No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care

3-minute read

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we are chatting with Paul O’Beirne, CEO of Orca HR Solutions, a firm that helps companies build great teams and leaders. He shares his secrets (still used by leaders like Satya Nadella) on how empathy drives success.

Paul O’Beirne, Founder of Orca HR Solutions | Photo Credit: Orca HR Solutions. Beaze, an HR vendor procurement marketplace
Paul O’Beirne, Founder of Orca HR Solutions | Photo Credit: Orca HR Solutions

Why Orca HR Solutions?

We’re passionate about improving organization productivity, especially when the business landscape is changing dramatically, whether it’s due to organic growth or drastic changes due to the impact of COVID. We support organizations to fully appreciate their individual team members as whole persons, including their work and home lives. Our research-backed methodology deepens our clients’ understanding of human behavior and its impact on workplace culture and performance. Improving empathy is critical to effective and impactful leadership because employees need to feel that their employers care. To learn empathy, you first have to be open to learning about yourself. By giving teams a better self-awareness of areas, including emotional intelligence, we help them communicate more effectively and grow more successfully.

Our team comprises former leaders from Microsoft, Amazon, Space Between and Trover (acquired by Expedia). We’ve gone through the same types of challenges as our customers and bring best-of-breed practices surrounding behavioural insight to hundreds of leaders and team members. These empathic insights have improved productivity to thousands of people within their organizations. We pride ourselves on driving acuity, actualization and awesomeness for our clients.

My 25-year Microsoft career started in Ireland during its startup phase as the HR Manager, which I grew from 11 people to 1600. I later transferred to the US to support Microsoft’s senior leaders, including Satya Nadella (then GM of Business Solutions Development), Bob Herbold (former Chief Operating Officer), Craig Mundie (former Chief Technology Officer), Orlando Ayala (former President of Sales), initially with global accountability for 5000 people across 16 different divisions. I realized many people and organizations often don’t know what they don’t know, such as how demonstrable caring can positively and hugely impact employee engagement.  Simply raising awareness of possibilities that could lay ahead for them could help them be more effective than they ever thought possible. Exposure to these experiences motivated and prepared me for the work we do today.

Wouldn’t a long-running career at Microsoft be considered a reasonably elite endeavor, not accessible or applicable to most firms?

Perhaps, but I didn’t start there. I’ve worked in a pretty humbling variety of roles, including hospitality, retail, farming, and industrial. I can remember as a child of 7 the excitement and pride of spending my weekends delivering milk and bread across the community. Throughout high school and college, I supported myself by picking grapes in the vineyards of France, washing dishes on a cruise ship in Germany and cleaning hospitals in Chicago. 

These experiences exposed me to people from all walks of life; they made me realize how important every role is to the success of an organization. It honed my skills of building relationships, developing a strong work ethic and empathy for others that serve our clients well.

What is the most common mistake most companies make when it comes to HR?

Selecting the right talent. Honestly, selection starts well before the interview. In our global knowledge economy, the only real source of competitive advantage lies in recruiting and developing the best talent. As the famous management author Jim Collins notes, “Leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with ‘where’ but with ‘who’. They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.

We help our clients get people in the “right seats.” The first step is to align the key stakeholders on the roles, key competencies, motivators, responsibilities and expected outcomes of the job. Only then do we evaluate the candidate against the requirements of the role and company culture. This approach reduces the cost for the company by reducing the amount of time to hire and decreasing the cost of turnover due to poor role fit.  Using the assessments as part of the on-boarding process also can help leaders have a great empathic understanding of a new team member’s strengths, opportunities and preferred behaviors.

What lessons have you since learned in HR that you wish you had learned sooner in your career? 

1. Create the conditions for people to discover and own the solution (rather than telling people what to do). It’s better to teach people how to fish than fishing for them; this can be done through empathetic listening, powerful questions, creating a shared reality and alignment on accountability.

2. Be more mindful. Just a few easy tweaks can help your team stay focused on objectives, execute better and celebrate notable achievements, not to mention breed positivity. For example, I like to recap each Friday by reflecting on what my “key wins” were for that week and what my main priorities are for the coming week. Before each meeting, our team participates in a short 1-2 minute mindfulness breathing exercise. After the meeting, we do a gratitude check-out. 

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Vulnerability is the root of authentic social connection. Many of us who are high achievers are reluctant to ask for help and can see it as a weakness if we do. Recognizing your weaknesses and bringing in complementary skills will help accelerate your business. Once identified, it’s easier to determine the next milestone in your continuing development.

Who are your biggest fans?

Our clients. We’ve had the privilege of supporting the folks at Nordstrom, Avalara, Aptio, Premera, and even larger firms like Microsoft and Micron Technologies. Most of our growth has come from organic referrals and partners. Because of the impact of our engagements and assessments on the effectiveness of leadership and increased productivity of teams, we’ve received numerous referrals from both internal and external clients.

How do you give back to the community?

Two organizations I have been personally involved with are Neural Education (NE) and the American Cancer Society (ACS). 

NE brings brain-based teaching into schools, and I currently serve on their Board of Directors, helping them build their business.  NE is about using a neural lens to positively affect our education deficiencies. We accomplish this by giving teachers tools and practices that align with how the brain works according to scientific research which affects how children learn.

When the founder, Kieran O’Mahony, and I met, we immediately found a common passion. Kieran and his entire life’s work have been developing these brain-based educational programs. NE is focused on preparing teachers to bring these empathic principles into the classroom. We have been holding many workshops in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. We’ve impacted 40,000 teachers and 1 million students across the US. The plan is to take the initiative globally. Recently, we’ve started working with schools in Africa and India. 

ACS initiatives are dear to my heart. I lost my mother to cancer and have many friends who are survivors. A colleague had asked if I would serve as a Pink Ambassador and I couldn’t have been more delighted or honored to help. I dressed in pink for a whole month to raise awareness. We were able to collect $4000 and a few laughs. The members of ACS are an incredibly caring group who have great empathy for people and their families who have been impacted by Cancer. 

Paul O'Beirne as Pink Ambassador | Photo Credit: Orca HR Solutions. Beaze, an HR vendor procurement marketplace.
Paul O’Beirne as Pink Ambassador | Photo Credit: Orca HR Solutions

When all is said and done, what do you hope to accomplish with Orca HR Solutions?

We want to enable everyone to create their most desirable, impactful future.

Orca HR Solutions is a preferred partner on Beaze.

Making Life Events Clearer through the Prism (of Experience)

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re speaking with Peter Tran, CEO of PrismTech Inc., a business-to-consumer (B2C) schedule aggregation SaaS platform. Peter discusses the importance of personalization as a driver of success from product design to team building.

Peter Tran, founder of PrismTech | Beaze, a vendor procurement marketplace for consumer businesses
Peter Tran, founder of PrismTech | Photo Credit: PrismTech

Why Prism?

Consumers struggle with scheduling and often use upwards of 4 apps in an attempt to reconcile conflicts. Most technology provides access to scheduling individual events, yet we have to manage those events to stay in sync with our friends and families. What if there was a single platform that will allow you to stay connected to everyone regardless of the preferred scheduler without the pain of time-consuming reconciliation? 

Prism is a real-time interactive schedule manager that aggregates multiple calendar apps. Just as a prism takes in a spectrum of color and combines it into a single white light, we take in a broad range of communication platforms and consolidate them into a single source of truth. We marry your social, professional, and personal schedule into a single silo of information. Instead of digging around for info on whether you’re going to miss out on events, you can make the most out of your life.

How did you come up with this idea?

I observed my friends nearly miss their daughter’s long-awaited volleyball tournament due to scheduling misfires. It would have killed them to miss such a critical event despite having spent multiple days frustratingly trying to balance both of their work schedules with her academic and extracurricular activities. 

The truth is that many people struggle with schedule management; frankly, paper calendars just don’t cut it anymore. 

How have you built your fantastic team?

As the founder of this company, it’s my mission to make sure that we find the best talent. Our company culture is driven by:

Trustworthiness. The truth is, it’s not always about performance, even though the whole world puts a track record at the top of the list. The longevity of the relationship that you have with a team member is driven by trust. It’s this type of longevity (or lack thereof) that makes or breaks a startup. You need to ask yourself, ‘Should we trust this person when we’re in a bind?’ because as a founder, you’re going to find yourself in a lot of binds. 

Passion. It’s not an easy thing to work on a startup. You’re not getting paid what you could, but you’re working on a dream. You need team members who believe in your product. It’s impossible to think of new designs or innovative approaches if you hate your job, and anyone who doesn’t have a genuine passion will end up hating their job at some point.

Furthermore, we have an open-door policy with all of our executives. Any employees can reach out to anyone at any time for assistance.

Having a supportive human resources (HR) structure built around addressing disruptive life events (such as COVID) and continued career growth helps to minimize office politics (which we all know can easily destroy the social fabric of the company). For example, if John Doe starts at the company today, John will be a different person in 3 months; we have to find out what it will take to make John successful in this ever-changing environment. Great companies take the time to understand their employees as individuals and nurture that relationship at the highest level of culture building. 

What have been your top learnings around scheduling?

Build to unify, not segregate. Many applications are selfishly designed to only cater to the host and not the consumer. For example, Vietnam is creating Gapo, an alternative to Facebook. If some people like Gapo and still want to remain on Facebook, either they or their friends or both will have to spend more time jumping between these two apps to access information. Prism conforms to what people consider comfortable and convenient; we innovate by unifying simultaneous access to both applications.

Scheduling cannot be successful in a vacuum; it implicitly requires scenarios around sharing and accessibility. 

Who have been the biggest fans of Prism? 

We have many customers who have been our advocates; two, in particular, come to mind.

Manhattan Walking Tour has a presence in 3 different states. When their customers book a tour guide, they stress out spending too much time looking for information than enjoying the tour itself. These customers are showing us that traditional scheduling tools in the market today offer too many limitations and are causing indecisiveness, cognitive dissonance, and mental stress. Their feedback was instrumental in introducing new features like image sharing and event discussion to Prism.

True Buddha Foundation is fully transitioning all of its internal and external operations over to Prism. They have thousands of chapters all over the world, with over 5 million followers. Their current processes have limitations, which is causing a gap in communications and impacting their ability to organize their events more effectively.

How does Prism give back to the community? What impact have you had to date?

Recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a lot of small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMB) impacted negatively all over the world. We recognized how important these businesses are and those who are struggling daily trying to make ends meet. 

PrismTech is happy to announce that we will provide every single SMB with credits to advertise on our platform at no cost. We want to help businesses gain the right exposure to bounce back post-quarantine.  

When everything is said and done, what do you hope for Prism to achieve? 

Create seamless, meaningful connections between consumers and the brands, products, and companies they love. 

PrismTech is a preferred partner on Beaze.

Building towards loftier goals means having deeper foundations

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Valerie Thiel, founder of SAGE Architectural Alliance LLC, a Seattle-based architecture firm. She shares her secrets on driving design innovation for the most critical stages of life as a woman leader.

Valerie Thiel, founder of SAGE Architectural Alliance LLC | Photo Credit: SAGE Architectural Alliance LLC

Why SAGE?

At the age of 55, I opened Sage Architectural Alliance, a reasonably daring venture leaving steady employment as a working mother. This was after graduating from MIT, 30 years of working in the architectural industry and having kids in my 40’s. I believe that more women and senior-led projects help create a unique working environment with experienced viewpoints. Creating a diverse team helps remove the limitations set by society. The door opens up for so many different outcomes, and so the richer our projects become from planning and spaces, to connections and support.

What’s your design philosophy?

Celebrate life in all of its stages; each stage brings its challenges and beauty.

As a baby boomer, I feel the last stage of life is paramount. My grandparents had died in pretty abysmal nursing facilities. Because of this, I focused on transforming senior living design so that my mother could enjoy more attractive, more enriching options. Many nursing homes have to struggle with the support of limited Medicaid funds.

Senior-focused entrance design @ Foss Home and Village (Seattle, WA)  | Photo Credit: SAGE Architectural Alliance LLC

However, these facilities need warm, welcoming, and elegant main entries and gathering areas, so that family and friends enjoy visitations; these factors are vital to the well-being of families. Just as Starbucks has capitalized on the corner coffee shop, the presence of a bistro-cafe (even with self-serve coffee), is the first step toward creating community vitality. 

Senior-focused cafe-bistro design @ Cristwood Park (Shoreline, WA )| Photo Credit: SAGE Architectural Alliance LLC

Residents come for the coffee but also enjoy comfortable seating, a variety of lighting levels, and lots of people-watching. They’re incentivized to leave their apartments and enjoy hanging out in the commons to connect with other people, and that is a major driver of residents’ health. Even staff retention improves with more aesthetically, pleasing surroundings.

Senior-focused bedroom design @ Columbia Lutheran Home, Seattle, WA | Photo Credit: Chris Roberts Photography 

Do not let limitations set by others withhold you from accomplishing your own goals and aspirations. Women in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s have such different expectations handed upon them compared to when I was their age. Growing up in Bellingham, I had never known any professional woman (let alone what a professional woman in architecture) could accomplish. When I attended the University of Washington, I was the only woman in my engineering classes. For generations, society restricted women by stereotypical gender roles that limited their opportunities and contributions. I experienced this quite a bit within the architectural industry. Working for others, I felt like a backroom technician who had no voice. I needed to express my ideas, and I felt severely repressed working for others. It was as if my male bosses had all the ideas; my role was only to implement them. Starting my firm was the right choice for me.

Who are your biggest advocates?

While most of our clients are non-profits, we focus on finding projects that are mission-driven and will have a positive impact on the community. Some of our favorite architectural projects supported senior citizens. We’ve built numerous senior living residential projects to help both seniors and their families. We’ve also worked with the State of Washington, various community centers and grass-roots community organizations fighting high resident displacement from gentrification. Currently, we’ve started working on homeless and behavioral health projects also.

How do you give back to its community?

Giving back to our community is one of the pillars of SAGE.  We recently sponsored a community event that was aimed at showcasing how fearful high school students were about losing their homes. We prioritize supporting the younger generations in order to help them realize their potential. 

What’s been your greatest life lesson? 

Opportunities may present themselves; while they may not be what you wanted at the time, they may be the most impactful and rewarding.

When I first started the firm, I thought focusing my expertise in senior housing projects alone was the best way to help the community.  Instead, I was able to take elder-care expertise and principles to other vulnerable populations (like to low-income families) which benefited our firm’s architectural outputs and the community even more than my initial efforts with the elderly. Women and minority architectural leaders should be designing more of the affordable housing and shared spaces; the city would achieve more economic balance and diverse self-expression.

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

To inspire and support women and others of diversity to find their voices and pursue their passions.

SAGE Architectural Alliance LLC is a preferred partner on Beaze.

From Farm to Cap Table: The Carbon e-Mission

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Paul Gambill, CEO of Nori, a blockchain that enables people to get paid for carbon dioxide removal. He shares his secrets on tackling climate change while receiving angel investment.

Paul Gambill, CEO of Nori, a financial blockchain that facilitates carbon emission removal. Beaze, a vendor procurement marketplace for financial blockchains.
Paul Gambill, CEO of Nori | Photo Credit: Nori

Why Nori?

While most solutions today focus on the reduction of carbon emissions, Nori focuses on its complete removal. There are too many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; the world needs to remove over 1 trillion tonnes to get back to pre-industrial levels. Currently, though, it’s too expensive to remove them. People require compensation to run the type of projects that take out carbon emissions from the atmosphere. 

Nori helps fund these endeavors through its centralized marketplace and unlocks the source of carbon dioxide (CO2) removal, namely farmers. These heroes remove carbon, obtain verification through a third-party, then sell the interest in said removed carbon to buyers. Buyers cannot resell the carbon. We’ve developed a methodology that allows us to identify how much carbon is removed, allowing Nori users to observe their impact tangibly.

Back in 2015, I read an article about how climate scientists often suffer from depression because hardly anyone listens to them. I thought to myself that it’d be beneficial if someone addressed carbon removal. Within a year of starting a networking group on climate change, I had met key influencers in the field including Dr. Klaus Lackner (Director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions and a professor of sustainable engineering at Arizona State University) and Carbon180 (a non-profit that tackles climate change). I subsequently endeavored to find the perfect co-founders while exploring different business models and ideas on how to tackle emissions. 

Why is climate change necessary?

Climate change is real. It’s not getting better any time soon. Unfortunately, people aren’t sufficiently empowered to take action on the issue. We have to drive to get to work, fly to see our family, heat our homes, we have to use energy, and there’s no way around that. We are interested in finding ways to restore the climate in a fiscally responsible way. The key is that people require incentivization to act. The easiest way to view this is an arithmetic problem. We are putting too many greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and not taking enough out. Carbon removal helps create the necessary balance to roll back the effects of climate change.

Nori offers an entirely different investment asset class for the carbon market that requires significant coordination from farmers to scientists and researchers.

Farms: The solution to eliminating carbon. Beaze, a vendor procurement marketplace for blockchains.
Farms: The solution to eliminating carbon | Photo Credit: Jake Gard

What’s wrong with the current emissions reductions system? How does Nori tackle these problems differently?

In carbon markets today, when a project issues carbon credits, they sell these credits to a broker who sells them to another broker who sells them to investors. That same ton of CO2 trades hands over and over again. That’s not a healthy life cycle. Once someone pays, it should disappear.

When a ton of carbon is sold through Nori, the CO2 is immediately retired. The carbon certificate doesn’t go to someone else; it ends right there. Trade helps build the capital around it, but we don’t want the carbon to be the traded asset. With us, the buyer pays for a ton of CO2 with the token; the token becomes the commodity, not the CO2. The token is just a medium of exchange, so we’re able to get the best of both the situations. 

How is Nori maintaining focus on climate change despite receiving external investment?

Nori is a 50-year mission company. We’ve only partnered with organizations that agree with that long-term vision. We can’t allow anything to cause us to deviate from that mission, whether it’s a potential acquisition or taking the company public. Our token incentivizes everyone,  from Nori founders to investors to farmers. By aligning everyone’s motivations and incentives, we maximize the odds of reducing carbon.

What is your #1 lesson learned so far as a startup?

Abstract complexity away. As entrepreneurs, we can’t expect everyone to spend as much time digging into details as much as the startup does. Customers just want things to be easier and solve a problem for them.

Who have been your biggest advocates/partners so far? 

Our three best partners so far have been COMET-Farm (a platform for quantifying soil carbon), Granular (management software farmers use to track their operating data), and Techstars’ sustainability accelerator. We use COMET to create the new, easy-to-use standard for soil carbon; we’ve been working hand in hand with them for two years. Granular was the first agriculture company to believe in us; we’ve collaborated closely with them on helping their farmers get enrolled in the market. Techstars is just such a wonderfully supportive network and program that I really can’t recommend enough to other startups.

How have you gained investors’ trust?

Our amazing team. Our co-founders are world-class, and it’s not easy to find such incredible leaders. Co-founders need to agree on some fundamental things; this includes motivations behind the company and finding a balance between the mission and the economics of staying profitable. Having a sizeable venture-backed company may require you to give up some control; starting a smaller business may allow you to maintain control with less profitability. I recommend the book The Founder’s Dilemmas by Noam Wasserman to better anticipate and avoid the typical startup pitfalls.

When all is said and done, what does Nori hope to achieve?

Restore Earth to pre-industrial carbon levels. A clean world is a happy one.

Nori is a preferred partner on Beaze.

Successful moonshots are more common than you think

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re speaking with Francisco Navarro, co-founder and CEO of LunarByte, a software development consultancy. Francisco shares his secret to launching and landing big new ideas.

Francisco Navarro, CEO of LunarByte. Photo credit: LunarBytes

Why LunarByte?

It’s really hard for most companies to create delightful products on a shoestring budget. Our unique methodology and team of talented software developers facilitate the launch of big ideas so that early founders can succeed. We identify the most important features of a product or idea, create a viable plan for success, and then we execute on that plan. We’ve found that in Seattle, it’s hard for fresh startups to hire experienced developers without the high salaries other companies can provide. Founders can’t compete with the deep wallets of the big tech companies to hire talent to work for their company. We solved that problem by building a Software Engineering Consultancy so now, founders only have to pay on a project basis and they get the benefit of a team of the most competent engineers.

Before LunarByte, my co-founder, Ben Daschel, and I were both software engineers at large independent companies (Starbucks and Azuqua/Okta, respectively). While well-run, these companies aren’t always able to accommodate the pursuit of their engineers’ independent ideas. Both of our employers were becoming increasingly mired in bureaucracy. While we can appreciate the structure and that bureaucracy brings to organizations, as eager engineers, this heavy-handed process really hurt our productivity and general motivation. Sometimes projects (that we worked on for months on end) were suddenly cut for no reason; other times, we had to cater an army of people just to receive approval before moving forward. Like a vulcan mindmeld over beers, we thought, ‘Why not just build the change we want to see?’. We decided to build our own company with a firm commitment against bloated processes. At the time, we were holding bottles of Blue Moon in hand. Translating the word “moon” to spanish (luna), we decided to start our own company and named it LunarByte. We are thrilled to tackle inefficient software engineering head on so that founders can focus on succeeding in their respective businesses.

A Vulcan Mind Meld, “Star Trek” | Photo Credit: Viacom

How tough was it going from corporate to a startup?

Really tough. First and foremost, we have much smaller budgets. The other big difficulty is just making a name for yourself. It’s tough to establish yourself as a player in software consultancy, and that’s where coming from an established network helps a ton. We’ve started to receive referrals, and we hope that in a few years from now we’ll be a big player in this industry. We’re starting to get some larger projects now, and everyone on the team loves incubating new, fresh ideas and launching them; however, we’re all very technical so we don’t do much UX or marketing. Despite just starting out, our customers (including Dollar Flight Club, Pre-Flight Mitigator, The Counter Veil, and When I Leave) can speak to the high calibre of work we produce, and they all come back for more. 

What’s the secret on how to do more with less?

1. Build the right product: From the technical side, usually anything can get done. You probably have the resources to build all kinds of new infrastructure. Nothing is worse than building a product that doesn’t solve a problem. You can ask a client every day “Is this what you asked for?” but the truth is, sometimes the thing that they ask you for isn’t exactly what needs to be built. Instead, we like to focus on the ‘why’ the product needs to be built and what problem it intends to solve. This reasoned approach prevents the message from being lost in translation.

2. Stay in sync: It’s critical to have a tight relationship with clients because projects and their directions change course at the drop of a hat. We like using Slack because it allows for flat (as opposed to hierarchal) communication. This significantly reduces the odds of “playing broken telephone”. The biggest challenge is that we’re working with less – we have smaller budgets and less wiggle room. But this means we’ve learned how to be ultra-efficient. We also get to have closer relationships with our clients. We’re all on slack together so that we can be on the same page – We don’t work for 3 months and then ask, ‘Is this what you asked for?’

It’s also been so rewarding to help launch new ideas – every member of our team is excited about what we’re working on because we see why founders are asking what they’re asking for. When a client comes back to us and says, ‘Hey that stuff you built? I took it to a convention and now I have 500 users.” – that’s the stuff that keeps us motivated and you don’t really find that in a corporate environment.

What is something everyone should know about building a product?

The ‘Why’ matters. You might be working on a project and at the end you’re like, ‘Wait, why did we do this? Was it worth it?’ If you can’t answer the former, or, if the answer to the latter is “no”, you’re not providing value to your customers. This lack of reasoning can kill a company. The right software consultancy can solicit the right requirements.

How do you give back to the community? 

I’m a first-generation Mexican immigrant from parents who worked on farms. I was the first one in my family to attend college, so I have a deep desire to help others with humble beginnings. We’re proud to be working with Storytellers for Change. They do a lot of work to promote diversity and inclusion from high school through to university across the nation. We’re always looking for impactful clients to be working with and better ways to support equity when it comes to hiring.

When it’s all said and done, what do you hope LunarByte to have achieved?

Create a great space for innovation where companies can gather and launch big ideas.

LunarByte is a preferred partner on Beaze.

Too Lejit to Quit (Designing with Passion, that is)

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Joshua Thomas, CEO of Lejit Designs, a graphic design and illustration company in Liberty Lake, WA. He shares his secrets on growing his business and the art community at large.

Joshua Thomas, CEO of Lejit Designs (Graphic Design) | Beaze, a vendor procurement marketplace.
Joshua Thomas, CEO of Lejit Designs | Photo Credit: Mercedes Kissinger Smith

So, why Lejit Designs?

Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved fantasy and comic books, which always had me sketching in a notebook. In college, I studied design and began using programs on my computer and laptop to create animations and graphics. I originally started Lejit Designs as my creative outlet, and fortunately, it has become a great business. I pride myself on reliable communication and passionate design. I think a few things that separate me from other companies are my passion for my craft, my willingness to have honest communication, and my drive to improve my craft consistently.

What’s your design style?

All of my work is full of color. I love their vibrancy in making ideas truly come to life. In Spokane, there is not a lot of vitality. I am the leader of the Spokane Design Meetup Group, and it’s my goal to foster an art community in Spokane, similar to that in Portland. I want to bring the Spokane creatives together to do one community collaboration project together per month to get everyone involved and working together.

Another element I try to include in my work is whimsicality. In my comics, I like to portray serious adult moments with a whimsical element involved, to appeal to the inner child in all of us. There’s no fun in being too serious. Sometimes everyone is so caught up in what they are doing, and I want to bring the human element back to design and the work that I do.

Doggo Branding by Lejit | Photo Credit: Lejit

How do you stay on top of your work?

The key to managing this company is balancing my creative side with my analytical side. Being able to draw on both helps me stay organized and remember to do the little things like register my trade name and do my taxes, the ‘boring stuff’. I am also big on consistency and maximizing my time. Even when I’m battling a creative block, I go exercise.

What’s fuels your design?

The sheer number of amazing artists and creators around me. I learn so much from all of the different projects that I see others working on, and I consistently attempt to take what I learn from others into my own work. The artists/creators that inspire me the most are probably Cory Schmitz, Freddy Carrasco, Bryce Kho, and Anastasiia Vinchencko. Regardless of which muse, at the end of the day, whenever I see their work, it makes me want to create. Each of them is a master of their craft and understanding them helps instill this drive to one day excel in my art as much as they do in theirs. I want to be the best at what I do, and to me, seeing artists like them pushes me to want to improve with every new project.

What is your mantra?

“Design, made human.” I got into graphic design because I enjoy making things with people and helping them achieve their visions through design. The human aspect of every interaction I have is what gets me up every morning. I don’t want my work to be a transaction; I want it to be a collaborative relationship that works well beyond when the project ends.

Who have been your biggest advocates/partners in business?

The biggest influences and advocates were the owners of Maker & Made, Brittany Stodgell and Millicent Schnebly. They pushed me a lot to start my own graphic design business and were a massive influence on me early on. They sat down with me on multiple occasions and gave me wisdom and advice that I still use today. I’ve always been very thankful for their guidance.

What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?

Wow, that’s the big one *haha*. There are so many things that I would tell the younger me designer if I could. 

1. Always work with a contract. This one will keep you sane and exponentially increase the number of successful transactions you have. In a perfect world, we’d never have to use contracts, and every client would pay. However, every designer has a couple of stories about the times they got stiffed by a client. Contracts mitigate a lot of financial worries because most clients are less likely to jump ship without paying you if they feel contractually obligated to the project. They keep things professional in an industry where a lot of clients have difficulties seeing design as anything more than a hobby. There are a ton of online sources and other physical books on the subject. One of my personal favorites is Business and Legal Forms for Graphic Designers

2. Don’t be afraid to fail. Design in and of itself is a consistent process of failing and course correcting. The road to being a successful designer is not a road paved by genius; it’s a gory one filled with the dead bodies of all your past failures. There isn’t a single designer that looks at their work from a year ago and says that it’s “perfect”. Failing and trying again is the name of the game.

3. Share EVERYTHING. It’s challenging for people to appreciate your designs if you don’t ever show them your work. Don’t be afraid of not having name recognition or not living up to some of your design heroes. Keep designing with passion and showing others; you’ll eventually find your place. 

4. Never be afraid to price yourself what you’re worth. Saying “no” is a pseudo taboo for young designers looking to get their name out in the world, but in my experience, knowing when to say no might allow you to take on that dream client you’ve always wanted. Plus, it saves you from over-stretching yourself.

How do you give back to the community?

My way of giving back to the community is taking over Spokane Design and trying to create a broader design community in the area. We’re starting up a community outreach design project every month. Giving back to the community is critical. The reality is, few of us encounter the same opportunities. I’d love to give back more. I see Spokane Design as an outlet for other up-and-coming designers to grow, improve, and create because I know first hand what it means to have people in your corner rooting for you.

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

To become a premier design firm that helps other designers get their start. I can’t wait to start paying it forward.

Lejit Designs is a preferred partner on Beaze.

The zen of self-employment through franchising

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business leaders are changing the service landscape. Today we’re speaking with Jeff Levy, franchisee and business coach at The Entrepreneur’s Source (TES), a resource network for people who want to own their own franchise business. He shares his secrets about how to achieve lifestyle and income zen through self-employment and franchises, even through COVID-19.

Jeff Levy, Business Coach at The Entrepreneur's Source (ES). Beaze, a vendor procurement marketplace for franchises.
Jeff Levy, Business Coach at The Entrepreneur’s Source (TES) | Photo Credit: Jeff Levy

Why The Entrepreneur’s Source (TES)?

TES helps people who want to own their own business, but don’t know how to start. We are not in the “brokerage” category; our main objective is not to sell companies or franchises. We focus on our clients and their respective lifestyle dreams. Based on our clients’ objectives, albeit income, lifestyle, wealth or equity, we coach them on how to evaluate specific franchise business options and how to start operations. I am very proud to have personally helped over 350 people start businesses during my 18 years as a coach.

Many of the people that I work with are out of a job for one reason or another. Perhaps they wanted to change, or were discriminated against, or were downsized.  Often I get to work with young couples disenchanted with a lifestyle associated with corporate America. What binds my clients together is that they are looking for a safe place to learn and explore small business ownership.

It’s enjoyable and rewarding for me to help people launch a business; I love building meaningful relationships with these individuals and sharing their excitement!

What’s the best go-to industry for franchises?

There isn’t one, but our most active franchise categories tend to be in health and beauty, such as hair salons and gymnasiums. It all depends on the person and what they are trying to accomplish. One franchise can be the perfect fit for one person but a terrible fit for another. You need to think about what you’re good at, what kind of hours you want to work, and what type of income and equity goals you want to make before you can choose a path. The experience of my coaching usually lasts 2-6 months and may or may not result in a franchise award.

What kind of businesses have you helped launch?

It’s a comprehensive spectrum as franchising covers over 80 industries and is always expanding with new concepts. Recent franchise placements this year include coin-operated laundries, outdoor lighting, remote IT managed services and a variety of senior care businesses.  Typically, my clients choose a company that they would never have thought of themselves. There is no perfect business; there are only businesses that, through your hard work and vision, can be made great for your own lifestyle needs. When asked, what is an excellent franchise, it ultimately depends on what is right for the individual.

What is something everyone should know about client acquisition?

People need to be respectful and thankful for those that send referrals. My client acquisition strategy comes from being a substantial contributor to the business community including the Small Business Administration (SBA), SCORE, and the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC). I’ve lectured on a variety of topics that help guide others to make an informed jump into business.

For me, I’ve learned that each client is thinking of making a significant life change – I learned that I need to give those people every possible effort to support them in that endeavor. “Never sell, always coach” which has helped me become a better listener.

What have you learned about franchises that you wish you had known when you first started?

It is better to have a predictable, successful business that supported my life goals than it was to dream about controlling my fate but never doing anything about it. Franchising, and the experience of learning and exploring options, can be life-changing.

What’s the #1 mistake you see franchises owners make? 

It usually takes more than one thing to undermine or fail at a franchise business. If I were to name one, it would be when a person does not become a student and follower of the franchise system in which they invested. Learning new things can be uncomfortable. The solution, look to the people who have successfully developed and own franchises in the same system. Follow what they did and only try to improve once you have mastered the basics.

What’s your mantra?

“You can get everything in life you want if you help others get what they want” per Dale Carnegie. Franchising is a wonderous area to explore because, with proper coaching, you can learn a significant amount about a business model before making the jump.

How do you give back to the community and why is that so important?

Through luck or circumstance, I have had the good fortune of varied and productive life experience in business. My experiences include buying and selling companies, partnerships, raising capital, taking a company public and of course, franchises. I feel like it’s my responsibility to coach, mentor and teach what I have learned. I was recently Chairman Of the Board at the SU Entrepreneurship Center, currently Chairman Of the Board of the Bellevue Business Roundtable and a past President of The Executive Network of Seattle. I taught entrepreneurship at Seattle Central College for three years based on a book I co-authored; the class is still ongoing. I also teach at King County library systems and several affiliates of the SBA. Whew. I’m grateful to have accumulated a lot of practical experience that can be shared and save my clients from making mistakes.

Any advice for business owners or potential business owners during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic?

New owners need to make sure they have a robust financial plan with enough capital to extend the runway through and beyond the current crisis. As long as we have our health, this pandemic (like any other challenge) will end. Even though we have had a late start in some areas of the country, the local government in Washington continues to amaze us. On the plus side, people are at home with more time to contemplate, so now is the time for researching and planning if you’re thinking about starting a business. 

A new business owner has to have a vision and a belief in a brighter future and enough of a financial runway. Existing owners may be challenged if they haven’t planned for contingencies such as this. Fortunately, some wonderful federal programs emerging that will help existing business owners weather the storm. Owners should get a hold of an SBA affiliate, such as a SCORE counsellor, immediately to better understand what programs are available to help them over the next 3-6 months. I’ve been a volunteer mentor there for years, and I still learn a great deal from other mentors who bring their own industry experience.

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

To leave a legacy in the business community that creates many jobs and financial security for all.

The Entrepreneur’s Source is a preferred partner on Beaze.

Awarded State Contracts – March 2020 Update

Hello Beaze Beta Program Participants!

Below are the awarded state service contracts for March 2020. Please sign into the Beaze Beta Portal for more details.

  • March 2, 2020 – $250K – CA State – Salesforce Implementation (#916283)
  • March 2, 2020 – $732K – WA State – Park Development (#002248)
  • March 3, 2020 – $2M – WA State – Translation Services (#590041)
  • March 16, 2020 – $10K – CA State – Custodial Services (#737108)
  • March 16, 2020 – $11K – CA State – Custodial Services (#829645)
  • March 16, 2020 – $1.8M – CA State – Cloud Data Warehousing (#729163)
  • March 17, 2020 – $154K – CA State – Furniture and Storage (#982721)
  • March 17, 2020 – $1.5M – CA State – Medical Equipment Wholesale (#769026)
  • March 17, 2020 – $4K – CA State – Concrete (#719263)
  • March 17, 2020 – $50K – CA State – Batteries Wholesale (#761827)
  • March 17, 2020 – $4K – CA State – Training Services (#726126)
  • March 18, 2020 – $117K – CA State – Technology Analysis (#387697)
  • March 18, 2020 – $1.5M – CA State – Technology Services (#287691)
  • March 18, 2020 – $17.8K – CA State – Software and Support Plan (#749455)
  • March 18, 2020 – $132K – CA State – Hardware Wholesale (#879602)
  • March 18, 2020 – $34K – CA State – Software Support Services (#876293)
  • March 18, 2020 – $406K – CA State – Hardware Wholesale (#828151)
  • March 18, 2020 – $700K – CA State – Telecom Hardware and Integration (#332219)
  • March 18, 2020 – $1.5M – CA State – Environmental Study (#927323)
  • March 19, 2020 – $80K – CA State – Battery wholesale (#462731)

Washington State COVID Measures & Relief for Small Business

Beaze is wholly committed to the support of small to medium-sized businesses.

Below are the latest set of small business coronavirus (COVID-19) relief resources recently published by the State of WA. We’ll continue to publish updates as they become available across the US.

Small Business Administration

COVID loans – https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources

Economic Injury Disaster Loanshttps://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/

WA Department of Revenue (DOR)

Business Relief During COVID-19 Pandemic – https://dor.wa.gov/about/business-relief-during-covid-19-pandemic

WA Tax Relief – https://dor.wa.gov/taxrelief 

WA Department of Health (DOH) – https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/Coronavirus

WA Employment Security Department (ESD) 

Unemployment Benefits https://esd.wa.gov/newsroom/covid-19

Paid Family and Medical Leave program https://paidleave.wa.gov/

Layoff Assistance https://www.esd.wa.gov/newsroom/layoffassistance

WA Insurance Commissioner

www.insurance.wa.gov

WA Department of Commerce

Emergency Housing Grant – https://www.commerce.wa.gov/serving-communities/homelessness/

Beauty is in the eye of the person who can buy it

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Niccolò Filippo Veneri Savoia, CEO of Look Lateral, a financial blockchain ecosystem that authenticates, values, and acquires art in real-time. He shares his secrets on building wealth through art as an asset class, possibly even through COVID-19.

Niccolò Filippo Veneri Savoia, CEO of Look Lateral. Beaze, a vendor procurement marketplace.
Niccolò Filippo Veneri Savoia, CEO of Look Lateral. Photo Credit: Look Lateral

Why Look Lateral?

In 2012, I had wanted to replace the artwork in my kitchen, so I went online to see what I could find, and I found almost nothing. When I did, I couldn’t be sure I would be getting the real thing or a counterfeit. I spoke with 300 gallery owners, and only 50% of them had a website, never mind e-commerce. There was no easy way to purchase top-quality authenticated international art online. At the time, the renowned art critic, journalist and my mother, Mariagrazia Savoia, spearheaded Look Lateral as a magazine for art, design, and fashion. When I became CEO in 2013, I decided to push the company towards e-commerce in a way that guarantees art provenance, and this meant creating a hyper-curated marketplace for art leveraging blockchain. 

Art is not only one of the most critical aspects of each nation’s history; rather, it also represents an essential asset class. There are $1.75 trillion art assets; this market is likely to grow to $2.2 trillion within three years. However, the market size is only 60 billion, and the transactions always involve the same few people. There is a considerable gap between the art market and the rest of the world.

What are the barriers to the art market and how does Look Lateral overcome them? 

Currently, there are three: lack of transparency, illiquidity, and lack of accessibility. Look Lateral addresses these problems by creating an ecosystem that identifies, documents ownership, and creates a market share for every art piece in question.  Our system tackles these issues in four ways:

1) Item identification: Our proprietary adhesive label, which is easily and safely applied to the back of a work of art or directly onto its certificate of authenticity. It is reliable and thin; it can’t be transferred to a different work of art, and it can’t be replicated or cloned. Every tag is unique. It’s crazy that this doesn’t exist right now. 

2) Provenance (i.e. a well-documented record of ownership). We record important information and opinions of the artwork to our blockchain, and we have a reward mechanism to incentivize players to record these things. We record if the artworks are in museums, record exhibitions, experts, the conditions of artwork, and so on.

3) Price indexing: This minimizes pricing error. Our methodology creates the index to price the artwork based on transactional data.

4) Fractional Marketplace of Art (FIMART): Our marketplace supports the trading of art assets, whether it is a fraction of the artwork or financial derivatives or the whole piece. Only artworks that are tagged, have information on ownership in our databases, and are priced by us may be listed in our marketplace. A centralized trading platform like this increases the number of potential buyers and increases the liquidity of the art market.

How can people maintain their wealth through art as an asset class?

According to experts such as those from Le Commerce, art represents a stable investment asset that offers an average annual return of 4.6% even during times of instability such as during political unrest or viral crises. This is especially true if there were art derivatives, art indexes and art lending. 

If you look at Deloitte and other reports, 10% of art owners would need a loan using art as collateral. These art owners include the top 1000 museums in the world, the top 1000 galleries, foundations, institutions, corporations, governments, etc. These entities are stable and solvent. There is a potential market of at least $175 billion.

The time is now, and it’s even more compelling because of COVID-19 and the possible next crisis.  Many of those entities will need loans or monetization as soon as possible. And art is even more attractive during a financial and global crisis, as one of the best refuge and safe asset class.

How does art as an investment vehicle help further culture? 

It’s a more scalable way to support museums and galleries. Museums, as an example, are not allowed to sell more than 20% of a given art piece (else they lose their non-profit status and are then categorized as for-profit galleries. During times like coronavirus, many of these establishments could shut down permanently due to enforced government closures if they don’t find alternative ways to monetize their assets within a reasonable timeframe. It would be a real loss if people were no longer able to appreciate the masterpieces of artistic leadership and history.

What drove your passion for art culture?

My father and my mother have always tried to bring me to museums, exhibitions, and openings. Some fond memories as a child include “The Celeste Galleria”  in Palazzo Te, “Phillippe Parreno”  at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and “Tino Siegel”  at the Guggenheim. As my mother was a journalist in fashion and design, I could always “breathe” culture in my everyday life since I was a kid. At that time, I didn’t understand how influential culture was. It was only in retrospect that I realized its significance. Something that has stuck with me throughout the years was “Know the history so you can understand the present and think about the future.”  

How have you built your team?

I started with people I knew, who were in turn, connected to the key industries I was seeking. Then, when I identified the skills that I needed, I tried to add some of the best people in the world for that skill. For example, we have Piers Armstrong, the VP of Marketing at Amazon as our business advisor. As our analytics and finance advisor, we have Antonio Mele, a Professor of Finance at the Swiss Finance Institute based in Lugano (USI), who also spent a decade as Professor of Finance at the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

Who’s been an integral part of growing the business?

We’re big fans of Certilogo (a leader in product authentication), or Artnet (a leader in art sales). We’re elated that they’re working on such an innovative project with us. We also have partners like Orrick, financial institutions and banks who back us with their reputation and stability.

What words of wisdom can you share?

The most important thing is to be resilient. Always find people that don’t believe in you or there will be problems on your journey. Make sure all the people around you will play their role but also advocate value. You will need to test and then stress test every single part of the business. You will need to have people verify the solution you have made. We overcame obstacles and prevailed, and to build something like the ecosystem we have, you need to develop a multilayer product. If you don’t have that, you won’t be able to execute a viable product.  

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

We want LookLateral to be the financial on-ramp to art culture as a prominent asset class, whether it’s paintings, wristwatches or film.

Look Lateral is a preferred partner on Beaze.