Tim Cadogan, OpenX CEO, Talks About His Experiences Building OpenX

Friday Coffee Meetup:  Feb 3, 2017

Presented by Tim Cadogan

Blog Writeup by Jan Young

Tim Cadogan is the CEO of OpenX, a programmatic advertising technology company headquartered in Pasadena, and he came by FCM on Friday, Feb 3rd to share some reflections on his experiences building a company. Tim’s Pasadena roots go back to the Idealab incubator GoTo.com/ Overture. These were the early days of internet advertising, and Overture was the first company to successfully monetize pay-for-placement search. Tim moved over to Yahoo as SVP Global Advertising Marketplaces when they bought Overture. Back then, real-time-bidding was a pie-in-the-sky idea, but when enabling technology advances came about, Tim recognized the opportunity and knew he wanted to go back to Pasadena to build OpenX.

Following is a recap of some of Tim’s thoughts he shared with us. You can also listen to the podcast here or on iTunes.

I thought I would focus on the experience of building OpenX instead of the details of what we do which would only be interesting to 10-15% of you. But briefly, to provide some context, we started OpenX nine years ago. It’s basically digital advertising run on a real-time basis. We take an impression from a website, or now an app, we auction off that off in real time to a group of very specialized companies that run algorithms that can bid on that impression. Ten years ago, you couldn’t do that, but then as technology developed, and it started to be possible. We got in early and built our company around that concept. Now we have over 500 people—about 350 here in LA, and the rest in NY, London, Munich, Tokyo, Poland, and Palo Alto.

So, why do you build a company? Some here today are entrepreneurs, or are considering it. You need to start with that question and then everything flows from there.

To me, there are two simple reasons to build a company:  1) To be financially successful, 2) To create an enjoyable place to work. Most entrepreneurs don’t think much about the second reason, but the reason I thought that was important was because I had experienced both shitty places to work and good places to work, and the difference is life changing. It flows into the rest of your life. Who here has experienced a shitty workplace? How was that for the rest of your friends and family? When your job is rewarding, everything is much different. A friend and I wrote down 50 F’d up things we didn’t want to do at our company, and so we hoped to at least achieve creating a place that would really accelerate people’s career and they enjoyed connecting with their colleagues.

Go-to, which became Overture, an Idealab company—that was where I experienced the most personal growth and developed my deepest connections. That’s part of why we built the company here in Pasadena. Sure, I lived here, but there was also a set of people who lived here that would be effective colleagues and teammates for building a company. So, that’s the reason why overall.

Also, we always try to be really clear about our purpose, our vision, and our strategy. I was lucky enough at Yahoo to work for Jeff Weiner who later became CEO of LinkedIn. He’s a really stellar thinker. He really drilled into us to have great clarity on what we’re trying to do.

For example: The last Thursday of each month, we hold a company meeting. Every meeting we start with why are we here, what are trying to do, and what is our strategy for the year. And I repeat it, and sometimes people say “You’re going to do that again?” but it’s really important to reiterate your what it is we’re trying to do and why we’re trying to do that. We always start there. Where it gets interesting is driving that down through the whole organization. It’s easier to do that when you’re smaller. When you get to 300, 400, 500—you wrestle with it more. How do you draw that clean bright line between everyone’s daily work to what your purpose is. That alignment is hard to achieve. You do not want an employee wondering “Am I wasting my time?” There’s nothing worse.

Your strategy and purpose need to be clear, and what each person is doing each day needs to be aligned with that strategy and purpose. There are three things that we define and reiterate in our company.

  • Purpose: Why we’re here. We strive to create a place where people can build their careers, and we make ourselves indispensable to our customers. This is more of a high-level goal.
  • Vision: What are we trying to create. This is more aspirational three to five year goal, so it evolves.
  • Strategy: How we’re going to bring that vision to life. This is much more detailed, sometimes people would say painfully so. We just went through this in detail in our first company meeting of the year.

There are things that you think are going to be hard when you start a business. And you think maybe it will be making decisions. At business school, you get these case studies, and they’re beautifully framed. But when you’re running a company, it’s not like that at all. Decisions are the easy part of running a company. But I think what’s harder is framing the decision: “What question are you trying to answer?” You are being asked a question by the market. The market is moving ridiculously quickly and competitively. And it’s hard sometimes to realize that you are being asked a question by the marketplace, and then to frame that question. What is the question, what are the pros and cons, and this is future oriented so how do you answer that question without a bunch of data to look at? And the answering of that question—who do we involve, and how do we work through that, and how do we deal with the level of uncertainty that is inherent both in the nature of the question and the information about that question.  The fork in a road, that’s not difficult. I’ve found that framing the question, forcing yourself to pose it as a question, posing it so that you have to answer. When we do that we’re at our best, and when we don’t ever make a clear decision, or take a long time to make a decision. So that’s different than in school, you’re not just answering a question. You have to write the problem before you can answer it, and that’s not anywhere in business school.

Question from the audience:  When was that turning point when you knew you’d make it?

Tim’s Response:  Well, there are many points, it’s not like in movies—struggle, struggle, struggle then success—like Uber or Snapchat. Sure, that happens. But mainly it happens constantly, and it’s non-linear. In the first two years, it was all existential doubt. No one knew what it was that we were offering, what we were talking about. Then when we hit profitability people were acting like you’re done. But things change constantly. So you’re not done. It’s not even a marathon. It’s just ongoing. You keep getting whacked. It’s like driving a car, it’s all new and shiny at the beginning, but after nine years you’ve been in crashes, you’ve got all kinds of dents, but you keep driving it. You take a bunch of knocks. People you love leave, it happens. But you keep forging on. There is no turning point. There is always new challenges, and you keep grinding it out. There are some great moments, but then it keeps going.

People – all business is people. It’s all based on who you have and what they do. There’s two topics on people—there’s leadership and then there’s everything else. I had lunch with a guy a few years into it, and he asked me, “How’s your team? You know you’ll have to fire them.” I was like “What??” What a shitty lunch. But he was right. So, you hire the group who are great at starting up a company, but as you make progress, and you grow, they aren’t the right people any more. But you like them, and they’re your friends. Then they start not to be successful. You’re all in denial about it. It’s the last conversation you want to have. But he was right. We’ve turned over most of the people around me roughly two times in nine years. It sucks, but it was the right thing to do. A couple of times on the other side, a couple of guys have come to me and said you know, it was right—I feel better, and I’m back to what I love. But that process is difficult, and it is different for you and for them. You have to anticipate what you’re going to do in a year. In order to do that, you have to disconnect your emotion, but you need to do it with empathy. This may not be universally true, maybe some get through, but usually some or all turn over, rarely all get through to stage four. And if you have any humanity it’s a hard thing to do. (This is maybe a dark version of building a company—but I wanted to say something that was actually useful.)

The other part of the people stuff for the broader team, is creating a culture where people can work effectively, enjoy it, and get rewarded. When you’re smaller, it’s easier. When you get to 100 people and larger, it’s harder to do. So what we did, we got the company together in groups of 8-10, asked what do you want our values to be. And then we tried to breathe life into it, you need to codify it, and take actions to make it happen.

  • One value: Our customers define us. When people look at company, they look at which companies you work with. If they are good quality, then you’re good quality. And at a certain point, we had to evaluate who we were working with and decided that we need to shut down some of those relationships. So, we did it, we took a hit, but for the right reasons.
  • Another thing we have we call the traits – what we look for in each individual. Do people make the right decision when no one is looking? If no one would ever know, would you do the right thing. That’s a good test to try and apply.

It’s a never ending quest, and we’re still working on it to make everyone feel like it is there company. I  don’t want it to feel like a place where people just come to work 9 to 5, but when you have 500 people, there’s a certain percentage and our job is to get that percentage as low as possible. We’re always trying to achieve 100%.

Finally, as a CEO, as you get bigger, you need to be prepared to work on a lot of projects that do not work. So here’s what I mean by that: When you operate the company you’re setting up an operation against your strategy, and as you get deeper into the organization, you want the probability of the work being successful to go up because you’re asking people to work on known problems. As you go up the organization, particularly you, you have to work on a lot of prospective things that by definition have a high probability of failure. Big partnerships, strategic deals, all kinds of stuff, most of which you’ll never tell your company about. You’ll never speak of them and most of them won’t come to a hill of beans. You have to get your head around that, how that works, and get used to that because it is part of the dynamic. The failure rate may be high, but you gotta do it.

There’s more! Watch the very interesting Q&A session, or listen to it on the podcast. (links above)

Civic Innovation & How It Improves our Lives: Pasadena as a Case Study

Friday Coffee Meetup:  Jan 27, 2017

Presented by Andy Wilson

Blog Writeup by Jan Young

Andy Wilson is a serial entrepreneur having led, founded or invested in almost two dozen Southern California high tech start-ups. He also has a long history of service with local not for profits including leadership roles at Pasadena Heritage, Pacific Oaks College, the Gamble House and STEAM Coders.  Andy isn’t just a regular attendee at FCM, he was one of the original founders of the FCM speaker series, as well as a co-founder and board member of Innovate Pasadena, which is dedicated to advancing the east side of Los Angeles as a vibrant innovation community.

He frequently speaks to groups on the role of innovation to create high paying local jobs with the goal of enhancing quality life in our community, and he’s a strong advocate for thoughtful urban planning that protects neighborhoods and is committed to the Complete Streets and Active Transport concepts, making it easier for people to walk, bike, use transit and ride share. All of these passions led Andy to run for Pasadena City Council (currently running for his seat again) and to apply his background in innovation and entrepreneurship to community building and challenges facing the city. And so, on Friday, January 27th, Andy came by FCM to share some of his thoughts on civic innovation and how it improves our lives utilizing Pasadena as a case study.

When Andy was growing up, he lived in 12 different places. He moved twice in high school alone. After he met his wife, he wanted to settle down and live in the best place. Since he’s an engineer by training, he built a spreadsheet, leading him to two alternatives:  Palo Alto or Pasadena. His Mother-in-law was living in Palo Alto – so Pasadena it was. According to Andy, when you settle into a place, you take on an ownership mentality because you’re planning to live there in perpetuity. Eventually, he got his brother and parents to move to Pasadena as well. He wants to make it as good or better for next generation. His strategy is to get things done: for Andy, the real power is in building bridges, not walls.

Following is a recap of some of Andy’s thoughts he shared with us. You can also listen to the podcast here or on iTunes.

So, I’m running for city council, and it’s been a while since I’ve presented at FCM. Running a campaign is a huge amount of work, but Pasadena is an extraordinary place. Innovation and city building are two things that I care a lot about, and that has led me to civic innovation. It’s similar to why I started Innovate Pasadena– thinking about innovation in Pasadena, there are some great tech companies here, and I wanted to explore how to take great ideas and turn into execution for community impact. How to impact the real world. It’s the same with civic innovation. Applying innovation to infrastructure, to how cities work.  Pasadena is a microcosm: ~130k people, ~$700M budget. How things work or don’t work every day matters for our quality of life. I wanted more innovation in our city. I want to engage our government to think out of the box. Try new things. They say “Good ideas die in committee” for a reason. And in politics or the government, if you do something that doesn’t work out, your competitor points it out. But we know that innovation requires failure so that you can get to success. That’s very hard to do in civic innovation and in the political process. So I ask:  Can we recast and rethink what and how we are doing it?

Some examples in Pasadena are how we approach a parking garage that is for sale. Or recognizing that Old Pasadena and its old stock of buildings have value in creating a community identity. Old Pasadena has a shortage of parking, but is building another parking garage the answer? If you have an assigned parking spot, you do not use it 100% of the time. So how can you maximize private parking and use underutilized spaces? Can you match parking to the people who need it when they need it? Maybe we don’t need more parking garages, maybe we just need to use the parking we have better. Also, if had better public transportation, then we’d need less parking. Once you use your resources to build a garage underground, it’s hard to reuse that space for something else.

I’m also excited about the mobile app to report problems to the city. Not only can you enter a ticket without waiting to talk to someone on the phone, once you enter the ticket you can track it. You can see that it was received and that’s someone’s working on it. You know when it’s resolved. Now, accountability is possible. Mobile technology doesn’t just allow you to easily self-serve and report issues—it creates tangible government accountability.

When you think about urban planning the primary model is still from the 1960s: suburbia. The model requires you to drive everywhere. There are separate sections for living, playing, and working. But that’s hazardous to your health. All that time in your car, sitting in traffic, creating greenhouse gasses. Cars are really the bane of existence in LA. If you can live in LA and not be in your car every day? Success! Jeff Speck wrote a book about Walkable Cities and he has a Ted Talk—I highly recommend it. It’s about how to make cities walkable, bike-able. City planning changes over time. Mixed use is better, it’s more walkable. It includes public space and parks, and instead of a car-centric design, it’s pedestrian-centric. You don’t want to feel like you could be run over when you’re walking down the street. How should residential areas be different? Where are the nearby schools and work places? To give you an idea, Old Town’s walkability score is 100. Now, not everywhere in Pasadena is or should be transitioning to a 100 walkability score. But there is more we can do, and it can be supported. This is something that Millennials look for when they are deciding where to live.

There are lots of other things to apply innovation to. Bus schedules have a complex time table. Increasingly, you see real-time bus schedule tablets at bus stops that tell you where bus is and if it is delayed. But a Transit app would be even better—it can show every transit modality, including Uber/ Lyft, or whatever comes next.

There are many districts in Pasadena—one of them is the Playhouse district. They got inspired by parklets like you see in NYC and other cities lately. They want to create an identity that is unique from Old Town. Concord in Northern California is another community with the same idea, another implementation. So, they’re developing the concept here. It’s controversial because it removes two lanes of traffic on a busy street, and people are asking how they can get through if it’s more congested. This is car-centric thinking. But what if the goal is actually to slow down the cars, and let people see the stores? There are nearby 4 lane one way streets that can probably absorb the traffic. Things change. There was a time that Colorado was part of Route 66, but now we have the 110, so cars go there. The good news is, parklets are removable. Think of it as an MVP (Minimal Viable Product), put it in, and give it a try. Don’t let it die in committee. Give it a try. If it works, you can always go from 2 to 4 to 6 parklets. Support a group of people in the community, let them try something new.

Another great innovation that we’re seeing in the US is Bike Share. It helps people get out of their cars. Mayor Garcetti is a big proponent of Bike Share, and I’m really happy to say that we’re getting Bike Share in Pasadena. We’ll start with 500 bikes by the middle of next year, and about 30-35 Bike Share kiosks. First, the question is where the bike kiosks should go. So, some consultants researched kiosk locations and came up with ideas. What I love about this is then they went out and crowdsourced a survey and got feedback from 700 people. When their feedback was mapped over the engineering solution, it actually led to changing ~5 locations. So Bike Share—a new mode of transit in our city, and engaging people through civic engagement, and getting insights into their everyday patterns, so we could figure out where the kiosks should go. Two elements of innovation at work together. Impacts the input, impacts the finalization.

Solar energy – that’s a whole other topic. I could do a whole presentation just about alternative energy. But I won’t today because of time constraints. Innovation in Pasadena can be applied to so many problems—so many opportunities. I’m going to quickly go through some of the innovative things going on in Pasadena. Like live traffic data. There are other parties like Google Maps or Waze that want to know about queuing at every intersection of our city in real time. Well we don’t have money to go do that. But they’re interested in the data, so there’s a third party called a public-private partnership that’s deploying at each of our signal controllers to add sensors so we can get the data and know how many cars are at every traffic light. They want the data. We want the data. They get to use it in their application; Pasadena gets it for free. So now our traffic control center can look at in real time Rose Bowl Parade traffic, queuing problems, and actually start managing traffic in real time. Our tax dollars are not going to work to get that data—a third party is installing the censors and doing the deployment.

Another initiative for traffic data with another technology company is helping the city measure city transit times in peak traffic across 30 different corridors. So now through a partnership with a mobile technology company—that is through an app that is probably running in the background of another app you already have—we can measure traffic in real time. So it’s no longer once a quarter some guy with a stopwatch, it’s using the speed that’s measured out of people’s mobile devices while they’re getting to and from work.

How we measure how bad traffic is:  It used to be how long people wait at a light. But now it’s how much do people drive? The real goal is to reduce how much people are driving. The only way to reduce traffic is to get out of your car. When I meet with constituents, they complain about traffic and they want to block their street off. But that just pushes the traffic to another street. So, the real way to solve the problem is getting people out of their car, and reducing the need to drive. Go to the core problem. Measuring vehicle miles travelled—we were the first city in California to measure that.

Planning—there’s all sorts of planning codes we’re looking to revise. Something we’re looking to use is called Form Based Codes – what does a street look like as a whole. There are streets that look way too big and ugly. We all know what that looks like. But if they meet the building code, as much as we try to review the design, we can’t change the shape. But you can consider what the street looks like as a whole; Form Based Codes let you consider what the street should look like as a whole. It’s like Legos—all of them need to work together—it allows you to change the mindset from being prescriptive to being more block based—as a sort of integrative system.

Smart irrigation – we’re in a drought—the city provides rebates if you get a smart controller that turns your water on and off. We’ve had that for a long time, what’s interesting about that is it’s a direct install from the city, and the reason we do that is then we get data for the city – and now we can tell through a collection of users how much water we’re saving. Getting insight into people’s behavior by paying for these devices allows us to better manage water. One note about that:  We use less water today than 50 years ago, and our population is 50% greater. That’s water conservation. So, it does really work.

Pulse point—it’s an app, you can put it on your phone. It allows you to know about any medical emergencies going on. It locates the closest person who is certified in CPR. Self-reporting overlayed with Fire Department data and EMS calls.

And the last thing I want to say is we have an open data strategy so anyone who wants to hack, we’ve done some city hackathons, the goal is not for the city to do all of the innovation, if that was our strategy, I can tell you we will fail. Open data—allowing innovators and entrepreneurs to come up with solutions.

I would argue that Innovate Pasadena is civic innovation. It’s community-based, not for profit, around solving a city problem or an opportunity around entrepreneurship and job creation. The Friday Coffee Meetup was spawned in a coffee shop where we were starting Innovate Pasadena. Innovate Pasadena and Friday Coffee Meetup is the heart and pulse of what makes Pasadena so great, so thank you.

There’s more! Listen to the Q&A on the podcast or watch the video (links above).

How Prioritizing Purpose Makes All the Difference in Creating a Lasting Business

Friday Coffee Meetup:  Jan 20, 2017

Presented by Eron Zehavi

Blog Writeup by Jan Young

You can listen to the podcast here.

Eron Zehavi is the Founder and CEO of Wellnest, a holistic wellness lifestyle brand and local digital marketplace to easily and affordably connect yoga teachers with students for personalized 1-on-1, small group, and corporate yoga sessions. He was previously the Co-Founder and Chief Rewards Officer of Swagbucks, the web’s largest and most engaged rewards and loyalty community with over $160 million distributed rewards. Swagbucks grew from a 4 person bootstrapped company over the course of 8 years to 250 people, raising $60M in what was at the time the largest series A round in Los Angeles. It was through Eron’s experience at Swagbucks that he evolved his purpose driven approach to business that led to his new business and the subject of his presentation.

Swagbucks was formed by an unlikely foursome:  a honey exporter, a song writer who organized benefit concerts, a magician, and a Minor-League baseball promotor who spent a lot of his time working with mascots. They started their company in an upstairs office of the Jewish community center in Redondo Beach. None of them were in tech or had an MBA. So why were they successful? The Swagbucks foursome was purpose focused. They were focused on creating a sustainable business and building things that lasted.

The Swagbucks purpose was simple. Traditionally, loyalty programs were built on the breakage concept: Loyal customers earning points that went unused or holding gift cards with $0.05 or $3.65 remaining. These points and gift cards added up to big bucks. Ironically, these loyalty programs make money from the lack of loyalty—people are disincentivized from doing business with the company. It’s too hard.  Swagbucks believed that everything you do should incentivize people to come back and engage with you again. So, they made it easy to use your points or leftover gift cards to get stuff you felt good about. The CEO put his baseball card collection up on their site, they found old classic VHS tapes, they got Irish themed holiday items from the 99-cent store. The focus was on tangible value and making people feel good about doing business with them.

Eron shared a quote and a reflection:

  • “Those creating the technology of tomorrow will do more to influence the future of human spirituality than will all the religious leaders combined.” ~ Dan Brown
  • “Best Practices” provide an overview of what has worked well in the past, not a blueprint of what is best for the future.

It is Eron’s belief that technology is transformative and has the power to positively influence human spirituality. We often get sidelined with tangential activities. We get disconnected from why we’re doing what we’re doing. We look at past examples for best practices instead of answering the question: What is my purpose? And by extension, what is the purpose of my business? What are we creating in the world?

What energy are you creating and infusing in the world? Infuse yourself into the purpose of your business. All of your employees must be aligned. If you and your employees are all aligned with the purpose of your business, what does that look like? When you are aligned, what you create equals more than the sum of the parts. It’s about creating a sustainable business.

In 2008, the loyalty business was just coming up. Programs were for VIPs only; rewards were few and far between. Swagbucks turned it on its head. They had $5 redemption levels; you could get the best item at lowest redemption value. This was counterintuitive to the best practices at the time because their payoff was so fast. But customers wanted a fast payoff. Swagbucks thought about what the customers wanted.

As Eron put it: Our businesses are extensions of ourselves. What we want to put out into the world. Have that be what we want to put out in the world. If corporations are people, then treat them like that. People have morality, hopes, ideas of justice and goodness. Intertwine that into your business. You want to surround yourself with people who light you up, who care what you have to say. You don’t want to be surrounded by negative energy. And so it’s the same with a company. That’s the magic. Put that in the fabric of your business. This is not taught in business school, but it is the essence of a successful business.

Eron shared a slide with images of Love vs Fear. Some people thing hate is the opposite of love, but it’s not. Fear is the opposite of love. When you’re defining what you want to put out in the world, think: Does anyone want a life of scarcity? No. Abundance, joy, peace, love, connection, understanding. All of these are rooted in love. Compassion. Empathy. Business is an extension of our lives. So what we want in the world, in our lives—put it into your business. If you want a sustainable business, keep fear, anger, scarcity out. What are people worried about? We worry about money. But we print money. Literally. If you live in place of scarcity and fear, you are getting away from your purpose. But purpose lives in Love. This isn’t hippy dippy, this is just how the universe works.

Eron shared a slide with an image of an Othello board. Eron’s new mission—his purpose, his business—is to turn dark energy into light. It’s important to share what is beautiful and positive. Energy does not live on an island. We are all in the same pool of energy. Like the Othello board, what you surround yourself with, that’s what you become. Why put in negative energy? Separation and competition disconnects us from creating a joyful happy world. That’s really everyone’s mission. Think about this: you’re looking at a pool of water, you’re in the deep end of the pool, my son is in the shallow end and he shits in the pool. What do you do? You get out of the pool, even if you’re far away. If someone shits in the pool you get out—it’s the same in an energy pool. You want to put something good in the energy pool of life. Don’t shit in the pool. Put in compassion, love, joy.

Eron shared a quote from Nikola Tesla: “It is doubtful whether men who would not be ready to fight for a high principle would be good for anything at all.” There is power and challenge in that quote. It is imperative that we all take on the personal responsibility to create joy and opportunity in this world. Smile at the barista in the Starbucks. Then the barista will smile at the next person, and so on, and so on. Are you willing to fight for a joyful world so that your family and friends will have a life of abundance, joy, empathy, compassion, and love?

We are the ones to create the technology that will transform the world. Our businesses will thrive our personal lives will thrive. You have the power to do something about it. We are disconnected from the idea that we can make a difference. But we have that power. Ask yourselves – what am I going to create today, and how is that going to benefit the world? You, your customers, your P&L, your accountant, you will all be happy.

How to Motivate Girls to Become Innovators



Friday Coffee Meetup:  Jan 13, 2017

Presented by Amy Hee Kim, PhD

Blog Writeup by Jan Young

You can listen to the podcast here.

Amy Hee Kim, PhD, is the Sr Director of Corporate Partnership at Iridescent, a science and engineering non-profit with the mission to empower the world’s underrepresented young people, especially girls, through engineering and technology, to become innovators and leaders. Iridescent focuses on girls and minorities because they are the least likely to major in STEM and go into high paying STEM careers. Why is diversity so important? Simply put, when there’s a lack of diversity, the products that are created only meet the needs of a subset of our community—many problems are left unsolved or do not meet the needs of the whole community. Diverse groups are better at problem solving.

Dr Kim connected with the founder of Iridescent, Tara Chklovski, when they crossed paths at USC. Ms Chklovski was volunteering in the local Los Angeles schools when she was struck by how few children had ever met a scientist or engineer, and how great the need was to make the sciences and technology relatable to the kids if they were going to consider studying STEM subjects. She wanted to do something different than tutor kids for their math test. She wanted to create a technology and entrepreneurship program to motivate girls and minorities from underserved communities to become innovators.  So in 2006 Ms Chklovski left her PhD program in aerospace engineering at USC and started her journey. Iridescent has since grown to a global community of over 3,500 mentors and more than 63,000 participants in 87 countries through its flagship mentorship programs: Technovation and Curiosity Machine.

Dr Kim spoke to FCM about how they can get involved locally by volunteering as mentors in the Technovation program. Technovation is a technology entrepreneurship program for teams of middle and high school girls. During a 12-week program, girls learn to brainstorm and research ideas, develop and pitch a business plan, and create a mobile app solution to address a local issue in their community. The all-girl teams participate in local community and regional pitch events, leading to a world pitch event each August in San Francisco.

Entrepreneurs mentor teams of girls through four stages of launching a mobile app startup, inspired by the principles of design thinking:

  • Ideation – Identifying a problem in their community
  • Technology – Learning to code and developing the mobile app solution
  • Entrepreneurship – Building a realistic business plan to take the solution to market
  • Pitch – Competing for the opportunity for $10k prize and help bringing their app and their business to market

Technovation is about impact. Iridescent has partnered the Technovation program with the United Nations, UN Women, UNESCO, and the Peace Corps. One team of girls developed an app to identify safe drinking water wells free from heavy metal contaminants in Moldova (once part of the former Soviet Union). Another team in New York City developed an app that kids could use to let their parents know when they have arrived safely at school and back home—they sold it to the New York Department of Education and it’s in use today.

Impacting Students: After participating in the program, 78% of students were more interested in Computer Science, 58% pursue further study, 26% major in STEM (notably, 65X the national rate of 0.4% of female college students majoring in CS). 70% of the students were more interested in Entrepreneurship, and 67% were more interested in Business Leadership.

Impacting Mentors:  Mentors are positively impacted too. 58% of the mentors increased their technical skills, 67% increased their knowledge about entrepreneurship, and 70% learned more skills to be effective mentors. 90% of the mentors feel like they are impacting more women to join the STEM pipeline.

The FCM entrepreneurs are a natural fit to become Technovation mentors and regional judges, and there’s lots of opportunity for training, collaboration, and networking. Iridescent has even solved for cross-town traffic issues by setting up virtual mentorship meetings—so you can even mentor kids without driving 2+ hours! Can’t attend the regional competition in person? Be a virtual judge!  There is virtually no reason not to make a difference by getting involved in Iridescent’s Technovation program.

For more inspiration, check out the documentary “Codegirl” on Netflix which features Tara Chklovski and Iridescent—link for trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRb5iel-3Ck. And for more information on how you can get involved, go to www.iridescentlearning.org /programs/technovation/.


Innovation and Meditation: An Introduction to Mindfulness

January 6, 2017

Presented by Nick Stein

Blog Writeup by Jan Young

Brian Nolan, Sellbrite CEO, introduced Nick Stein at our January 6th Friday Coffee Meetup. Brian connected a while ago with Nick and began to understand the connection between innovation and meditation, so when Brian was looking for office space, he purposely found a space that included a “Quite Room” for “Mental Training” (he didn’t want to scare people off by calling it a meditation room). Nick did a 6-week coaching session with Brian’s company last year to start them on their practice, and Brian attests to the big progression he has seen with his team and his company since then. Nick is coming back for another 6-week training session with Brian’s company this year.

Following is Nick’s story and a little about the practice of Mindfulness that he shared with the audience. You can listen to the podcast here.

Nick is a former show runner and producer. He’s produced hundreds of hours of TV for PBS, ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN, History Channel, among others. As Nick tells it, his “bucket list” project was the popular Border Wars on NatGeo channel, where he was a show runner for 4 years. It was the best of times and the worst of times. And there was definitely a dark side.  As producer of the show, he was embedded with the border patrol—tracking through border drug tunnels where anything can happen and you never know what’s around the corner, kicking in the doors of heroin dealers, finding and deporting migrants who had risked all and spent their life savings to get to the US, and rescuing migrants held captive by Coyotes for ransom from their families back home (just to deport them back). To say the least, it was a harrowing stressful roller coaster. Nick was experiencing the same PTSD as the border patrol police, and coping with it similarly—too little sleep, too much alcohol, and a short temper.


Then the typical stressful corporate downsizing was added into the picture: Fox bought NatGeo and got rid of most of the team and replaced with their own. Border Wars was immensely popular, so they decided to keep it—but they wanted a more typical reality show. So, Nick was out. Adding humiliation to the hurt, Nick was expected to train his replacement and introduce him to his contacts—but these were not just contacts—he had bonded with them in dangerous situations, he understood their pain and lived it too, and now Fox wanted to make it more formulaic. Reluctantly, Nick did it. He needed the medical insurance.


During all of this, Nick’s father passed away. And his marriage was on the rocks. When he was home, he wasn’t present—he was on email; his head was in the job, in the past, in the stress. Nick shared a picture of an interview he did on TV during that period. His wife called him up afterwards and said “Nick you’re a mess. You look like the unibomber. Come home.”


Soon after that, Nick did a 3-day workshop with Jon Kabat-Zinn (who was featured on a 60 Minutes episode with Anderson Cooper—a great source of information if you want to look it up online), and started his journey to scientifically based Mindfulness Meditation, ultimately getting certified with the Intensive Practice Program at UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC). Compared to his TV showrunner experience, now Nick gets immediate feedback on his impact, and it feels more satisfying to him as a direct contribution to people.


Following are some thoughts and exercises that Nick shared with the group.


The Mind is a scary place. When talking to cops—your mind is like a neighborhood you don’t want to walk through alone. The cell phone – Nick calls them his gills—it’s attached to you; you can’t breathe without it. Silicon Valley is now into Mindfulness – Nick calls it their guilty penance for what they’ve created. But Mindfulness works. Mindfulness is a no brainer (literally). Stillness. Not busy-ness. We usually are looking outside of ourselves to find out how we are. But we’re better off if we utilize stillness once a day.


One Minute Non-Meditation

Your mind can be everywhere and anywhere. But your body is in one place. Turn off your cell phone, mindfully place it away from you. Get out of your chair. Center your feet. Stretch your arms down, out, up and then back down, breathe in/out. Now, sit down to be quiet for one full minute. (People in the audience then shared their experience.)


Mindfulness Training is essentially attention training. Notice where your thoughts are. Mindfulness training = Attention training. Like turning on a flashlight on in a dark room. Life is more like a disco ball in a dark room.


Mindfulness Meditation will:

  • Reduce rumination
  • Increase cognitive flexibility
  • Alleviates anxiety and stress
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Strengthens resiliency (ex: border control cops bounce back from stressful situations more easily)
  • Improve communication and relationships – speak authentically
  • Achieve peace of mind (Pursuit of happiness in in the constitution. Mindful Nation, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan wrote a book “Mindful Nation”, and wants the practice to be taught in schools – we tell kids to pay attention, but we don’t teach them how.)


It doesn’t happen overnight. Nick agrees with Dan Harris’ approach in his book, “10% Happier”. Nick doesn’t want to oversell it, but Mindfulness Meditation changes your life. Practicing 5 minutes every day is better than 90 minutes once a week. Here and now – the present moment—really nothing else exists. The past is gone. The future is speculation. This is radical, but it’s also obvious. Meditation is training to be present.


Key Concepts:

Openness, kindness, without judgement.

Mindfulness is not anti-thought. Thought is human.

It’s about changing your relationship with your thoughts. Most thoughts are rehash. In any given day, people have very few new thoughts.


Sit still for meditation.

Sit up and extend your spine.

Check in with your body—feet, legs, hips, torso, arms, neck, head.

Check in with your senses—what do you hear, smell, taste—your eyes are closed what does it look like?

Check in with breathing.

Your mind will wander. That’s ok. When thoughts and stories come up, it’s ok to get lost for a second, remember to come back. Do not beat yourself up about it. This is the process. Smile. Come back to your breath. Pay attention to your breathing. When your mind wanders again, come back again with smile and kindness. Continue for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, longer if you can or want to do it.


When Nick returned from the meditation workshop with Jon Kabat-Zinn, he kept going to sessions. Eventually, his wife commented that “Nick 2.0” appeared. Nick got certified and started offering his practice to border patrol cops, police men, and started working with LA County Jail inmates. Nick also offers sessions at his home once a month.

Mindfulness is getting incorporated everywhere including throughout Silicon Valley and Corporate America. Nick enjoys working with cops, border control, and LA County men’s jail inmates. He’s changing lives directly. As Nick says, “You want to get pulled over by a mindful cop, not someone who is stressed and not present. We all need this.”


Creative Marketing of Dollar Shave Club – Alec Brownstein

Alec Brownstein joined Dollar Shave Club as Creative Marketing Director in 2013 just a few years after his Google Ad Experiment video went viral in 2010 (If you haven’t seen that video, you definitely should watch it on youtube). A key idea behind the Google Ad Experiment video that got a ton of attention online was that it was only $6 and it made a huge impact. Alec talked about how you don’t need a huge budget to make a good impression and reach a lot of people.

Alec shared a number of hilarious Dollar Shave Club commercials that have been successful in building the brand reputation while still being entertaining. The main idea he discussed was that each one of their commercial ideas is built around finding an underlying truth about their product or their competition. For entertainment they take that truth and then exaggerate it to make a memorable impression. While we laugh at the video, the key underlying truth sticks with the audience and resonates with them to some extent.

His advice to us as marketers is to find a truth people care about and explain it simply. He explained that if we find it’s too hard to explain, it probably is not a good enough simple truth. Alec went on to talk about how to make their product different they give surprise and delight moments for the users. This might be something to read, small messages, or good packaging, but it all contributes towards having a deeper connection with their consumers than just shaving.

Alec talked about how he thinks ads aren’t funny or pleasant because companies tend to cram too many points into one commercial. By focusing too much on the company objectives, the consumer experience can be ignored in the process.

To see these ideas in action, look up some dollar shave club commercials and become a customer!

How a startup can deal with corporate knockoffs with Sarath Malepati


Sarath Malepati through personal experience shared with us some wisdom and insights into strategically protecting IP to further the success of your business. His work has focused on projects that will improve the human condition and is a firm believer in the open source concept and collaboration in order to improve society as a whole. That said, he has experienced and dealt with first hand the importance of being careful who you are talking with and how to setup mechanisms to safeguard your ideas. He shared with us the importance of being vigilant in the early stages of your idea, and to not assume that larger companies are not potentially a threat to the success of your business.

His strongest advice was around the importance of establishing your IP strategy before market deployment. He explained that this strategy needs to consider your goals, risks, and should involve good IP council. He mentioned how it was important to know what levers are at your disposal before releasing your idea into the market, and to try and stay below the radar while pursuing early customers.

He encouraged the group that throughout this process you have to maintain self-discipline while being patient and focusing on the long term. He stressed the importance of remembering that no one knows your product better than you, and to keep your focus on customers, not competitors.

Good thoughts from someone that has been through the trials of IP protection first-hand!

Robotics and Entrepreneurship – Lessons Learned with Paolo Prijanian

Paolo Prijanian has been through a number of trials and tests in his years of work in cutting-edge consumer robotics. Paolo first shared with us a number of ways robotics are being used now and a few ideas as to what directions the industry will be headed – Roomba vacuum cleaners, robotic lawn mowers, self-driving John Deere tractors, robotic surgery, drones, automated warehouses, and of course the self-driving car to name a few. Paolo’s background was being a professor at USC, working at JPL in robotics, then eventually convincing himself to move ahead with an opportunity to develop “Evolution Robotics” with Bill Gross at Idealab. Developing this type of technology was extremely expensive and Paolo shared the ongoing struggle of keeping costs down  to achieve profitability, while simultaneously inventing cutting edge technologies that had never been used. Paolo shared that this was a significant shift from working at JPL where there was significantly more budgetary freedom in creating new technologies.

Paolo explained how his robotics technology was used in a number of diverse platforms for companies including Sony and Sharper Image on various projects. Paolo shared how throughout the years they always made it a point to try new things often and fail quickly to improve the technology faster rather then spending excessive time stuck in the planning phase. With each technology he learned and adapted their products to better serve the consumer market with the ongoing opposing forces of new technology and low-costs.

Paolo shared a number of challenges in his work including products failing outside of his control. He shared the difficulty of integrating cutting edge robotics technology to consumer products, but ultimately depending on the success of that commercial product in which his technology was utilized. As these products were new technologies themselves, he found that the consumer market was not mature enough as adoption was generally slow to new robotic products in the market.

In 2010, Paolo’s work with evolution robotics released “Mint” the self-mapping vacuum robot which did extremely well in consumer markets. This caught the attention of competitor “iRobot”, which eventually bought Evolution Robotics in 2012.

Paolo’s newest project is with a firm called, “Embodied” whose goal is to make the world a better place through robotics. Their website can be found using the link below!


Game for your Life – Gamificatio­n Trends & Innovation with Chris Gore

Chris Gore, with joke-infused fashion, shared stories with Friday Coffee Meetup (FCM) about his success, methods, and ideas of how to write-books and market yourself successfully. Chris shared about the popularity of Pokémon Go and how it didn’t come with any instructions. Pokémon Go went viral and was adopted by countless people despite not coming within any instruction manual. We had to discover and figure it out as we played. This concept has been central in Chris’ career and success as he has “figured out” his own path to success as a writer, comedian, and speaker.

The idea of writing a book is in-sanely intimidating, but Chris shared how to help discipline himself he awarded himself “mini-rewards” after achieving small goals. He shared how breaking large tasks into these bite-size pieces with rewards, is a great way to motivate and discipline ourselves. He also shared the amount many of us write in one week between e-mails, social media, etc., is roughly the same amount as a full-book!

Chris shared how the benefits of writing books go beyond the book itself and passive income but is a distinguisher to you as a person and creates a number of additional opportunities for you as an innovator and expert in your field.

Chris talked about how he typically spends around 6 months building an extremely detailed outline of his book, then about 2 months of actual writing. His prime writing hours are early in the morning (often before the sun is up), for around 3 hours. Beyond 3 hours he talked about how the quality/quantity of work tends to decline. Chris shared how a great way to start thinking about a new book idea is to write the summary paragraph that is on the back cover of the book.

Other helpful resources Chris recommended: Use https://www.grammarly.com/, and listen to audio books. Chris recommended looking up Stephen King’s top 10 recommended audio books list to start!

The Q&A provided a broad range of questions (to say the least) ranging from creative liberties as a comedian to pricing margins and building a strong social media foundation!

The Trials and Successes of a SaaS startup with Dr Alex Backer

On Friday morning Alex shared with us a collection of stories and lessons learned from his own journey creating and developing “QLess”.  Below is a recap written by Brandon Burroughs.

            Alex was born and raised in Argentina, and while he was accepted into both MIT and Harvard early in his College career, his early college years were spent in Argentina. With some helpful pushes from his family, he eventually decided to attend MIT. Even though he was beyond the “late enrollee” period, they accepted him and he began pursuing his degree at MIT. This acceptance process beyond the late enrollee period illustrated one his first points that we shouldn’t always accept rules as they are given, but we should look beyond always “following the rules”. This was the first of 19 lessons Alex passed on. A summarized version of the others are below (But you should really watch the video to get the character and feeling behind the stories!).

Lesson 2: Never say no to an invitation to give a talk. You never know where it will take you and who you will meet.

Lesson 3: Don’t take money from anyone you wouldn’t take from your children. Don’t trust people just because they have the funding you are looking for. You are the best defender of your business so don’t trust too easily. Keep an advisory board that you trust.

Lesson 4: Create products you want to use. Alex shared how the idea of QLess came to him while waiting in line at Knott’s Berry Farm. The idea occurred to him that waiting in line is a huge waste of time, and he had a solution that would revolutionize the way many businesses and government entities are now addressing this problem.

Lesson 5: Don’t assume someone must have done it before. If you have an idea, pursue it!

Lesson 6: Starting a company is hard work. Make it worthwhile. Alex shared that the average American spends 2 years waiting in a line. The goal of his solution is to literally save years of peoples’ lives.

Lesson 7: Diversify until you have a winner. You never know which client/idea/project is going to be the right one so give yourself options.

Lesson 8: Go global. Don’t limit yourself to a local/regional market. If your idea is good, take advantage of the global reach that is now available.

Lesson 9: Whoever said it’s hard for startups to go after government customers? Some of QLess best clients are government entities, so don’t count them out of your potential customer base.

Lesson 10: It’s seldom too late. Alex shared the story of how they were late on a tight deadline and decided that the best option was to fly one of the sales reps out to hand-deliver the contract on-time. While it was an additional expense with no guaranteed return, they got the contract which would not have happened had they settled for, “we’re too late”.

Lesson 11: You’re never too small (Even for Texas). Even though Alex’ company was small at the time, their solution was a great fit for the state of Texas.

Lesson 12: Not too small to be crowned the best in America. Size doesn’t matter of the solution and execution is right.

Lesson 13: Put the company before yourself. Alex shared how for the success of the company he had to go without a salary for 8 years. While everyone doesn’t have that ability, the concept and follow-through of putting the company first is huge!

Lesson 14: Invest in redundancy: Alex shared how he wished he had shared more company knowledge within the organization among the staff. When a key employee transitioned out of the company, they were left in a position of lacking important company knowledge because there was not diversified knowledge share for that specific role.

Lesson 15: How to replace anyone: Use LinkedIn to target “people like” the candidates you are searching for!

Lesson 16: A lost deal is simply a deal waiting to be won. Patience and persistence pays off so don’t give up too early!

Lesson 17: Build tech that even non techies want to use. Usability for all consumer segments is crucial to enable mass adoption.

Lesson 18: You can do anything remotely. The SaaS industry has a huge advantage of being accessible from anywhere. Use this to your advantage in reaching new prospective clients and servicing existing clients!


Lastly, Alex shared with us Lesson 19- a poem entitled, “Don’t Quit” encouraging persistence and drive behind the challenges we face. QLess has had amazing success with 2,000% app download growth over the years and it has already eliminated 2,000 years of waiting in line. His story of success and persistence is absolutely an inspiration!