Helping the homeless is cool; A-Rod and Russell Wilson are pitching in too.

3-minute read

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Krishnan Iyer, CEO of Humanize Homelessness, a non-profit that tackles homelessness alongside business owners. He’s even got Alex Rodriguez and Russell Wilson backing him via their company, TruFusion.

Krishnan Iyer, CEO of Humanize Homelessness | Photo Credit: Humanize Homelessness. Beaze, a B2B vendor procurement marketplace.
Krishnan Iyer, CEO of Humanize Homelessness | Photo Credit: Humanize Homelessness

So, why Humanize Homelessness (HH)?

I spent 15 years at Microsoft; while I learned a lot and helped enterprises, I didn’t want to wait until retirement to have an impact on my community. I wanted to do something more meaningful, and that’s when I turned to this non-profit. 

How did you break into the non-profit space?

The universe was giving me multiple signs that played into this decision. Mostly, however, I saw a steady rise in the number of people panhandling on the East Side. Unlike other places in the world, we have good water, good roads and good opportunities. Later, I realized that many of us in the community were taking these virtues for granted. As an Asian person, I observe other Asians being generous and compassionate with their own blood-related families and friends. The only difference is how big is that circle and whether the community at large is included. I really would love for the rest of the Asian community to do the right thing and more importantly, be seen as doing the right thing. Many are looking to help the homeless; I just wanted to make it easy. That’s HH’s mission.

Who inspired you to keep going in this charitable direction?

My mom. Her ability to adapt to a new environment, be open to learning a new way of life, and to selflessly contribute to our family and community is amazing. For example, it’s a hugely disruptive thing to move to the US from India in your 60s; most parents won’t do that. Through her actions, she taught me that the durability of happiness in one’s life comes from helping others, not oneself.

Tell us about how you give back and why that’s so important?

Our organization has several programs.

The “Back On Your Feet” program uses yoga, meditation and breathing techniques learned directly from the Krishnamacharya Yoga school to help people approach stressful situations with a calm, mindful approach. Rather than suppress or ignore feelings, we teach others to observe and note them resulting in better mental focus and physical well-being. HH will be partnering with TruFusion (a high-end fitness club) and WeWork at Lincoln Square to fundraise in early 2020. TruFusion is graciously donating their space to HH and the donors, while WeWork provides marketing. TruFusion’s owners, Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) and Alex Rodriguez (Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees), are funnelling 100% of proceeds through HH for King County homeless shelters programs.

Alex Rodriguez (TruFusion, center) and Jennifer Lopez with the family. Photo credit: Alex Rodriguez. Beaze, a B2B vendor procurement marketplace.
Alex Rodriguez (TruFusion, center) and Jennifer Lopez with the family. Photo credit: Alex Rodriguez

The “Meet a Recruiter” program helps both the homeless as well as employers establish a mutual understanding on what it takes to help transition homeless folks into more permanent and regular employment. Our partner Pro Sports Club (a state-of-the-art wellness center) has engaged their recruiting team with HH to implement our “Trauma-Informed Employment” playbooks on facilitating a transition into employment. For example, say an unhoused victim who was accustomed to being violated regularly (like through physical assault) physically bumps into a fellow co-worker accidentally at the office; she may respond more strongly than expected at a workplace and be subsequently fired for a seeming overreaction. A trauma-informed employer will understand and offer more constructive support. We’re thrilled that their CEO, Dick Knight, has taken a real interest in being a great neighbor in the community and becoming an HH champion.

Russell Wilson (TruFusion, Right) & Ciara | Photo Credit: Instagram Beaze, a B2B vendor procurement marketplace.
Russell Wilson (TruFusion, Right) & Ciara | Photo Credit: Instagram

The “Know Your Neighbor” program addresses changing people’s perception about those without homes. Often, when people see unhoused folks, they presume them to be a problem or a project that needs work; they portray them as an alcoholic, having a communicable disease and being a general burden on society, rather than a living, breathing person with feelings and intelligence. When people give, there typically is an inherent power imbalance between givers and receivers that we are not aware of.

Would you accept underwear from a stranger if they offered to you for free? Probably not, but if you had no choice, you’d likely feel pretty bad accepting it. A giver is in a position of control since they have the resources; the recipient sometimes may not be in a position to say no and so will begrudgingly accept that gift. The recipient avoids displeasing the donor for fear of not having any gift at all in the future. We help break barriers by treating the homeless like valued members of the community and accepting them as they are. We celebrate community festivals like Christmas, Diwali and Chinese New Year with them instead of around or away from them but also in a secular way. 

Pro Sports Club. Photo Credit: Redtri

Once, during Purim (a Jewish holiday), a rabbi and his volunteers came to a family day center Bethlehem shelter to explain the origins of this festival. There was a homeless man, pacing back and forth nervously much to the chagrin of petrified shelter attendants. It turns out he was a veteran who defended our country and just wanted to ask a clarifying question. People were so scared and defensive about him being dangerous that it never occurred to them that he just wanted to ask an innocuous yet relevant question. It’s clear that we need to have more understanding with this share of people who have lived through some pretty horrifying circumstances.

What words of wisdom can you share?

Understanding the difference between urgent versus important. In the for-profit space, it’s easier to decide what’s important and have the support to focus on it. In a non-profit, urgent things like addressing health or injury will popup and will derail important initiatives, which is the RIGHT call. 

Develop patience when working with the non-profits: It’s important to exercise patience and flexibility in helping organizations that are under-resourced and overstretched. 

Be open to all kinds of opinions around homelessness: It’s equally, if not more important, to realize that social issues like homelessness can be polarizing. Some folks have preconceived notions about victims of homelessness that they are in this state because they did drugs or didn’t work hard. Often, life circumstances aren’t so black and white. 

Having realistic expectations about what non-profits can do. Asking people to solve hard problems with little to no money is a real challenge. We ask that the world be more understanding about non-profits who aren’t moving the needle as fast or as significantly as for-profit initiatives and encourage rather than chastise those who are willing to offer their superpowers at a deep discount.

How many champions do you have in the community?

Too many to count but not enough to accomplish everything we want. 🙂

Seriously though, we’re honored and privileged to have the support of folks like:

Waggener Edstrom (the same PR firm as Microsoft)

Wilson Sonsini Goodrich Rosati

– Paccar

King County Council establishing a social responsibility recognition program;

Bellevue City Council who is helping us deduplicate and coordinate efforts across other homeless initiatives;

Shelters around the area (incl. Congregation for the Homeless, Sophia Way, Friends of Youth, Acres of Diamond) who are helping us to identify gaps in our programs so we can address pressing issues.

What are some indispensable tools you can’t live without?

Tech-wise, we live on the full Microsoft Office 365 stack as well as Azure. Process-wise, we’ve brought enterprise best practices like standups, prioritization, objectives and key results (OKRs) to track progress. Non-profits need even more structure and direction than for-profit businesses since our resources are even more constrained.

What’s it like being a working parent?

As parents, we can’t do everything. Thankfully, our kids see and appreciate the challenges we undertake. They also understand the cost of living and that things like education and comfort don’t come easily. They see what hard work looks like, and it incentivizes them to work outside and help out at home, whether it is bussing tables, doing laundry or simply cleaning their own rooms. 

I’m so grateful to have such a supportive spouse. We both work and we tag-team the home duties together, whether it’s for the kids or for our ageing parents. Just this month, my wife’s dad turned 80; she went back to India while I watched the kids at home and took video conferences remotely. I love how we’re both able to take care of our businesses and still be a family. We live in times where both spouses need to work together and support each other in finding meaning, contribution and value while dealing with the challenge of raising children and supporting our elders.

When all is said and done, what do you hope for HH to achieve?

For everyone to treat each other with the respect they deserve.

Humanize Homelessness is a preferred partner on Beaze Beta.

Business: Keeping it in the family

2-minute read

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with David and Jennifer Pfahert, CEOs of Silent Stream Media, a video production agency, on how great family values translate to great business practices.

David & Jennifer Pfahlert of Silent Stream Media. Photo Credit: Beaze, a B2B vendor procurement marketplace
From left to right: David & Jennifer Pfahlert of Silent Stream Media. Photo Credit: Beaze

So, why Silent Stream Media?

David: Media is in my blood. My grandfather started his own illustration company, where my father was the director, and my uncle was one of the graphic artists. I had my hand in all avenues of media content. Both my grandfather and father had taught me the business ropes while my uncle guided me with his vast artistic knowledge. What I have seen with raising my children is that they don’t teach you how to be entrepreneurs in school. They inform you mainly how to work for someone else. You don’t get “out of the box” ideas or experience even only remotely what it takes to own your own business. You need drive and passion as well as continually evolving with the times.

Jennifer: My passion has been with the interworkings of a social/psychological aspects of media and how it connects and tells a story with the community. At university, I worked three jobs and went to classes and managed to stay in touch with my friends and family by documenting my life on social media. With this stream of using many technologic devices, I can start conversations, let my family know what I’m up to and keeping up with the latest trends.    

Who inspired you?

David: My mom. She managed a household while obtaining a master’s degree and working. She’s now retired as a Microsoft executive. I look up to my mom and hope that one day I could look back and achieve just as much as her.   

What is your biggest claim to fame?

David: I had started multiple businesses, including one in audio engineering where I had the pleasure of working with celebrities such as Incubus, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Tori Amos. Working with such high profile clients meant managing a super strict schedule and high expectations.

What is your secret to success as a working couple?

David: Listen, divide and conquer based on our mutual strengths. She works on social media and engagements, and I focus on the design and fresh content. 

Jennifer: Being present and not focusing on financial gain. If your heart is in the right place, then everything will fall into place. The universe will provide what you need, and that will provide intention.  

What important lesson would you want others to take away?

David: It doesn’t matter where you’re currently at, what matters is that you’ve started. Make sure you’re 110% passionate about what you’re doing and that you can do it 16 hours a day.  

Jennifer: Teamwork and preparation are also essential in managing your business. You need to know who to call before things go south and have your resources lined up (from plan A to Z). Partners should include your local chamber of commerce, banks, insurance and legal. You never know what life is going to throw at you. We also partner with talented folks like LogoUNLTD.com and Qivugraphics.com; they’re both amazing at creating luxe marketing swag which is a must-have in our line of business. 

What non-profits do you back up and why is it important?

David: Having two dogs of our own, we support a non-profit called Homeward Pet in Woodinville. In 2018, they adopted out 1,754 cats and dogs and that number historically grows exponentially every year. In the past, we had a rescue of our own and have found Homeward Pet in-line to our beliefs. We had the opportunity to help this organization by doing an event for them and raising funds to sponsor dogs and also helped in finding current adopters.  

When all is said and done, what do you hope for Silent Stream Media to achieve?  

Jennifer: We want to foster connections between real people and businesses. We’ll keep making marketing solutions accessible to all local businesses, not just big brand corporations through education, creation and coaching.

Silent Stream Media is a preferred partner on Beaze Beta.

I found my name-sake through tech

3-minute read

Beaze: Meet the Team” is a series on the team building out Beaze, a vendor procurement marketplace that replaces traditional advertising. Today, we’re chatting with Andre Makram, our Chief Technology Officer (CTO), on survival tactics for parents in startups.

Andre Makram, Chief Technology Officer of Beaze (a B2B vendor procurement marketplace).
Andre Makram, Chief Technology Officer of Beaze. Photo Credit: Beaze

So, why Beaze?

I believe in the idea. Why should customer outreach be hard or expensive or only for the elite? 

It seems unfair that business goes straight to companies that have money rather than companies that provide the most value. Historically, the ideas that made it big challenged the current way in which we do things and were relevant to the time. Right now, privacy is a huge issue everywhere. Sales costs continue to rise because of the monopolies that individual large ad companies control. Small companies who need help with areas outside of their standard expertise should not be taken advantage of, especially when costs are high and time is scarce. 

To me, streamlining all of these labor-intensive processes simultaneously and making business tools and data accessible to all is a big deal that will change the world. The only way to evolve is to automate away all the repetitive tasks so that you can focus on building innovation. Without a sound basis, you’re stuck doing the same boring stuff day in and day out. Automation is addictive; I’m happy to get my fix on with Beaze.

How did you break into technology?

When I got my first video game, FIFA98 by Electronic Arts on PC. On the first day, I played for 10 hours straight and could have gone longer but then my parents banned me from playing during school days. Technology has never been so cool or fun.

But, more oddly, technology brought my family back together. 

Back in the 1960s, during the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Egyptian army conscripted my dad. His best friend, who was Jewish, had to leave Egypt at the time and so they lost touch. The army assigned my father to radar technology due to his engineering background. He wanted to stay as far away from the violence for fear of injuring or killing his friend. My dad felt so bad at the time because he didn’t know what had happened to his friend. He decided to name me after him, Andre. More than 40 years later, Facebook became a thing, and he and my dad finally reconnected through the platform. 

This moment cemented the importance of connecting people to me. I realized then and there that bringing people together would be the most important thing I could ever do.

What’s the most interesting project you’ve worked on?

I helped figure out an innovative way to read data at warp speeds and high demand volume regardless of data writing time. This was critical because we were servicing millions of customers who would be doing a lot of concurrent reading. My team and I were awarded a patent for this innovative approach. We were harnessing the power of storing data in a non-relational database and pushing around new concepts about eventual consistency. 

What’s your philosophy?

I always want to do better than the day before. It’s human nature to want to improve. If you stop, you’ll go extinct. I’ve since learned to manage my time better and go with the flow. Requirements change constantly and you have to just roll with it. Part of the fun and challenge of engineering is the tradeoff between overhauling and designing from scratch versus tweaking an existing design and possibly acquiring technical debt.

When something doesn’t feel right in my gut, I pay close attention to it. Things need to make sense to you in order for you to be bought in and subsequently succeed.

What tools do you use to succeed?

The internet. Sorry, was that answer too broadband? 😀

Seriously though, Spotify. Music changes my mood, it allows me to release stress and regain focus. It’s a big part of my daily routine.

As well, I do only one task a time so I can be 100% engaged. Humans were not meant to multi-task (unless you’re Xabi Alonso).

Don't multitask. Photo Credit: Xabi Alonso
Multitasking done right? | Photo Credit: Xabi Alonso

What words of wisdom can you share?

1. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Incremental progress is better than nothing. 

2. Always have a backout plan. This means having a way to reverse course, especially when you’re doing something risky. I’ve seen so many smart people paint themselves into a corner. 

3. Fail fast. You need to know when something is wrong ASAP.

4. Go for the option that is the easiest to maintain when you have multiple equivalent or similar options.

Who inspires you?

In technology, Elon Musk. He had a vision and executed it without compromise. Because he set the bar so high, the engineers had to throw away all convention out the window and had to start from a totally different place.

In life, both of my grandmas. They were both not allowed to go to upper-level education. Since they weren’t allowed, they did it themselves through self-study (and then even went on to home-schooled me in French among other subjects). Not going to school didn’t stop them from learning what they wanted to learn. 

What’s it like being a working parent?

It taught me how to deal with non-predictability and how to prioritize. Just last weekend, I was trying to finish some work on the weekend and my kids kept interrupting me every 15 minutes. To deal with them, I gave them my full and undivided attention in exchange for 2 full hours of heads-down time. It also taught me to manage my time better since I don’t have time to do everything.

I’ve also built out a play date network, both through friends and through extended communities like the YMCA. This allows me to meaningfully spend time with my kids and for my kids to keep having fun in a safe, educational environment with trusted friends and partners when I’m busy. It literally takes a village to raise smart kiddos. 

Tell us about how you give back and why that’s so important?

I support the Washington State Arboretum. It’s a favorite spot of mine, they house plants and treats unique to this area that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. I’ve taken my kids and parents there many times and I want it to be just as nice for the next generation. The local staff weren’t sufficiently resourced to maintain the grounds. Last year, a group of us picked up all the garbage and mulched the area to prevent invasive weeds from growing. 

When all is said and done, what do you hope for Beaze to achieve?

I want a customer to tell us that they can’t think of a time when Beaze didn’t exist.

Awarded State Contracts – January 2020 Update

Hello Beaze Beta Program Participants!

Below are the state contracts awarded this January. Please sign in through the beta portal to see more details.

  • January 1, 2020 – $48K – CA State – Custodial Services (#027831)
  • January 5, 2020 – $624K – DE State – Excavation (#827134)
  • January 10, 2020 – $286K – DE State – HVAC Replacement (#87201)
  • January 13, 2020 – $52K – DE State – Evening Custodial Services (#173247)
  • January 14, 2020 – $76K – DE State – Market Research Study (#642910)
  • January 14, 2020 – $129K – DE State – Project Coordination Services (#729135)
  • January 22, 2020 – $1.3M – CA State – Technology Support (#719276)