Female Disruptors: Salima Vellani of Kbox On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

…What makes KBox special is our AI and machine learning technology that enables advanced analytics. We help kitchens find the right set of food brands for their local market, and then we future proof them by keeping them current, through a sophisticated mix of data evaluation — but without the need for a data scientist. Using our AI, we can also forecast demand for each kitchen, which in turn minimizes waste, improves staff utilization, and morale, and thus improves the profitability of each host kitchen.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Salima Vellani.

Salima Vellani is the founder and CEO of KBox global and Absurd Bird. A fascinating mix of business acumen and foodie passion, Salima used her background in strategy consulting and corporate finance to move into the restaurant space over 10 years ago and has since been a serial founder in the F&B industry. She has co-founded, invested in, opened and advised several internationally acclaimed high-end lifestyle brands including the restaurant group Bagatelle International, which as co-founder, she has helped establish 10 locations globally.

Previously Salima was a Partner at an investment advisory boutique where she was responsible for Cipriani, Nikki Beach & Resorts, Buddha Bar, MGM Resorts amongst others.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My friends always joked that I would only last in a job for 4 years before I would figure everything out, get bored and need to move on to the next thing. I love to learn and challenge myself and so over the years I have been involved in corporate finance, strategy consulting, venture, investing and then food.

I have always loved Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger’s approach to investing — read everything, all day every day, corral more and more information until patterns emerge and you’re enticed into action. It was this approach that led me into the food and hospitality industry.

Food is where my passions and skills align most neatly, but even within the food space, I have worn different hats — investor, operator, franchisor, franchisee, creator, brand builder, fine dining, lifestyle brands, casual dining, fast-casual and now virtual.

I learnt so much from my time advising, strategizing and then investing in and operating brands created by other smart and passionate entrepreneurs. This enabled me to spot trends before others saw them and in turn gave me the confidence to create my own brand, Absurd Bird, when I felt 6 years ago that premium chicken would be a hot trend. And while we were growing Absurd Bird, delivery was heating up and through a series of serendipitous events (some of which didn’t feel positive at the time to be quite honest, as is the nature of running a business), I had to pivot swiftly as casual dining changed tack.

I unconsciously took all I had learned over the years, redefined what I thought the traditional restaurant was — one brand, one location — and KBox was born.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The food industry and the restaurant industry in particular, has been one of the few sectors that up until two years ago really looked the same as it has for the last 20 years. The quality has improved and it’s gotten fiercely competitive, but structurally and culturally, nothing has truly changed.

The reality is that most restaurants and commercial kitchens, be it in hotels, pubs, gyms, catering kitchens or supermarkets, are underutilized. The model is outdated. One very expensive location with one brand that cannot evolve as food trends change. The result is ambitious and successful food providers not being able to capitalize on the soaring delivery market. So, we’ve fixed this.

On the demand side, we’ve created a multi-cuisine range of delivery-focused food brands, so kitchens can serve more local people, more easily, with the ability to adapt swiftly to demand flux and taste changes. And on the supply side, our tech platform digitizes kitchen operations to make them efficient.

But what makes KBox special is our AI and machine learning technology that enables advanced analytics. We help kitchens find the right set of food brands for their local market, and then we future proof them by keeping them current, through a sophisticated mix of data evaluation — but without the need for a data scientist. Using our AI, we can also forecast demand for each kitchen, which in turn minimizes waste, improves staff utilization, and morale, and thus improves the profitability of each host kitchen.

The result is kitchens are busy and profitable; local consumers have access to what they fancy, and food entrepreneurs get to expand without enormous up-front investment in bricks and mortar.

This is how we are disrupting food delivery and the wider hospitality Eco-system. We’re using advanced technology to shake up the traditional economic model, for everyone’s benefit, and I’m really proud of it.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My parents have a strong ethical disposition, and my father in particular hammered home to us as children that we need to live by 3 guiding principals: true happiness only comes from helping others; lifelong learning — use your intellect to help advance society, and be kind to others.

My father was a true risk-taking entrepreneur — he graduated from the London School of Economics and moved his young family from a town in Tanzania to Oxford where he taught and researched at Oxford University. We then moved to Vancouver, Canada where my dad felt there were more opportunities for business, and he could satisfy his entrepreneurial bug while working a full-time job. He would buy a hotel one day, a supermarket the next and a carwash in LA after a weekend trip and then care homes — all with very little capital but a lot of gumption and determination and always looking for the next venture. This all came to a halt when he decided to move into the not-for-profit world after a life-changing call from the office of the Aga Khan Development Network and he got an opportunity to move back to London to work for the Network. Literally, overnight my dad sold all his assets and dedicated his entire life to the project, and he has never looked back nor been happier.

My backers and investors in Absurd Bird, Shiraz and Nadeem Boghani come from the same ilk. They are very successful entrepreneurs who have built a multi-faceted empire and devote a large portion of their wealth to charity. They invested over £10m behind me based on my vision for Absurd Bird over a 2-hour meeting. I believe they saw in me the three principals I was taught to live by and knew I was someone they could trust. That trust continued and it is because of them that I was able to bring KBox to life.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

For me, it comes back to learning from every experience. As human beings we survive and thrive from learning, adapting and continuing to progress. Ongoing adaptation and development are as necessary for business as they are for individuals. But that development is sometimes about making small tweaks to a model or process that is working, and underlying it is a premise or offer that is standing the test of time. Wholesale change shouldn’t be an objective in itself. Disruption for me is about the scale of the required change which as long as it’s done as a result of careful consideration, informed observations and is evidence-based, will be positive.

For example with Kbox, we are shaking things up but by addressing a long-standing challenge, and for the good of all industry players. Our offer is the product of years of experience and will absolutely have a positive effect. Believe me, making change for changes sake would be too exhausting!

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

There are no failed companies only failed leaders. Not quite three words, but certainly a sentiment I keep in mind when making big business decisions. I came to create KBox because my business wasn’t in the place I’d hoped, and the entire casual dining sector was on shifting sands. Absurd Bird could have been another restaurant failure as a result of market conditions, but I refused to give up, and I refused to allow these wonderful people who backed me to be let down — I fought hard to reinvent it, and learned a lot about myself, my leadership style and my approach to business as a result.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We are only just beginning — I have so many ideas around the food ecosystem and marrying food with entertainment, fashion, retail and sports on the fun side of things.

And on the more serious side — I absolutely believe that what Hippocrates proclaimed all those years ago — Let food be thy medicine — rings true now more than ever. What we eat not only has impact on our health but on the health of our planet. Many of the challenges we face as a species, obesity, food allergies, climate change, and disease, can be addressed in some way by our relationship with animals and the food we eat.

If we can enable tens of thousands of kitchens around the world to run at the optimal level of efficiency, with zero wastage, giving them the agility to stay profitable as trends evolve then we will be in a position to transition them to healthier, greener more sustainable food offerings. We can counter the forces of the junk food operators and the beauty is in our model we don’t need to break the bank to get there. Our model is collaborative — it’s a win-win for all parties involved. What can be better than that?

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I am an avid reader and consumer of podcasts so it’s really hard to name one or even five! I’ll choose one of each.

The Ted Talk on Blue Zones blew my mind — I highly recommend it to everyone.

The term refers to 5 geographic areas where people have much lower rates of chronic disease and on average live much longer than anywhere else. The fact that whole foods, plant-based diets, meaningful connections, exercise as a way of life and solid sleeping patterns can determine how long we live and how healthily we live was articulated in such a powerful way.

How not to Die by Michael Greger — I got this book when my best friend was diagnosed with cancer — actually I got about 10 books on cancer but this one is special. Food really is medicine and when we realize that 80% of non-communicable diseases can be prevented or even in some cases reversed through food and lifestyle, it astonishes me that the medical establishment is not shouting this from every rooftop.

Both have had a deep impact on the way I live my life and the way I hope KBox can evolve in a meaningful way to impact society at large.

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

Honestly, if each of us devoted 10% of our time and resources to helping others and giving back no matter where we are in our lives or how much we have — the world would be a significantly kinder place. True wealth is not measured by how much money you have but how much you can inspire, educate, motivate, support and lift those in need. Now that would be a movement, I would be proud to lead.

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

I am going to cheat again and give you two of my favourite Albert Einstein quotes which are written on placards on my desk:

You never fail until you stop trying

Try not to become a (wo)man of success. Rather become a (wo)man of value

I think those two sentiments sum up my journey so far — there have been so many times when things have gone wrong — be it a business, a partnership or a relationship — and the easiest thing at the time would have been to walk away. But when you realize it’s not always just about your own needs or personal ambitions but also about supporting those around you — that there is a bigger, higher purpose — then one simply can’t ever stop trying.

How can our readers follow you online?

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

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


Female Disruptors: Salima Vellani of Kbox On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Female Disruptors: Jess Jurva of Lucidworks On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

A framework I use to guide my decision-making is based on these three pillars: quality, consistency, and performance. We want to deliver the highest quality people, processes, programs, and products to our customers, where expectations are consistently met and value is delivered repeatedly. Quality can’t be a one-time thing! And finally, we have to deploy a technology platform and service that delivers effective results and ROI from Day 1.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jess Jurva.

Jess Jurva represents the collective voice of Lucidworks’ customers and leads the teams responsible for customer onboarding, delivery, and management. With more than 20 years of experience building teams and programs to drive enterprise-level technical integrations for Fortune 500 companies, Jess is a true champion of and advocate for our customers and their success. With experience creating customer results at several startups and for large corporations like Intuit, Visa, and TIBCO. Jess is passionate about creating transformative customer experiences that yield exceptional business outcomes.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I’m originally from the Midwest and came to California when I was 22. I stepped into my first real tech job at Palm Computing right as they had launched the first Palm Pilot. I had the opportunity to work with software and hardware developers, and I just remember it being so cool. It created a hunger and desire to learn more about how technology is built and how we interact with it.

That hunger never really went away and I’ve spent the last 23+ years focused on helping companies leverage technology to connect in a more meaningful way with their customers and employees. I’ve had the typical San Francisco Bay Area experience working for startups as well as big public companies like Intuit, Visa, and TIBCO. All of which has led me to my role today as Chief Customer Officer at Lucidworks.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

My current focus is on transforming the customer experience for Lucidworks’ existing and new customers. To do so requires “owning” every part of the post-sales journey from handoff to onboarding, delivery, management, training, and technical support. It’s not a small task — which is why we have set up an organization aptly named Customer Excellence. As Chief Customer Officer I oversee this organization and our mission is to create and earn trust in every customer interaction.

A framework I use to guide my decision-making is based on these three pillars: quality, consistency, and performance. We want to deliver the highest quality people, processes, programs, and products to our customers, where expectations are consistently met and value is delivered repeatedly. Quality can’t be a one-time thing! And finally, we have to deploy a technology platform and service that delivers effective results and ROI from Day 1.

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

I’m sure there’s something I’m forgetting, but to be honest nothing is coming to mind right now.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

There are many women and men I look up to and have had the privilege to learn from throughout my career. Most notably was my first manager at Palm Computing, Kate Purmal. Kate saw potential in me as a young woman and became my mentor and big sister consistently shepherding me into new opportunities, relationships, and jobs. I have watched Kate over the years use her leadership and influence to blaze trails for women to follow and champion for women to have a voice and a seat at the table. Years later I still lean on her for executive coaching and advice.

As I climb the corporate ladder, Kate’s actions have inspired me to continue the same work of extending my hand to other women and inviting them to come along with me. This is the only way to keep putting cracks in that glass ceiling!

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disruption can absolutely be good especially when breaking through the status quo or an industry filled with giants doing things the same old way for years. Airbnb is a great example of disrupting the hospitality industry. Not only does Airbnb provide more cost effective lodging choices and experiences for travelers, it also allows anyone to leverage their home to make more money to meet their financial needs.

In my opinion, disruption can have negative impacts even though the initial intention or mission is to create good in the world. Social media platforms are a good example of this. They were meant to connect people around the world and provide a source for entertainment, news, and information. While this goal has been met it has come at the expense of increased screen time and some would say less connection to the people and family members right around us.

It is important to disrupt and be a disruptor — it is equally important to think about the positive and negative effects at scale and to continuously look at ways to mitigate or minimize the negative impacts.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

1. Be authentic.

People will see right through you trying to be someone else. Don’t be fake. Being authentic to who you are will quicken others ability to trust you.

2. Be direct but not mean when providing feedback.

The biggest improvements I have made in my career have been when my managers and peers have provided direct but not mean feedback. It can transform the way a person performs and what they are able to achieve.

When watered down or weak feedback is provided it can be confusing to the recipient and also deceptive in that they may think they are doing a good job when they are not.

3. Be the reason someone feels welcomed, seen heard, valued, loved, and supported.

It’s important to not forget that we are all human beings on this journey called life. We are all trying to do our best even though at times we might not be at our best. So, as a leader, bringing your full self to work, demonstrating empathy and compassion are required. In so doing you will inspire those around you to dig deeper, be better, perform higher as they will feel seen, heard, loved, and supported.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I’d love to lead an executive team or board where all the members are a group of diverse women. How powerful that would be! I imagine it being a force to reckon with and performance unlike anything ever seen.

For decades, executive teams and board rooms have been filled with mostly if not all men. How cool would it be for the trend to be reversed! As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says: “When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

As I have taken on more senior roles, the lack of women is painfully apparent at Director, VP, C-suite, and Board levels. Being a woman and gay I’m consciously aware at all times and circumstances of the presence or lack thereof of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. As I build out my own team, I’m ensuring that there’s more of a balance with both racial and gender diversity.

Throughout my career, I’ve experienced and witnessed several obstacles women disruptors face that their male counterparts do not: 1.) being the “token” diversity hire, 2.) being talked over repeatedly and voice drowned out, 3.) ideas not taken seriously unless a male counterpart re-surfaces them and often within minutes of presenting the same idea!, 4.) getting hired into roles that are typically non-male dominated roles: HR, Customer Success, Marketing, etc., vs Engineering, Sales, and Product, and lastly 5.) intelligence doubted through painful “mansplaining.”

I would love to see more women in technical and sales leadership roles. I’m proud of the role that I have now at Lucidworks, and I hope that I can be a tiny part of that major disruption to bring more women into leadership positions.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Books:

  • Dare to Lead by Brene Brown
  • The Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Digital Series:

  • Oprah & Deepak Chopra Finding Your Flow Meditation Series

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

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” Brad Meltzer

You never know what is happening in a person’s life or why they may be showing up in a way that you find hard to understand and perhaps sometimes offensive. Rising above or as Michelle Obama says “going high” through kindness can make a huge difference in that person’s and others lives. Don’t underestimate the ripple effect of kindness.

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

I would love to be part of a movement to leverage every day tools and surroundings to build or repurpose “technologies” that make other women and children’s lives better or simpler. I’ve seen some stories where in developing countries women’s health and lives have been improved through the simple use of repurposing a tool such as a wheelbarrow tire to carry water. So simple, yet effective and low cost.

One of the organizations I deeply admire is The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They focus heavily on water, sanitation, and hygiene bringing together great minds and experts to develop technologies to improve the health and lives of women and children.

Inspiring a movement to gather ideas, fulfillment, and deployment of improving the lives of others would be amazing!

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow me on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jessicajurva/

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


Female Disruptors: Jess Jurva of Lucidworks On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Female Disruptors: Marie Foley of Health Payment Systems On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up…

Female Disruptors: Marie Foley of Health Payment Systems On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

I met the founder of Health Payment Systems through my husband at a golf tournament. For him, a healthcare event drove him to brainstorm with other business partners to create a better way for consumers to pay their medical bills. With a background in the credit card industry, the idea was born to create a family based credit card like statement that contained the prior months healthcare bills and explanation of benefits all in one. Fighting for a better way for consumers to experience the healthcare billing nightmare that is there without HPS, has been a passion of mine since I joined the company in 2008.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marie Foley.

Marie Foley is an accomplished business professional with over 20 years experience in the Healthcare Industry. Proven ability to increase profitability of healthcare industry companies by initiating and maintaining relationships with providers, gaining buy-in on products from key executives, and developing / implementing winning pricing strategies. “Internal entrepreneur” with the history of developing and introducing successful new products. I have demonstrated talent for maximizing network competitiveness. Creator of process and procedure improvements that streamlined business processes, elevate productivity and efficiency, and enhance customer experience.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Growing up I always enjoyed Math classes. Problem solving was actually fun for me so I knew I wanted to find a field that utilized these skills. A friend told me about the Actuarial Program at UW-Madison so it all started with a great interview I had with the program director. The ever changing world of HealthCare led me to choose the Healthcare track of Actuarial Science. After graduation, I began my career as an actuarial consultant at an accounting firm joining a team of auditors that were responsible for auditing year end financial reports for insurance companies. This experience gave me a foundation of working together with others to find solutions for problems as well as investigative work. From there, I moved to an insurance company where I took on more of a business forecasting and reporting role to the regional CFO. After taking time off to raise our children, I reentered the workplace with HPS in an actuarial consulting role, quickly joining their leadership team to my current role of Vice president of Provider Relations & Actuarial Services.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I met the founder of Health Payment Systems through my husband at a golf tournament. For him, a healthcare event drove him to brainstorm with other business partners to create a better way for consumers to pay their medical bills. With a background in the credit card industry, the idea was born to create a family based credit card like statement that contained the prior months healthcare bills and explanation of benefits all in one. Fighting for a better way for consumers to experience the healthcare billing nightmare that is there without HPS, has been a passion of mine since I joined the company in 2008. With more and more providers expecting payment prior to services, patients are forced to make a choice between maintaining their health and putting food on the table. HPS is disrupting the market by offering a different way for consumers to pay for their healthcare; offering one place to pay, one payment plan for all their medical bills. We are also disrupting how providers collect out of pocket amounts from patients. With HPS, the providers can focus on taking care of their patients rather than the billing and collection functions. For our providers, we eliminate billing and collection costs as well as the expense of all bad debt associated with our members Lowering healthcare costs, enabling patients to receive care they need without the financial barrier, giving patients an easy way to pay their healthcare bills, and making this available to as many people as possible is our mission.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I had several mentors along the way. The first was a female coworker at Ernst & Young, Wendy Young. The actuarial career path can be difficult due to the time you need to put in to study for the exams outside of long work hours. Her work ethic coupled with her drive to get through the exams was aspiring. Her mentorship guided me to be a hard worker, passing several exams early as well as achieving accolades from managers during review time. Even though I worked for Shawn Guertin at The Travelers for a short time, he gave me confidence to be who I am today. He actually advised me to stay home with our children if we could afford it which was one of the best decisions of my career. It gave me a great perspective on the importance of spending quality time with family and not to miss life’s most important moments. Additionally, the independence he gave me provided me with confidence to work independently and be somewhat of an entrepreneur within the company to bring success not really for myself but for others as well. This mentality I have carried with me throughout my career. Another mentor that is somewhat recent since I’m sure he doesn’t know it is our CEO Terry Rowinski. Through his leadership at HPS, I have watched the team work in full collaboration together to bring us to where we are today. The mentality of “take care of your fellow human” has reached new heights at HPS through his direction and guidance. We are stronger as a company since we all are working together, joining forces to make the consumer experience the best it can be.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Being disruptive is good as long as the outcome is a better one for the individuals or companies that are impacted by the change. Change can be difficult so making sure the experience is a positive one to the end user is critical to move the change to the market.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Be assertive when you are confident with a solution. Give your best effort for the benefit of others. Your best effort is always good enough.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Help our team expand our membership and grow. I am always working to evolve and grow as a professional to support my team and clientele with an innovative approach.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

For women, sometimes our opinion is not “heard” as loudly as our male counterparts. Remember to do your homework, have facts and evidence to back up any opinion or recommended solution set. Once you have a solution set, it is important to remain confident and continue to voice your opinion(s) even if it means working harder to provide more documentation or proof of concept.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Power of Positive Thinking. Something that I live by everyday. Having a positive mindset is key to accomplish everything.

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

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” Philippians 4:13. Since I was young, my faith has always been the core of who I am. Working hard for Christ rather than myself gives me the greatest job satisfaction and helps me to feel confident in my work and life itself.

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

Read the bible and truly love your neighbor as yourself. Things that you were taught as a child are important to remember to live by as an adult as well. Kindness is infectious.

How can our readers follow you online? LinkedIn — linkedin.com/in/marie-foley-55059b6b

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


Female Disruptors: Marie Foley of Health Payment Systems On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Female Disruptors: Michelle Demaree of Miss Diamond Ring, On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up…

Female Disruptors: Michelle Demaree of Miss Diamond Ring, On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

I think the diamond industry as a whole generally focuses mostly on a quick sale and price. Many are in this business just to make a fast buck instead of focusing on creating a impactful experience for the buyer. The engagement ring represents something very unique to each couple. Love is the most powerful energy on the planet and the first thing I focus on with my clients is how I want them to feel from start to finish and how I can make their special moment even more meaningful. Offering a proposal planning service and a virtual shopping service with Rodeo Drive rings without brick and mortar prices has been compelling for luxury buyers. Especially during quarantine!

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Demaree.

Michelle Demaree, of Miss Diamond Ring, is the top luxury diamond ring concierge on the West Coast. Her passion for being the ambassador of love and smart-purchase-luxury has established her as the premier engagement ring expert and she has been featured in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, US Weekly, Entertainment Tonight, Life & Style, The American Dream and several others. With Michelle’s streamlined process, clients enjoy a luxury, boutique shopping experience that removes the stress and time (60 hours on average) out of their engagement ring search. She offers exclusive access to the world’s top diamond options and Rodeo Drive rings at a fraction of retail tag. From Hong Kong to Antwerp, New York to Los Angeles, Michelle sources the best diamond and gemstone options within the client’s budget. Clients work one-on-one with Michelle, and procure a ring as breathtaking as their love story. When you work with Michelle, you gain access to custom, bespoke settings by the best craftsman in Los Angeles. Getting clients the best diamond option on the market is her passion and streamlining it to save time, money and stress is her specialty!

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

After putting myself through college with a full ride at Pepperdine and working the real estate boom and bust in Vegas and San Diego with Pulte Homes, I moved to the Midwest and got a job as the marketing director at Bentley/Lamborghini/Bughatti. At an event at the Peninsula Hotel, I met the director of Van Cleef & Arpels who offered me a sales position because of my strong sales background. I told her, “I may not know jewelry right now but I have more horsepower and drive than anyone you will ever hire.” That landed me the job.

I became a top salesperson, selling millions in jewels at Van Cleef & Arpels and after two years was offered a position by Tiffany and Co. on Rodeo Drive. Not too long after many size figure Audrey Hepburn worthy moments, Harry Winston extended a position that I could not refuse and I continued selling millions in diamonds to clients visiting from around the world.

In 2013, I decided to leave retail so I could be present and enjoy time as a mom. In 2015 I was still helping clients privately and felt a calling to found Miss Diamond Ring, Inc.

My Los Angeles based boutique service offers global diamond searches and bespoke Rodeo Drive luxury rings designed around each couple’s love story along with travel & proposal planning services. I am now living my dream and have changed the landscape of the diamond engagement ring industry by offering a highly personalized experience for couples that they can’t get anywhere else, with exclusive access to Rodeo drive rings at a fraction of the price.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I am a single female mom-preneur who has flipped the switch on the luxury, transactional and male dominant industry of high jewelry. While overcoming extreme adversity, (recovering daughter from neuro-immune disease, surviving a divorce) I have evolved my international small female owned business into a one-of-a kind personalized experience for couples based on their unique love story.

To establish a niche in a highly male dominated industry that has turned commodity driven, when it should be an experience that honors each couple’s love story? That was a challenge and a hustle, to say the least! But I knew I had something special to offer my clients that they were not getting anywhere else.

I think the diamond industry as a whole generally focuses mostly on a quick sale and price. Many are in this business just to make a fast buck instead of focusing on creating a impactful experience for the buyer. The engagement ring represents something very unique to each couple. Love is the most powerful energy on the planet and the first thing I focus on with my clients is how I want them to feel from start to finish and how I can make their special moment even more meaningful. Offering a proposal planning service and a virtual shopping service with Rodeo Drive rings without brick and mortar prices has been compelling for luxury buyers. Especially during quarantine!

The fact that clients spend six figures with me virtually, (without meeting me in person in many cases) says a lot about my reputation and process. Luxury buyers are interested in this new standard in ring shopping because they have discriminating taste and they value their time.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I would say the biggest mentor / friend is Rebecca Cafiero. She and I met 20 years ago in real estate and have been on the entrepreneur journey for the past 5+ years. She invited me to Lori Harder’s Bliss Project retreat which is literally the reason I decided to start my business. When I was there, I remember hearing, “Who has the right to be doing what they are doing? Answer: The person already doing it.” That was a catalyst for me. A few years later I attended Cafiero’s Brand Camp in Sonoma, CA. That weekend of masterminding with innovative female entrepreneurs in a safe space gave me the confidence and blueprint to really go for my business model.

Another mentor would be Kristin Brabant, a success coach who helped me get clear on my overall business goals which were derived spiritually and from the heart, as well as getting aligned with the cliens I wanted to attract and how to structure my sales process so I could do so.

MindValley and Dr. Joe Dispenza are absolutely mentors to me in the space of personal development, meditation and the power of thoughts / beliefs / and how we can re-wire and manifest anything we wish. Their courses and meditations were a weekly bible for me.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received came from my wise Los Angeles therapist who knew all too well my people-pleasing tendencies. “Michelle have you ever heard of the 33% rule?” I most certainly had not. “In life you will come across hundreds of thousands of people, in business, personal and even family settings. You will never be able to please them all. In fact you may not like them all and they may not like you — no matter what you do.” No. Matter. What. You. Do. She went on to say “33% of people you will meet will love you, those are your people. 33% of people you meet will be the exact opposite. They will not get you, you will not get them, and never the two shall meet. The last 33% are in between. They are neutral. They don’t love you, they don’t hate you, they are pretty indifferent. Nothing you can do to change this, nor should you try to. If you can accept it you will be a much happier person. You cannot please or appeal to everyone, that is a losing battle.”

The second piece of advice is Marie Forleo’s ‘everything is figureoutable.’ This is a mindset more than anything and I believe that “no — not possible” should be removed from all entrepreneurs vocabulary. Anything is possible. A “yes, I can do it” mentatlity is the only way to keep creating and growing.

The 3rd piece of advice would be, when something bad happens instead of saying, “why did this happen to me?” Shift it to, “What was I meant to learn from this?” This has shifted every seemingly negative experience into a learning opportunity that gives me wisdom and the tools to grow and get better. It also forces the mind to come up with a positive answer instead of a negative answer. That builds the right kind of neuropathways that keep your energy and mindset positive and on track to your destiny.

How are you going to shake things up next?

I have been collaborating with some badass female entrepreneurs who feel inspired by my Diamonds with Soul collection, so that is an exciting, evolving entity. I am finishing up an online course called Diamond Boss, which teaches aspiring entrepreneurs who love diamonds, how to do what I’m doing, along with step by step training for luxury sales. It excites me to share and empower others to do what they love, on their own terms and enjoy the abundance that brings.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

The Untethered Soul has been the most powerful book for my mindset. It has actually taken away the negative chatter in my mind, and helped me not take anything personal and not resist anything (what you resist persists). Along with deciding and choosing to be happy, regardless of any circumstance. We can literally choose to be happy, no matter what. It is a mindset book and it helps the reader to reconnect to the essence of their soul and untether them from the social constructs / rules / negative patterns learned from family, culture, school..etc. It basically sets you free and wakes you up! I revisit different chapers every few months to refresh and reboot.

I would also say Vishen Lakhiani from Mindvalley recently did a podcast on intuition and how powerful it is, and how it is scientifically proven and studied. It is the most powerful thing we have and if you tap into it, it will guide you where your soul’s destiny is meant to take you. It is, in essence, your soul talking to you — we just have to wake up and listen. It is our most powerful guide. All of the times I made mistakes and went down the wrong roads, I can look back and remember feeling my gut tightening and telling me it was wrong, to move in a different direction, but my mind or fear compelled me to stay. And ultimately I paid the price and learned the lesson I needed to learn. Always listen to your gut.

The third is the Joe Dispenza course on HayHouse called Making Your Mind Matter. I did his hour long meditations weekly for 2 years and manifested everything I have built today. I was very broken at the time when I started and was drowning in negative thoughts about my life, my situation, etc. That course literally redirected my mind, rebuilt my thought patterns into positive ones, and redesigned the vision of the future I wanted, which ultimately redirected the course of my life.

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

If everyone made decisions out of love instead of fear the world would be a different place. If we could all tap into more intuition, be heart centered in business and in relationships, and recognize that much of the time it is fear / ego / old tapes / the reptilian fear-based brain that is acting out to try to keep us safe. If we could all do this, we could access our higher selves and live lives more closely to what we are destined to do. Every decision comes down to love or fear, so if you always move in the direction of love, in all things, your path will be of the highest form and will fulfifll your soul’s purpose. Even in the diamond industry. 🙂

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

“Be yourself, everybody else is already taken.” — Oscar Wilde. Imitation is the best form of flattery, but in business it creates a severe lack of authenticity and true connection to yourself and the people you are meant to serve. At the end of the day, what people want in a brand is authenticity, connection and trust. That only comes from staying true to exactly what your brand is and what it is not, not being afraid to let go of what is not meant for you and most importantly, always honoring the original vision you had for your business.

As the founder of a sparkling Los Angeles based business turned global, I knew in order to stay sane I needed to get clear on who I was as a brand and how I wanted to run my business so that it would fuel me and inspire me, instead of be the source of daily negative self talk. As business owners we all know, that jeckel on our shoulder can be pretty nasty if we don’t claim it, tame it, and reframe it.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me at @missdiamondring on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook!

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


Female Disruptors: Michelle Demaree of Miss Diamond Ring, On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Female Disruptors: Krystal Zheng of SAVR On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

With SAVR, we’re disrupting the traditional divide between digital and real-world experiences by creating an easily accessible mobile platform that provides gamified content and AR experiences reflective of your real life location. At this crossroads of digital and physical, we can quantify digital engagement with foot traffic, using real life key performance indicators for proprietors and brick and mortar businesses.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Krystal Zheng.

Krystal Zheng, a marketing maven turned tech founder is making waves in the South Florida tech scene with her new SAVR app, which is designed to draw foot traffic to parks, recreation centers and shopping malls by creating incredible Augmented Reality gamified experiences.

As a young, minority woman in the male-dominated tech industry she’s already getting a lot of praise. In the last year alone she’s been acknowledged by several nationwide competitions, programs and conferences such as Babson WIN (Women Innovating Now) Lab, Google Cloud Startup Program, Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit , U.S. Senate Entrepreneurship Round Table and the Miami Herald Business Pitch Competition.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I’m a marketing professional in the technology space. Back in college as my graduation approached, I blasted my resume to tech companies around Miami in search of a marketing position. I was lucky enough to start an internship at a mobile gaming startup called Let’sRumble. Throughout my time there, I had the opportunity to learn and work closely with the founder and CEO, who was a seasoned entrepreneur.

Throughout my early career, my focus was on improving user growth, retention and engagement. From my experiences in both tech and consumer industries, whether digital or brick and mortar, I noticed that customer engagement was the most crucial and evolving aspect of the business. However, I wasn’t seeing the connection of our real life and digital life; there wasn’t an engagement platform merging the two experiences. So with my technology background, I started to research how to create a platform to connect these valuable customer engagements based on their locations with static and augmented reality. This led me to create SAVR, a real life location based engagement platform with gamified experiences and augmented reality content to create engaging experiences that are fun for the user.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

With SAVR, we’re disrupting the traditional divide between digital and real-world experiences by creating an easily accessible mobile platform that provides gamified content and AR experiences reflective of your real life location. At this crossroads of digital and physical, we can quantify digital engagement with foot traffic, using real life key performance indicators for proprietors and brick and mortar businesses.

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

I have made many funny mistakes throughout my entrepreneurial journey, and I’m sure will continue to make more and learn from them. I remember when I first started SAVR I was told to make a business plan. Everything was about making a business plan. I probably spent more time writing and decorating business plans than doing actual market research. Then it came time to start fundraising with the business plan. I was lucky enough to set up pitch meetings with multiple well-known angel and early stage VC groups. I walked into these meetings asking for close to a million dollars to build my platform and soon realized I should have spent more time arming myself with more research to support my ideas, instead of focusing so much on one pretty powerpoint presentation. Looking back now, it was comical how unprepared I was and how people viewed the startup journey. Now after years of learning, building and executing, I’ve realized it’s not just about having an idea and raising capital for it. Maybe that works in a romanticised Silicon Valley TV show, but it’s not enough for a first-time founder in Miami.

This was an important learning step for me to understand and build the current relationships I have with funders in my field. They’ve all known me since the beginning when I was starting with just a pitch deck, to now with a fully operating and revenue generating platform. My investors and I often look back and laugh at how far we’ve come together.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I’ve been so fortunate to work with some of the most experienced and successful mentors in my field; from my first mentor who guided me through the basics of the startup world, to now operating SAVR under the impact of COVID. One of my mentor group is the Venture Mentoring Team (VMT) in South Florida, we have monthly meetings to ask questions and strategize for SAVR.

My mentors and advisors have provided value and impact to my organization by lending their sharp industry insights. For example, last month my team was approached by a group of real estate developers in Ecuador to establish possible distribution partnerships. Our first reactions to this proposed partnership was to hold our rights to the platform we have developed. However, my mentors provided a different viewpoint with a more constructed evaluation of this partnership opportunity. Having second opinions and an outside perspective is so important to entrepreneurs who might be too laser focused in solving a problem.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Calling a company, technology or product “disruptive” was used to show a valuable new concept, though now can feel like an overly used buzzed word. When I was invited to exhibit at Disrupt Conference 2019 in San Francisco to represent the Miami growing tech space, I saw many innovative concepts and companies at the conference. Some of them are certainly bringing a positive solution to a current problem in their industry or providing a better user experience. But some are just flashy, trying to change the status quo without bringing any true value.

I’ve come across two common ways of thinking amongst fellow entrepreneurs. The first one thinks positive disruption always involves technology or more specifically a mobile application, and the second sees positive disruption as the breaking of traditional patterns in an effort to improve efficiency, user experience, or logistical hurdles.

I’ve spoken with founders who wanted to create an app for pretty much everything and they need to create the app before doing anything. Yet sometimes the problem these apps are aiming to solve can be solved more effectively with different channels, contrary to the popular belief that an app = disruption. I fell into this category when I was starting out. I thought I needed to create an app to achieve SAVR’s goal of connecting consumer engagement with real life locations and digital interaction. I spent time, money and energy into building out my app. Eventually I learned the same goal could be achieved more effectively with a web based platform, and it could potentially bring more growth in the future.

Positive disruption should be the progress of a company or concept evolving to industry problems in search of solutions. Otherwise disruptive ideas can become a time-sucking distraction.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

1). Do not get overly protective of your “idea”

This piece of advice has continuously spurred my business growth to this day. As most entrepreneurs do, I view my company as my baby, which I built from a scribbled napkin to a fully operating platform.

Earlier this year, I was approached by an investor/real estate developer to partner on a Latin America pilot launch and work together by giving them a distribution license. Initially my co-founders and I all felt overly protective of our distribution rights and delayed the process. Thankfully, with the advice of our mentors, we came to realize this was a great opportunity for us to expand and gain market share.

2). Just because it’s outside of your wheelhouse doesn’t mean it’s impossible

As a location based experience platform for popular high foot traffic areas, our platform was greatly impacted when COVID hit. However one of my shipping center clients asked for a web based virtual reality shopping experience that we had never provided before. During my meeting with advisors, I mentioned this service was out of my wheelhouse, but my advisors quickly got my team back on track. This particular customer was asking for a service that presented itself as a need, and I had considered it less just because it was a little out of my comfort zone.

3). Traditional fundraising is not the only source of capital

Since the beginning of my startup journey, everyone I meet at every meeting I attend always wants to know “Have you raised?” or “How much are you raising?” Raising capital has become pretty much every entrepreneur’s goal. It’s true that as a founder, you should always be raising, and being able to raise money will be the only large revenue your startup will see in the beginning phases. However, raising money is certainly not the only source of capital to build a fast growing business in the beginning. This advice was given to me by the author of The Evergreen Startup, I had realized that I was doing it without knowing. I had already been securing and building my business with alternative sources of capital such as an equity incentivized team and revenue share partners.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I’ve really honed in on my problem solving skills this year. With these skills, I have been identifying and solving problems I see in my day to day life or in large scale industry shortages. While my team and I work to adapt SAVR to this constantly changing world and prepare to roll out new partnerships, I’ve also branched out a bit into other sectors. Because of COVID, I created another organization that at only 6 months old is revenue generating with sustainable growth that meets and solves industry pain points during the outbreak.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

As a female founder and disruptor, many conversations I’ve been part of have centered around inequitable access to capital. I agree there are gaps of access to capital between male and female founders. But most importantly, if we look at the amount of female and male founders, we have much more male founders than female founders. This is not because women are not disruptive thinkers, but women took longer and more careful measures before becoming a “Founder”. This in fact makes female founders with higher investment returns.

Female founders face a lot of inner challenges and societal stereotypes about how feminine traits affect their speaking, word choice, reactions and responses that could potentially lead to the challenges of acquiring capital, sales, business partners and so on. Understanding our own personal obstacles and how they’re viewed by outsiders and investors is crucial to lock in funding and run a successful business.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I am a big fan of “How I Built This” and “Female Founder Fridays”. Listening to stories of successful disruptors and founders, I often notice the similarities between their processes and experiences before they “made it” and my own. Sometimes I find myself in situations of many pivoting points, so the stories of other disruptors helps me learn to trust the process and understand when to go with my gut.

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

“It is all about energy.”

What I have learned from business and self development is that in the universe of energy, you experience and attract similar energies. This is why small affirmations like looking into the mirror every morning and saying “I’ve got this” can be so helpful. It flushes you with positive energy, builds up your confidence and reminds you of your goals. The energy you bring to the table will ultimately change how you approach challenges and bring about innovative solutions.

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

As I continue my journey to be an active member of my community both socially and professionally, I see many inequalities hinged on race, gender, and location. Many of these inequalities are caused by lack of access to education, not only in the traditional sense of schooling, but also access to the sharing of content, information and ideas. My movement would be to push for expanded access to information for disadvantaged or often overlooked communities.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can catch up on my company’s news online at https://savr.live or connect with me via LinkedIn.

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


Female Disruptors: Krystal Zheng of SAVR On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Female Disruptors: Nerissa Zhang of The Bright App, On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your…

Female Disruptors: Nerissa Zhang of The Bright App, On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

The Bright App completely removes the necessity of gyms as middle men sucking up all of a personal trainer’s profits. With our app trainers can connect with new clients and completely manage every aspect of their client relationship within the app.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nerissa Zhang.

Nerissa Zhang is co-founder and CEO of The Bright App, a leading fitness management mobile app revolutionizing the way personal trainers do business. Nerissa is also an elite trainer, a USAW Certified Sports Performance Coach, and she owns and operates two private gyms in San Francisco. She manages all this while residing in California with her husband and three young boys. When she isn’t balancing work and parenting, she enjoys powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, martial arts, and yoga.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

When I was a single mom with two kids working 12 hour days as a personal trainer in San Francisco, I was barely making ends meet. As I struggled, I also began to learn more about the personal training industry. Most personal trainers are independent contractors so get no employee benefits, however gyms require uniforms, specific working hours, and they keep about 50% of the income personal trainers generate with their clients. While I was actually homeless for a period of time working myself to the bone as a personal trainer, gyms were making massive revenues from my work.

I loved being a personal trainer, but that one inefficiency was something I knew I had to disrupt.

There are several other inefficiencies that also led me to design a tech solution to revolutionize the personal training industry. Nearly all personal trainers also have clients on the side outside of the gym, but struggle terribly for a simple and easy way to manage them. They’re using four or five different payment systems, manually keeping track of sessions, and getting questions from clients from text and email and social media DMs etc. all to do one job.

After years of research, I created The Bright App to disrupt this incredibly inefficient industry and empower personal trainers to make the living they deserve. Personal trainers don’t need gyms to be professionals, but they do need to start using tech solutions designed for them in order to stay relevant in this society which revolves around convenience.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The Bright App completely removes the necessity of gyms as middle men sucking up all of a personal trainer’s profits. With our app trainers can connect with new clients and completely manage every aspect of their client relationship within the app.

When trainers connect with a new client through our online private training marketplace, they’re able to send a package with a certain number of sessions at their desired rate. The Bright App automates scheduling, billing, reminders, and payment. Our app also removes the friction from the personal trainer/client relationship with seamless transparency. Clients will never have to ask how many sessions they have left in their package or when their next session will be. Personal trainers never have to worry again about making a mistake in tracking, ruining a high-paying client relationship because of easily avoidable mistakes.

Allowing trainers to spend less time on administrative duties with fewer mistakes, they become more efficient and have the capacity to take on many more clients. We allow personal trainers to run their businesses with ease and to experience the true freedom of being their own boss. They can work as much or little as they want, connect with clients from anywhere in the world, and keep 95+% of every cent they earn.

A recent study showed that after this pandemic, at least 26% of gyms have closed permanently. If personal trainers don’t adopt the necessary technology to manage their own clients now, they’re going to get left behind without any work in the profession they love.

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

When I first launched The Bright App, one of the ways I was getting new personal trainers on the app, was to hire them for a training session, get to know them, and talk to them about the benefits of our software. There was one day when I had scheduled six different workouts with six trainers across Manhattan. They all ended up being high intensity workouts ranging from CrossFit to yoga and bodybuilding. I had met six amazing trainers, but I literally could not walk at the end of the day.

I thought it would be nice to pay for their services and see what type of trainer they were and it was. It was really helpful to get to know them through our shared passion. But I realized after barely being able to move for a few days after that, that I could have just gotten coffee with them instead and bonded over training through conversation rather than high intensity workouts!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I don’t have any business mentors yet, but I’m looking. I do have a mentor in life though. She’s a doctor and university and has been a mentor to me since I was 15. She’s a strong female personality that has always understood and inspired me. We first met because she grew up in foster care like I did. She grew up in the last orphanage they had in Seattle and is a big believer in encouraging women who are coming out of foster care.

She’s been there for me at every stage of my life since we met. She helped me get into college and even helped me move all my things into the dorms. She always taught me that even though I don’t have permanency in my life in the form of a childhood family, I can choose to build permanency in my life. We’re still the best of friends and talk all of the time even though she lives on the other side of the United States.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disrupting an industry is positive when that disruption is helping people. I have a serious problem with the converse when people are trying to disrupt a system in order to further exploit people.

In the fitness industry for example, I’m disrupting a system which withholds autonomy from trainers and makes it incredibly difficult for them to earn a living wage. The Bright App’s disruption to the system will empower people to live healthier and happier lives — trainers and clients.

What is not positive are all of these AI products or fast fitness products and systems that are not only taking jobs away from people, but are never going to improve people’s health in the longterm like person to person relationships can. People are already isolated, lonely, and lacking motivation. Looking into an AI mirror or expecting results in 30-days are only going to compound the mental and physical problems people face. People need another real person to trust and look to for catered advice and care.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. Never listen to the advice of someone you wouldn’t have asked advice from. Would you ask for nutrition advice from a plumber? No. So don’t listen to all the unsolicited advice from people who act like they’re experts in fields they have no experience in. I’ve had several people throughout my life tell me how to run my businesses meanwhile they’ve never started or managed a successful business in their life. Trust your own insights gained through experience and ignore wannabe experts.
  2. Always be aware that many people will say you can’t do something because they couldn’t do it. I get that sort of discouragement a lot from other people in the fitness industry who couldn’t get results. I’ve had people tell me I was an idiot wasting my time with clients who they couldn’t get results with and with people who saw me seeking to start my own gyms and The Bright App. You can’t listen to that nonsense. I didn’t and I’ve succeeded every time where they did not.
  3. Be good to the people who have believed in your journey from the beginning. Be good to the people who support you so that you can succeed. My family, my kids, my clients who joined my gym early on, staff who have worked with us from the start, everyone who has helped me get to where I am today — I will never forget what those people have done for me. I will always do what I can to show them my gratitude.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

While our app will allow fitness professionals to work with clients from anywhere, there will still be situations in which they would like to use a gym for their training sessions. I own two private gyms in San Francisco and we’re going to pioneer a pay per use system for trainers.

Rather than take 40–50% of their sales like most gyms do, trainers will be able to come rent out a space in our gym just for the time they need it. We will even have private rooms equipped to allow personal trainers to conduct professional virtual training sessions.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

The world won’t listen to us. Particularly venture capitalists refuse to acknowledge the accomplishments, skills, and capabilities of women disruptors. VCs will tell women and have told me several times dismissive things like, “Oh that’s cute” when I present my fully functioning and already profitable business versus the, “Wow that’s a great idea” that men will get. VCs keep saying what a great idea I have, but that they just don’t think that I can be the leader to carry it out. Meanwhile 98% of all VC funding goes to men often for ideas that haven’t even been proven, have no revenue, and don’t even have a team, product, or service yet.

No matter what I do or how much I achieve, I will never ‘look like success’ to the rich men who refuse to view women, mothers, and women of color as anything but risks and liabilities.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Start With Why by Simon Sinek is a great book and Ted Talk. One of those days that I was going down the YouTube rabbit hole just browsing random videos, the Start With Why Ted Talk came up. Right off the bat I honestly thought it was stupid and was going to clicc through to the next video, but then Simon gave an example about why people love Apple so much and why it’s such a good company because it has always stayed true to it’s “why”. That caught my interest and before I knew it, he had turned everything I thought I knew about about starting a company on its head.

The book dives deeper into the reasons that you should always start with and circle back to your why for your business. It’s not about how a product works, but rather why does that product exist? Who does it serve? When you start with the why of your business, the how and what will fall into place. Using your why as the compass for all of your company’s decisions helps you stay aligned with your values and keep your business on track.

Start With Why really changed the way I think and how I approach business. This shift in my thinking is why I chose not to have monthly fees for The Bright App and keeping our fees at 4% of a trainers revenue. I created The Bright App to empower personal trainers to make a living wage. I’m not making as much upfront revenue, but I am allowing trainers to pay their bills. That’s our why.

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

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Understanding that I’m responsible for my life reminds me to make decisions that will help me grow as a leader. I’m the leader of my house, my companies, my personal training clients… Taking responsibility for myself allows me to lead with actions that reflect who I am and what my values are as often as possible.

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

The movement I want to inspire is to turn away from all the fast fitness, fast weight loss, fast health gimmicks plaguing the health of so many people. We need to shift all of the energy being put into fast fitness into true long term health. All these trends to get fit once per year in order to have a beach body, these 30-day fitness fads that promise you’ll get fit in thirty days, these one pill or food cure-alls are actually damaging people.

People can’t just eat one superfood or take one pill and miraculously be healthy. People aren’t going to get fit in 30 days. We need to have a movement that brings people back to valuing and practicing fitness and health throughout their whole lives.

How can our readers follow you online?

Please check out The Bright App website at getbright.app and you can download our app for free on The App Store and Google Play. You can also find the links to all of our social media channels on our website including Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

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


Female Disruptors: Nerissa Zhang of The Bright App, On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Edward Tricomi of Warren-Tricomi Salons: Five Things Anyone Can Do To Have Fabulous Hair

Know who you are and what your style is going to be. Don’t be afraid to change your look — Different styles can reflect different points in your life.

As a part of our series about “Five Things Anyone Can Do To Have Fabulous Hair”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Edward Tricomi.

Legendary Warren-Tricomi Salons co-founder Edward Tricomi is known for demanding excellence in everything he does. The roots (no pun intended) of his renowned career began after a suggestion from his sister that he try cutting hair to supplement his income as a musician. Decades later, Edward is perhaps the most iconic and influential hair historian of our era. He has worked for years designing hair for fashion shows including Valentino, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Gianfranco Ferre, Emanuel Ungaro, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren.

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

I was a musician at 18, and my sister was a hair stylist and asked me to work with her and ended up liking the job. and went back to school for hair. After I graduated, I moved to New York City and got a job at a salon called Cinandre, which was the like the Studio 54 of salons back in the day — my first client was Salvatore Dalí!

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

One of many stories — Gilda Radner just started working for SNL. I was cutting her hair and asked her about her job. She said, “Well, I’m a comedic actress — I just started working on Saturday Night Live.” I said “Oh, when is it on?” She said, “Saturday Night!” Since then I was invited to watch the show and I ended up hanging out with the cast every week after the show. I was eventually invited to work with SNL and did hair for McJagger and The Rolling Stones.

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

When I got the job at Cinandre I knew it was a game-changer and would launch my career. It was from there that I started my career with Irving Penn and American Vogue, which were the first shoots I ever did in my life, and after that my career just took off.

When I started to work with Xavier, I started to do photo shoots. I was living with Janice Dickinson and she introduced me to Polly Mellen. Polly came in for a haircut and loved what I did, so the next day she booked me with Irving Penn at Vogue.

In your experience what were the most effective ways for your business to generate leads and sales? Can you share a story or give an example?

I was lucky enough to come from a great heritage of salons and created great photoshoots — we did a lot of magazine shoots and tv shows back then. Always surrounded by the top 1% clientele has it perks.

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

I got to work with Helmut Newton and Deborah Turbeville — the most iconic photographers in the world. I worked a lot with Deborah. She was like the John Lennon to my Paul McCartney; she was my art partner. She passed away three years ago, and there’s nobody since then who can replace her. Nobody shoots like she did. Deborah was the first photographer to shoot distressed backgrounds. All the other magazine photographers, would shoot with clean backgrounds. Deborah shot in abandoned buildings, everything crumbling and so on. Her work was heavily texturized, so the hair became texturized too.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

When I would be working with Polly Mellen, she was very strict about being on time. If you came even one minute late she would throw you off the shoot — I’ve never been late to a shoot since!

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but know that their dreams might be dashed?

Any entrepreneur, you have to have a vision, and you have to then be able to execute on that vision.

I always wanted to be the best in world, and you really have to study for it. I was lucky enough that my grandfather was a fashion designer — so as a kid growing up, I was exposed to Vogue and Bazaar and all those magazines.

You also have to understand the history of fashion and the history of hair — how hairstyles are came into fashion and how it fits in to big picture. Even the history of hairstyles, like how the ‘Rosie Riveter’ style came to be because of women entering the workforce and their long hair couldn’t be down for it would get caught in the machines, and how men had cut their hair short during wartime so enemies couldn’t grab it, and how it eventually came into everyday fashion.

You have to bring all your knowledge to a shoot, look at the clothes and makeup being used and create something that brings everything together that helps to execute the designer’s vision.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you please share “Five Things Anyone Can Do To Have Fabulous Hair”. Please share a story or an example, for each.

1. Know who you are and what your style is going to be.

2. If you know your look, you can create a style that fits you.

3. Don’t be afraid to change your look — Different styles can reflect different points in your life.

4. Take care of your hair — use the best products for your hair.

5. As you get older and/or are suffering with hair loss- I highly recommend the Capillus Cap to promote hair growth and minimize hair loss.

Can you share 3 ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

The three most important things to keep in mind are how you wear and style your hair, makeup (or no makeup!), and your clothes. This will create your look — when you are comfortable with yourself and your style, anything should make you feel beautiful.

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

Climate change! You need fossil fuels now in the short term, like electricity and batteries or hair tools, but I believe in the next 20–30 years there will be other methods for renewable sources with how technology is getting better and better over the years.

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

“Chase the art, and the money will follow like a shadow.” I’m still around because I believe and have a passion for the art. I always say that money is a shadow — it is the thing that follows the art — so don’t chase shadows.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂

Elon Musk — if Nikola Tesla was alive I would like to talk with him, but Elon Musk is an innovative guy doing innovating things. I’ve always been interested in space travel and technology for the future, I feel like we would have some great conversations.

How can our readers follow you online?

Warren Tricomi’s Facebook page and Instagram @warrentricomi

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!


Edward Tricomi of Warren-Tricomi Salons: Five Things Anyone Can Do To Have Fabulous Hair was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Female Disruptors: Day Edwards of Church Space On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your…

Female Disruptors: Day Edwards of Church Space On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

I am a female founder in the faith tech industry. My work is about helping society understand the value of the number one underutilized piece of property in the United States which is churches. Whether you talk about myself as an entrepreneur or the industry I am in, there is nothing common about my situation.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Day Edwards.

Day Edwards, a social entrepreneur, and second generation church planter who loves helping churches earn more so they can do more. Day is the Founder of Church Space; a mobile app and website that connects vacant church spaces with business owners, event professionals, and church plants seeking space at an affordable rate. Helping Churchs create revenue-generating models and systems is her thing

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Hello, thank you for having me! Yes, I am a second generation church planter that grew up watching her mother plant churches. I saw how her everyday work really had a symbolic impact within our community, and it really inspired me to follow that path. I served as a church planter for a number of years, and after that I founded a PR company that helped churches. At first I only took over public relations and marketing for the congregations, which eventually led me to come up with the idea of Church Space. Church Space not only aims to work on the public relations needs of each church, but also to help rent out their underutilized space and produce revenue for them.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I think I act as a disruptor because I am a female founder in the faith tech industry. My work is about helping society understand the value of the number one underutilized piece of property in the United States which is churches. Whether you talk about myself as an entrepreneur or the industry I am in, there is nothing common about my situation.

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

The funniest mistake I’ve made was right when I was starting. I created an advert for churches to rent their space and included a picture of a church building. There was a slogan on it that read “empty churches make money.” That really upset the pastors. At the moment I didn’t realize how it sounded. I was extremely confused when I started to get backlash over it. People would comment angry emojis all over my posts! Apparently, pastors and church goers correlated it with a negative tone and were not happy with me. That was the moment when I learned that advertising tone and message really need to speak to the heart of customers and consumers. It was a very good lesson that I will never forget.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I am a faith girl and that is the foundation of my life, so my first mentor will always be Jesus. How he discipled. His relationship with his disciples really showed me that if Jesus needed 12 devoted disciples, I definitely needed a team! Just from that revelation I understood the importance of team building, and of cultivating the right culture to build the brand and the business.

The second one would be Melissa Bradely, I met her at a business accelerator. She is one of the owners of 1863 Ventures. She has actually been generating a lot of press and advocating for black female founders to be able to have the same opportunity in regards to capital in their businesses. She is also a prime example of a go-getter and disruptor. You don’t see a lot of females in the VC industry, especially black females. Melissa is a black female leading a VC firm. This is why she is so important to me.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I believe that the disruption I am causing within the faith tech industry is definitely having a positive impact. Simply because on average, in matters of technology, churches are 10 to 13 years behind. I am trying to change that by helping them stay updated. Also because my strategy is thought-out to not only impact the church, but to also to help out the community in which the church serves. I believe that wherever a church is able to have more they are able to do more. What I mean by that is, whenever there is more financial resources available to them they are able to provide more to the community they serve and to the congregation as well.

I would define a ‘not so positive’ disruption as anytime someone disrupts something that they do not have a solution for. It leaves the matter in an unsettled way, things are left worse than how they were found.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. Pray. Pray while working, pray while not working, pray all throughout the process. Again, you can’t do it all on your own strength. If it was that easy everyone would do it. We have the greater strength on our side that is open and willing to help us build.
  2. To know and accept you do not know everything and that is okay. I’m a church girl, so of course I have a scripture for that! Proverbs 27.1, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”
  3. To have an amazing support system. Like I mentioned before, Jesus shows us that if even he needed 12 devoted disciples. Team support will help and support you through the ups and downs of building and paving the road to success.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

My next move comes as an inspiration from the CoronaVirus outbreak. As a result of it, churches had no other option than to close their doors for the time being. One evening I came up with an idea. I decided to put together a series of online courses for churches to understand how to better utilize their space. I also started to offer free church assessment to help churches strategize on the best utilization of their space when they open. Currently, that has evolved and led me to start my own consulting firm for churches, Church Space Consultants.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

The biggest challenge for women disruptors would have to be the under-gratification because of their sex. This is very evident within the start-up capital and investments they receive compared to their male counterparts.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Yes, there is a podcast from the founders of Airbnb called ‘How I Built This’ with Guy Raz. I don’t know if you know but church space is based on the airbnb type of model, but for churches. All along my research, whenever we were building church space always made sure to research their steps. How they got to where they are. Then I came across their podcast, it talked about how when they were first starting out it was so difficult to build a marketplace business. It explained you have two sides to fulfill, you have ‘Side A’ and ‘Side ‘B’, you have to have someone who wants a service and you have to have someone who is willing to provide it. It definitely changed my perspective.They talked about how they literally had to go from home to home knocking on doors asking people “can we rent out your home?”. That really encouraged me, because when I first started churches were not signing up. I had to work up a strategy, I decided to contact each church personally and explain the basis of our business. I did this for a while until it worked, and they finally started signing up! This process really helped us shape our marketing and better understand the demographic of one ‘Side A’ of our marketplace.

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

“Rest in nature and rest in God” I’ve had to learn the hard way that rest really helps us as business owners, as wives, as moms. It helps us not to have a burnout where we lose our passion, where we lose the sense of actually making an impact because we are constantly toiling rather than enjoying the experience of building.

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

I think I would move churches to understand that God wants us to be wealthy and that is okay to have more than enough. To have exceedingly and abundantly, because he’s a God of grace, love and provision. Most Christians think that the humble or Christian thing to do is to not have too much, right? But God shows us that we are just stewards and that if we humble ourselves he’ll give us more than enough

How can our readers follow you online?

On Instagram you can find me as @day_edwards_ and you can find Church Space as @church_space

On Facebook you can find my business profile as Day Edwards, with more than 5K followers, you can also find Church Space on Facebook

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


Female Disruptors: Day Edwards of Church Space On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Ronda Dean of Afaxys: “Why organizational fit is as important as expertise and talent”

When it comes to building a strong team, organizational fit is as important as expertise and talent. At Afaxys, our mission is central to everything we do, and we’ve found that a shared commitment to serving our customers is paramount to driving our organization forward.

Hire a kick-ass team — because you can’t accomplish it all on your own. We’re always on the lookout for top talent with a passion for public and community health. If that’s you or someone you know, get in touch!

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ronda Dean.

Ronda Dean is the President, CEO and Co-Founder of Afaxys, a first-of-its-kind company committed to making access to sexual and reproductive healthcare affordable for all providers and patients. Ronda and her team at Afaxys are passionate about their mission to serve the needs of public and community healthcare providers so they can focus on the health and well-being of their patients. Under Ms. Dean’s leadership, Afaxys has profitably launched 10 oral and two emergency contraceptives to become the top provider of oral contraceptives to U.S. public and community health centers.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Every year, more than 31 million Americans rely on public and community health centers to get essential care. In college I was one of those patients myself. I saw firsthand how necessary health centers like Planned Parenthood are to provide affordable access to reproductive healthcare. I was passionate about learning more about the healthcare system, and I have spent my entire career working in various facets of the healthcare system. First, in infectious diseases as a clinical microbiologist, and then I spent the next 25+ years of my career working in the pharmaceutical industry across a number of therapeutic areas, with the majority of my focus in women’s health. When the opportunity came along to join Planned Parenthood, I jumped at the chance to focus on expanding community health access. I began to see up close how in today’s changing and uncertain healthcare environment, many public and community health providers struggle to serve their patients because they can’t reliably access the cost-effective products they need. A patient might have to change the contraceptive product they’ve chosen because the supplier raised the price or because supply was unpredictable. That’s why I started Afaxys. Our name intersects “affordable” and “access,” and our mission is just that — to provide a stable, affordable supply of products and services that providers need for their patients.

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

As I was starting Afaxys, I spent a ton of time doing extensive research to establish our business model. In doing so, I traveled across the country to meet with dozens of community health providers and learn more about their needs. Sitting in their waiting rooms, I heard hundreds of stories from men and women who relied solely on these health centers to get vital care. It brought home to me that without these providers — many of whom depend on politically vulnerable government funding, grants and donations to keep their doors open — millions of people across the U.S. would have nowhere else to turn for their healthcare. Listening to these stories and meeting the real people who rely on public and community health centers solidified the importance of these providers in my mind and reinforced my commitment to supporting their mission.

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

Before becoming CEO of Afaxys, I had never worked with a board of directors. I went to my first board meeting and treated it like I would my other executive staff meetings. I took the lead and immediately started assigning roles and responsibilities. The board quickly put me in my place! Ultimately, I learned the importance of boards for good governance and sound decision making — even CEOs have bosses.

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

On a personal level, I would say Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of the Roe v. Wade decision. I was fortunate enough to meet him, and he taught me a lot about respect for others. I asked him once what inspired him to write the case and form his perspective on women’s health. He cited privacy as being the primary driver of his position on the issue and believed that women should be treated and respected just like men in a reproductive healthcare setting. This was a perspective I have kept with me throughout my career.

On a professional level, early in my career I worked for a CEO who was extremely demanding, almost to the point of being unreasonable. Upon becoming a CEO, I look back on his approach and now appreciate that the CEO is the last line of defense in making big, high-risk decisions. He was passionate about the business and did not want to see it fail. And it didn’t. While I didn’t always agree with how he conducted himself, he set the bar high for me. I learned from him that a leader must hold herself and her teams to a high standard and must never ask of others what she wouldn’t do herself.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Ultimately, I find our mission is what centers me in my work. It keeps my focus on healthcare providers and the patients they care for, and it clarifies my priorities and allows me to concentrate my efforts on the things that are going to have the biggest impact on the community.

When it’s time to unwind and cope with stress, I like to enjoy a good glass of wine! I also laugh a lot with family and friends and appreciate all the quality time spent with them. I’m an avid cyclist, so when I’m working through a tough issue, I like to cycle for miles and miles to help me think. Let’s just say that I have put a lot of miles on my bike over the past few years!

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

At Afaxys, we are about equal access for everybody, be it in a health center or the workplace. Diversity takes many forms — gender, race, religion, sexual orientation — and ultimately a diverse team with different perspectives is going to create a stronger, more innovative company. Public and community health centers serve everyone who walks through their doors, and that’s a value that we have taken to heart at Afaxys. In fact, our company values were crafted by a cross-functional, diverse team of employees for that reason. It was essential for us to bring in different backgrounds and perspectives to shape a corporate culture that works for our entire team.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

When I started in the pharma industry 25 years ago, there were very few other women. I was the first woman to be promoted to an executive position at the company where I worked, and I too often had the experience of being talked over or ignored. Diversity must be about more than a seat at the table. It also must be about listening to and valuing the contributions of all members of our teams and communities. That’s the first step.

I have also experienced firsthand that representation in positions of power matters. When I took on that executive position, so many other women at the company reached out to share how excited they were. There were a few other women executives in HR and operations, but I was the first woman with P&L responsibilities — and this was a big step forward. Because of this, I didn’t have any female mentors. Even today, while the top ranks of companies and government are becoming more diverse, they are still overwhelmingly white and male. I’m truly touched when other businesswomen tell me that my leadership has inspired them, and I think it’s critical that we as a society prioritize fostering leaders who reflect the communities they lead.

Lastly, I am fortunate to sit on the board of the Coastal Community Foundation, an organization that fights to create an equitable and inclusive working environment in our community each day. A few months ago, I attended a two-day training session on implicit bias and racial equity. In speaking with Black colleagues during the session, I learned the importance of using my privilege as a white woman and a CEO to voice the concerns of individuals and groups facing racism, discrimination or injustice. We all must take individual accountability to drive social change. I think all leaders should attend bias trainings and racial equity programs to rethink how they see the world.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

A CEO acts as a strategic checkpoint for the business plan overall to make sure the organization is aligning current actions with long-term goals and vision. While all leaders must be experts in their subject and inspire their teams to excellent execution, the CEO must go beyond current plans and anticipate what’s coming years in advance. In public and community health, we must be attuned not just to what our providers and their patients need today, but also how changes in the political landscape could affect how healthcare will be delivered and paid for. Thinking long-term ensures that we’re able to provide access to the products and services that providers and their patients need when they need them, now and in the future.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

A good CEO doesn’t have all the answers, and she needs to be comfortable with that fact. She needs to trust and rely on her functional executives to be experts in their respective specialty areas and to drive results.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Women are still highly underrepresented in leadership positions in our society. Despite making up 51% of our total population, only 7% of Fortune 500 companies are run by female CEOs. Women hold fewer than 25% of Congressional seats, and there still have been zero women presidents or vice presidents in the United States. Thankfully, in 2020, we have small pockets of diversity, but there’s still a long way to go. Earlier in my career in pharma, I was told I was being trained to eventually rise to the most senior level in the pharma industry, but who knows if that would have happened. More than likely, I would have been like many other women who hit a glass ceiling. I hope that someday soon women don’t have to start their own company to become a CEO.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

It’s so much fun! At this point in my career I expected to be retired, but I’m still here because I wholeheartedly love my work and my team and look forward to every Monday as if it were my first.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

CEOs must digest, analyze, simplify and disseminate massive amounts of information very quickly. A CEO must be able to think critically and apply strategic concepts to business operations. CEOs also must swiftly move from one thing to another and focus on a lot of different things at the same time while maintaining focus on the “north star” — in our case, our mission to serve public and community health.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Lean into your strengths and not the stereotypes of what you think a leader should be. Many traits that haven’t traditionally been shown as leadership traits have tremendous value in business. For example, if you’re a good listener, use those skills to hear what is — and isn’t — said to make the best decisions. If you have a strong gut instinct, trust your intuition. If you are a nurturer, embrace those skills to take care of your teams and your employees. Women are often better at asking for help than men. Use that to your advantage and leverage your team’s expertise to solve the challenges you’re facing.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Our community and public health customers make the world a better place every day by delivering care to those who need it most, and we are focused on doing our part to make their jobs easier. We believe access to sexual and reproductive healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. That’s why we’ve launched 10 oral and two emergency contraceptive products to ensure stable, affordable supply for patients. In fact, we’ve become the #1 provider of oral contraceptives to public and community health centers in the United States. We have also saved our customers millions of dollars on supply purchases through our group purchasing organization. I’m also excited for our next chapter — launching research and development for our own products for the first time to ensure all patients have access to a full range of contraceptive options.

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

  1. Building a company is a marathon, not a sprint. Afaxys is celebrating its twelfth year in business, and we’re just getting started! It’s critical to plan your business — and your energy — for the long term.
  2. Ignore the “gnat” issues and focus. There will always be distractions, but leaders must be able to determine which opportunities will have the greatest impact and focus on those.
  3. There is no reason to be intimidated by prospective investors. Afaxys benefited from a grant from the Packard Foundation to get our start, which we were able to fully repay. As we look to expand our business further, I’m reminded that investors are just people like anyone else, and when you find like-minded investors, they become your partners in success.
  4. When it comes to building a strong team, organizational fit is as important as expertise and talent. At Afaxys, our mission is central to everything we do, and we’ve found that a shared commitment to serving our customers is paramount to driving our organization forward.
  5. Hire a kick-ass team — because you can’t accomplish it all on your own. We’re always on the lookout for top talent with a passion for public and community health. If that’s you or someone you know, get in touch!

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

From the frontlines of public and community health, we see too often that a person’s background and economic resources dictate their ability to stay healthy. We must do more to correct racial and socioeconomic injustices in healthcare access.

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

I try to live by Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” From my first sales position to most of the promotions that came after, I was usually the first woman “in the room.” Most of the men that I worked with were great — peers who became my friends and bosses who became my mentors. But there were also some male colleagues who resented my presence and tried to minimize my effectiveness or diminish my confidence. Ultimately those who were my friends and mentors — and this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt — inspired me to spend my career working to empower women to have more agency over their healthcare and their lives.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

I would have loved to meet and work out with the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. American women owe her so much, such as the ability to buy a house or get a credit card without a man, or even the right to work while pregnant. She has been an inspiration to me both as a formidable, compassionate leader and as a tireless warrior for women’s rights.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.


Ronda Dean of Afaxys: “Why organizational fit is as important as expertise and talent” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Female Disruptors: Google’s Neha Pattan On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

The use of Cloud based AI services in our everyday lives, specially through simple and intuitive interfaces to our smartphones, is already revolutionizing the way we live our lives. Mobile and web technologies are used by billions of people worldwide and we’re constantly thinking about how to make their experience better, safer and more useful.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Neha Pattan.

As a Tech Lead at Google, Neha is responsible for leading teams to design and develop products and services for Google’s core businesses. She immigrated to the USA, to pursue higher studies in Software Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and then joined Google, where she is now deeply involved in finding new and innovative ways to use technology to solve real world problems. From designing and building enterprise systems to figuring out how to build great products for consumers, Neha has engineered software for a wide gamut of users.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Thanks for having me.

When I began to develop interest in smartphones and handheld devices, it was still early days. I remember the devices we used in our research lab at Carnegie Mellon, during my graduate studies, were Nokia N95 phones. At the time, Nokia was doing very well in market share and was only just venturing into the smartphone market. Apple had released the iPhone but the real revolution was yet to happen. The test devices we had back then were very archaic to the ones that are so widespread today. No touchpad, limited processing power, small ecosystems. And then in the past decade, we’ve seen an exponential growth of device capability and intelligence. It’s been really inspiring to see so much technical innovation in this space. I feel really fortunate to have been part of this incredible journey.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Sure. I’m currently working on making AI based Cloud services more intelligent, easy and intuitive to use on mobile handheld devices. Think of your digital assistant being always available and ready to help whenever you need it. The use of Cloud based AI services in our everyday lives, specially through simple and intuitive interfaces to our smartphones, is already revolutionizing the way we live our lives. Mobile and web technologies are used by billions of people worldwide and we’re constantly thinking about how to make their experience better, safer and more useful.

That sounds exciting. How do you make decisions when you build products for such a large user base?

That’s a great question — part of it is intuition, but most of it is science. We’re constantly looking at data and gathering user feedback to help us make the right technical and product related decisions. What we strive for is making our products easily accessible and intuitive, while giving users full transparency into what the AI does, giving them control over their data and allowing them to get their work done in a fraction of the time.

Yes, especially at a time when user trust in popular online services is so low, how do you build that trust?

You’re right. Being able to trust the services you use and knowing how things work is key to enabling you to have a good experience. When you look at how ubiquitous smart devices are in our lives today, it becomes really important to build services that work with these principles from the get go. Simply put, users value transparency and control. This is something we take very seriously and build into the core of our products.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

You know, I haven’t really had a formal mentor over the years, but a lot of help and guidance from senior engineers and leaders with more experience. I’ve had guidance on technical decision making, managing cross functional teams, negotiating and even establishing boundaries.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Some of the best advice I got was about how to, occasionally, say no. I used to find it really difficult to say no to anybody. But when you’re in the middle of large projects working with hundreds of stakeholders, being able to say no and provide a good justification for it, becomes really important. It gives you the space you need to do what is right and increases your credibility among the people you work with.

Two other pieces of advice I received, that honestly made my life so much easier, were to delegate and to escalate. It’s often hard to know when is the right time for you to step in to solve a problem and when is it best to let others do it. Being able to judge this and work effectively with both, your team and your leadership, is really important.

How are you going to shake things up next?

I feel really fortunate to have learned from some of the best minds in our field in the past decade that I’ve worked at Google. It has been a great journey learning and contributing, but I believe that real impact will come from giving back to the community. I want to share my learnings with girls and women interested in pursuing technical careers and help bring more women to leadership positions in technology. I’ve mentored several engineers at Google and have now signed up to do the same with non profits working with college students around the world.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I have a favorite author and have read most of his books and listened to his podcasts too — Malcolm Gladwell. I mentioned earlier how it’s really important for us to make data driven decisions when designing products for our users. Malcolm’s work has made data driven decision making so accessible and understandable in many walks of life. Not just making decisions based on data but also being able to dig into it to find patterns, rules and often even interesting anomalies.

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

One of the principles we learn when we are kids is to always be patient and wait for your turn. I think there’s a lot of value in doing that but it often takes away from how putting in the hard work, taking risks and asking for what you want is equally, if not more, important. I read a quote by Oprah many years ago that said “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for”. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I waited for opportunities to come to me, and I’m sure that’s true for everyone not born with a silver spoon.

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow me on LinkedIn. I share stories and opinions there.

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

My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.


Female Disruptors: Google’s Neha Pattan On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.