Our CEO, Vivian Lim, has been invited to guest-speak at DojoLive on September 22, 2020. Each week, DojoLive brings together a broad roster of technology luminaries, business and thought leaders from a wide range of software companies and startups. Vivian will be discussing how to grow your client base during COVID (including how to avoid excessive 1:1 video meetings).
“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re speaking with Clyde Hamai, CEO of Hamai Appliance, an appliance and mattress retailer in Maui founded in 1970. Clyde shares his secrets on how to run a family-owned business that has lasted over three generations.
Why Hamai Appliance?
Hamai Appliance is the only independent retailer of appliances and mattresses in Maui. My father, Lester, started this business over 50 years ago, and I joined him a couple of months later, after I graduated from the University of Hawaii. My dad’s mission was to serve the local people with the best sales and repair service. We still follow that mission over 50 years later.
How have you kept the business going for 50 years across 3 generations of family?
We adapt because we want to succeed, not just survive. When we first started, Sears owned about 45% of the appliance and electronics market. Now their share is in the single digits in addition to going bankrupt on the mainland. I would have never dreamed that our competitors would be the big boxes like Home Depot and Lowes.
One of the most significant changes that we’ve made is the shift away from electronics. When Panasonic, our largest electronics provider, shifted their North America strategy away from independent dealers, we had to maintain relationships with mainland distributors. It was too costly for our business. We decided to phase out electronics altogether; it was a tough choice because our customers still wanted these products. If we hadn’t, we would have been out of business like so many other local retailers. Maui had over a dozen dealers like us, but now we are the only one left.
Despite COVID, we never closed. We received PPP and leveraged our proprietary delivery logistics employees. We empowered our delivery team to postpone delivery if they suspected risks from COVID. All of our sales personnel wear masks and clean the showroom floor to ceiling daily. If anyone of our employees tests positive for COVID, we’re prepared to shut down for 14 days. We care more about our community than we do about just profits. Disease transmission is not a joke.
What is it like to run a family-owned business?
Oh [Clyde chuckles]. Working with family isn’t always easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding. It was my dad’s dream to go into business with his sons. When he left his sales job at another store, where he had worked for over 25 years to start Hamai Appliance, he had no idea his dream would come true. My brother, Glenn, retired in 2013. I’ve been able to live that same dream. It is gratifying to hand this off to the next generation.
Is running a family-owned business harder than running one without family?
Well, only about 30% of family-owned businesses transition into the second generation, but only 12% are viable in the third generation. A lot of this is attributed to whether or not you’ve been successful at separating work life with home life. I try very hard to keep work at the store and not take it home. I’ve discovered that it is not healthy to let the principals’ spouses get involved in running our business if the spouses aren’t actual employees. To do otherwise often results in the exploration of many touchy subjects at the company’s detriment.
Three areas where family-run businesses can do better include:
1. Assignment of authority and respecting each other’s roles: Two of my sons and one of my nephews are each responsible for a branch of service. Everyone has to go through the correct channels to get stuff done. No one just gets to “pass go and collect $200”.
2. Crystal-clear communication: Never assume that people are on the same page. We frequently meet as a group; anyone can call that meeting. We value each other opinions and ensure that everyone is heard.
3. Maintaining respect: We are family, and we all bring different energy, strengths and ideas which can be valuable, even if the idea isn’t immediately adopted. My sons, Bryant and Garrett, and nephew Kelii, are modernizing the company technologically with their book smarts. I deliver practical advice on how to run the company since I’ve been doing it for 50 years.
What is it like running a business in Hawaii?
It can be tough in our kind of business because we have to pay additionally for our independent ocean freight. That’s an additional 10-12% of the cost (a substantial overhead expense for any business). We overcome this in two ways. Firstly, we offer better service to our customers for all of the products we offer. Secondly, we also belong to Nationwide Marketing Group (NMG), the largest appliance and furniture buying group in North America. They help us buy products at a major discount and provide us with numerous industry-specific educational programs.
There can also be some discrimination from businesses on the mainland. Many can’t service Hawaii, nor are they interested in flying here to grow it because of the distance. It’s still very much a challenge.
How have you kept up reliable customer service for so long?
We are the only turn-key appliance company in Maui that will sell, deliver, install and repair an appliance. We digitally track all customers’ purchases and warranties in our system, which ultimately benefits the customer in the long run by not having to manage those details independently. Our sales team is very knowledgeable of all the brands we sell due to our manufacturer-led training programs.
How do you give back to the community?
My father started an initiative in the community 40 years ago because he couldn’t find a single golf tournament for women. He decided to convince Panasonic to sponsor a friendly golf competition on Maui specifically for women. Every year until 2017, we’ve supplied the prizes for the Lester Hamai Memorial Golf Tournament while the participants paid the entrance fees. We donated the net proceeds to various Maui charities totalling over $90,000. We’re so pleased that the women in our community enjoy themselves at these events. Several years later, well after we had started the initiative, we realized that women are typically the chief decision-makers when it comes to appliance and mattress purchases, much like most other essential decisions in life. It’s worked out well both for the company and the community at large. The more we give, the more we receive.
Another dear initiative to our hearts includes the No Child Hungry (NCH) group. At our semi-annual Nationwide meeting, we helped pack meals for NCH. Nationwide has been supporting them for many years; they’ve packed and distributed over 1,000,000 meals and thousands of mattresses to disaster-fraught countries like Haiti. For our 50th anniversary celebration last year, we executed the program here in Hawaii to directly give back to our local community. We packed over 10,000 meals and distributed them to local organizations. We’re really excited about this program and looking forward to doing more in the future.
What’s next for Hamai Appliance?
That’s up to my three boys. I’ve challenged them to grow our business. I often tell them that when your name is on the door, you have to try harder. Maybe they’ll open up another store on Maui or one of the other islands. We plan to be here for another 50 years.
“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Vivian Lim, CEO of Beaze, a platform that provides continuous lead flow for service providers. She discusses tactics on succeeding as a visible minority, a mother and an entrepreneur in technology.
So, Why Beaze?
I’m a huge fan of entrepreneurs and their courage to strike out on their own. I enjoy building solutions that help people save time on the things they loath, so they can spend more time with the people they love. Time is the one commodity you can’t buy, so it’s essential to spend it wisely.
Ever since I was little, my parents instilled in me the importance of controlling my destiny. Building your own company is one way of doing that. I want to be a significant part of helping others succeed if and when they decide to head down that path. An idea is only as useful as the team that executes that idea. Having paid my dues on my journey through tech, I sincerely appreciate all the intricate details accomplished by the front-line making incredible things work. Smart people are everywhere, but those who can find creative solutions and compromises in a business landscape full of obstacles are the hardest to find and retain. Beaze aspires to make this search both easy and enjoyable.
How did you break into B2B?
I spent most of my career in enterprise, including at Microsoft and AWS. However, my last stint at Google in brand advertising was the most intriguing space I had ever seen in my career. I had the privilege of working with Fortune 100 companies and travelled the world to see what it takes to establish and maintain a brand presence.
That’s when it hit me. If you knew that BILLIONS of dollars spent annually on advertising came from 2% of the world’s companies and that each of them spent millions every month on ads, do you honestly think any small business owner could successfully compete? I have so many friends and acquaintances who were small business owners and struggled with bootstrapping sales. While all of them were brilliant at their specialties, they weren’t necessarily as well versed in sales, marketing and advertising. Some went belly up within a few months from lack of market presence, and it was a crushing moment for them, both financially and emotionally. I never want anyone to feel that kind of failure.
What’s your philosophy?
Those who can should. Don’t let anything stop you.
I plan and prioritize religiously. It’s important to know why you’re doing something and what the payout will be. If it’s not going to produce a big return, maybe it’s not worth doing. To get primed each day, I wake up at 5:30am and go for a jog. It’s so much easier to get stuff done in the quiet moments of the morning before the rest of the world catches up; it’s my meditation.
Tell us about how you give back and why that’s so important?
I support 22q research at UC Davis. In 2015, I lost my son to Tetrology of Fallot and DiGeorge syndrome, both rare diseases caused by a congenital heart defect from erroneous deletions on the 22nd chromosome. I donate every year in memory of my son and all families who have been affected by 22q11.2 deletions. I was elated to hear about Jimmy Kimmel’s son who had received a successful surgical intervention. Unfortunately, my youngest daughter also has a heart defect, albeit a less severe one, and I’m thankful every day that she’s doing well.
Dr. Tony J. Simon and the UC team are clinically addressing children’s social interactions with these disorders. In past donation years, I’ve asked them to consider gene injection therapy in utero to prevent kids from being born with the deletions entirely. I might need to wait a few years before they can embark on such a challenge.
What does success look like to you?
Enabling every family to live comfortably. Both of my parents came from lower working-class backgrounds. My parents paid for two grandparents and five siblings to emigrate to the US and raised three daughters. I consider myself very fortunate to have had parents willing to sacrifice so much so we could have such opportunity. Today, my family includes the folks at Beaze. As a team, we celebrate milestones together because enabling sales for every small business owner is merely hard work. So, to keep things interesting this past November, we went skydiving. This quarter, we’re thinking of going paintballing while wearing tutus and bee wings. It’s a COVID-friendly activity with social distancing built-in.
What words of wisdom can you share?
1. Dream big. Every great accomplishment started as a seemingly impossible dream.
2. Persevere. Everything can and will go wrong. Life is not fair and that’s ok. Two steps forward and one step back is still one step forward.
3. Prove them wrong. The best payback is to live an amazing life.
Who inspires you?
There are so many great examples out there, like Anne Wojcicki from 23andMe; she’s a genomics pioneer! Among other accomplishments, her team helped to develop safer, less invasive prenatal sequencing that do not pose risks to developing fetuses. Then, there are upstarts like Elon Musk. I love how he simply doesn’t recognize commonly defined limits, and his punny humor slays me every time.
What’s it like being a woman in technology?
It’s hard being a woman and a visible minority in technology. At conferences, I’m often mistaken as the help. The world continues to judge women of color more harshly, so it’s critical to over-prepare for everything to the Nth degree. People tend to see us as less competent than our male peers who might be at the same or lower competence level. The hardest criticism comes from other moms who think working moms favor careers over kids.
Every working woman out in the world is an ambassador for every little girl wanting a shot at success. We have to bring our A++ game (because, you know, A is an Asian F :P). I look forward to the day half of all CEOs are working moms, and everyone considers this normal.
What’s it like being a working parent?
It’s all about balance and multitasking. In French, we say “au fur et à mesure”. I trim the proverbial fat whenever possible and do the things that give me the most satisfaction. Presenting in a boardroom and attending my kids’ end-of-year performance are not mutually exclusive. My daughters need to know that they can have both a career and a family. I’m thankfully home a lot more these days and not just because of COVID. I help the kids with homework in between video conferences with clients. We’re all more confident and happy when we’re together.
When all is said and done, what do you hope for Beaze to achieve?
I’d love for Beaze to enable more IPOs than any other company on earth. Bill Gates, I’m coming for you.
“Beaze: Meet the Team” is a series on the team building out Beaze, a platform that provides continuous lead generation for service providers. Today, we’re chatting with Peter Alexandre, our Director of Business Development, on how to succeed while busting bias.
So, Why Beaze?
As a Haïtian, I, like many others, face a world full of inequality and prejudice. When people think of my country, they think of it as a dangerous, impoverished nation. They don’t see a country that once produced 80% of France’s external income, nor do they see a society that raised the first successful slave rebellion against Napoléon, leading to its independence. They don’t see people ready and willing to do what’s necessary to succeed.
I believe in a world where more people excel based on their potential and capabilities and have equal access to opportunity. I want to be part of a company that democratizes wealth generation.
The average annual household income in Haïti is roughly $450 USD PER YEAR (or $1.23 per day) or the cost of an iPad. A Haïti-based web developer could easily earn that in a week creating an online storefront for a mom and pop chocolate boutique in Belgium; that shop would be simultaneously getting an incredible discount compared to the average market price for web development based Europe, usually around $5-10K USD. The positive impact of this change could be life-changing for all.
What’s your philosophy when it comes to tech?
We need to focus on helping each other. Technology is simply a tool to leverage the amount of partnership you can maintain while still being helpful to one another; it helps us automate away the repetitive tasks that drain our motivation and resources. Technology doesn’t replace our inherent human impulse to want to connect. We get so much more done when we collaborate, and vendors can be an essential part of a business’s success.
How should businesses go about choosing vendors?
Find an ethical vendor who asks and answers the right questions. As best said by Albert Einstein, “If I only had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Solutions can be amazingly inexpensive and straightforward when you’ve got the right measures of success and an open mind on how to get there.
Back when virtual machines (VMs) like Docker weren’t yet the norm, I remember saving a client ~$1M. A government agency considered buying a new license to replace their current server as its hardware was aging out and took over a week to recover when it failed. I realized VMware could virtualize away this old mainframe and proceeded to exceed all expectations. It was faster than the old system, no longer dependent on obsolete hardware and even recovered in a manner of minutes.
If this client had engaged a less honorable vendor, they might have just given the client what they wanted at face value resulting in a $1M+ billable. Instead, I gave them a long-term solution that shockingly cost them only $10K total (1% of the original cost) and that had future scalability in mind. It’s better to play the long game and earn customer trust.
Beaze intrinsically enables customers to ask the right questions from an almost endless supply of subject-matter experts. Customers can then receive more relevant and competitively valued bids in record time.
What’s your secret to closing deals and partnerships?
Remember that customers are human, regardless of the way you interact with them. You must fulfill their emotional needs more than anything else; this means eliminating stressors (like those caused by bias, selection and repetition), then focusing on a solution in terms that they appreciate and understand.
Beaze does this by driving the entire negotiation towards achieving a specific end goal quickly and efficiently based on merit, not aesthetics.
How can someone deliver if they’re dealing with bias as a visible minority?
Perform extraordinarily well. That way, people will forget about any preconceived stereotype and instead associate you with overshadowing success. While it doesn’t feel fair to be constantly held to such a high standard, it’s the situation we’ve inherited.
Once, I had a particular sales goal at Cisco to achieve. While most of my non-minority peers would have been happy with attaining $250K in sales within a year (well within their target quota), I went the extra mile to reach $2.5M single-handedly. The entire business group was stunned because they never expected me to succeed because of my appearance. I never want my kids to think that mediocrity is ok.
In sports, success is driven by beating the records of our predecessors. Winning the Canadian Championship in track and field gave me a great sense of accomplishment and appreciation for world-class talent; it established the foundation of character necessary for me to push myself when competing alongside international business leaders.
Customers expect a lot from their partners, and they should. You need the best talent to get ahead. Beaze allows everyone to succeed based on what vendors can do for you right now, and it evens out the playing field, so everyone gets a fair chance.
How does being a parent affect your work?
Kids get straight to the point; they don’t carry the same baggage as adults and don’t have a filter. It’s a constant reminder to eliminate the noise and to focus on what’s important right now.
Kids also very adaptable. My daughters’ ability and willingness to learn makes me realize that I can always go further and do more for my community.
Tell us about how you give back and why that’s so important?
I mentor several kids from different countries including Brazil and Haïti. I give them guidance on technology career paths so they can fast track their careers. It’s so rewarding to help propel them forward; I wish I had options like this when I was just getting started.
When all is said and done, what do you hope for Beaze to achieve?
I want people to be valued for their skills rather than their origin or appearance.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“Beaze: Meet the Team” is a series on the team building out Beaze, a technology vendor procurement marketplace. Today, we’re chatting with Ahmed ElSayed, our Principal Software Developer, on how to drive software innovation.
For starters, we tackle real business problems with unconventional solutions. But really, my Beaze work family is also my family. We may not be blood-related, but the people I work with are my close friends who keep me grounded, and I want to see us succeed together. I’m both humbled and thrilled to bring my passion for technology to the table.
How did you break into technology?
Besides tinkering with the family computer running Windows 95, I was a massive fan of video games. However, the names were in English (which I didn’t understand at the time). Having grown up in a predominantly Arabic-speaking country, nobody told me what the actual names of these games were, so I made up my own for them. Like, for example, I somehow dubbed “Donkey Kong” as “The Boy and the Cave” since the main character entered a cave and had to slide under and jump over barrels. I was fascinated by how important hardware technology was in enabling those games to run smoothly.
In college, I knew I liked the problem-solving aspects of engineering and eventually settled on programming despite having enrolled in electronics. While it’s been years since graduation, I still get excited every day about learning new ideas, techniques, patterns, or technologies in the industry/field. Technology is inseparable from communication, which in turn is inseparable from cultural and global impact and change. I love how tech has the power to democratize access to knowledge, science, and education. Its impact on societies, cultures, and individuals is undeniable.
What’s your philosophy?
To know something, you have to have learned it first. The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. One of the most useful technology experiences I had was a very senior coworker who helped review my code change very patiently and taught me how to organize my thoughts when thinking about a problem. It was a reasonably simple session, but I learned a lot by observing him break down a problem and organize my code better to be more readable and concise. I’m most grateful for my school, teachers, authors, and mentors who helped and taught me everything I know.
What are your go-to tools? What’s your secret weapon?
Task serialization is a big one. When there are bugs piling up, it helps a lot to have them all centralized in a tracker like Gitlab Issues. You get a flattened list of tasks that are easy to prioritize, sort and tag. This makes it easy to pick off work items one-by-one. Our team gained a HUGE productivity boost when we switched.
For ideation, nothing beats pen and paper. I like to outline problems and sketch out solutions. It seems counterintuitive for a developer, but it’s true. By breaking down problems into a visual decision or component tree, it’s easier to understand abstract ideas. It works for even the most complex systems, from single sign-on (SSO) logins to a distributed resource assigning and reclamation.
What lesson do you wish you had learned 10 years earlier in life?
Take ownership and pride in your work. As a software engineer, I proactively obsess about how customers use my products and I’m always on the lookout to find ways to boost their productivity. At my first job straight out of school, my team would often receive escalations from customers. I used to passively wait until a manager decided if we should work on it, ignore it or pass it along org-wise. Even if I knew how to solve the problem, I didn’t take any initiative. Later, I switched teams to work with a group of downright brilliant engineers. Their sheer passion and determination to make products better no matter what was clear as day. I immediately started looking up to them and trying to learn as much as I could from them. They always worked to produce the absolute best they could not rather than to just “meet the requirements” or satisfy an ask. That mentality encouraged me to reach for the stars in terms of innovation and advancement software-wise and strengthened my resolve to push software engineering as far as I possibly can.
What does success look like to you?
I always think of a quote from Einstein: “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple”.
If I can find a solution that’s both simple and complete, then success feels near.
If you’ve ever been paged in the dead of night to debug failures in a production environment, you can probably appreciate the mission-critical importance of creating, and combing through debug logs. Once, there was this nestable deployment logger, which allowed software developers to define new scopes for logs. We created an XML serializing technology where the parser managed scope based on the XML tag. However, deployments with 100,000’s of logs bottlenecked because the parser needed to load the entire XML tree to append a node. In short, the cost of appending increased exponentially over time. Switching the implementation for a simple flat text with a simple scope level prefix eliminated the bottleneck and cut the code needed by half. It felt like the perfect combination of pragmatism, performance and reduction in complexity.
How do you keep up with innovation?
I’m curious. As hard as change can be, I honestly enjoy pushing myself to expand and adapt my skills at every opportunity. As Confucius once said: “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm”. Github, blogs, and programming discussion boards are all great places to explore and learn. If you need a running start, it helps to take a class first.
How do you give back to the community and why?
I assist with teaching computer science at a local high school and contribute to programming mailing lists and forums regularly. Helping others learn is both emotionally rewarding as well as instrumental in furthering my understanding. I’m better able to distill and explain these concepts to different audiences. I also used to volunteer at a dog shelter, which is where I found one of my dogs, Jasmine. I would never have found her otherwise, so really, the community is giving back to me too.
When Beaze goes big, what will your biggest claim to fame be?
Vivian, our CEO, wanted to demo our product to some investors and needed a demo turned around quickly. Trying to get it out the door in time for the presentation, I got a functional build out in time and thought it might be useful to have at least a little security against random web traffic. I gave it to her with a silly password ‘letmein’ (since it’s historically common and easy to break). She definitely remembered it, and now she won’t let me forget it either :D.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
– 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.