for us as well. You know, there’s a lot of, like, we offer and facilitate funding as well through different partners. So we do have, like, a funding product in addition that if you are looking for business funding, you can come to us and you can kind of, kind of get in the door of knowing your business credit score through our platform. Then you can kind of gauge whenever it would be a good time to kind of go in and grab that funding based on where you are on this, on, on the Tillful scoring spectrum. And then, you know, when it comes to funding, we work with all the different lender partners. So we can actually, we’re a better choice to kind of go through because we’re a marketplace model for the funding side of things as well.

 

[18:29 – 19:00] So we can get you better terms, more aggressive rates, as opposed to, if you go to, like, the bank and just get an ask for a loan, they’re going to like, you know, pull your credit. They’re going to look at you and they’re going to be there. If they don’t approve of you, then like, you paying your score, you’ve kind of like, and then you’re just like, okay, I guess, what am I going to do now? And, and we’re really trying to change that because that’s just, it’s, doesn’t, it’s not very, it doesn’t put the business owner and entrepreneurship and job creation first. It just kind of puts the people that are there holding the capital, the lenders first. And we’re not, we’re not a big fan of that.

 

[19:00 – 19:35] So, Amber, again, so many questions that I have for you each time you say something, I think of, I think of like at least five more questions that I want to ask you. So going back to the score, I know from experience just in trying to apply for capital over the years for, for my company, that they do ask for access to your personal, for me as the founder of the company, they want to have access to my personal credit history. Does the Tillful score, does it ask anything about a founder’s personal credit?

Source: Tillful.com/How-It-Works

 

[19:36 – 20:31] It’s really based on the business credit profile. So we really try to kind of stay away from that. I mean, I think it’s also, there seems to be a lot of conversations though, you know, especially on social media, there’s a lot of this kind of, like, hustle culture out there. That’s telling people, you can get like a GUI again and use, like, a text section of the business. And so, you know, I think that what people need to remember though, is that from an underwriting perspective, from somebody that worked in InsurTech, you know, you do have to remember that anybody that’s going to lend money. The smart thing for them to do though, is to look at you and say, are you actually somebody that is, is creditworthy? And are you, what is your credit risk profile? So I think you can’t, you’re never going to be able to say that the idea is to say, get somebody off the ground and start to grow.

 

[20:32 – 21:12] You know, you have your personal credit and that kind of is your home, your house, your life, whatever you’re doing on your personal credit cards for your own life. But then if you have a business entity that, and if you bring on partners and if you bring on those people, you can really start to send those into different directions because they are two different entities. So we’re trying to, kind of, create that foundation for that education. But at the same time, you know, we, the bigger value profit that Tillful brings is we actually pull in alternative data. So alternative data means like bank transaction data. And so currently the way that a lot of these, like, you know, credit scoring models work on the business credit side is that they just look at like static points, like certain like five, you know, a handful of points.

 

[21:12 – 21:47] Like how long have you been in business? You know, X, Y, and Z, but we actually like pull in your, your bank cash flow, kind of like, how are you actually spending your money on the regular and looking at AIML models to say like, okay, actually this person is more creditworthy than they’re probably getting credit for it because they’re paying their bills on time. They’re, they have a regular flow of cash there. Their bank accounts are jumping up and down. There’s revenue coming in, you know, they’re, they’re pretty, they have, they’re good for it if you will. And so that’s, that’s the difference between the Tillful score and a lot of what, you know, the stuff like the DNB and, Experian does as well.

[21:48 – 22:09] I think that’s really helpful to know, because so often also for us, small business owners, everything is about that bottom line. What is the profit or loss? What is, you know, is how much equity is in the business and what’s the cashflow, what does the cashflow actually look like, but, but it sounds like you all are actually looking at… (inaudible)

 

[22:10 – 22:12] There’s actually what happens in between, you know.

 

[22:12 – 22:34] Absolutely. There’s so much that happens. So I’m really glad to hear that. I’m also curious to find out more about how Tillful actually gets access to that alternative data that you were just describing. But again, let’s wait until we talk about how Tillful actually works. For now, let’s go ahead and take a quick break to hear a word from one of our sponsors.

 

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[23:49 – 25:09] Before the break, Amber, you were starting to tell us about Tillful and what it actually is and how you all aim to become the gold standard for business credit scores. I’d like to now shift the discussion from what it actually is to how it actually works, because as you know, having access to capital is absolutely necessary to grow and scale any business regardless of industry or sector. So I’m hoping we can also talk about this as in the process of describing how it works. I’m hoping we can talk about it from a business infrastructure perspective. And so for those of you who are listening to the show for the first time, business infrastructure is a system for linking the people, the processes and the tools and technologies that you have in your company to ensure that growth can happen not only in a profitable way, but in a sustainable way as well. So we know what tilt is now at this point. Amber, can you explain to us from the moment someone goes to the website and signs up to create a free account? What happens next?

 

[25:10 – 25:55] Yeah. Absolutely. So, you know, whenever you, you can just visit Tillful.com T I L L F U L dot com. And you can just click on the button in the top, right corner, sign it for free. You know, there’s, there’s this, prompts, you know, kind of throughout the website, as you kind of want to read more, if you’re not quite ready and just want to learn a little bit more there’s, you know, resources in and more, you know, educational information on how it works and what it is all throughout the website. We’re constantly looking to update that, you know, as we grow and as we get more feedback from our own users, which is, or, you know, pretty significant or growth. So we’ve only been around for a little bit over a year at this point. And every day we’re adding thousands of more users. Wow. And so that’s really great to see.

Source: Tillful.com

 

[25:55 – 26:47] Yeah, and a lot of it’s just driven, you know, a great deal of it’s being driven by, you know, word of mouth, which is a great testament to our product. And we’re, we’re very focused, product development engineering teams, marketing is very focused on, you know, providing value to users. So you can see that reflected all throughout, you know, the website and in our app suite as well. So you can go onto the website, you can also download it on the app store if you want to, but typically the users it’s usually kind of signing up online and then they’re, you know, probably downloading that later. That’s typically how I would do it is kind of what we’re seeing as well. And then you essentially, you, you’re getting prompt right away to search for your business. So, you know, this is for, this is really for someone who has already established and registered, you know, their, their business, whether that’s a corp or LLC, and then you can find it in our directory.

 

[26:47 – 27:39] So right away essentially helps get you connected directly into that. And we kind of feed your business info into your account by going about it that way. So you can search for your business and then sign it for free there, signing it for free has no impact on your credit score, whether that’s personal or, or, or a business credit. So you just kind of put in your information, it’s a pretty short, short form there, and then you’re basically signed up. So, you know, we definitely don’t share any of your information where you take data privacy and security extremely, extremely seriously. We definitely don’t sell any of it. That’s something that is really one of our core values. As a company, we have a very esteemed set of post-doctorate data scientists that are much, much smarter than I am. And so that is one thing that we’re really cognizant of.

 

[27:40 – 28:31] And so really the value is though, is that actually, the best way that you can get the value out of Tillful is when you connect your accounts via Plaid. So, Plaid is an even hyper-secure and of standard for connecting different bank accounts to see if you log into, you know, like make America, Capital One, you know, all the major large banking institutions that if you’re ever looking to kind of send money, you know, it’s kind of that, backend standard, that’s kind of trying to connect a lot of these like closed banking environments. And so we’re using Plaid, to connect that data. And then essentially what happens then is that we can start to generate (you) a Tillful score. And so the Tillful score is really the value prop of that, it runs on a zero to a hundred spectrum the same as, like, a Paydex as well.

 

[28:31 – 29:16] So you can kind of compare notes and the difference in the value that’s there is having alternative data like we talked about earlier that can feed into that score. So it’s looking at cash flow again, it’s looking at not only payments made on time but trends in different patterns that would really give you that leverage. And so we really see credit as leverage, not something that should be a gatekeeper to opportunity when it comes to like growth capital into credit access. We really see it as something that if we always kind of say, you know, you should be getting the credit that you deserve. And there, you know, there’s kind of a duopoly there, marketing things, but, it really rings true because we think that there’s, there’s so many other things that, you know, business owners are out there doing, they’re making payments on time.

 

[29:16 – 30:06] They’re also ensuring that their cash flow is positive. They’re, you know, raking in income and, you know, maybe they do have access to, to capital and credit products, but because somebody typically is only being able to access their credit report and score and financial health kind of on a point by point basis, cause they’re going to like check it or it’s whenever they think that they want funding, they might be eligible for more, for more credit products and opportunity to that capital. Well, before they kind of think they need it, or maybe oftentimes when it’s too late, you know, they kind of get in a crunch, things like that. And also, you know, even if you don’t really need, you know, a specific amount of set capital at any given point to, to kind of grow or operate, by opening up lines of business credit, you actually are able to build your score that way.

[30:06 – 31:00] And so by building your score, you know, just in the same way that consumer and personal credit works, the higher your score, the better terms, the better rates, the more aggressive essentially it puts the, it puts things in your favor and it comes to like going into an agreement with a lender, because if you’ve got a 750 to 800 credit score, if you’re going to go get a mortgage, you’re going to get a better rate. And that’s the same thing with business credit. So whenever we talk about business infrastructure, I mean, there’s, there’s really that whenever you’re, you know, kind of just recapping kind of what that means, you know, this Tillful is kind of like your, your portal to business infrastructure. It’s, it’s actually the nexus of that because it is, it’s your financial, it’s your business financial health. And, you know, it’d be the day businesses operate to generate profit and they’re there to, you know, create income and to create monetary opportunity and to make a profit.

 

[31:00 – 31:46] And so really the Tillful product is to ensure that your financial, your business, financial health is, is always top-notch, it’s always what it could be. And it, it really, you know, it’s kinda that underdog story, it helps empower business owners to know what’s going on with their business. Let us know if your score changes, you know, really, if you’re a business credit score and your business credit report, anything happens on it. You really don’t have a great way at the moment to really know that, now with personal it’s, it’s much different. There’s a lot of people that have conquered that. And so, yeah, we’re really just trying to bring that to the business credit space, because I feel like it’s, it’s a bit of a black box when it comes to business credit and we want to bring transparency and inclusion to, to that entire landscape so that, so the more people can enter it and there’s, it’s a more fair and equal playing field.

 

[31:47 – 32:19] That was great. Again, this is a theme now with our interview, I have so many questions listening to you. So I’d like to go back to the point in the process. You were just describing Amber, when you mentioned connecting your accounts via Plaid, is that ultimately how Tillful is getting access to what you’ve been describing as that alternative data? So for example, so many of us, small business owners, we use QuickBooks, would we somehow be able to connect our online QuickBooks account with Plaid?

Source: 345.technology

 

[32:19 – 33:36] Yeah. So at the moment, it’s just Plaid, but we are actively pursuing further integrations that can help take into account your creditworthiness and how we can tweak and adjust our modeling, on the data science side too, to see how that can impact. But do you want to be a bit cautious about adding things in, even though, you know, that would be great. We, you know, when it comes to like modeling scores and, and, and it comes to like people’s financial futures, you know, we want to make sure that we’re, we’re doing a lot of that, that back in due diligence to make sure that that’s something that, that would actually determine creditworthiness. So always identifying patterns, the data science team has got a lot in development right now in R and D. And so we’re looking to push out more and more as we can, you know, right now the model is based on a very core set that kind of came from infancy, but it’s always evolving. So we look forward to adding in more things that score that can, that can take into account because we know that there’s tons more, you know, different things that business owners are using all the time that would really contribute to that. What, what does credit, what does creditworthiness mean? What does borrower risk mean? And is person, you know, less of a risk or more of a risk than, than we actually think by, by looking at, you know, things like you said, like QuickBooks.

 

[33:37 – 33:44] And I’m just trying to envision not having seen the form yet, but I’m definitely going to be signing up as soon as this interview ends, but also…

 

[33:46 – 33:48] I’d love to get your feedback and we’d love for you to join.

 

[33:49 – 34:29] Absolutely, absolutely. I’m so fascinated by this for obvious reasons, because again, you know, I, I have, an access to capital need right now, but I’ve always traditionally me personally, I’ve always traditionally gone through the SBA and especially because of the pandemic, that’s when so many of us who had been cut off from capital in the past, we found that we all of a sudden had, were able to get access that we could not get access to before. So that’s been one good thing that’s come out of the pandemic, but I’m also imagining that you would connect things like your, you know, information about your different credit cards, maybe existing loans that you have in progress.

[34:29 – 35:19] So, whenever the Plaid connection really is connecting to your business bank accounts. And so that’s, that’s kind of the, the hub of where anything would come in or out of, right. So basically home base, you know, for a business. And so whenever you kind of connect your Tillful account to your, your big account, that kind of creates that connection between in and out, if you will, and then kind of monitors that. So you can really look at, you know, Tillful as a financial, you know, business financial management platform as well. I mean, that’s, it’s a lot of how people are using it. It’s an ongoing monitoring system for your businesses, financial health, whereas like your bank account, your business bank account just kind of tells you, like, what’s coming in and out. It doesn’t tell you, you know, kind of, oh, wow, your spending is, is a bit you’re kind of spending seems to be a bit up or down.

 

[35:19 – 36:07] And so we were really looking at patterns and trends and, and trying to kind of be that watchdog on your behalf because business owners are busy. You know, they’re running around all the time. A lot of, you know, some of their employees have access to their accounts on their behalf. And so there might be things coming out, you know, vendors, it’s input and output all the time, you know, with cash flow. And so it keeps an eye on that. And the other big development that we made with Tillful earlier this summer was that we introduced a Tillful funding. And so we’re, we’re integrating, you know, as we collect more data just, you know, on our own and looking at how we can burn more value to business owners beyond the score, and also improving the score and that modeling as we go, we’re also looking to add more products.

 

[36:08 – 36:55] And so, you know, obviously business funding is a big area, you know. And so we are actually taking a look at those scores, kind of seeing, like, where they are in their business, how much income they generate. And then based on that information, you know, serving up recommendations for, you know, credit cards, business credit cards from our partners. So we have a network of like over 40 really well-vetted, lending partners and FinTechs and, and different, you know, small business, players of knew well that, that we very much take a hard look at before we making a sort of partnership with them to introduce to our typical users, because, you know, that’s the big responsibility that we definitely take seriously and making sure that we’re always adding value to any of our users, you know, just day-to-day lives when it comes to business finance.

 

[36:55 – 38:01] And so we do have our first, you know, certain credit card offers that you wouldn’t really necessarily see if maybe you were just like on the internet kind of browsing and it’s, it’s based on your Tillful score, but we introduced… Okay. …more in-house, it’s not, we’re not actually providing the business funding, so it’s not something that we’re writing, but we have a dedicated, you know, team that is, got tons of experience on the, on the business funding side of things as is as at either previous lenders for small businesses or they even small business owners themselves that actually guide you through, you know, the funding options for you, if you are looking to take out some business funding. And so the benefit of, of going through a, till, you know, going through Tillful funding. So if you’re just like in your, in your account, there’s prompts if you want to, if you’re ready to apply for funding, or maybe we’ll, we’ll kind of take a look and we’ll prompt you through, you know, application or through an email, essentially kind of letting you know, Hey, it looks like this might be a good time to apply for funding is actually, we are pulling from our marketplace of funding partners.

 

[38:01 – 38:47] And so you’re not getting a hard credit pull again, it’s a soft pull, so it’s not gonna affect, you know, any of your scores, you know, on, on any of the other platforms or, you know, for, any of the major reporting credit agents, credit bureaus. And so, where you have a funding advisor, so they’re walking you through that the entire time they’re trying to go out and basically scout the best possible funding options for whatever your needs are. And so, you know, we have access to a number of different funding products too, not just like, you know, just loans or just, MCA or things like that. So I think that’s really, you know, another cool, exciting thing is that, you know, if right now, if you kind of go to there’s regional bank, their underwriting isn’t great.

 

[38:47 – 39:31] They don’t have that. They’re just a bit, you know, dated in terms of kind of like what they’re willing to take on there. They’re really kind of looking at very, you know, old school type of factors that, again, aren’t super accurate when it comes to accessing credit worthiness and they, they, you might not get approved. And then you’re kind of hit with this credit hard credit inquiry on your business and, and things like that. And then you’re kind of just like, oh, wow, like what do I do now? And then you might go online and look and apply for some of the, you know, the online lenders. And then if, if you’re going and doing that, you’re just going to one place or, thus, if you go to Tillful, we’ll, we’ll shop the market for you figuring out what the best possible opportunity is for you in terms of credit products and, and funding opportunities.

 

[39:31 – 40:18] And we’ll recommend that, and guide you through that process the entire way. And then the last thing I wanted to mention is, a very, very new development is the Tillful card, which is a credit building card. And we actually are wanting that, before the end of the year. And we have a waitlist open right now, and we’re really excited about that because we’ve essentially designed a card again, that ties back to our entire mission of basically just helping people get credit and build credit. And so the Tillful card essentially is a secured card. And so every single transaction, especially if you’re just starting out and you’re trying to establish business products, you just haven’t done that yet. You know, we really wanted to figure out a way that we can, how, how can we help people invest in themselves and in their business, even if they’re just starting out as opposed to taking on the risks.

 

[40:18 – 41:08] So we’re trying to curtail the risks very much on, just getting started, kind of side, when they’re trying to build up, because it’s credit because you can’t get credit if you don’t have credit. Right. And so that card is, is going to be reporting to all of the major agencies that kind of are the, you know, the well-known, if you will, centrally 0% APR, it is, the payment terms are much better than a lot of the similar, there’s only a handful of credit builder cards out there, but they’re a bit misleading in my opinion, because they are, you basically have to pay them daily, which is like the same thing to me. And so that the payment terms are much more favorable. They’re monthly. They’re not, you know, daily or weekly, and it starts out as this credit card. So very similar to some of the things that the secured card, credit building products that you see on the, on the consumer side.

Source: Tillful.com/card

 

[41:09 – 41:54] And it also has big rewards, you know, cashback. We also have, like, our best feature: pick the rewards that we think small business owners are most inclined to, to want. So it’s not, a lot of credit cards offer, like, rewards, but it’s like I have, you know, a handful of them as well. And I’m a bit of a point tucker for (inaudible). Like, I don’t even, like, want that, like if it’s not a reward to me, if it’s not actually valuable. So we’re looking at like, you know, gift cards to Staples and Office Depot and Amazon and BestBuy, places that small business owners are going for their needs and Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, a lot of different ones too. So, yeah. So that’s kind of a quick Roundup. I know that’s a lot of information. There’s a lot, there’s a lot going on over here.

 

[41:54 – 42:13] I’m over here trying to keep up with you. So something else that’s come to mind as something that I would be remiss if I didn’t ask. Now we have listeners in several different countries. Does Tillful only work for companies in America or businesses that do business in America?

 

[42:14 – 43:15] If you are registered in the U.S. as a business at the moment, but we definitely are not looking to exclusively stay, you know, in the US only, you know, to kind of like long-term and looking at the long game, we definitely talked about, you know, going well beyond the US and so, you know, navigating those different, financial economies can kind of, kind of be tricky, but at the same time, you know, we’re very well positioned to do it just considering, you know, our, our background and our context. We have a lot of experience in the APAC region and also in Europe as well. And so, our entire team is located, our small team is located over, like, I think it’s like something like 15 different countries right now. So we’ve got, yeah, we’re super diverse, you know, highly inclusive, and a very geographically diverse team. And so we have, we’re not just like a US-based team. And I think that positions us to, to actually take on that challenge more so.

 

[43:16 – 44:30] Absolutely. And I’m also thinking, you know, our, our theme for this particular season is all about game-changing technology, right. And I’m thinking as a, as I’ve been listening to you, Amber, to me, in my opinion, not only is the technology that Tillful offers a game-changer in and of itself, but I think also just getting those small business owners who might be listening to this right now to start adding a credit score, the business’s credit score as yet another metric to start actively monitoring. So we’re so used to always looking at, okay, what is the bottom line? And we can become so focused on that, that to your point, we lose sight of some of the other things, like what is, what’s our actual credit worthiness. So it’s yet another important factor, that in my opinion, needs to be monitored just as religiously as some of these other factors, like, you know, cash flow, equity in the company, you know, did we operate at a profit or loss? What was our EBITDA, all of those financial metrics, right? We need to start adding this as yet another one of those crucial metrics, because as my mother would always say, or always told me growing up, you never need it until you need it.

 

[44:31 – 46:29] Exactly. Yeah, exactly. And that’s kind of what we’re, we’re looking to just help business owners get out in front, you know, cause now they’re kind of trying to run to keep up with the system that, you know, especially a small businesses, you know, the margins are thin and the competition is, is more than ever, especially with more online shopping and these big-box retailers they’re of course, they’re, they’re going to be able to, to compete more aggressively because they have the resources. And so we’re really trying to empower small businesses with resources and, and, when it comes to your business, your financial, your business financial health is, is the lifeblood, right? And so if you need to, you know, whether it’s supply chain things, especially with a lot of stuff that’s going on right now, you know, just getting difficult. And so it’s tough because you know, these small businesses are getting squeezed and they shouldn’t be, you know, and, and it’s a tough, it’s hard to, to kind of seek for a pandemic and kind of be put in these impossible situations.

And, and the SBA, you know, they really did come through the great thank God for the PPP funding, you know, and that, that helps a lot, but a lot of that stuff is, is running out. And, you know a lot of, you know, buying behaviors changed during the pandemic, you know, just kind of what people decided, movies, kind of thing. Not that exciting more is certain things that get people out and going around into their local communities, where they live and reside, which are so critical to the business infrastructure of the national economy. They, if they can’t compete because rents are driving up and things like that. And, you know, we, we just want to help them to stay, not only survive, but thrive because when you’ve got a small business, that’s thriving, you know, everything is thriving. And so we’re really looking to help, you know, this post-pandemic world we’ll have, I don’t even know for post yet, but like post early pandemic world, really trying to help, you know, business, stay afloat, provide that financial literacy and get more people to, to stop, you know, kind of join in that great resignation.

 

[46:29 – 46:37] It’s like, you don’t have to work a nine to five. You can do whatever you want. And a lot of times people don’t end up doing that because they don’t know how, and they don’t have the means to do it. And it’s out there. There’s tons of it. People are getting on all the time. We think everyone should have access to that.

 

[46:37 – 47:36] Well, I applaud everything that you all are doing. It’s so needed. And especially with, you know, speaking of the great resignation, that’s a huge factor in the labor shortages that we’re seeing. And I just had this conversation with a friend yesterday because so many people are quick to say, well, people are just being lazy and they don’t want to work. And so we’ll know a lot of people started well, you know, that’s part of it, but there are a lot of people who started home-based businesses. And to your point, Amber, they realize, okay, I can do this. As long as I have a good laptop, I have access to high-speed internet. I can, I can do this business remotely. And then for those companies that are losing employees, they need access to more capital so that they can invest in certain technologies to maybe automate certain tasks that before people, actual people were needed to do. But maybe now robots can do that work. I don’t know. The point is…

 

[47:36 – 47:44] There’s definitely a shift happening for sure.

 

[47:44 – 48:31] Yes. And we, I think we were all just being challenged to figure out how to be more creative in how we get things done, but you have to have the capital to make a lot of that happen. You can have all of the ideas in the world, but if you don’t have access to that capital in order to actually execute on those ideas, then you know, it’s, it’s kind of in vain. I know we have to start wrapping up here, but I must ask you, because one of the, as you described the process, you mentioned the importance of, you know, once you finally figure out what your score is, let’s say, if someone looks up their business credit score through Tillful and they find that it’s a 65 and they want to, maybe their goal is to get to an 85 over the next four to six months.

 

[48:31 – 49:03] Are there people at Tillful that, you know, certain, that your users can actually connect with or do you suggest that people reach out to, you know, whoever their local banker might be their CPA? I’m just trying to get a sense of who are the people that you would need as a business owner, that a business owner would need to surround him or herself with to keep an eye number one, on monitoring the score. And then secondly, to make sure that you can improve it and have, be as creditworthy as the business can possibly be.

 

[49:03 – 50:09] Yeah, absolutely. You know, usually, you know, so what Tillful is, is doing is, is going to be doing more and more of, you know, in a much bigger way as we, you know, grow, grow, the platform is serving up those actionable tips. And so, you know, whether that’s through Tillful products or other, you know, just other things that you can be doing, you know, similar to what you see kind of on the, on the personal credit side of things, whenever you’ve bought these free platforms that are offering really, really awesome tips that are just based on your account and your unique kind of credentials in that account for how you can improve it, you know, big thing and that’s another reason why we’re looking to introduce the Tillful card. And we’re super, super excited about that, is because there’s lots of things that you can do, but this is actually more of an expressway to do that because it’s a thing that right away directly correlates to building credit. Whereas, but also beyond, you know, Tillful, you know, plugging Tillful, you know, we, we do have, well (inaudible) Tillful again, but we definitely do have, you know, tons of free resources on our website, on our blog.

 

[50:09 – 50:58] You don’t have to be a user to read them, obviously, but we take our editorial, our editorial standards for anything that we put on our website and anything we put on our blog are extremely high. I do have a chase school, a journalism degree. So I think that that is kind of playing into it. And, you know, a lot of our editorial team comes from, you know, FinTechs, former FinTechs as well, too. So what we know is that we can’t grow and really do this and be impactful if we don’t earn and provide or earn our users’ trust and, you know, keep that trust and also provide value. And so we definitely want to be the guiding light that helps kind of break down a lot of things and stuff is confusing, you know, and a lot of the stuff that we’re kind of finding out there where like, I don’t understand this, like, this is, this is confusing.

 

[50:58 – 51:54] And so we’ll look into that. And like, you know, we’re always looking at, like, what are people searching for? What are related questions to those questions? And we’re seeing something that we could actually be writing about that could be helpful. And so we’re doing super long form guides, how-to, you know, breaking down the difference between like, you know, good loans for bad credit, you know, best year business credit cards, you know, different things about trade lines, really trying to dig into it, you know, and our, our founder or CEO is obviously also a business owner and he’s got an exceptional amount of, you know, finance background as well on the corporate side and the lending side. And, you know, our CFO has got, like the CPA, CFA, and a lot of other different, you know, C, acronyms that I’m unfamiliar with. And also we have a highly rigorous editorial process, but beyond Tillful, you know, SBA obviously is everything that the SBA puts out is obviously great.

[51:54 – 52:41] You know, I think what SBA has trouble with is visibility. A lot of, a lot of people just, don’t some, you know, their Twitter, I highly recommend following their Twitter, and setting up notifications. If you’re a business owner, I have them turned on and, and this stuff that you can miss, if you don’t have that, like, there’s all these opportunities, grants, the IDL things, things that are a little bit more obscure, but could be very well be things that you could apply for and qualify for, but you just might miss it. And, you know, I think local, the local SBA is, it kind of depends on what, where you are and who you are. Some more smaller communities. You know, I live in a pretty decent size, you know, American US City, if you will, you know, we’ve got like over, you know, 200 something thousand people there it’s a bit SBA here.

 

[52:41 – 53:35] It’s kind of kinda like, where is it? So I think it really depends. And a lot of it depends on the people that are, that are heading up those as well. So, you know, always checking on their website. They’re, they’re getting, I wouldn’t say that they’re, they’re definitely trying to be, you know, more innovative as well. You think you can kind of see that with the new administration coming in. I know that was a big thing. When the Obama administration put in place that they really wanted to like, reach more people and they did, they really invested a great deal into digital platforms, into digital communication. And I think that there’s a lot of great things that you could see, you know, sending it for their email alerts as well. It’s fantastic. And there’s a lot of, you know, again, kind of looking back on like, you know, or who are other great resources kind of beyond those, like, you know, obvious, the more obvious ones like the SBA, you know, I, there’s two, two influencers I would recommend highly following.

 

[53:35 – 54:21] And, by influencers, I mean they’re really just, you know, kind of business credit kind of gurus. They’ve been in the space for a really long time. You know, they, they both come from, you know, eh, they’re definitely more on the minority-owned business owner side of things. And one is Sierra Nicole Official. She is one of our partners and she’s been one of them for a long time. And I would only recommend them. I’m definitely not, there’s definitely no kickbacks going on, but I monitor her content all the time ‘cause we’re partners with her. We work together really closely and everything she puts out. It’s fantastic. And there’s also Irv, it’s Irv official so if you just Google Irv Official, I R V, he’ll come up and then Sierra Nicole Official. Those are both and that’s S I E R R A. So those are really good.

 

[54:22 – 54:23] Is that on Twitter or Instagram?

 

[54:23 – 55:08] They’re kind of everywhere. They’re mostly, Instagram is a good one. They also both have YouTube and then Tiktok as well. So if you kind of Google either one of those they’ll come up pretty easily. And so, yeah, and I can, I can send those and share those with you as well, too, if that’s helpful, but, you know, there’s, there’s different. Those would be great resources. Those are the ones, you know, right up the gate, SBA ourselves, our, our channels as well, are always going to be in, we’re every day trying more and more to put out content and social media. That’s, that’s informative and not just like fun and, like, cool looking. And so that’s, that’s always, one of our goals is always just to inform and to provide value when it comes to like our outward-facing content.

 

[55:09 – 55:25] This is all fantastic information. And I really appreciate you sharing all of these resources. We’ll definitely make sure we have links to everything in the show notes for this episode, but before we officially wrap up Amber, what’s the best way for people to connect with you?

 

[55:26 – 55:51] Twitter, is probably a good way, the same way you did it your way. I mean, you can always, I implore people, you know, to email me at amber@tillfull.com. I, no problem being, putting my email out there totally fine with me and I can help answer questions and, you know, we’re, we’re always looking to help. And so, yeah, anyway, I’m pretty, findable on the internet. If you, if you just kind of looked me up.

 

[55:53 – 56:38] Yeah. And we’re going to definitely do our part to make sure that we have, you know, if people just, again, click on the show notes for this episode, they’ll be able to quickly find where they can find you on Twitter, LinkedIn, all of these other social platforms. And I noticed you also have a profile on Product Hunt. Was it Product Hunt? No, I’m sorry, Crunchbase. Yeah. Crunchbase. Oh, yeah. Tillful has, Tillful itself has a profile on Product Hunt. So we’ll make sure we have links to all of that information. Listen, everyone, you know, normally I would try to recap some of the key things that you’ve shared. It’s been such great information. I don’t want to keep you any longer. I know I’ve kept you long enough than we both originally planned anyway, but it just means Amber that we probably need to have a part two of this conversation.

[56:39 – 56:55] I’d be happy to do it. (inaudible) I so appreciate you having me on, Alicia. It’s been wonderful to chat with you. I know there’s, there’s a lot, you know, everyday we’re, we’re pushing out, we’re really just getting started. So we can’t wait to bring you guys more.

[56:56 – 57:49] It’s awesome. And please, you know, feel free to reach out. You are welcome to come back anytime, seriously, because this is so it’s so big. It’s such a, you know, I knew it would be impossible to try to fit everything right into an hour or less, but I think you’ve done a fantastic job of telling us, explaining to us first, what Tilfull is and how it’s giving, it’s kind of leveling the playing field, giving people access. And that’s what this podcast is all about. You know, I always talk about things from an operations standpoint, but you’re so right, Amber, that so many people, they just don’t know. And unfortunately the SBA with the government, they’re lacking. So a lot of times the private sector we will find will almost always outperform the public sector when it comes to doing certain things, this being one of them advertising the money that’s actually out there.

 

[57:49 – 58:29] It’s always interesting to me whenever I read these articles and they mention things like, oh, there are millions of dollars that go unclaimed every year because people don’t apply. And it’s like, well, because people don’t know about it. So that’s why Tillful is so needed. It’s so timely. And I’m just so happy that we were able to make this interview happen. We are going to have, again, access to all of the resources that Amber shared on our website at Business infrastructure.TV. You can also click the link in the description box, wherever you are listening to this episode right now, Amber, it has been a pleasure. Thank you so much for coming

 

[58:29 – 58:35] Thank you so so much. This has been wonderful. I really appreciate it. So great to connect with you. And I look forward to just staying in touch.

 

[58:36 – 59:16] Indeed. Again, everyone. One more time, check out Businessinfrastructure.TV. Sign up for your free Tillful account, hey, it’s free. I mean, what’s, what’s the harm in that and start figuring out your business’s creditworthiness. You’ll also find more information about our sponsors, when you support them, it helps us keep this show free for you. Thank you so much for tuning in. And of course, for being a loyal subscriber. Remember, stay focused. Be encouraged. This entrepreneurial journey is a marathon and not a sprint. And make sure you keep operating as good on the inside as you look on the outside until the next time.

174: Benjamin Shapiro Reveals How Monday.com Streamlines the Operations Behind MarTech Podcast

This Episode is Sponsored By:

                                                                                     

Benjamin J. Shapiro produces and hosts not one, but two, top-charting podcasts – MarTech and Voices of Search. Considering his success, it’s hard to believe that none of it may have happened were it not for the rejection he faced right after college as a door-to-door salesman.

That rejection, coupled with sales training, eventually led Ben to eBay. Working at the e-commerce giant gave him exposure to startup culture. Inspired, he found himself leaving there to start his own company. This is when he began learning about integrating technologies as a non-technical founder.

With his previous sales experience and his newfound interest in using technology in marketing, Ben later started a consulting firm. He started the MarTech (marketing technology) podcast as a way of meeting new potential clients. 1,000 episodes later, the podcast has taken on a life of its own!

In this episode, Ben details how he and his team landed on Monday.com as their platform of choice for automating and streamlining the operations of two daily podcasts. He also gives a candid account of the amount of time it took to set up their workflows on Monday.com. There’s even a healthy debate about whether processes should be documented prior to selecting a digital technology.

Mondays don’t have to be the most dreaded day of the week. Listen and be inspired to use Monday.com to give you and your team a level of workflow transparency to look forward to!

 

Special Guest: Benjamin Shapiro, Founder, Producer & Host –  MarTech Podcast

Location: San Francisco Bay Area, CA  USA

Air Date: November 7, 2021

Show Notes:

Websites:

  • Benjamin J. Shapiro’s Consultancythe website home to Ben’s consultancy specializing in brand development, growth strategy, and MarTech for early and growth-stage businesses.
  • Follow MarTech Podcast on social!  Facebook   Instagram   Twitter
  • G2.com: an online platform designed to help consumers and businesses alike search, buy, and review technology based on data in real-time.

Podcasts: 

  • MarTech Podcast: a show that tells the story of world-class marketers who use technology to generate growth and achieve business as well as career success.
  • Voices of Search Podcast: “Discover actionable strategies and learn ways to gain insights through data that will help you navigate the topsy-turvy world of SEO & Content Marketing.”

Software:

  • Monday.com: the software that powers the back-office operations of the MarTech and Voices of Search podcasts. Monday.com is a workflow management and automation platform that integrates with several apps so that teams can easily track projects and manage tasks.
  • PipeDrive: an all-in-one CRM and sales platform designed by salespeople for salespeople. Track the various stages of your pipeline based on your sales process and close more details through greater visibility.
  • Salesforce: a cloud-based, integrated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software that brings companies and customers together.
  • Marketo: an Adobe software designed to “…develop and sell marketing automation software for account-based marketing and other marketing services and products including SEO and content creation.”
  • Google Data Studio: an online tool for converting data into customizable informative reports and interactive dashboards to drive smarter business decisions.
  • AirTable: a web-based platform for building collaborative applications that break down silos and sync data across teams.

 

Related Episodes: 

  • Episode 056: The One Thing You Need to Know About Podcasting with Doug Sandler
  • Episode 094: Retooling Operations for Customer Success with David Ellin
  • Episode 168: Alicia Butler Pierre and Kate Erickson Discuss the Workflows and Operational Excellence Behind Entrepreneurs on Fire
  • Episode 170: Tracy Hazzard Explains How Podetize Uses ClickUp to Scale Up Their Operations
  • Episode 172: Dean Hamilton Describes How to Streamline Repetitive Tasks with Robotic Process Automation

 

Like What You Heard? Please Leave a Review on Apple Podcasts

                                         

Subscribe for FREE Wherever You Listen to Podcasts, Including: 

    

              Castbox                                  

 

Credits_______________

  • Writer, Producer & Host: Alicia Butler Pierre
  • Podcast Editor: Olanrewaju Adeyemo
  • Video Editor: Gladys Jimenez
  • Transcription: Jodie Maquiran
  • Sponsors: ThinkSmart Whiteboard, CavnessHR

 

More About Guest, Benjamin Shapiro:
Benjamin Shapiro is a brand development and marketing strategy consultant that left a successful career in business development at eBay to become an entrepreneur that has run a bootstrapped startup, multiple marketing teams at early-stage VC-backed companies, and an independent consulting and content business.

Benjamin specializes in helping growth-stage companies understand how to identify the overlap between corporate identity and customer needs to build an effective marketing strategy. He’s the host of the MarTech Podcast as well as the Voices of Search podcast, which is a daily SEO and Content Marketing show.

 

 

More About Host, Alicia Butler Pierre:
Alicia Butler Pierre is the Founder & CEO of Equilibria, Inc. Her career in operations began over 20 years ago while working as an engineer in various chemical plants and oil refineries. She invented the KasennuTM framework for business infrastructure and authored, Behind the Façade: How to Structure Company Operations for Sustainable Success.  It is the world’s first published book on business infrastructure for small businesses. Alicia hosts the weekly Business Infrastructure podcast with a global audience across 53 countries.

 

 

More About Sponsor, ThinkSmart Whiteboard:
Thinksmart Whiteboard is a Windows App that turns your Tablet PC into a shared whiteboard. It allows you to create a whiteboard on your computer screen, then allows other people to write onto your whiteboard, even if they are in another location! Learn more.

 

More About Sponsor, CavnessHR:
CavnessHR delivers HR to companies with 49 or fewer people through a voice enabled AI platform along with access to a dedicated HR Business Partner. We do this while taking care of our own employees and customers, maintaining transparency, utilizing active listening, practicing empathy, and being valued members of our communities.

 

 

Transcript: 

[00:15 – 01:14] Hi, I’m Alicia Butler Pierre, and the clip you just heard comes from a cult business movie classic, Office Space. Although the movie came out in 1999, hearing that line about having a “case of the Mondays” still cracks me up. Let’s be honest. Mondays are dreadful for many of us, but they don’t have to be. And I wonder if that’s part of the lure behind the workflow productivity tool, Monday.com. They’ve reclaimed what’s for many of us the first workday of the week and transformed it into something to look forward to. Their technology is changing the game for so many small businesses through its project and tasks, synchronization, tracking, and automation features. We’re about to find out why having a Case of the Mondays might be just the thing we need to streamline our operations.

This is Season 14, Episode 174. Let’s start the show!

[01:15 – 01:37] Welcome to Business Infrastructure, the podcast about curing back-office blues of fast-growing businesses. If you’re a business owner or operator looking for practical tips and solutions to scaling your business in a sustainable manner, you’re in the right place. Now, here’s your hostess, Alicia Butler Pierre.

[01:38 – 03:23]  Having a tough time, trying to explain ideas over a video conference? Try the ThinkSmart whiteboard. It’s the fastest whiteboard software in the world and allows you to upload flow charts and write on them while your colleagues are watching remotely. Call us today for a free demo. The number is 1-866-584-6804 or visit us online @getmytablet.com. Now that’s smart, ThinkSmart.

This episode is brought to you by Equilibria, Incorporated. Scale your fast-growing business with less pain by hiring the right people, implementing the right processes and leveraging the right technologies. Learn more eqbsystems.com.

All right, everybody, as you know, it’s Season 14 and our focus is on game-changing technology and who better to school us in this area than Benjamin Shapiro? Ben is the Founder and CEO of a brand development and marketing strategy consultancy. And he’s also the host of two extremely popular podcasts, MarTech, as well as, Voices of Search. The MarTech Podcast is a show that tells the story of world-class marketers who use technology to generate growth and achieve business as well as career success. Ben is joining us from the San Francisco Bay area in California. One of the most beautiful places on earth, just my opinion. Ben, welcome to the show. I’m so glad we were able to finally make this interview happen. How are you?

[03:24 – 03:33] Alicia, I’m thrilled to be here. And I couldn’t agree with you more, San Francisco Bay area. It’s beautiful as, as much as people complain about it, it’s not a bad place to be.

[03:33 – 03:39] It’s not, but you know, I must say the weather is different. I’ll just say that.

[03:40 – 03:42] I feel like 84 and sunny.

[03:43 – 04:04] So, here’s the thing, just, just a real quick aside. So my sister lived there for a year. She was on Market Street. Isn’t that like one of the main streets? Okay. So I have never been somewhere…this was like in May and literally you’re walking on one street, you’re burning up and then you turn a corner, walk down another street and you’re freezing cold!

[04:05 – 04:34] A couple of fun, a couple of fun facts about San Francisco. Sorry to interrupt you. Mark Twain has the famous cold, coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco, which is factually correct. And because of the fog belt, summer is actually the coldest season of the year. And now it’s a little windier and it’s more wet in the winter, but technically the average temperature in the summer in San Francisco is colder than the rest of the year.

[04:35 – 05:10] Wow. Yeah. So, now that I, now that I’ve been there and I know better, yes, exactly. Dress in layers. Exactly. But, nonetheless, it is truly a beautiful place. So I’d like to share with everyone Ben, how we met, we met unofficially, I would say, this is our first time actually having an opportunity to talk to each other, but we’ve, we’ve met through the HubSpot Podcast Network because I believe our shows MarTech, as well as, as this show was part of the initial six shows.

 

[05:11 – 05:25] Founding members. I think there were seven of us, but I think that Entrepreneurs on Fire was like three of them because that’s so big. And John does such a nice job that, you know, I count as a half he gets three.

 

[05:29 – 05:37] But what’s funny is, I think you and I were already connected on LinkedIn before this network.

 

[05:37 – 05:38] This conversation was just meant to be.

 

[05:39 – 05:60] Yeah. So, you know, it all kind of came full circle. Now I’d love for you to talk to us a little bit more, before we get into, you know, some of the different technologies. Obviously you have a show all about technology, marketing technology to be exact. Can you tell us a little more about the MarTech Podcast?

 

[06:00 – 06:59] Yeah, absolutely. I guess the history of the MarTech Podcast, I was running an independent marketing consulting business. I focused on helping early and growth stage, primarily Silicon Valley VC backed companies figure out who they are from an identity perspective and how to cultivate marketing channels. And, all of my business came from networking, right? I would download my LinkedIn contacts, find their email addresses if I didn’t have them already, reach out to them and tell them the type of projects I was working on. Try to find business. And so everything I was doing was very much centered around email outreach and, and, you know, using a CRM, we used a tool called PipeDrive. And after about three years of consulting, I kind of ran, ran into the end of the rainbow. I just didn’t have any new contacts to reach out to. So as an experiment, I started the MarTech Podcast figuring that it would help me in a couple of different ways.

[06:60 – 08:32] One, the people who I wanted to have as my consulting customers, I could interview and offer them a speaking opportunity on a podcast that was industry-specific and also, you know, relevant to the consulting services I was trying to sell. And two, hopefully, I would grow an audience because the people I wanted to have as my consulting customers generally have pretty big social followings that also were in the same area. The experiment totally failed. The podcast did much better than I ever would have expected. And because the audience was growing so quickly, I never really tried to do the lead generation business development angle for the MarTech podcast. And so, you know, after a couple months we had a couple thousand downloads after a little less than a year. We were over 10,000 downloads a month. And so I kind of just kept my chips on the table talking to great marketers and we hit the iTunes Top 200, within the first year for marketing shows. Wow. Interesting thing happened. We started, instead of having to reach out to guests, they started finding us because we were in the, you know, the Podcast Top 200. So guests started reaching out. And the next thing you know, I had a, you know, these really sort of top tier marketers reaching out to be a guest on my podcast. And I decided to make it a media business instead of lead generation for my consulting practice. And now I’ve been doing it. We’re actually about to hit our 1,000th episode at sometime this month.

 

[08:32 – 08:33] Wow! Congratulations!

 

[08:33 – 08:37] A couple of years of producing a daily show now.

 

[08:39 – 08:45] Daily? Yeah. See, I couldn’t tell by looking at, so I was at, I was actually at the MarTech website.

 

[08:46 – 08:50] Yeah. MarTech, MarTechpod.com. Hopefully that’s true. There’s a lot of MarTech websites.

 

[08:51 – 09:08] You’re right. It was Martech. It was definitely the website for your show, but I couldn’t because I was listening to several of the episodes, but I didn’t have an appreciation for how many episodes. So I’m glad you pointed that out.

 

[09:08 – 09:17] You know what I’m looking at? We actually, we were going to do something special for our 1,000th episode. And now I’m realizing that today’s episode is 1002. So I guess the ship has sailed on that. Hey, everybody we are on the 1,000th episode.

[09:20 – 09:21] You can do it retroactively.

 

[09:22 – 10:20] I know.I missed the 100th episode too. It’s a problem when you pump out a lot of content quickly. Right, right. The trick there, and this is great for content creators that are thinking about how to scale a content business. When I sit down for an interview, what we’ll do is we’ll record multiple episodes at once. So we found that, you know, we were starting to lose people’s interest after 20, 25 minutes. And so I’ll record for an hour with someone. We’ll have a couple of ads, probably five minutes of ads total throughout the podcast. So I need to record 18 minutes of content while I can get three episodes out of an hour. And so when we have our guests come on, we’ll actually record three different topics in three different episodes. So I don’t have to schedule meeting after meeting, after meeting and do five interviews a week. I really only have to do two. And then we republish old content that we feel like is evergreen on the weekends. So, you know, we cheat a little bit, but

 

[10:20 – 10:48] No, that’s brilliant because you never know when someone is going to tune in. So that’s actually really, really smart. But as I was reviewing some of your information online, I noticed that you did go to Boston University, you have a degree in Business Administration, and it looks like your career started as in sales, as a Sales Trainer. And then eventually you worked in a management position at eBay. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

[10:49 – 11:45] Yeah. My first job out of college was glorified door-to-door sales and I’ve positioned it on my resume to be sales training, but it really was like a multi-level marketing, like the worst first job you could imagine from a credibility perspective, I was like getting thrown out of small businesses, trying to sell phone service. But I learned a lot of really important life lessons, not only how to deal with rejection, but also, you know, the basic principles of sales and persuasion and understanding what a bullet is and how to put a rebuttal together. So learning sales was a very important skill. It was a tough first job to have. I worked my way from that company into a marketing role at a sports marketing agency. I was living in Dallas, Texas. I’m an native Northern California, and I loved living in Texas, but there’s only so much light beer and football I could watch.

[11:45 – 12:39] I was like, super heavy and it just wasn’t the best lifestyle for me. So I needed to make some personal changes. And so I came back to Northern California and, you know, it’s where my, my family and kind of my network is. And, you know, worked my way into a relatively entry-level position at eBay, doing account management and spent about seven years at eBay, going from an account manager on the internet marketing’s business development team, into managing strategic relationships for eBay, between eBay and some of the big portals and partnerships. So at the time, it was like Yahoo and Facebook as they were coming around and, and some other Google, as well as some other big partnerships for mostly fixed placements. So things that are on the internet that don’t move. So if there was like an eBay module on the Yahoo homepage, I was managing some of those relationships.

 

[12:39 – 12:52] Would you say, Ben, that that’s when you first started to learn more about the technologies, the digital technologies that are out there to streamline different marketing workflows and processes?

[12:53 – 14:08] You know, no, I wouldn’t. I think at eBay, I learned about the business and about business models and, you know, kind of the understanding of how to set a strategic relationship between two organizations. All the BD stuff was really useful. I had to leave eBay. I always wanted to have one of those cool startup jobs that all the cool kids were taking while I was at eBay, I was in my mid twenties and everybody I knew that was really good and smart was like going to these sexy startups. We all wanted to be the next Mark Zuckerberg at the time. Now I wouldn’t want that job if you paid me a billion dollars, too much pressure. So at the time I couldn’t get a startup marketing job because people looked at my resume and said, big company guy that does business development. I didn’t have hands-on experience. So I ended up leaving and starting my own startup, which was a guitar lesson marketplace called strumschool.com. And, that’s really where I started to learn about weaving the technologies together because I am a non-technical founder. And so I couldn’t just build it. I had to find other tools that could communicate with each other. And that’s really where the kind of background in MarTech started.

 

[14:08 – 15:21] Speaking of things integrating together and weaving the technology with the marketing savvy that you already had up to that point…something that I think is, that’s worth noting before we get into the technology that you’re going to talk to us about, which is Monday.com, but something that I listened to, and I think it’s worth pointing out here. It was an interview you had on your show on, on the MarTech podcast, Dr. Dwayne Furan, I believe is how you pronounce his last name, but you made it a point to define what MarTech actually is. I mean, obviously it stands for Marketing Technology, but what I have here, what I wrote down for what I ascertained from listening to you is that it’s, it’s really about marketing technology is really about how you connect different data sources together to streamline your marketing efforts. So to your point, you may not have a developer skill set for example, but you know, that workflow and what that workflow needs to look like. And then it’s just a matter of finding the right technologies and making sure that they can integrate seamlessly with each other so that this workflow becomes turnkey. Is, is, is that, did I…

 

[15:22 – 15:23] That sounds really smart, Alicia.

 

[15:26 – 15:29] Well, there’s some, there’s some of me weaved into there, Ben.

 

[15:29 – 17:38] Okay. That explains it. I definitely didn’t use the word “ascertained,” which was before I…sure let’s roll with that. I, you know, I think there’s kind of two definitions of MarTech that people use. I think the classic definition of MarTech people think of marketing operations, which is how do I get Salesforce to talk to Marketo and make sure my connectors are set up. And they’re like, basically engineers that work in the marketing team or product managers that work in the marketing team to make sure that there’s these, you know, big data flows and that all the data is correct and accurate. My approach to MarTech and the content that we create for the MarTech Podcast is much more broad and it is the use of technology to market your products and services. And so that’s not just purely how do the connectors work between the tools, how do you take, you know, what, Facebook calls a click and get it into Google analytics and then feed it into Data Studios?

 

So you can actually see data that, you know, is reconciled. You know, it’s everything from Salesforce to Snapchat. However, you’re using a technology source, which can be a social media, can be an email marketing tool, a CRM, there’s out of home, you know, technologies that are really interesting. It’s the sort of evolution of technology and data being integrated across all different marketing channels. And so we cover a lot of brand stuff. We cover a lot of various, you know, social media, you know, what’s the technology behind Tiktok and how do you use it? What’s the data that you get from Tiktok? How do you figure out if it actually works? Just as an example, we actually haven’t done a ton of Tiktok content, we probably should. But the moral of the story is we take a broader approach of the use of technology in marketing, as opposed to just, you know, how do you get your connectors to work and make sure the flow of data and the pipes are working. It’s not marketing plumbing, it’s a strategy and a philosophy of marketing.

 

[17:39 – 18:11] Not marketing plumbing. I like that. So I know just, you know, we were talking before, before we started the interview, Ben, and you mentioned the success that you’ve had with Monday.com and speaking of workflows and the use of technology to market your products and services. So are you using Monday, are you and your team using Monday.com primarily to manage your podcast? Or is it also for your consultancy as well?

 

[18:12 – 19:08] You know, the podcast ate the consultancy. I do a little advisory work and consulting, but I’m not an active consultant as in, people don’t hire me now to come into their company and work on a project for, you know, six weeks to six months. I don’t do that because I’m so busy with the content production and the ad sales and the sort of media business. So it’s easier to describe myself as a Marketing Consultant cause people know what that is as opposed to a new media business owner, like people just kind of [think] a podcast host that doesn’t sound like a real business. So nothing personal. It says one podcast host to the next podcast. Sorry, everybody. So yeah, we use Monday, for the vast majority of our business. There’s not a lot of consulting work that goes into it, but we do it for a whole bunch of different things.

 

[19:08 – 19:54] I actually have it open in front of me. And I’m just looking through the different workspaces that we have. We kind of have everything broken into five buckets, there’s business operation, content production, audience growth, sales development, sponsorship management, and then a list of future projects that we haven’t got to. So, you know, there is projects, assignments, workflows, and automation from everything to who wants to be on the podcast, to who’s accepted, to how do we communicate with them? How do we publish their content all the way down to, who are we selling to? How do we grow our audience? What ad campaigns are we running to make sure that our sponsors are happy? We really use Monday comprehensively across our whole media business.

 

[19:55 – 20:31] And before you start to get into any more details, which, which are great, by the way, why don’t we go ahead and take a quick break, hear from our sponsor when we come back, I definitely want to learn more about some of the different people on your team and that overall process for how you even set up Monday.com and how long did it take you all to set up that workflow. And obviously, it’s an iterative thing, right? You’re constantly making tweaks and adjustments, but initially when you first started using the tool, I definitely would be curious to know how long it took to actually set all of that up. But let’s go ahead first and hear a quick word from our sponsor.

 

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[20:38 – 22:16] Okay, Ben, so you were just starting to get into some of the nitty-gritty details about Monday.com and how it’s, it’s been a game changer for the way you all operate on the back-end for not just your MarTech podcast, but I would imagine for your other shows as well, right?

 

[22:16 – 23:23]  Yeah. You know, there’s a philosophy that I have. I worked at a productivity startup, a company called handle.com, or I guess it’s now handle.app, I think, but the idea was that there’s a better workflow where instead of living in your inbox and just managing people, requesting your attention constantly, you can connect your emails to your task list. So when you get an email that needs to be a task, you can swipe once and it’s in your list of all of your tasks. It is also connected to your calendar as well. So the reason why I’ve mentioned this is that what I was trying to do with Monday was consolidate not only the list of sort of projects that we had, but also create a task list. So on a given day, I could look at a glance and say, okay, here’s what I need to do for content production, ad sales, sponsorship management, my marketing responsibilities for the show, my strategic decisions, my everything. We originally were using a tool called Airtable, which I loved.

[23:24 – 24:16] I honestly think that Airtable has one of the best user experiences in UIs, any sort of product management tool. I loved Airtable super fast, super, very intuitive, wonderful tool. We used Airtable for at least a year, maybe two, while we started running the podcast and we hit this point where the business started to grow and we started doing difficult, more complex things. And it was just hard to keep track of, well, how many episodes do I need to work on? And, you know, I could hand them to the editor, but, you know, he wasn’t sure when he was supposed to do which episode. And then I also had to do all these sales calls. And when do I follow up with the leads that were just the task list got really long. And it was spread between having to read Airtable, going into my CRM, having separate lists for tasks and strategy.

[24:16 – 25:29] And so what I wanted to do was finding something that, find a tool that enabled me to not only have everything in one place that the consolidation factor, it, it would allow me to automate some of the responsibilities who does what task and when, but it would also give me a very clear list of what me and each person on my team needed to do. And so that to me was the big differentiator between Airtable and Monday. Honestly, at first I thought Monday’s UI was a little kind of elementary and a lot of bright colors. It was a little overwhelming at first, but once I kind of got everything set up and was able to, you know, customize it to, I guess my color palette, it became a little bit more digestible. And there’s some really rich features that are there, not only with the sort of like spreadsheet edification of what we were doing, that’s kind of what we were using Airtable for, but the ability to not only create automations, you know, when an episode is marked as interview recorded, notify my editor, that he is responsible for this task and set the deadline for three days from now.

 

[25:30 – 26:25] And then when he marks it as editing completed, tell the writer to write the show notes and mark her due date as three days from now, and also communicate with the guest that the interview has been edited and here’s the files and here’s that how they can give us feedback. So a lot of those various responsibilities get complicated, not only from a people management, but from a timing perspective. So we were building out these sort of complex automation rules, very similar to like what Marketo does, but a lot of it was internal communication, not external, not, “Hey, when a website visitor comes to the website, fire off this email,” but it’s basically, “Hey, when a piece of content hits this stage, this guests needs to be notified with this email message and this person needs to do, you know, this next hack to make sure that we have our production line constantly moving.”

[26:25 – 27:32] And we’re able to hit our publishing schedules because it’s a daily beast, we’re publishing content seven days a week, and we need to keep track of all of it. And we’re still doing ad sales and sponsorship management and got to market the show. So a lot of marketing automation that went into it, and then the best part Monday for me, the big differentiator was there’s a view that’s called My Work. It used to be called My Tasks, I believe. And it gives you a clear view of what’s due. Now what’s coming up, what’s overdue, what doesn’t have assignments, what doesn’t have dates. So I can glance over at my, My Work section and actually say, oh, you know what, I need to work on the deadline funnel ad for this week because you know, it needs to be optimized. And then tomorrow I need to record another ad for HubSpot because their October ad is due and I need to fly it before the end of the week. So, it gives me a sense of, you know, where I am in space and time from a work perspective. And, you know, that’s what, what I feel like is, is really powerful. It’s more of a, like, business operating system to me than it is a marketing automation tool.

[27:33 – 28:42] Speaking of a business operating system that is such a great segue to defining what business infrastructure is. Because as I’m listening to you, Ben you’ve touched on some of the different people, you’re talking, you’re really describing a process or a workflow. And you’re talking about the technology itself, which are the three main pillars of business infrastructure. So for those of you who might be listening to this show for the first time, business infrastructure is that business operating system that Ben is mentioning. It’s a system for how you link your people, your processes, and your tools and technologies to ensure that growth happens in a profitable and sustainable way. But perhaps most fundamentally it’s giving you that foundation. And speaking of foundation, Ben can you talk about the importance of first before you even start to set something like Monday.com up, you need to have, I would imagine a very clear idea of the information that needs to go into a tool like that and how you’re going to organize it. Can you talk about that a little bit?

 

[28:43 – 28:49] I know it’s your show, I’m going to disagree. Really? Apology, Are you ready? I hope you don’t, don’t fire me. Don’t hang up.

 

[28:50 – 28:57] I’m not gonna fire you or hang up. We can, we can have a debate. You can have an idea. This is healthy, it’s healthy.

 

[28:58 – 29:50] Most of the time, I would say, I was going to say, most of the time, you’re wrong. That’s not true. Most of the time, most of the time, I’m wrong. And I will create a board or a workspace on Monday, Airtable, ClickUp. You know, there’s all sorts of different infrastructure tools that you can use. And I’ll put all of these columns and it’ll be all this data. And I realized that I don’t use half of it and I just got tired of it and deleted it. Cause it’s, it’s just taking up too much space. And then often what ends up happening is, you know, the core things that were in that board, obviously stay there like for, I’m trying to think of an example that I can give you in our content production board, right. When somebody goes and fills out an application to be a guest on our podcast, we get a bunch of information from them.

[29:51 – 30:42] And then, you know, we enrich that. So somebody might like, give me their Linkedin profile and then my team is going and looking at how many LinkedIn followers they have to understand how much that potential guest could share the content we would create with them for, with their audience and how big that audience is. They’re going to serve as a marketing vehicle. We’ve got like 45 different columns of information in the content production boards. And there’s three different statuses at every given time. We have two people that are responsible. There’s a production responsibility and comms responsibilities. There’s six different dates that people are responsible for. It’s really complex stuff. There was no way on earth I would have sat down at first when I was creating the MarTech content production board and said, well, here’s the 45 columns I just need.

 

[30:42 – 30:51] No, of course not. No, but you, I would imagine you, you had to, okay, well, yeah. I’m sorry. Please go ahead.

 

[30:51 – 32:12] No, but here’s why this disagreement is like, in a way, it doesn’t really matter what you put at first, cause you’re going to get it wrong. what matters… That is true. …and you use it. And the more that you use the actual boards and build the processes in, the more that you iterate to make sure that it works and that, you know, we’ve got 68 automations in our content production board alone. Wow. That’s just to get somebody from being, you know, asking to be on the podcast to getting the content published. 68 automations. Wow. You know, look, that took three years to develop. If someone buys the content, you know, or, or my company, they’re not buying me, I’m a talking head, like there’s a million of, you know, there’s even two Ben Shapiro’s that are podcasters for god sake, right. Like I can be replaced, the infrastructure and the content processing work that we put in, like to me, that’s what the core IP of what we’ve done. Sure. There’s the content.. Yeah. …of the audience that we’re building. But the thing that I’m the most proud of, one of the things that I’m the most proud of from a business perspective, is how rich the system that we’ve built is because we’ve nickeled and dimed and tweaked and turned on it, for three years.

 

[32:13 – 32:39]Sure, sure. I should clarify. So what I, what I’m really getting at is having a foundation. You start somewhere, to your point, and of course, it’s, it’s an iterative process and of course, it just expands and it blossoms as it should, you know, because you’re, you’re continuously growing and scaling, but so no, you definitely wouldn’t start off, you know, sketching out 45 different columns of information…

[32:40 – 32:43] Look, I’m trying to be a little controversial, provocative, I think.

 

[32:46 – 33:27] But I’ll give you an example of, like, you know, we have this rating column. When I do a podcast, I would go and give it a one through five rating to be like, how good did this interview go? Thinking it would be useful that we only want to pull out the best content that we do. And, you know, when I do a five star rating, three is average, five is exceptional. Four is better than average. Two is worse than average. One is bad. And like, I was putting everything between two to four, I would never use the one and I would never use the five. Now that column is basically worthless. Almost everybody was like, it was a pretty good interview. They’re all, not they’re all the same. Like some are better than the others, but it wasn’t like, oh, this interview is a star.

 

[33:27 – 34:14] And this one stayed while I spent all this time building this column. Now it sits there. I just delete it, get rid of it. You don’t need it. It wasn’t serving a purpose. It was more work. And so the more you spend time on these boards, you know, the more useful they become. And I don’t think that is a Monday.com specific thing. I think that it is operational, if you’re looking for figuring out what tool to use, find out something that you feel comfortable with that allows you to have some flexibility. And the other thing is you have to, here’s my favorite catchphrase. You have to plan, to make a plan, right. You have to spend time to work on your infrastructure to evaluate what’s happening with your workflows, so you can figure out how to make them more efficient. So that’s what I mean by plan to make a plan.

 

[34:15 – 34:30] Sure, sure. And now you mentioned 68 automations. Can you share with us some of those automations? I know you mentioned the importance of being able to consolidate, you know, a CRM project management tool.

 

[34:30 – 36:28] I’ll read to you the last five we created. Okay. When writing summary completion states arrive, stage arrives, push upload date by two days, that’s one. When production stage changes to content upload, set upload date to today and push date by one day. I’m not going to read them all, but… Right, right, right. …they’re all like little microtasks. Okay. And really the way that all of this stuff works. And my whole philosophy on automation, you start with doing something that’s not scalable, right And, and this even goes out to the emails that we send and some of our email automation and outreach, if you’re sending the same email multiple times, and you’re, you know, you’re always saying the same thing, write it down once, use it as a template, and then automate the process of replying to that email. Whenever anybody emails me and says, I’m interested in being a guest on the podcast, I’ve got a template that I send to everyone, everyone, literally, it doesn’t matter who they are. That says you might be a great guest for the MarTech podcast, here’s our process, go to this page, fill out the form. And if you’re interested in sponsorship, here’s the link to block off time to talk about that. The more that you start doing repetitive tasks, the more there is a need to figure out a process. And most of these tasks are very, very small things. I don’t want to click this button 10 times a day. How do I just make it, so this button clicks itself and that’s what Monday and Airtable and HubSpot, as well. Like all of these tools that are about automation, whether it’s business infrastructure, or marketing should be the things that, you know, you are going to do that you’re already doing. And you’re just using these systems. So you don’t have to do things manually. You’re only doing the stuff that really requires creativity and thought. And then you build enough infrastructure over time that your business kind of runs itself.

[36:29 – 37:15] And I like how you’ve been very strategic about inserting the word infrastructure throughout your explanation. I appreciate that. Thank you, Ben. Now speaking of, you know, you know, you mentioned Airtable, you’ve been talking in great detail about Monday.com. You’ve mentioned HubSpot as a CRM solution. Are there any other resources that you can recommend to those listening right now, who may be thinking, okay, well, wow. It sounds like what Ben and his team have set up regarding Monday.com is great. How do I even get started? Are there some other resources that you recommend from a marketing technology perspective that they can also maybe look into or leverage before they set something like a Monday.com up?

 

[37:17 – 38:05] We kicked the tires on ClickUp as well. We didn’t have a great experience with Clickup. I found the product, the UI was nice, but the product was too complicated. And we just felt like Monday was a little bit more user-friendly and allowed us and our whole team to be able to grasp how to use it. There were just too many bells and whistles getting in the way for me for ClickUp. And so, you know, I think that you need to know your team, your level of expertise. You could probably do all the same things with all of the platforms, you know, like I liked Monday because of the task manager capability that might not be important for you. You might not run your business or your life that way, you know and so that was a feature that was very important to me generally, you know, you can go and get great information at G2 and do some of your product comparisons there.

[38:06 – 39:03] There’s no getting around that. The onboarding process is hard. Getting your board setup is hard, doing migration of all your data is hard. It requires time. It requires work. So if you’re gonna take on this infrastructure, it’s going to set you back. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take effort. It’s going to be distracting from other things. You’re not going to have, sort of business output right away, because you’re working on the infrastructure more, but it pays benefits over time. So, you know, kick the tires on a couple tools, do some demos, put your data in, see how it functions. See if you can learn the UI relatively quickly, figure out which one you feel the most comfortable with, and then just bite the bullet and roll with it. And, you know, you get better at managing the systems over time, you know, ClickUp wasn’t right for us. I love Airtable. It just didn’t have the task manager. And it was something that we felt we needed. and then, you know, here comes Monday.com and, and it’s been a wonderful tool for us.

 

[39:04 – 39:16] Well, it sounds like you, you, you all are doing some amazing things in, especially for it to, almost be the engine behind a daily, truly a daily podcast, seven days. Two daily podcasts. Two daily podcasts?

[39:17 – 39:19] We got the Voices of Search 12 episodes a week.

 

[39:19 – 39:24] Oh my Gosh, Ben. When do you sleep?

 

[39:24 – 39:55] The truth is I don’t work very hard because I’ve got all of these marketing automation or business automation, infrastructure automation, as you would like to say, all these rules setup. So, you know, I roll in it at nine and I record three, four hours of podcasts a couple of days a week and do some ad sales calls and spend some time doing projects and infrastructure. And I’m out of here by like, you know, 5, 5:30, cause I got to go, you know, help make dinner for the kids and live a bit of a normal adult life.

 

[39:56 – 40:13] Right, right. I hear you. Well, this, this has been wonderful information. Thank you so much for giving us some insights and letting us peek behind the curtain of what it takes to run two daily podcasts. What’s the best way for people to connect with you, Ben?

 

[40:13 – 40:26] I promise, I will tell you the answer to that question, but before you kick me out of here, I’m going to sing your praises. You know, it’s been wonderful to connect with you. And I have to say of the podcasts that I’ve ever been on, I think you have the best voice.

 

[40:27 – 40:45] Oh, Thank you! Everybody tells me how they’re surprised by how conversational it is. And I’m like, well, no, I, I told you that before the show. And they’re like, yeah, but, I still thought it would be more like a true interview. So yeah, we’re buds at this point. You’re not going to get rid of me, at least not easily. So…

 

[40:45 – 41:30] I hope not. And I’m glad the HubSpot Podcast Network connected us. And, to answer your question about how to get in touch with me, you know, the podcast is kind of the primary thing that I’m working on. And so you can find the MarTech Podcast. We should be the first listed. If you just put in the word “MarTech” into any podcast [M-A-R-T-E-C-H] any podcast player you can go to MarTechpod.com, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. MarTechpod @martechpod is our handle, voicesofsearch.com for the SEO and content marketing podcast. Or you can just type in Voices of Search and my consulting website’s still up. If you want personal information or, you know, photos of me, a Benjshap.com B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P  dot com.

 

[41:31 – 42:40] Yeah. And that’s a really nice website by the way. Well, it’s been such a pleasure, Ben, again, thank you so much for taking time. I’m glad we were able to make this interview happen. Now, if you want more details about Ben, the MarTech Podcast, the Voices of Search Podcast, and as he mentioned, his own personal website, as well as links to all of the resources that he’s shared with us, including Airtable, HubSpot, Monday.com and so much more go to BusinessInfrastructure.TV, because we’ll have links to, again, all of Ben’s podcasts, as well as other websites and other links to other resources that he mentioned. Again, that’s BusinessInfrastructure.TV, while you’re there, you’ll also find more information about our sponsors, supporting them helps us keep this show free for you. Thank you so much for tuning in and for being a loyal subscriber.

Remember, stay focused. Be encouraged. This entrepreneurial journey is a marathon and not a sprint. Keep operating as good on the inside as you look on the outside.

Until the next time.

173: How Stephanie Espy Scales Exposure to STEM Careers for Girls via Online Events on Zoom and Hopin

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Stephanie Espy is one of the 19% of women (and 3% of women of color) who earn an engineering degree in America. Growing up in a family surrounded by scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, she considers herself “lucky” considering such grim stats. Lucky because she had a type of exposure growing up that many girls and young women don’t.

After working as a chemical engineer and eventually pursuing an MBA, she decided to start a business, MathSP, a premier STEM-focused academic and test prep coaching company. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Through MathSP, Stephanie blends the skills she learned working in industry with her mission to reach the historically disadvantaged and underrepresented in the educational system.

Her outreach efforts became front and center stage with the premiere of her acclaimed book, STEM Gems. That book soon became a national movement and found Stephanie on stages, in classrooms, and facilitating events.

And then the pandemic happened. Just when it seemed the momentum she gained was in jeopardy, Stephanie and her team quickly sprang into action. They learned how to apply digital technologies like Zoom and Hopin to continue offering their various events and programs.

In this episode, Stephanie, an MIT, UC Berkeley, and Emory graduate, takes us on her career transition journey starting with her passion for figuring out how things work. She then details the process she developed for transforming her once in-person only events to the first virtual STEM Gems Summit. She also describes the team of people behind-the-scenes required to produce online events and how this business infrastructure led to the international expansion of the STEM Gems movement.

Listen and be inspired as you discover exactly how you can also expand your outreach through Zoom and Hopin.

 

Special Guest: Stephanie Espy, Founder & CEO – MathSP; Author of STEM Gems

Location: Atlanta, GA  USA

Air Date: October 31, 2021

Show Notes:

**STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math**

Websites:

  • MathSP: “…a STEM-focused academic and test prep coaching company based in Georgia and serving students and families in-person and virtually nationwide.”
  • STEM Gems Book Club: this website provides information to register for an official book club designed to expose girls and young women to information about women in STEM careers.

Books: 

Articles:

  • The Rip Van Winkle Effect: 11 Tips for Closing the Digital Divide: an article by Alicia Butler Pierre highlighting key lessons learned in transforming in-person events to online.

Software:

  • Zoom: a web-based tool that offers audio and video recording of webinars, conference calls, presentations, meetings, and more.  Also includes screen sharing for enhanced collaboration.
  • Hopin: an online event platform enabling remote events that connect people globally.

 

Related Episodes: 

  • Episode 112: Planning and Conducting Remote Events with Kimberly Fennell
  • Episode 115: Scaling from Zero to 100,000 Active Customers with Tom Kulzer
  • Episode 131: How I Scaled My Technical Fluency Company Featuring Aman Agarwal
  • Episode 138: How I Scaled Outsource Global Into Africa’s Top BPO Provider Featuring Amal Hassan
  • Episode 148: Diversity, Digital Transformation, and Women’s Economic Empowerment with Lily Allen Duenas
  • Episode 150: Diversity, Digital Transformation, and Becoming a CEO in Silicon Valley with Shellye Archambeau

 

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Credits_______________

  • Writer, Producer & Host: Alicia Butler Pierre
  • Podcast Editor: Olanrewaju Adeyemo
  • Video Editor: Gladys Jimenez
  • Transcription: Jodie Maquiran
  • Sponsors: ThinkSmart Whiteboard, CavnessHR

 

More About Guest, Stephanie Espy:
Stephanie Espy is the author of STEM Gems, a chemical engineer, Founder of MathSP, and a Mom. She is one of the women who earned 19% of bachelor’s degrees in engineering as well as one of the minority women awarded 3% of bachelor’s degrees in engineering. She earned a B.S. in chemical engineering from MIT, a Master’s Degree in chemical engineering from UC Berkeley, and an MBA from Emory University. Stephanie is open about experiencing the gender gap firsthand as she’s sat in classrooms and worked in an industry where she can count on one hand the number of women in the room.

Fortunately for her, she grew up with strong STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) influences. Both of Stephanie’s parents are engineers and two of her three siblings have STEM degrees. She acknowledges being “lucky” to have so many role models in her family – she has uncles, aunts, and cousins that are scientists, programmers, engineers, and mathematicians.

Stephanie is now on a mission to increase the percentage of women who earn engineering degrees, starting with her outreach programs to expose young girls to STEM careers and the women behind them. As she often says, “You can’t be what you don’t see.” As a result of her efforts, she was recognized as the #1 LinkedIn Top Voice in Education. With all that Stephanie has accomplished, she insists that STEM isn’t about having a special brain and certainly does not come from a life of privilege. STEM is simply exposure to what is possible and an internal belief that anyone can be a STEM Gem.

 

 

More About Host, Alicia Butler Pierre:
Alicia Butler Pierre is the Founder & CEO of Equilibria, Inc. Her career in operations began over 20 years ago while working as an engineer in various chemical plants and oil refineries. She invented the KasennuTM framework for business infrastructure and authored, Behind the Façade: How to Structure Company Operations for Sustainable Success.  It is the world’s first published book on business infrastructure for small businesses. Alicia hosts the weekly Business Infrastructure podcast with a global audience across 53 countries.

 

 

More About Sponsor, ThinkSmart Whiteboard:
Thinksmart Whiteboard is a Windows App that turns your Tablet PC into a shared whiteboard. It allows you to create a whiteboard on your computer screen, then allows other people to write onto your whiteboard, even if they are in another location! Learn more.

 

More About Sponsor, CavnessHR:
CavnessHR delivers HR to companies with 49 or fewer people through a voice-enabled AI platform along with access to a dedicated HR Business Partner. We do this while taking care of our own employees and customers, maintaining transparency, utilizing active listening, practicing empathy, and being valued members of our communities.

 

 

Transcript:

[00:01 – 01:00] Natural-born leaders have a knack for getting things done. They do this by surrounding themselves with different specialists who are experts in their respective zones of genius. They also know the importance of engineering, the optimal combination of people, processes and technologies as leverage. Hi, I’m Alicia Butler Pierre, and you’re about to hear from someone who’s not only a natural-born leader, but a trailblazer as well. When she didn’t see many resources taking action to increase the low representation of female engineers, she knew she had to do something and she eventually began using some digital event planning technologies to amplify her outreach on a larger scale. And it’s paying off. Those once hidden STEM Gems are starting to shine through. Young girls can now see who they can, one day, be. This is Season 14, Episode 173. Let’s start the show.

 

[01:00 – 01:22] Welcome to Business Infrastructure, the podcast about curing back-office blues of fast growing businesses. If you’re a business owner or operator looking for practical tips and solutions to scaling your business in a sustainable manner, you’re in the right place. Now, here’s your hostess, Alicia Butler Pierre.

 

[01:24 – 03:08] Having a tough time, trying to explain ideas over a video conference? Try the ThinkSmart whiteboard. It’s the fastest whiteboard software in the world and allows you to upload flow charts and write on them while your colleagues are watching remotely. Call us today for a free demo. The number is 1-866-584-6804 or visit us online @getmytablet.com. Now that’s smart, ThinkSmart.

This episode is brought to you by Equilibria, Incorporated, the company behind this podcast, where we design business infrastructure for fast-growing small businesses, ready to scale. It’s season 14, and we’re focusing on game-changing technology and joining us today, also here in Atlanta, Georgia is Stephanie Espy. Stephanie is the Founder and CEO of MathSP and she’s the number one LinkedIn top voice in education. Her mission is to empower the next generation of STEM leaders by inspiring, mentoring and coaching them in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics content and careers. Excuse me. She’s also the author of STEM Gems, a book that has now become a movement. And Stephanie is going to tell us all about that as well as how she’s been leveraging Hopin, as her technology of choice for creating her online events and programs and how that’s helping to keep the operational heartbeat of her company pumping. So without any further ado, Stephanie, welcome. How are you?

 

[03:09 – 03:11] Doing pretty well, thank you so much for having me.

 

[03:12 – 03:3] I finally got you on the show, Stephanie, as long as I’ve known you. And so the podcast is a little over three years old now, but I was trying to remember like, how long have I known you Stephanie? It has been, at least like, it’s definitely been over five years. So maybe six or seven years now at this point?

[03:32 – 03:39] I lost count but I know that you were at one of my very first events and that was, yeah, that was definitely more than five years ago.

 

[03:39 – 04:25] Yeah. And, and just so for those who are listening, the way Stephanie and I met each other, I was working with a publicist and she happened to forward an article to me. And what caught her attention was the fact that you were a chemical engineer. And as I read the article, I thought I have to meet Stephanie, for several reasons. One of course, because you’re also a chemical engineer, but not only that, you’re a black female chemical engineer and there aren’t many of us. And one thing I’ve always appreciated about information that you share are those kinds of stats, I might be putting on the spot here, but do you know off the top of your head, what are those steps again for females, female entrepreneurs?

 

[04:25 – 04:52] I know the stats for women in engineering, specifically for chemical engineering, but women in engineering earning bachelor’s degrees is about 19%. And when you look, when you Zoom in on women of color, or I should say underrepresented women of color is about 3%. So you and I, having earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, represent 3% of engineers.

 

[04:54 – 04:60] Wow. Now, for those who are listening and they may be wondering, what is a chemical engineer? What is a chemical engineer, Stephanie?

 

[05:01 – 05:53] So the easy way to say this, explain it is, obviously chemical engineering. This is a combination of chemistry and math. So my two favorite subjects growing up, chemistry, math. So chemical engineering was a natural career path for me. But when I actually start learning more about what chemical engineers do, I like to equate chemical engineering. So process design and process engineering, creating small scale, large scale processes that involve some sort of chemical. So chemical engineers are in every industry. So it’s a wide range of things you can do with this degree, but, and they are very simplistic terms. I would just say, we’re the brains behind creating and designing a process. So go from, you know, a little bit of something to a lot of something

 

[05:53 – 05:54] Oh, I love that.

 

[05:54 – 06:46] To take something on a large scale and anything that involves chemicals, which most things do involve some sort of chemical. And also just thinking about how do you protect the environment? How do you make sure there is nothing hazardous in terms of working with chemicals? Lots of things can, can really harm the environment and harm animals and plants, and everything’s like that. So a lot of considerations to be made when you’re designing these processes, that is sort of how I define what a chemical engineer does. And there’s a lot of things like heat and fluids and, you know, all sorts of physics, process design, things that happen. So that’s what we do. That’s what I’ve done in my past. And I think about my friends who also studied chemical engineering, very similar in terms of just really designing processes.

Source: processengr.com

[06:46 – 07:19] Yes. As I always like to say, we are the true process engineers, because, you know, there are a lot of people out there that use that term, Stephanie, and they’re not really chemical engineers and I won’t even go there, but it always, it’s a personal pet peeve of mine. When I see people using that term process engineers so loosely, but, check this out everybody…well first actually, before I even tell them about just how amazingly brilliant you are, Stephanie, I just realized, did I ask you to give a stat about female entrepreneurs instead of female engineers?  Is that what I said?

 

[07:20 – 07:23] I think you said entrepreneurs, but I gave you the stats on female engineers.

 

[07:24 – 08:04] I meant engineer. I’m telling you it’s been a very long day. So forgive me for that. But for those of you who are listening right now, let me again, just break down just how brilliant Stephanie is. So she has a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from MIT, a Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley and an MBA from Emory. Stephanie, wow! Now I’m curious, how long did you work in industry before you pursued your MBA?

 

[08:05 – 09:03] That’s a hard question to answer only because I count, like, internships as part of, like working in industry. So, you know, if I had to tell you it all up, explain all the differences, ‘cause I did internships as early as high school, really, but definitely all throughout college and when I was in Graduate School. So, before my MBA, I worked for let’s say three years or so. I, and let me, let me tell you how I decided to make that transition. So, when I was at Berkeley studying Chemical Engineering, I was introduced to a program called MOT, which stands for Management of Technology. And it was a joint program between the Business School and Engineering School. And I’m not sure how exactly I heard about the program, but, but I heard about it in some kind of way. And then I decided I was going to take, you know, to actually go for it.

[09:03 – 09:54] It was a certificate program. So it’s not like I earned an MBA or anything, but it was nice to sort of mingle and mix with the business school students or have them mingle and mix with the engineering students. So I decided to take the classes that I need to take in order to, to achieve that certificate, earn a certificate. And that was my first experience to business, anything business that was like the introduction. My first class was just unbelievably foreign. It was very different from an engineering class and just the way the engineering classes are structured and the way that they’re runs, a lot of lectures, a lot of note-taking a lot of taking tests and doing a lot of problem sets and things like that, where, where the business school was almost, it felt like the complete opposite. I felt being in another world.

 

[09:54 – 10:38] It was a lot more project-based work. Of course, in engineering, I had a lot, I had my lab work, so I was doing projects in the lab, but this was more like kind of working in teams and doing presentations and, you know, case studies and it was just different. And so anyway, that was my introduction to business. It was sometime in those years that I started thinking about, huh, this MBA, I wonder how that would add to my skill set. And I remember talking to my dad about it, who is also an engineer, but also has always thought I would make a great leader. I had done lots of leadership things when I was growing up. I was my, you know, in high school, I was the class president of my senior class. And I have always been sort of a leader of my high school.

 

[10:38 – 11:34] So he always felt like I was a strong leader in that business school and those skills, you know, add to my life in a lot of different ways. So he encouraged me to consider the MBA. And so at that point I was like, huh, should I do this whole like, PhD, MBA thing. Or, you know, it was like a lot of decisions to make at that point, but that’s sort of how the idea of getting a business degree even came on my radar. Prior to that, I had no interest in business and no interest in entrepreneurship, whatsoever. And that experience really changed that for me. And so shortly after I finished Berkeley, I took a couple years and did some very interesting things. We can talk about that product, another conversation. And then I decided to apply to business school. So I did have a break in between Berkeley and then applying and attending Emory.

 

[11:34 – 12:13] And I had some very unique work experiences and experiences in general at that time that really had nothing to do with chemical engineering, but it was, it didn’t prepare me for what was to come. And then while I was at Emory work, my MBA, I did a internship at Merck, which at the time was like my dream job, my dream company to work for, and then accept the full-time offer from Merck and worked full time at Merck for, I think, two plus years, and then eventually left Merck to focus on my business. So that’s sort of how that was.

 

[12:13 – 13:10] And it’s so interesting hearing you say, Stephanie, that you were doing work that had nothing to do with chemical engineering, but it probably did because engineering sets a foundation for critical thinking, which I know is what Math, your company, MathSP is all about. Teaching those critical thinking skills, problem solving skills. And I tell people all the time when they look at me, like, how on earth did you go from chemical engineering to business infrastructure? First of all, what the heck is business infrastructure? But I tell them, I always tell people it’s all about process. And I treasure my chemical engineering background so much because it taught me how to think and how to problem solve and how to think through things logically and methodically. So I, you know, I, you just can’t put a price on that. You really can’t. So, you start MathSP and tell everyone what exactly is MathSP?

 

[13:11 – 14:18] So the SP part is, yes, it is a play on my last name, SP stands for Strategies and Problem solving. So it does have a meaning there. So Math Strategies and Problem solving or MathSP. So I started MathSP because as an engineer, as a female engineer, as an African-American Engineer, I did not see a lot of women and a woman of color in chemical engineering. And you know, this is both in college, in graduate school and in the workplace. And when you, when we talk about the numbers earlier, I mentioned 3% number for women of color in engineering and 19% for women in engineering. So when you look at the numbers, obviously, you know, the experience that you had, if you’re fortunate to be surrounded by women engineers, you’re pretty lucky to work for a company or to be in an environment where you see a lot of women or a lot of people of color, because, you know, nationally, it’s just, the percentages are just really, really low.

 

[14:19 – 15:18] So it definitely depends upon where you are and who you’re working for. So, but I didn’t see a lot. And I wonder why I was like, why don’t more people consider, why don’t more girls and more people of color, consider engineering. Why I love Math and Science. I loved it. So why don’t people love it as much as I love it? What’s the challenge there? It’s lots of challenges there. And how is it that I came to love it so much so, that I was excited to study chemical engineering. Whereas again, others don’t have that same love and passion for it. So, MathSP was started to really help people to love Math and Science. Like I do. I figured I could get high school students, middle school students to love Math and to love Science, to understand it better and so apply it, what they’re doing in the classroom to real-world, to things they care about.

 

[15:19 – 16:20] Then maybe they will start to see what I see. What you saw, right. Because you also, there was really a really trying to be transformative in thinking through how do I solve this problem of getting more girls into engineering, getting more people of color into engineering. Okay, well, I have to help them with the basics, the foundation, because you cannot decide to go down the engineering pathway. If you don’t have a passion for Math, or if you don’t have a good foundation in Math, if you don’t have a curiosity and interest in Science, right, you’ll never want to go down this pathway. So it starts early in K through 12 Education, and I wanted it to just really connect students who were struggling or just didn’t quite understand and didn’t have a solid foundation if I can help them with that. Or even students who do have a passion or do have a solid foundation, does really help them to keep that foundation firm, and to keep that passion strong throughout their K through 12 Education.

[16:21 – 17:12] So that’s how it all started. And I also want to, I need to point out my mother as well because growing up my mother, who’s also a chemical engineer. Yeah, she has a degree in Chemical Engineering as a, she retired as an Environmental Engineer, but I used to watch her on the weekends, helping kids mostly, I guess, in the neighborhood or maybe her coworkers’ kids, or, and I don’t know exactly how she found these kids. And I say kids, I really mean, you know, middle and high school students. I used to watch her, help them on the weekends in Math, in different Math subjects. And they would come over and she would sit down at the kitchen table and she would tell us to stay off the kitchen, over like peeking in listening in, like, I just wanted to know what they were doing.

 

[17:13 – 18:22] And she would just, you know, for hours she would meet with different kids and help them in Math. And I just remember year after year, you know, seeing her do this. So ultimately I ended up doing it myself. So essentially as soon as I could. So I guess in early college, I started tutoring and helping high school students with Math and Science. And so when it came time to start Math SP and I leaned on that as well, I had so much experience helping students with Math and Science, just throughout my undergraduate years and my graduate years. I always had tutoring jobs. In addition to being a full-time college student, it was just a great way for me to mentor younger people and to help them with things that I just love to do. And so I wanted to do more of that. I wanted to, again, focus on girls and people of color, and really not just help them with the material and getting their homework done and studying more tasks, but like connecting it to real world, making the connections, introducing them to careers, letting them know that they too can be engineers, helping them understand what engineering is all about.

 

[18:22 – 19:28] You know, just really taking that another step further besides just completing a homework assignment or studying for a test, but connecting, making those connections to their everyday lives. Just everything around us has been designed by an engineer. And a lot of people haven’t thought about that, the same as if you haven’t been to a business school, if you haven’t studied marketing, then you don’t, you know, if you think like a marketer, just remember before how you thought, when you didn’t have any insight into what marketing was in how customer insights and how decisions were made. And then now that you are a marketer, a business owner, now that’s all you think about, right? So it’s true that that line of thought is transformative. When you’re starting to see the world in this lens of like, wow, like this is all created and designed by engineers, you know, they had paved this chair I’m sitting in right now is made of certain materials that had to be selected and crafted and to make the chairs sturdy enough to withstand a certain number of pounds, you know, weight.

 

[19:28 – 20:13] And it’s just all these little things that we take for granted that we don’t necessarily think about. But when you start thinking about it, you start seeing the world in a different way. And I wanted to help these kids to see the world in a different way and see the beauty in that as well. So that is the Genesis of MathSP and how I figured, I could change the world and increase these numbers by starting with the basics, the foundations, and making the connections with kids early on, because, you know, if you’re choosing these careers, there’s a whole nother set of challenges went in terms of like support and sticking with it and all that. But you have to get to the point where you’re choosing it. There’s so many options that exist in the world and engineering is one of so many different options.

 

[20:13 – 20:52] So, how do we get more girls and people of color, people of color to the side, this is what I want to do. And then of course, once they decide that, then it’s a whole nother world, okay. Supporting them through that decision into their college years and, and, professional years. So that, there’s a lot of work being done in all areas of the spectrum, all levels. But I focus on just getting them interested, getting them to choose STEM, like choose it. And here’s why choose it and connect and make those connections and then support them through high school and into college as well.

[20:53 – 21:55] I remember reading, I don’t remember if it was an article that I read or it may have even been a documentary that I watched, but I remember seeing, or reading this somewhere that for young girls, the change, the switch usually happens sometime around sixth or seventh grade. So basically middle school where they may have a really strong interest in Science and Math or Technology and Engineering, STEM basically. But somewhere along the way in middle school is when the switch usually occurs. So I’m curious, Stephanie, with MathSP it sounds like you have different programs and events that you’re doing to help give exposure to these students that you’re talking about, how young are these students that you’re working with and are you offering these programs and events and things like that, as part of your outreach program or outreach effort, I should say.

 

[21:56 – 22:53] Yeah, I’d start with students in middle school,  to say fifth grade and just say, I haven’t worked with younger students, but I target middle school and high school because those are the years where things get tough, right. Those are the years when you start having a lot more homework assignments and tests and things get more challenging in terms of the content. There’s a lot more practice problems you have to do on a daily basis. And it just gets real. And then in addition to getting real in the classroom, of course, those are the years that kids go through puberty and it’s all sorts of societal pressures and peer pressure and things that happen in middle school. So, I like to start in middle school with kids when things really, really get challenging when parents no longer can help their children, right. Cause most times parents haven’t seen the material, their kids are learning in years and, and since they were themselves kids.

 

[22:53 – 23:42] And so oftentimes, you know, elementary school level work, parents can handle that for the most part, they can help their child add, subtract, you know, round, et cetera, or there’s lots of different options that exist to help children on that level. But when you start getting into middle school and you get some more advanced concepts and definitely in high school, when you get to, you know, your algebra and geometry and trigonometry and calculus, and a lot of physics and chemistry, a lot of things, again, parents really just don’t don’t remember these things from their own school and their own time in school. So this is when we step in and we can say, we know this material inside and out. We are STEM professionals. We love STEM. We love Science, we love Math and we know the material and we want to help your children excel in this material and make connections to the real world and connections to their own lives.

 

[23:42 – 24:28] So we pick up, we start with students in middle school and high school and even into college. And then the other thing I’ll say is, you mentioned just like different events. So, one of the other things that I do with MathSP is help students with the next step post-high school, which for a lot of families, is College. You know, college is not for everybody, but for a lot of people, it is their next step after high school. And my goal is to help them achieve their dreams specifically and hopefully, you know, going into a STEM profession. And though you do not need college to go into a STEM profession. Again, a lot of people choose to go that path. And so I want to help them accomplish their goals. So part of that is the whole college admissions process of, what does it take to get into college?

 

[24:28 – 25:28] What does it take to get into the college of your choice with money, right? To get financial aid or scholarships. So you’re not having to pay a ton of money for college. So another part of MathSP which is what I call “Knowledge for College” is helping families with that college admissions process. So we have a lot of events when I say we, I mean my business partner and I who have started “Knowledge for College” together, host events for families all the time. And we helped them with this college admissions process. So I focus more on the academic side of it, and what’s important academically, as well as what’s important when it comes to taking standardized exams, like the SAT or the ACT, and my business partner has a background and pretty much everything else, helping students to write their essays and tell their personal story, helping them to choose their, the best-fit college for them, helping them plan out.

[25:29 – 26:26] You know, they’re thinking about their future in terms of careers, including, you know, my contributions to STEM careers. So together we are, we just provide a lot of knowledge, a lot of information that really helps parents to, to navigate this process for their child. So we do a lot of events where we bring in different speakers and really just try to make this process less daunting and less intimidating. And so with that, we do a lot of in-person events, but because of COVID, we’ve transitioned of course, to doing a lot of virtual events. And, you know, that’s kind of where virtual events and in different platforms come in because before the pandemic, we did not do very much virtually. It was really all in person because there’s nothing like that. In-person, that human connection. So we did in person, we would go to different schools.

 

[26:26 – 27:44] We do meetings and presentations at PTSA meetings at, you know, for teachers, we would do meetings at people’s homes. You know, like a loop of a group of parents would, come together in a certain community. We would meet at their home and do sessions with them, working sessions. We were just out and about everywhere. We were all over the place. And when the pandemic came about like, and I, and to be honest, like I’m a, you know, I’m an engineer, I’m a technology person in general, but I just, I think I was, I did not believe that was possible to have the same interactions virtually. I just, it never crossed my mind to do a virtual event because I didn’t feel that it was going to be the same level of interaction. And, you know, I didn’t see how you could mimic that virtually. So when you have no choice, when you have to pivot no other choice, you’re forced into a corner where it’s like, either you do or you die, and either we’re forced to do this, we can no longer have these knowledge for college sessions, or even with STEM Gems, same thing.

 

[27:44 – 28:22] We could no longer have the  STEM Gems sessions and meetings and summits and things that I do with  STEM Gems, unless I pivot and now move into a different space. So that is the transition from in-person events with MathSP, meeting students face to face with knowledge for college and working with families and helping them navigate the college admissions process. All of that in person will be all that virtual and then with  STEM Gems and the summits and the workshops and the summer programs that we do, all of that pivoting completely to a virtual space. That was a huge, huge transition for (inaudible.)

 

[28:22 – 28:59]  I’m sure. I’m getting exhausted just listening to all of the different programs because I’m thinking of all of the behind-the-scenes work that has to take place to make that type of a transition. So I know your technology of choice is Hopin. And I know from some previous conversations I’ve had with you earlier this year, I remember you doing quite a bit of extensive research on different online event platforms and you eventually settled on Hopin. Can you tell us a little bit more about Hopin and why that was ultimately the platform that you chose?

 

[29:00 – 30:20] So it actually was not the platform that I chose, but I say that only because of…I love Hopin and I love everything it could do. It’s one of those platforms with so much to offer. And I decided that’s almost my dream platform instance, right. But when I transitioned into doing the virtual summit for STEM Gems, which is a lot more moving pieces than a Knowledge for College webinar or virtual session, let me just start off by comparing the two. So the Knowledge for College sessions that we’ve been doing throughout the years, my business partner, and I have been a lot of interaction, a lot of talking with parents, answering their questions, giving them information, having guest speakers here and there, but we’ve been the experts that have been able to provide the information. And we’ve done that with, with, in a way that allows us to have a lot of feedback and back and forth conversation with parents and that we can do in a very simple tool, like Zoom even, but I will say Zoom was a big transition for us, even though it’s so commonly used now, in the beginning, it wasn’t at least for us.

[30:20 – 31:27] And so we do have to transition from, okay, how do we do this effectively in Zoom, right? How do we create this environment and Zoom? So that was a big deal. STEM Gems events are that time to the 10th power. There’s a lot more moving pieces. There’s a lot more speakers, a lot more of a dynamic experience where you are a participant listening in, to all sorts of information from speakers that are all professionals in STEM that are sharing their knowledge with the audience. It’s, there is some interaction with forms of questions, but not as interactive as our knowledge for college sessions are, with MathSP and working with parents. So, with STEM Gems, Hopin was the platform that I was like, this is the goal. This is my, this is where I want to be in the next two, three years is to be able to access everything happened, stands for, so they have, excellent interface where, you know, you can have the presenter to talk through, you know, to show slides and talk through there’s, you know, share their story and present information.

 

[31:27 – 32:29] And, you know, you have that same piece that you have in Zoom, or in other platforms, but you have a place for sponsors or partners to exhibit. And the reason why I did not choose Hopin right away is because of that piece. So I’m transitioning from in-person to virtual in the past. I had not taken advantage of sponsors and partners in that way. And so I didn’t need that part of the platform. However, the goal now is to have partners and sponsors. And so that platform will allow the partners and sponsors to showcase their companies and showcase their work in a way that a Zoom cannot, at this point, can not do or other platforms. So, Hopin’s the platform that after researching, getting, attending lots of their live demonstrations, I was like, oh my gosh, this is phenomenal. This is giving me something to strive for.

Stephanie Espy discussing STEM with a group of young girls.

[32:29 – 33:36] It really allowed me to see all the things that it could do. The ways that you can really engage in a way that I had not done, you know, in person. And I had not done it on the Zoom platform, but you can do it on Hopin. So I, anticipating that and to, not in 2022, but by 2023, we will move our summit, our virtual summit that happens every March for Women’s History month to the Hopin platform. That is the goal because that’s the platform that does allow so much more. And if you have a lot of moving pieces, you know, you have a speaker, you have exhibitors, you have the partners and the sponsors and all the, and they have the participants. You have parents, you have educators, you have the kids, you know, the girls, there’s so many different communities coming together in this summit that Hopin provides a place where all of those things can happen. You can really maximize the interaction more so than what we can do. And when we have our summit via Zoom. So it was one of those, like in two to three years, this is where we’ll be. So how do we get there? What do we need to do?

 

[33:36 – 33:38] Got it. Yes.

[33:39 – 34:15] In two to three years, we can convert our summit to the Hopin platform and take advantage of everything that it has to offer and make this experience, that summit experience extremely interactive for each of the different target audience groups that we target, including the parents, educators, and the girls themselves. And that’s how the STEM Gems, I’ve been talking about two different things. I want to make sure this is for the STEM Gems Summit that happens in March, which is different from, you know, the MathSP and Knowledge for College that I mentioned earlier.

 

 

[34:15 – 34:46] Yes. And I’d love to, this is actually a great segue. We’re going to take a break, but when we come back, I definitely want to, to just kind of have that exploratory discussion with you, Stephanie, about what, who are the people, and the processes. We know the technology that you’re aspiring to, but who are some of the other people that you need to get behind the scenes to make all of this happen? And what does that process look like? So I’d love to, to have that conversation with you, but first let’s take a quick break so that we can hear a word from one of our sponsors.

 

 

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[36:09 – 37:01] Okay. We are back from our break and Stephanie, you were telling us about Hopin and all of these amazing features that it has and how that is the online event platform that you all at MathSP and with your STEM Gems, the STEM Gems work that you’re doing that, that’s the technology that you all aspire to use, hopefully in the very near future. I’m also familiar with Hopin. Not that I’ve organized an event using Hopin, but I’ve been a participant in several different conferences, very much like what you were describing. So I definitely have seen the exhibitor spaces, the spaces where speakers can kind of hang out in a virtual lounge before it’s their time to speak and just the opportunities to be able to network with other people.

 

[37:01 – 38:12] And I’m always a little, a little leery about that, you know, virtual networking, but it’s really interesting how that platform is able to pull it off. So, you know, I’d love to have this conversation in the framework of business infrastructure. And for those of you who are listening to this show for the first time, business infrastructure is a system for linking your people, your processes, and your tools and technologies to ensure that growth happens in a profitable and sustainable way. So, Stephanie has MathSP she also has the work that she, the movement behind her STEM Gems book. We haven’t even talked about this STEM Gems book, but we’ll make sure we, we do, we do give you an opportunity to talk more about the book, but there’s these two communities that are very much STEM-centered and focused. MathSP, you’re doing a lot of that work through Zoom. Also STEM, the STEM Gems Summit is taking place via Zoom, but with the goal of being able to transition into a platform that can handle the speakers, the sponsors, the exhibitors, moderators, all of the people that are needed, that whole entire ecosystem, right, Stephanie?

 

[38:10 – 39:10] Right.

 

[38:10 – 39:13] That’s what happened. So, if we could talk about this again from a business infrastructure perspective. So, all of the people that are needed behind the scenes to make something like this happen. So obviously, and I know when you did your first online summit last year, you already got a taste for the need for having something as simple as a moderator. So when you have speakers and, and you know, the chat is going and it’s, it can be very distracting for a speaker. So it helps to have that moderator who can read and kind of regulate the conversation, extract the questions that are actually being asked in the chat, and present those questions to the speaker. So, who are some of those people based on what you’ve learned so far in conducting that very first STEM Gems Summit? So we know there’s the moderator you need, and overall, I guess you would say producer, right, of the event? And who are some of the other people?

 

[39:14 – 40:17] Yeah, I think that, I’m glad you said producer because that is probably the most important. It was the most important for me to have sort of a “run of show”. So, a very clear vision of how things were going to go hour by hour, even minute by minute, especially when you, when you’re bringing together so many different people, so many different speakers and sponsors and presenters. And so you need to make sure everybody knows exactly what they’re going to do and exactly when they’re going to do it. And then, on the actual day of the event, you need to make sure that you have a producer that is able to keep everybody in line and check on when it’s their turn to speak and make sure they’re ready to go and make sure there’s no glitches with the actual run of the show. And so this sounds when you do an in-person event and when I’ve done in-person events, yes, we’ve had the same sorts of things we’ve had, you know, very clear idea of when things were going to happen. It’s somewhat a little bit easier to meet in person because everybody is already there.

 

[40:17 – 40:17] Right.

 

[40:17 – 41:11] People are where they need to be. You can see them, you know, they’re, you can have those conversations when you’re in a virtual space. You don’t always know that right. People are in different, they’re in their different places remotely. And you have, you know, you don’t always know they’re at their computer when they need to be there, or they can say, yes, I’m here. Then they can step away and forget to come back or, you know, different things can happen. So a lot more things that can go wrong. I think in a virtual space, then when you’re in person, you know, everybody, every physical body that is part of the show is there, physically there. And so it’s easier to just make sure things happen the way they’re supposed to. And it’s also easier to kind of pivot. If you need to, if somebody is running late, you can have someone speak longer or shorter.

 

[41:11 – 42:09] And it’s easy to do that in person. Doing this virtually was, for the first time, definitely, you know, a bit of, more planning, more ensuring that everybody knows exactly what they need to do, and also making sure that everybody knows how to use the technology. Not everybody’s familiar with Hopin, it’s the platform that is relatively new. And so even for me, it was, it was new, to, you know, so even Zoom, it doesn’t matter what the platform is. There’s always a learning curve for, for people, when they are not used to using it, or they haven’t used it in a while. So you have to train people on how to use a platform and how to share their screen and how to, you know, how to turn the volume on everything. And so the producer’s role is just so critically important and just making sure that people are where they need to be, that people have with a need to do, what it is they need to do.

 

[42:10 – 43:05] So that role is very important. And then you also mentioned the host or the moderator. So that’s the person that’s making announcements. And, it’s moving the program along, right. To make sure there’s a lot of energy in the room, that everybody’s, you know, participants are, you know, commenting in the chatbox and, you know, asking the fun questions and just keeping the energy going throughout the day. So that person is also really important to just get things, kick the meeting off, kick the summit off and keep it going and, and bring that level of energy that, you know, in a half throughout the summit or throughout the conference. And then on top of that, you have, of course your speakers, and depending upon the size of the event, you know, you can have, you know, anywhere from one speaker to hundreds of speakers. And so with STEM Gems, we usually have 12 speakers.

[43:05 – 44:14] We have 3 that are scientists, we have 3 that are technologists, 3 that are engineers and 3 that are Mathematicians. And then often we may have a few extra, if we have a sponsor or a partner who has an announcement to make about something or a welcome. So you could have, you know, your main speakers plus you have just different people that may be there to, to again, give some sort of announcement, or you may want to spotlight a certain organization or company or a university, or what have you for some reason. So there’s, again, there’s lots of moving pieces here. You want to make sure that the presenters know what their role is, when, what time they’re speaking. making sure they’re ready to go when their time comes. And then on top of that, you have your participants. And because STEM Gems is really all about getting more girls into STEM careers and helping them understand what these careers are and how they make a difference in the world, how they help people.

 

[44:14 – 45:13] It’s important to not only talk to the girls, but also talk to their parents because oftentimes, you know, parents are, parents are the biggest influencers in the girls’ lives, as well as educators and the teachers that they see every day. So having these three different groups of participants, and giving them each what they need is that extra level or layer that you have to consider when you’re doing these events. And there’s something for each of these different groups. So when I did the summit this past year in March, it was challenging because I wore a lot of different hats. And behind-the-scenes, I was in front of the camera, behind the camera, you know, you know, on-screen, off-screen, making contact with different speakers. You know, we had participants who were trying to get into the room, emails coming in with questions on, what’s the link for this, or you just, it was a lot happening at one time.

 

[45:13 – 46:05] So definitely I definitely I’m so appreciative to those people that were ensuring that, you know, that things are running smoothly behind the scenes. We also had challenges with the speakers. we had speakers who did not, were not there at the designated time. We had to send emails and even text messages just to make sure they were, you know, they didn’t forget they were on their way. We had to, we had speakers who did not know how to change their background because, you know, on these different platforms, you can use it. We had a signature background that was, you know, just for the speakers. So we wanted all the speakers to have the background and otherwise it would just be a little odd for all speakers, but one to have this, the background. So we had some that had the challenging, that challenges getting the background up.

 

[46:05 – 46:59] So we had some delays in that, that we, you know, didn’t entirely predict because again, you may make some assumptions that were not in the end. We’re not, we should not have made it. And then we had challenges with people accessing the tool from their computers, and they had to use their cell phones at the end of the day because their volume wasn’t working properly or something. So there was a lot of things that can, that can happen when you have just so many bodies involved in a big production, and you really want to make the investment in having a, as you mentioned, I think having a producer that can help with anything that may happen on day of, and then leading up until the actual conference or summit, having that person is going to keep the body energetic and energized and just bring the energy.

 

[46:59 – 48:07] So that could be the host, or it could be a designated speaker or whoever to just, if there is a lot of time, if there’s a delay that person fills in that gap is not just complete silence, right, on the spot. And then just a really detailed run of show. So everybody knows what’s happening when it’s happening a cam score, how important that is not only for the event planner, but for every speaker and every person involved in the production and know what’s happening when it’s happening. So, yeah, I think those are another thing. And again, going back to the platform, there’s just so many cool things. You mentioned a lot of them that you can do just to keep that level of engagement and interaction between all these different groups, between the speakers, between the participants, between the different target audiences within the participants. So there’s a lot of really cool things you can do to make the experience so much more. It’s almost like being in person as closely as you possibly can be. I think they’ve done a great job with making that platform extremely interactive.

 

[48:07 – 48:58] Absolutely. And on the process side, you know, we’re being, that we’re both process engineers, it might be unfair to ask, you know, well, what, what’s the process, Stephanie, for putting something like this together. But I think if we could just maybe very quickly touch on some of the things that you absolutely have to think about, in terms of capturing some of the key processes to start sharing with all of these people that are working behind the scenes to make sure that your event goes off without a hitch. So, as you’ve been talking, I’ve been thinking of some different things. First, you mentioned, run of show. So obviously it’s very important to put that run of show together. And when we say run of show, we’re talking about from the moment the event begins to the moment, the event ends, a detailed account of everything that’s happening from a time perspective.

 

[48:58 – 49:53] So if your event starts at 8:00 AM in the morning, what is the first is, is there a keynote? Is that general networking? Online registration is what’s happening at 8, from 8:00 to 8:30 and then from 8:30 to 9:30, that might be when the first keynote speaker speaks. So, one thing that I think is always helpful too, Stephanie, I don’t know if you agree with this, but I like to save programs from actual in-person events that I’ve been to, conferences and just looking at how they pray. You know, again, that’s just how my mind works. I’m always thinking, what went on behind the scenes for them to have, to be able to produce, even, even this, this beautiful, full-color booklet that accompanies this conference. What went into putting something like this together, you start thinking about all of the planning and how far in advance did they have to do all of this planning.

 

[49:53 – 50:34] So speaking of planning, that’s the other thing, how far in advance do you recommend people start planning an online event, especially if it’s going to be something like, you know, as large as the STEM Gems Summit, where you have several hundreds of people. And I know it’s only going to get larger because it is virtual. Now you can open it up to literally anyone, anywhere around the world. So I definitely foresee you having thousands and thousands of people attending the next STEM Gems summit. How far in advance are you going to start planning for the one in 2022?

 

[50:35 – 50:37] Well, actually I already started.

 

[50:37 – 50:37]  I’m sure you have.

[50:40 – 51:47] Right now, I’m in the sponsorship phase. So this is where I’m reaching out to potential sponsors to get them on board. Because oftentimes you have to ask, you know, six months ahead, a year in advance because they only have, but so much funding available that they give. And so, you know, there’s a process with that, right? So this is the time where I am reaching out to potential sponsors. I’ll do that in October, November with the deadline to have sponsors locked in by early January. At that point, I’ll know who the sponsors are. I’ll know how many speakers will come from those sponsoring organizations. And then I’ll then fill in the gaps with additional speakers. So if we have, you know, say five sponsors and each sponsor is going to, you know, we’re going to have a speaker from each of the sponsoring companies that will let me know how many additional speakers we need, as well as what type of speakers we need to fill in the gaps to make sure that the program is, you know, as we want it to be.

 

[51:47 – 52:41] And then we will reach out to additional speakers in January, secure additional speakers, and then be ready to start promotion at the end of January, beginning of February timeframe for March. So, yeah, there’s a, I mean, this is, it starts now, again, it did not start this early last year, because last year was the first year we actually thought about sponsors and we did a little bit of outreach, but it wasn’t this early, we kind of waited probably too late to start seeking sponsorship, which is why this year we sort of learned from last year, starting early. And now that we have all the documents that we need to seek sponsorship, we, you know, that we did from last year, we can tweak it and get it ready for this year and start sending it out. So that’s what I’m working on right now, as it pertains to the summit that happens in March, is getting sponsors on board.

 

[52:41 – 53:18] And then I’ll, I’m also making a shortlist of potential speakers as well. People that I am thinking about reaching out to, not a hundred percent sure yet, because I don’t know who the sponsors will be. I don’t know if, you know, I don’t want to have two of the same type of speaker. So, you know, a shortlist of people that potentially we’ll reach out to in early 2022, just so that when the time comes for that part to happen, I’m not scrambling at that point. So that sort of happening simultaneous to looking for potential sponsors.

 

[53:18 – 54:20] Yes. And you know, as far as resources, I know we have to start wrapping up now it’s already eight o’clock. Can you believe it? We’re having too much fun, Stephanie, but we definitely cannot wrap up without you actually talking about the STEM Gems book, which I have my autographed copy here with me. It is a beautiful, full color book, STEM Gems, how 44 women shine in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and how you can too. This is the book that started the STEM Gems movement, which includes the summit that Stephanie’s talking about along with the host of so many other wonderful programs and events and conferences where Stephanie has a very major presence, not just here in the Atlanta, Georgia area, but nationally as well. So, Stephanie, please, we must talk about your book, but we have to do it a little quickly. I’m sorry.

 

[54:22 – 55:47] It’s okay. I already gave you a great introduction. So, and as you said, already said, it definitely is what spearheaded the movement. It started with this book, this, this idea of helping girls to, and not just girls, but their parents as well, educators as well to really have a deeper dive into STEM careers and to put a name and a face with all these different careers. So really having representation from a diverse group of women to represent these STEM careers, as well as tangible, actual, actionable guidance and advice. The book is full of that. And so it started with this resource, this book. I wanted to get it into the hands of girls’ parents and educators across the country. And it went from that to now having the summer camp, the book club and the summit and other programming that we’re working on. So yeah, it’s gotten it’s, it’s just so much work to be done in this space that there was just so much opportunity that the book kind of led to, and I’ve just been following just letting things happen as they happen in terms of, I see opportunity as a need. That’s the opportunity, let’s go for it. And so that’s sort of how it happened, but it all started with this initial idea to, to write this book and to help connect the dots between, you know, girls and what they can do if they pursued a STEM career.

 

[55:47 – 56:55] Because as you always say, you can’t be what you don’t see. That’s right. I tell people about, I tell people about you all the time. Like, well, you know, my friend, Stephanie always says, you can’t be what you don’t see. So that’s why you have to get a copy of this book. I’ve bought this for so many of the young ladies that I personally mentor. I bought a copy for my goddaughter. Even she…she reads it in like a weekend. She did, she did. She loved every single page of this book and it’s so beautifully produced a unique size. It’s like, it’s like a square, it’s a square. So I just, I love everything that you’re doing. Stephanie, I’ve been a fan of yours as you know, from day one and I will continue to support everything that you’re doing. If there’s anything else that I can do, please don’t hesitate to let me know. What is the best way that people can get in touch with you, because I’m sure they’re listening right now thinking, wow, you know, I need to follow Stephanie? I know you’re very active on LinkedIn, but what’s the best way for people to connect with you?

 

[56:56 – 57:52] Definitely social media. I mean, everybody’s on social media these days, I’m on social media. So if you’re a Twitter user then go to @STEMGemsbook on Twitter, if you’re an Instagram user, go to STEMGemsbook on Instagram, you can also go to @MathSPcoaching on Instagram or @StephanieEspy on Instagram. So again, a personal Instagram page, as well as a STEM Gems book and a MathSP Instagram page. If you’re on Facebook, again @STEMGemsbook, @MathSP on Facebook, if you’re in LinkedIn, again. Perfect. So definitely social media. You can also go to the STEM Gems website, which is STEMGemsbook.com, or the MathSP website, which is MathSP.com. You know, there’s many, many ways to reach me. So whatever works for the listener, I’m pretty easy to find.

[57:53 – 58:48] Very easy to find, Stephanie. She’s being very modest right now, but she has a huge presence online, especially considering the space that you’re representing STEM. So again, I’m just so proud of everything that you’ve done in all of the inroads that you’ve made in this space. Again, as you, as you’ve been saying all along, not just for girls, but for people, for young people of color as well, and providing them with the ongoing support that they need beyond high school. So, thank you so much for the work that you’re doing, Stephanie. I’d like to just quickly, very, very quickly recap some of the things that you shared with us to consider. If we want to use a tool like Hopin to plan our next online event because it looks like this whole pandemic thing isn’t going to go away anytime soon. And all of these digital transformations for many of us, it’s just here to stay now.

 

[58:48 – 59:40] Even if we do, maybe go back to a hybrid way of doing things where we have a combination of in-person as well as remote or virtual events, but some of the things that you mentioned in terms of people that we need to take into consideration for the, handling those back-office operations, having that producer, the moderator or hosts, we talked about the speakers having that overall event planner and emcee even, someone to make announcements, to kind of help keep the crowd amped because it’s very easy to get distracted when you’re doing something remotely and also the participants themselves. And then as far as a process, we weren’t able to really detail a process, but some of the key things that you do need to think about are the length of your event. You know, how long would it be? Again, when you’re doing things remotely, you definitely have to take that into consideration.

 

[59:40 – 01:01:01] People tire out a lot quicker than they do if it’s an in-person event. How far in advance do you need to start planning your event? At what point do you start looking for sponsors if you do want sponsors for your event? Also, you mentioned something else really, really, really important, knowing the type of computer or device that a person, speakers are using and participants as well to access your event. Don’t take, don’t think everyone has a Mac or everyone has a PC. They might, you know, there’s a combination of devices that people are using as well as their phones to access your event. And that can definitely alter their experience. And it goes a long way in figuring out how to properly troubleshoot technical issues as they arise. And then also that run of show, but rehearsals doing that soundcheck, the overall tech check, making sure everyone knows how to use the platform. Stephanie, this has been so great. We’re going to make sure we have links to all of your events. The Knowledge for College events, MathSP, the STEM Gems summit happen. All of your social media links. We’ll have all of that available at BusinessInfrastructure.TV. I can’t thank you enough, Stephanie. This was so worth the wait.

 

[01:01:03 – 01:01:28] Well, thank you so much for having me and thank you for all your, to all your listeners. I love, love, love your podcasts! And I am. I need to go back and listen to some different episodes. There’s so much great information from all of your guest speakers. So thank you, Alicia, for everything that you’re doing, to help business owners like myself, to continue to make a difference in the world. So thank you.

172: Dean Hamilton Describes How to Streamline Repetitive Tasks with Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

This Episode is Sponsored By:

                                                                                     

Does hearing about robots or robotic technology trigger doomsday images of nonhuman entities taking over with unbridled power? That fear is often rooted in the unknown. And that’s why technologists like Dean Hamilton are so important. As a Partner and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Wilson & Perumal, he knows that education is necessary in squashing these kinds of fears.

In 30 years, Dean’s experience runs the gamut of software engineer to Founder to advisory board member and now the C-suite. He has a firsthand account of the evolution of software technologies and says, “We live in a golden age of no-programming tech” – one of which is Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

In this episode, Dean explains what RPA is, how it falls along a spectrum of intelligent automation tools, and why it can be incredibly useful in streamlining repetitive back-office tasks. It’s the boring humdrum of these repetitive tasks where our operations are most prone to errors. Errors that lead to lost profit, angry customers, and sullied reputations.

With this type of technology becoming more accessible, it can be a game-changer, but Dean warns of the magic bullet syndrome. He makes an argument for prioritizing processes before technology, building a center of excellence for automation in your company, and stripping operations of adverse complexity to maximize the benefits of tools like RPA.

Get in on this game-changing technology and gain efficiencies. It’s not as scary or complicated as it may seem.

 

Special Guest: Dean Hamilton, Partner & Chief Technology Officer (CTO) – Wilson Perumal & Company

Location: Cupertino, CA 

Air Date: October 24, 2021

Show Notes:

Websites:

  • Wilson Perumal & Co.: a leading international management consulting firm with operations in North America and Europe focused on reducing organizational and operational complexity for corporations, private equity firms, and government sector.

Books: 

Software:

  • Intelligent Automation: can supplement RPA
  • UiPath: a platform offering RPA software designed to end repetitive tasks and make digital transformation a reality by streamlining processes, uncovering efficiencies and providing insights, making the path to digital transformation fast and cost-effective. They make “…software robots, so people don’t have to be robots.”
  • Blue Prism: a platform that provides intelligent automation and digital worker solutions like robotic process automation to unify human and digital workforces. Their software helps organizations “…accelerate operational efficiency and agility by making it easy for your people to automate the processes that matter most.”

Articles:

  • The Leaders of Tomorrow: a Forbes article where Dean was cited as one of the top eight technology CEOs to watch.
  • What is Intelligent Automation?: this comprehensive article by IBM Cloud Education defines intelligent automation, explains how it works, and offers examples of its use in streamlining business processes and operations.
  • Overview of Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) and its Benefits: an article by DocSumo. “Intelligent Document Processing automates data capture from multiple documents and data sources and organizes it for further processing.” This article cites the benefits of IDP, how it streamlines business documentation, and gives example use cases.

 

Related Episodes: 

  • Episode 018: How AI Technology Can Scale Your Business with Scott Evans
  • Episode 096: Using Customer Intelligence to Improve Operations with Adam Hayes
  • Episode 150: Diversity, Digital Transformation and Becoming a CEO in Silicon Valley with Shellye Archambeau
  • Episode 160: Leveraging Data and Analytics for Operational Excellence with Michiko Wolcott

 

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Credits_______________

  • Writer, Producer & Host: Alicia Butler Pierre
  • Podcast Editor: Olanrewaju Adeyemo
  • Video Editor: Gladys Jimenez
  • Transcription: Jodie Maquiran
  • Sponsors: ThinkSmart Whiteboard, CavnessHR

 

More About Guest, Dean Hamilton:
Dean Hamilton is a Partner and CTO at Wilson Perumal & Company – a leading management and strategy consulting firm. Dean has more than 30-years of experience in the technology industry, including having held senior executive roles and being named by Forbes.com to their list of “The Top 8 Technology CEOs to Watch.” His areas of expertise include technology and business strategy and product innovation, design, development, and delivery.

 

More About Host, Alicia Butler Pierre:
Alicia Butler Pierre is the Founder & CEO of Equilibria, Inc. Her career in operations began over 20 years ago while working as an engineer in various chemical plants and oil refineries. She invented the KasennuTM framework for business infrastructure and authored, Behind the Façade: How to Structure Company Operations for Sustainable Success.  It is the world’s first published book on business infrastructure for small businesses. Alicia hosts the weekly Business Infrastructure podcast with a global audience across 53 countries.

 

 

More About Sponsor, ThinkSmart Whiteboard:
Thinksmart Whiteboard is a Windows App that turns your Tablet PC into a shared whiteboard. It allows you to create a whiteboard on your computer screen, then allows other people to write onto your whiteboard, even if they are in another location! Learn more.

 

More About Sponsor, CavnessHR:
CavnessHR delivers HR to companies with 49 or fewer people through a voice-enabled AI platform along with access to a dedicated HR Business Partner. We do this while taking care of our own employees and customers, maintaining transparency, utilizing active listening, practicing empathy, and being valued members of our communities.

 

 

Transcript:

[00:00 – 00:57] What comes to mind when you hear Robotic Process Automation, does it conjure thoughts of physical robots taking over jobs? Have you ever felt like a robot whenever you do mind-numbing repetitive work? Hi, I’m Alicia Butler Pierre. There’s no shortage of myths and misconceptions when it comes to Robotic Process Automation. And we’re about to hear from an executive and expert technologist who will give us the 411 on what it is and what it isn’t. Yes, it’s totally possible for small businesses to leverage robotic technology, to work with us in streamlining our operations, and not against us. And you might be surprised at how much time it can free up working on administrative tasks, time that can be used on revenue-generating activities instead. This is Season 14, Episode 172. 

 

[01:20 – 03:12] Having a tough time, trying to explain ideas over a video conference? Try the ThinkSmart whiteboard. It’s the fastest whiteboard software in the world and allows you to upload flow charts and write on them while your colleagues are watching remotely. Call us today for a free demo. The number is 1-866-584-6804 or visit us online @getmytablet.com. Now that’s smart, ThinkSmart.

Today’s episode is brought to you by Equilibria, Incorporated. Scale your fast-growing business with less pain by hiring the right people, implementing the right processes and leveraging the right technologies. Learn more at eqbsystems.com.

It’s Season 14, everybody, and we’re exploring game-changing technology and it is with great honor that I introduce today’s guest, Dean Hamilton. He’s joining us from Cupertino, California. I can honestly say Dean, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone. I hear about Cupertino all the time, of course, because of Apple, but I’ve never met anyone who actually lives there. So, this is also a treat. Dean is a Partner and Chief Technology Officer at Wilson Perumal and Company where they help companies thrive in today’s age of complexity. Forbes.com once listed Dean as one of the top eight technology CEOs to watch. He’s going to share with us how they dramatically improve their client’s back-office operations with robotic process automation also known as RPA. Dean, welcome to the show. How are you?

 

[03:13 – 03:15] I’m well, thanks for having me on your show.

 

[03:16 – 04:16] Thank you so much. Now, just so everyone will know how we met. We actually met through your colleagues, Scott Stallbaum. And the way that happened, Dean, I’m not even sure if, if you know this, but I happened to be looking for some information, graphical design information on the web that centered around operational excellence and lo and behold, I came across an infographic that your company produced. And that’s what I shared. And Scott happened to see that on LinkedIn and that’s how he and I connected. And that’s ultimately what led us to meeting each other. And as I was reading more about you and your background, it’s so clear that you’ve had a long history, 30 years to be exact of success in the IT space, including several companies that you’ve started and some that you’ve even sold. Correct?

 

[04:17 – 04:33] Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. I’ve been blessed too. I’ve been in Silicon Valley here from the very early days of the computing microprocessor revolution and I’ve had the opportunity to work at some pioneering companies. And then to start some of my own.

 

[04:33 – 04:36] Your career started as a software engineer, right?

 

[04:37 – 05:16] Yeah. That’s right. I started out as a software engineer, building, mostly, telecommunications products. I was focused on, real-time embedded drivers, software drivers for real-time, embedded communication products and came up the, up the ranks, you know, as a, a manager, a director of engineering, and then shifted over to the business side, starting my first company back in 1994. And then, I have been on the sort of general management technology company, general management and innovation side since then.

 

[05:17 – 05:38] I’m glad you mentioned that because I was wondering, how did you make that transition from being what, you know, a technician/software engineer and into the C-suite. So did you start your own business first before you had your first executive-level position at another company outside of the one that you owned?

 

[05:38 – 06:17] Yes. That’s right. I, you know, sort of, never actually. I was in the engineering ranks and coming up there, I don’t think I’d ever considered doing a startup or running my own company as a CEO, but I just happened to have been at a company that was sold. One of the companies where I was director of engineering had been sold to a large Canadian company. And, after the acquisition, they decided they wanted to move all the engineering jobs to Ottawa. And, you know, in those days, most Silicon Valley engineers wouldn’t move to Ottawa. Right.

 

[06:20 – 06:22] It sounds so exciting.

 

[06:27 – 07:12] And so I was stuck with, you know, kind of, well, what do I do? Do I, I’m not going to move, do I, you know, look for another engineering job. And I had built a team and that team was a very good team and they were sort of all facing the same thing. Do we kind of just go to the four winds and, and one of my team members said, well, Hey Dean, why don’t, why don’t you start something? And, you know, we, we, we’d all love to continue working for you. And that was sort of the Genesis of my entrepreneurial thing. I decided, well, what could I start? And I ended up starting, at first, a consulting company, believe it or not, building, helping other companies build technology products. And then from there started my own product company, the first product company that was sold and so on.

 

[07:14 – 07:39] And what led you ultimately, because I, I can imagine that the transition from having an and being a founder, owning your own company to going back to working for someone else might not be the easiest transition. So can you talk about that a little bit and what ultimately led you to Wilson Perumal? As I understand it, you’re also a partner there, is that correct?

 

[07:40 – 08:45] Yeah, that’s right. I’m probably still best known for starting a company called CoSine Communications, which I started in 1997. I took it public in September of 2000. So we had a very large IPO on the NASDAQ and I was the public company CEO for a little while after that. And, you know, you might remember 2000, we had the, we had the telecom bubble burst and, you know, a lot of, large, well-known communication companies were struggling or, or, you know, going out of business or whatever. And many of them were my customers. And so, you know, in that environment, a newly public, startup company was really struggling. I ended up leaving and I had, that was my second company I started. And I decided to take a break after that, you know, you start up companies take a lot out of, out of, the people who start them, like took, I took some time off.

 

[08:45 – 09:50] And after that, I decided to come back. You know, I spent a lot of time on the general management side as a CEO, and I decided to sort of come back into the business, again, as a CTO, you know, to just kind of reconnect with technology innovation that, you know, that that’s kind of the heart of my background is as an engineering person. And, yeah, so along the way after, after CoSine, I did end up helping to start another company that was sold to Dell. But right around that time, I had met Andrei and Stephen, the co-founders of Wilson Perumal. They had written a book called Waging War on Complexity Costs, which became a bestselling business book on the subject of complexity. You know, we believe at Wilson Perumal that we’re living in what we call the age of complexity that companies are struggling, you know, to grow without, while complexity in the business is actually limiting their capacity to grow or to do so profitably.

[09:50 – 10:49] And so that book was a very successful Andre and Steven ended up sort of starting the consulting firm on the back of that book. And, and a couple of years after I met them through a friend, a mutual friend, and, really, you know, just was struck by the themes that, were, you know, sort of behind their motivation to start a practice that was focused on the, on complexity and struck by their understanding of the subject. And so over the ensuing years, even though I was running other companies, I joined Wilson Perumal’s Advisory Board, and I’m back to being on the company’s advisory board, probably for going on knowing 10 years on the firm’s advisory board. And so I’ve been associated with the firm for a long time. And then, two and a half years ago, I decided to, I was the CTO at a company called Persistent Systems.

 

[10:49 – 11:40] And I decided to leave and come in as a partner at Wilson Perumal to help with a large AI Project that we had sold to the US army. And, so I came into, do that project and, and be the partner responsible for our digital transformation, clients. So yeah, I’ve known the firm for a long time, and I really, got to kind of get my feet wet with as, as a practitioner in the Wilson & Perumal, you know, complexity approach to consulting and, over the years. And so, you know, it wasn’t, it wasn’t just a brand new, new thing for me. I, I knew for my newest clients and, there was an opportunity for us to make a big difference to the US army. And so that’s, that’s how I got here.

 

[11:40 – 11:58] That’s really, that’s a really cool story. And speaking of this AI, this very large AI project that essentially brought you in, as the brought you into the role of CTO. I’m curious, how long has the company itself been around?

 

[11:59 – 12:06] So I think the firm is probably, and I might be off by a year or something. It’s probably about twelve years old.

 

[12:06 – 12:54] Twelve. Okay. And I’m sure, you know, as you, as you just alluded to, Dean you’ve, you’ve been at this for a very long time, so you’ve seen so much, you’ve seen the evolution. And I think it’s really interesting. The company being centered around helping companies grow without increasing complexity. And again, going back to what actually brought you into that role as CTO, being a large AI Project, artificial intelligence, but I know we’re going to talk today a little bit more about RPA, Robotic Process Automation. So I’m wondering in, in, in your most basic definition for the layman who might be listening right now, what exactly is Robotic Process Automation?

 

[12:54 – 14:04] Yeah. Robotic Process Automation is, it’s a form of what we call no-code, or perhaps sometimes low-code automation that is focused on automating repetitive, repetitive tasks, you know, that you would do, you know, using a computer or using a, you know, a set of computer applications, automating those, those, repetitive tasks, but automating them essentially through the graphical user interface. You know, a lot of traditional automation is done using, you know, programs, you know, programming-centric interfaces, right, where, where you, you have to write some code and you use an application programming interface, and that’s how you can, you know, move information between two systems or automate, you know, you produce a set of automated steps, to do something involving, you know, talking computers, one computer system, talking to each other, but robotic process automation instead tries to the bot.

 

[14:04 – 15:04] The software automation agent essentially tries to emulate the human being and behave, with respect to the application, the way the human being would interact with it. And when we interact with our applications, we don’t interact through some API. We interact with mouse clicks and keystrokes, and, you know, we use what we call the graphical user interface. And so RPA is a technology that lets a, sort of a software agent or call a bot, do the, the same kinds of things that you and I would have to do by pointing and clicking and typing, but do them in a very efficient manner to sort of offload us of those highly repetitive tasks. And, you know, sort of the origins of this you might think of in something that you’re very familiar with. We’re, we’re, we’re very familiar with opening up a browser. I may be going to, you know, an e-commerce site or something like that.

 

[15:04 – 16:11] And maybe your browser has some capabilities in it where when you get that page that asks you to type in your address and maybe your phone number, and maybe even your credit card information or something, your browser will say, Hey, I remembered that, you know, I know this information, do you want me to fill that form in for you? And then you can press a button and it’ll just, you know, it’ll fill in the information it has. Now, you normally would have to type that information in, but there’s a little agent in the background that is smart enough to understand that webpage and fill that form in for you. So it’s just doing the tasks you would do faster for you through the same interface you would use the graphical user interface. Well, that’s where the roots of robotic process automation sort of started. In the ability to say, look, we can now design pieces of automation that are rules-based that a business user can design that can, have that, that piece of automation do some really repetitive and annoying task.

 

[16:11 – 17:03] Just take it off and do it efficiently for them the same way they would essentially do it. Without having to change the program, without having to get a new API, just do it, just pretend to be me, but do this stuff for me. You know, I have to type these 400 things in, one after another. And, you know, switch over to this email and maybe copy this information out and then put it into this form. It’s, it’s boring, it’s rote, it’s error prone. We can make a very simple bot, do that work for you. And the beauty of the mature technologies we have right now is that it doesn’t take a programmer to create the bot, but a business user or somebody that is active would actually do that job themselves and can actually create the automation.

 

[17:03 – 17:24] Hmm. Interesting. I have so many questions based on what you just said. So I, I appreciate you sharing the example of being able to just automatically have a form, be populated with certain answers, you know, first name, last name, mailing address, so forth and so on. I thought those were cookies, but I guess…

 

[17:24 – 18:20] No, cookies are different. Cookies, basically where, usually the owner of the website, the designer of that website, a web page will store and retain certain information in your browser that will persist after your browser session ends. So that the next time you return there, they remember certain things about you, but that’s, that’s different than, you know, sort of general information that you control, like your name and address and phone number, or maybe your credit card information or whatever that you can have the browser populate for you that, that cookies are more used to, so that the website knows that, you know, when you’re coming back to it, it kind of knows where you left off or who you were or what you did last or something like that.

[18:22 – 19:22] I’d love to get into even more examples, because one of the things that’s also coming to mind, you know, especially listening to you say that it doesn’t take a programmer now, nowadays to actually create a custom RPA solution for your business. And, I’m just thinking of the importance of first understanding what your workflows are. What are your processes and extracting or pointing out what those truly repetitive tests are that you can, I guess, automate through, through some type of an RPA solution. But before we get into that Dean, let’s go ahead and take a quick break so we can hear more from our sponsor. When we come back, I’d like to get, take a deeper dive into RPA, maybe even get into some examples of how you all would engage with a client and possibly come to a point where you recommend an RPA solution to help them streamline some of their back office operations.

 

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[20:44 – 21:59] Okay. We are back and before the break, Dean, you, you were starting to share with us all of the details about what RPA is and thank you for clearing up the confusion that I had personally, as I listened to your example about being able to automatically fill out a form. And you know, the fact that that’s not necessarily cookies. And so I appreciate you explaining the difference between, you know, what, what would truly be robotic process automation versus cookies. But technology is, as we know, just one of the three elements of business infrastructure, the other two being processes and people. And so for those who are listening to this show for the first time, business infrastructure is a system for how you link your people, your processes, and your tools and technologies to ensure that growth happens in a profitable and sustainable way. Dean, I’m wondering if you could take us on just maybe an example of a client engagement. I would imagine that you all are assessing their workflows first. How does that work and how do you reach a point where you can help them identify when RPA may be a useful technology for them to leverage?

 

[22:00 – 23:32] Yeah, absolutely. I think at least for your team, you’re touching on something that’s I think very critical because, you know, we sort of live in a golden age with these no code technologies, whether it’s RPA or it’s, it’s more mature tech, a more mature form of it called, you know, intelligent automation or cognitive RPA or business process management technologies. We live in this, in this world where these technologies are more and more easily accessible to business users, business subject matter experts who are not programmers. And so, you know, on one side of the equation, that’s really, a really powerful thing. There are these, these powerful tools that are now, you know, being sort of democratized. On the other hand, there’s a danger in thinking that these tools are magic bullets to solve your business problems. These, you know, and we practice in this area of complexity and, you know, maybe I’ll just step back for a minute and just say, you know, if you, if you think about, as you were talking about, you know, your, your, the sort of the systematized, you know, view of business infrastructure, and you’ve, you’ve got your, your people in your organization, you got your products, you’ve got your process and technology. Complexity, especially, first of all, complexity is not all bad, right.

 

[23:32 – 24:45] Some complexity is good complexity, right It’s the complexity that differentiates your business, right. That creates barriers, competitive barriers against your competitors. All of that’s good complexity, but a lot of complexity we call adverse complexity is the kind of complexity that is, you know, holding your business back. It’s either eroding costs in the business or it’s slowing down growth. And that complexity tends to hide in the business in places that you don’t see, because it, it sort of emerges at the intersections of the linkages, the connections between those people, people on org, you know, process and technology and product. It’s at the connection points between those things that adverse complexity arises and that adverse complexity, you know, you often see, you know, traditional kind of consulting companies might come in and they may be a little narrow part of the business, and they’ve got to do some optimization project and they work on this, you know, you know, you know, just, you know, very, very well done work to make some part of the business more efficient.

 

[24:46 – 25:38] And then they go away and, you know, all of the, all of the plans and all of the, you know, the spreadsheet math showed that that work should result in a certain benefit falling to the bottom line over time. And a couple of years later, you know, the executives are looking back and they’re going, well, what happened? We never got that benefit. You know, we did all that work and it didn’t have, and we didn’t get to see the benefit. What happened? Well, often what happened is you didn’t account for the add, the cost of the adverse complexity. So what happened is you optimize one area, but because of the linkages to other areas that you can see you de-optimized those areas that you got the return in this little area, and then the benefits got eroded elsewhere in the business. Right. And why do I raise that?

 

[25:38 – 26:41] And I raised that in, in the context of things like intelligent automation and which RPA is a part in that, again, as you say, if you don’t have a good, fundamental understanding of the processes themselves, and if you’re not taking steps to basically, you know, to, to first think through how to optimize the processes before automating. What you can be doing is, you can be institutionalizing and baking in with the automation. You can be baking in, you know, structural de-optimizations that you’re going to have to live with for a long time, you know, because the automation, once you create it, you know, people then sort of look away, it’s doing its thing, right. And no one wants to, no one wants to break it. Right. Right, right. And so, so it’s much better to say, you know, first let’s understand, really what’s holding the business back.

Image Source: RPATools.com

[26:42 – 27:50] Then let’s look to see how we can improve the existing processes and take that complexity down in the existing processes, the adverse complexity. And then once we do that, then let’s look out of the, in the remaining portions of the process, where are there areas, where there are highly repetitive tasks that are either, you know, just taking a lot of human effort and time to do, or their risks are in their error prone perhaps. And then let’s see how we can automate those. And it is not always the right answer for automation. So sometimes the answer for automating those is writing a script or writing a program that integrates two things together and automates them. But sometimes it is, that’s not possible to do. And sometimes the right answer is to automate at the graphical user interface level, the point and click level. And at that, and, and so for that subset of, of opportunities, then we recommend an RPA is the right, the right solution.

 

[27:50 – 28:56] And you can’t just, you know, it might sound like it’s magic. Oh, you create this little automation and then everything is good. But even once you’ve decided to go down the RPA path, then you have to really sort of think through, okay, how do I design the automation? How do I maintain the automation against, because maybe it’s automating against some part of the user interface. And that user interface may change the next time you get an upgrade to that product or an update to that website or whatever. Right. So now the automation itself has to be improved. What happens when the automation breaks and fails, you know, does every, has everybody now forgotten how to do that process because the automation was doing it and how does the business continue? Right. What happens with the cybersecurity issues around the automation and how those are maintained? How does the automation itself affect the fact that there’s audit automation working in this area perhaps, perhaps affect areas that are outside of this narrow, this narrow space, right.

 

[28:56 – 29:48] You have to think about it as not just in the local business, functional, narrow business function, where you’re automating, but is there a broader impact on the broader operational area, a business unit or across the whole operation that you need to think of to make sure that maybe the faster pace that the automation is producing can then be absorbed by those other areas. So there’s a range of complex issues. You can, you, you can use this new technology and you can have it really become, you know, a powerful tool to actually, you know, propel your business faster. Or you can have a kind of a Pollyanna view of it and you can apply it and you can look back and you can see that what you’ve done is you’ve used automation to just create another layer of adverse complexity that the business has to deal with.

[29:53 – 31:14]  You know, as I’m listening to you, I’m thinking, good God, why would you ever, why would you even go there? You know, because you’re, you’re posing all of these questions. How do you design it? How do you maintain it? What happens if it fails? You need to take into account cyber security, business continuity planning, gee whiz. So, two follow up questions based on everything that you just shared, which was absolutely phenomenal. One, I’m thinking as I, as I listened to you kind of recite all of those, those questions, those things that you need to take into account those factors. I’m thinking of, okay, you need to have people on your team who can be around to help maintain it. And if something breaks or to your point, technology is constantly being updated. What used to work yesterday, may not work tomorrow. And do you have a backup plan in the event that it doesn’t work? Who are some of the key people that a much smaller company, micro-enterprise level, let’s say, who do you recommend they have on their team? Do they contact someone at your firm that, that they can always count on to be there to help troubleshoot these different issues? Or is there someone that they should be looking for to have, you know, on, on staff?

 

[31:16 – 32:15] Yeah, that’s a great question. Well, first of all, just to be clear, our firm is a, we’re a strategy firm, right? We’re a management strategy consulting firm. So for our clients, we generally consult at the top levels of C levels of the company. And we’re trying to help those top level executives understand how to transform their businesses for the future and how to take complexity out and how to apply technology in ways that don’t add complexity. We don’t typically do implementations ourselves, although for some clients. So for some clients we do, they ask us to do help them with what we call proofs of concept, where we actually, you know, do a little, a little small implementation, so everybody can see the power and understand what it does, but really, you know, I think if you’re going to embrace low-code automation in a big way, and I, and I want to be clear that RPA is just the, sort of the first step into that world, right.

 

[32:15 – 33:23] Because there are other things like intelligent automation where RPA and AI or machine learning is used to supplement the RPA to make more sophisticated decisions than the highly repetitive, sort of rule-based decision-making the traditional RPA can support, or you can, you, you can start to move into your things like intelligent document processing. That’s using things like natural language processing and, and, and the OCR and machine learning all together to extract data from documents and classify it, and then prepare it. So the RPA agents can go into systems such as a whole continuum, right? That this fantastic automation capabilities are starting to come into businesses. But really we do think that, you know, if you’re going to do this well, you really need to build, you know, what we call a center of excellence for automation in your organization. You know, you, you, you, you need to, you know, automation, can’t be something you’re just started dabbling with around the edges.

Source: https://www.coreconcepttechnology.com/about-us/center-of-excellence

[33:24 – 34:34] You’ll get it 80% of the way there. And then the next 20% of the way will be extremely painful. But you know, if you can create a center of excellence inside your organization, maybe existing people who understand, you know, the, the methodologies, you know, the way to sustain and maintain these things can, you know, provide some governance and oversight for, you know, the business people, the business practitioners who are using the automation to put guardrails around it, to make sure that they’re doing it in ways that help them, you know, accomplish their goals. But don’t put other elements of the business at risk, you know, you can form, but you can create a very sort of systematized robust approach to employing automation in even smaller organizations. And that’s what we try to help our clients understand, right. With all of these things. There’s, you know, there’s, it’s the two edged sword, right. You can get the benefits, but those benefits also come with risks. Right. And you have to understand both sides of that and prepare for them.

 

[34:34 – 34:49] Are there any off the shelf solutions that you can recommend, Dean, in terms of RPA in and even with some of these other technologies that you mentioned, OCR, you know, intelligent document processing, intelligent automation?

 

[34:50 – 35:51] So the OCR is optical character recognition, which has been around for a long time, but has gotten much better in the, in the, sort of, AI, ML world that your machine learning model world that we live in, you know, a computer vision systems are a good example of, you know, how, AI is transforming that, that, you know, that world, I try to stay away from recommending product, vendor products. There are a number of really good technologies out there in the RPA world, from vendors like blue prism and automation anywhere, UI path. There, there is a whole Microsoft with their power apps that has a kind of an RPA solution, in their actual world. And, so there’s no lack of technologies, they all have their, you know, strengths or weaknesses, but they’re all pretty similar in capabilities at a high level.

 

[35:51 – 36:52] And again, they don’t, you know, because this is business process automation in a way, or maybe, you know, at least task level automation at the lowest level. They don’t come with out of the box solutions in the sense that you have to know what you’re, you know, we’re, we’re, you’re bringing a tool in, RPA is essentially a tool. And then you have to apply the tool to the process you want to automate in your business, right. A tool gives you a mechanism to actually create the bot, but you don’t, you know, you don’t get bots that are off the shelf to do anything meaningful because the bot doesn’t know your business. But you get to create that for your business and, and, and you can do it, you know, if you, you know, if you want to just build a little proof of concept that does something, you know, you have, you have a, an email or a PDF document that comes in and you want to scan it, and you want to find these certain fields.

 

[36:52 – 37:46] You want to take it out. You want to open up your ERP system and you want to go to these places and you want to put this information into, you know, into the invoice or whatever it is. and you want to build that little, you know, it’s, would be normally kind of a swivel chair activity for a human being, where I would, you know, open up my email and get the PDF and I’d look through it and I’d find the information I do control, do control C, and then I’d open up the other application. If you want to build the automation for that, you can do it very quickly. You as a, just a business person who does that job every day, once you learn these tools, you can do that job yourself relatively quickly. You have to have, I think, some, very high level understanding of logic, I would say.

 

[37:46 – 39:04] I wouldn’t say programming, but you have to understand, you know, logically in your mind, how to build the flows and how, how the decisions are actually made. But if you do that job every day, you can reduce that basically to a, you know, a flow chart, if you will. And then these systems are very much, these tools look like essentially you’re building that flowchart in the tool. And then that flow chart, that the tool converts that into basically a piece of software, a bot that will actually go and do that thing for you. Now, the tricky part is you can get to the place where you can just, Hey, I can, yeah, I did it once it works. It’s great. Yeah, that’s what I say, that’s the 80% level, but to get it to work a hundred percent of the time, when all things go around the edges, the exception conditions, the things that could go wrong. Well, that’s what really takes the discipline and the time and the testing and everything that what we call the, in programming, what we call the happy path, you know, it works, it works one time, you know, that’s insufficient to create a tool that is actually good in supporting the business. So, that’s where a little bit of discipline comes from.

Source: https://www.digitechsystems.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Process-Automation-Flowchart.pdf

 

[39:05 – 39:23] I knew this was going to happen, Dean, just as I, as we’re getting right into the heart of things, we have to start wrapping up. But I do want to ask you one more, really quick question, because something that I see often now, when I go to so many different websites is a chat bot. That, that’s different from RPA, right?

 

[39:24 – 40:45] Yeah. It’s different from RPA, but it does fall into this larger class of automation capabilities that are more and more accessible. You know, chatbots are, are now, like you said, they’re, they’re everywhere. And very often, sometimes what you’ll see now is you’ll see, you know, a chat bot doing the inner frontline interaction with somebody coming to your website, getting some information, you know, and then that basic information maybe gets passed somewhere in a document or something somewhere to another channel where maybe then another piece of automation takes that information and, interacts with it in some way, looks at it, makes a decision, puts, it opens up another system, puts some information in. So, you know, you see pipelines, if you have different types of automation technology flowing into each other and feeding each other to create very complex or to automate, sometimes fairly complex and submit sophisticated workflows. But it, you know, it takes some time to be able to get there.

 

[40:46 – 41:21] Got it. I think I understand now. I actually have a client that I’m working with right now, and they have volumes and volumes of paper that ultimately needs to be scanned and logged into these different forms. As the, as you, as the example, you mentioned at the very beginning of our interview. So, it sounds like that would be maybe a good candidate or worth exploring, you know, the possibility of integrating RPA into, you know, reducing the amount of repetitiveness for human beings.

 

[41:21 – 42:36] Yeah. And that’s a very classic use case where you would use, for instance, you know, something we call intelligent document processing, which is a way of, sort of, using, you know, algorithms of various sorts to basically understand the documents that have, you know, unstructured data, you know, and, and so they might be PDF documents. They might be some invoices or whatever, and, and you can use you, you know, or there might be emails or whatever. And, and you, you, you can process those documents, in ways where you can extract information, you can classify it, you can validate it, and then you can use RPA. So you’re using intelligent document processing to understand the document and get the pieces of the document you want to get to those pieces. And then you’re using RPA to take those pieces and logging into the systems of record that you want to transfer that information to. That’s a very natural and normal kind of implementation of two of these automation technologies, intelligent document processing, and RPA working together.

 

[43:11 – 44:20] This has been so, so helpful, Dean, thank you so much. This was almost like, you know, an RPA 101 kind of class, at least for me. So I really appreciate you again, taking time to speak with me and educate me as well as the listeners right now, more about that particular technology and for explaining the fact that it is along a continuum, and it’s kind of a starting point as you start to look into more opportunities to automate some of your different workflows and processes. So we started off, you know, talking about your background in telecommunications as a software engineer, how you were able to eventually you, you started to, you started your own company, started having these C level positions in other companies, and ultimately landed where you are now. And just to repeat your definition of RPA, it’s low code automation focused on automating repetitive tests on a computer or a set of network computers through a graphical user interface. Did I get that right?

 

[44:21 – 44:22] Absolutely.

[44:22 – 45:13] Okay. See, I was listening. I was paying attention and basically you, you also described robotic process automation as, as this “bot,” that’s trying to emulate the repetitive tests of people that may be performing these different tasks within, within a company. Let’s see. I mean, there’s so much to say here, and I know I have to go through this really quickly, but some other key points you mentioned, you know, the fact that we are now in the golden age of no programming technology, the fact that this technology is more and more accessible, it is a great thing. But as you pointed out, there’s also a danger in it because it kind of has a fault, becomes susceptible, I should say, to that magic bullet syndrome that you talked about, and the fact that so often we can be so enamored by these different technologies.

 

[45:13 – 46:22] And we watched these demos and the salespeople are doing, they’re doing a great job in, in selling us on these technologies and enticing us, but unless we’ve actually taken the time to analyze our processes and our workflows to understand if that technology will actually enhance, or as you would say, reduce complexity even, it’s not worth the investment. So I also appreciate you sharing with us at a very high level, the process that you all would recommend to some of your clients starting with: first, understanding what’s holding your business back next, exploring where the complexity or the, the opportunities for reducing complexity, where do those exist. And you have to first understand what your actual process or workflow looks like unless you have that documented identifying where repetitive tasks may exist. And to your point, Dean, RPA is just one of many different technologies that can be recommended in terms of automating certain parts of that process.

 

[46:22 – 47:37] I do want to also mention, because I think it’s worth repeating the fact that once you, once you go down this rabbit hole, you’re in it, and it’s so important to build that center of excellence for automation in your company. And again, being able to always make sure that you can answer the following questions anytime you implement, I would say probably any technology, how to design it, how to maintain it, what happens if, and when that technology fails with cybersecurity measures, do you need to have in place, who’s going to be around to actually do consistent testing. Don’t just test once, you have to test multiple times to make sure the technology is actually doing what you need to do. And then obviously the importance of having those business continuity plans in place. This has been fantastic, Dean. I can’t thank you enough. If you want more details about Dean, Wilson Perumal and how your company might benefit from not just robotic process automation, but other types of process automation as well, make sure you connect with Dean. You can also find him on LinkedIn.  Dean, thank you so much for taking time out to speak with me today.

 

[47:38 – 47:41]  Thank you, Alicia. I really appreciate it. I really enjoyed it myself.