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Interview with Blake Kohler, CEO of Pulse For Good

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Interview with Blake Kohler, CEO of Pulse For Good

Blake is passionate about, well, everything! As the CEO of Pulse For Good, he uses that passion to help nonprofits worldwide gather feedback from vulnerable individuals more effectively. With his background in technology, Blake is helping to bring business-class survey tooling to organizations ran on shoe-string budgets.

As someone who likes to talk, he knows how hard it can be to listen, and along with the Pulse For Good team, he’s working towards building a more empathetic future.

Where did the idea for Pulse For Good come from?

Pulse For Good emerged from an early pilot of a partnership with the city of Seattle. The various city offices were trying to figure out how best to facilitate gathering feedback from the youth homeless population in Seattle, and our early solution, which was designed to gather employee feedback, was suggested. We quickly found that traditional survey methods left a lot to be desired when gathering feedback from vulnerable populations and set out to build something that better fits the unique concerns of serving vulnerable groups.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

As a small startup, our typical days are full of adventure. Some days are dedicated to sales, other days we spend doing support, some days we are working on marketing, and other days we’re trying to improve our operations.

We find that using an agile model works well for our team. We utilize Kanban boards and team standups to keep track of everything from development tasks to customer onboarding.

How do you bring ideas to life?

As a team, we tend to be very visual-focused, so often, our ideas begin to emerge onto whiteboards before they become something a little more tangible.

Once they’ve been thoroughly debated and diagramed on a whiteboard, they make it onto one of our tasks on our kanban boards.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Our team is excited about the combination of technology and social impact. More groups are looking to do good in the world instead of maximizing profit. It is fantastic to see people use their time and talents to help those around them.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

One of our core values is a default to action, which has proven time and time again to be the primary driver of our productivity. Too often, we spend hours debating something, and nothing gets done. By defaulting to act, we might at times cause some headaches, but those headaches are often quickly fixed, and the value we gain from the constant action greatly diminishes any headaches we’ve created.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Spend less time worrying about what others think of you and more time worrying about how you think of others.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Pain can be good for you. It’s a form of feedback, and the more you experience it, the more opportunities you have to make a change.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

We’ve had tremendous success posting on Linkedin. We try and do it every day, and it’s been an incredibly valuable part of our growth.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Very early on, we developed an advisory board of industry experts. This helped us gain a considerable amount of credibility and allowed us to develop tools, relationships, and techniques far beyond our abilities as just a founding team.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One failure we had coming out of the pandemic was a communication breakdown amongst our founding team. Previously, we had conducted in-person meetings, but with the world changing, we switched to a more remote first attitude. Over time, our perceptions and goals changed without getting together.

We had to have some serious heart-to-heart conversations and institute more formality in our processes to help bridge the gaps that this lack of communication caused us.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

We’ve always thought there would be an opportunity for a crowd-sourced travel agency. We believe you could utilize people’s passion for planning vacations and natural competitiveness to offer tailored vacation plans to the masses without the expense of full-time travel agents.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

We recently conducted a series of case studies with our customers, and we paid each person who participated $100. These case studies are invaluable to us, and it is one thing for us to share how our system can help an organization. It’s entirely different for a peer of those organizations to share how we help. Case studies are worth their weight in gold.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Slack – we use it for all of our communication, and as a remote team, it helps us all stay connected and on the same page.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Outward Mindset – changing the way we think and feel about others helps all aspects of your life

What is your favorite quote?

“Listening is the first act of love.” – Paul Tilch

Key Learnings:

  • Defaulting towards action drives productivity
  • Pain can be good for you
  • The best $100 spent is the one that makes your next $1000
Originally published on IdeaMensch.

Interviews

Interview with Sara Sheehan, Founder of Sara Sheehan Consulting

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Interview with Sara Sheehan, Founder of Sara Sheehan Consulting

Sara Sheehan, PCC, is a consultant and Executive Coach who works with C-Level executive leaders in designing organizations, developing business strategies, managing change, optimizing talent and leadership development, and solving complex human performance problems. Through executive coaching, Sara helps leaders sprint their way up the corporate ladder and increase their performance.

During Sara’s 25+ years in business, she has worked with leaders, teams, and organizations in Fortune 100 companies and individuals. Sara specializes in change management, talent and leadership development, executive coaching, and organization design. As a collaborative, results-orientated coach, Sara provides support and practical feedback to help clients effectively navigate change and address business challenges. She also integrates coaching techniques, methods, and approaches to help her clients develop change capabilities and learn to apply them right away. With a servant leadership mindset, she supports her clients in building new skills and customizes frameworks to her client’s project needs. Sara works with clients based on her network, referrals, and appointment.

Sara has been featured both nationally and internationally on podcasts as an expert on topics of change management, talent and leadership development, executive coaching, and organization design.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

The idea for Sara Sheehan Consulting is based on almost 30 years in management consulting and executive coaching. Through business consulting, I help businesses through complex business transformations from a human capital perspective. Through executive coaching, I help busy executives sprint their way up the corporate ladder by setting goals, increasing their performance, resolving conflict, and setting up an advisory team so they are even more successful in their current role or their next one if they are in transition.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

It’s a combination of time blocking for specific purposes like business development, market research conversations, reaching out to ideal clients or close contacts that can refer me to ideal clients, scheduled current client meetings, a wide variety of marketing activities, and time for things that feed me like exercise, cooking, or other interests like spending time with friends and family. I am innately extremely productive so when I am at my best I am in a positive flow.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have a lot of creative ideas so bringing them to life is not a chore. Typically, writing is the first step to bringing new ideas to life, then it may spread across my marketing mix into videos, presentations, new offerings, or marketing research conversations to test market viability. Once an idea has filtered through these touchpoints, I am able to put more structure around it. Two ideas that I am formalizing right now: a paid membership community on Mighty Networks called The Center for Change Leadership and a chapter in a collaborative book.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I love progression and innovation in technology that helps us be more productive at the least possible cost. To provide a little more context, I love the current trend in software that allows users to get started on a web platform at a low cost and you can increase your plan as you need to if the services fit your needs. These pay-as-you-go plans and the ability to play with new tools are fantastic. Specifically, I have a project team that uses Monday.com and it serves as a tremendous productivity hack.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I know that I am not supposed to do everything, nor should I if I want to scale a successful business. To this end, I am working with the best expert vendors that are aligned with me to amplify my business and my message.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The advice I would give my younger self is that it’s ok to start thinking about how you want to use your craft as an entrepreneur. I’d express to younger me that thinking about offerings and solutions that can be commercialized is going to benefit you. You can start planning now, frame it up, and test your assumptions in market research conversations. You may find that it manifests differently than you expect and that it’s important to be open to the gifts it brings.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

One of the offerings I have done a lot of market research conversations on is my Mastering Change Management Course. The course can be delivered live via Zoom to a cohort or through self-study via Kajabi. I have had no opposition to the course to date, and I have also not found the right pilot group yet. Based on the conversations I have had, the right pilot group is out there! I understand that this is such a different way to deliver consulting work that people may not be open to it just yet. People that disagree with my approach are more likely to engage a consultant based on the project timeline, although this option will require more time with the client and be more costly. The differentiator for the course is that I am seeking qualified education provider status with the Association of Change Management Professionals so that anyone that takes the course could apply the credits toward the Certified Change Management Professional (CCMP) exam or credential renewals.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

The one thing I would do time and time again would be market research conversations on programs, solutions, and offerings. This is the best way to validate that a new offering is viable in the market, and it provides opportunities to uncover ideal clients or get referred to your ideal clients.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

One strategy that has helped me grow my business significantly has been increasing my visibility through engaging a professional marketing agency and a publicist. I was already active on LinkedIn through posting, writing, and videos weekly, however, engaging a marketing agency to support me has allowed me to get strategic in planning on a quarterly basis, as well as executing a broader plan. They also created my branding and collaborated on my website design so everything I produce visually supports my message and purpose. Engaging a publicist that I am aligned with has magically connected me with the right opportunities for increased visibility. Both my marketing team and my publicist are trusted advisors and I am looking forward to seeing how these advisors will continue to grow my business.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

It took me longer to attract my ideal client than I’d hoped since I spent so many years working for other firms. It’s not surprising or unexpected, it’s just a fact that it takes time to be known for your expertise. Additionally, I should have engaged a marketing agency and publicist sooner than I did on both fronts. To be honest, it took a little bit of time to come into contact with the right people to work with. I also think the patience and time allowed me to work on my own mindset which is invaluable.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

When I see questions like this one I immediately think of Peanuts, Lucy, and Charlie Brown at an advice booth with a sign that reads “Advice 5 Cents” with a dixie cup next to it. What’s the quickest way to start a business that can serve a wide customer base? Marketing and business development are two things that every entrepreneur needs to focus on to scale. If you can fit in that space and speak directly to the pain points of a differentiated ideal client, things should manifest fairly quickly.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Definitely reconnecting with friends, family, and clients over a shared meal. You can’t replace being in person and truly connecting with others following such an isolating two-year period.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

The top three online tools and resources that I am currently using to grow my business are Google Workspace, Slack, QBO, and Quickbooks Online. All three tools make work easy, support me in what I am doing, streamline all of my efforts, and keep me focused on what’s most important.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller: I believe the Story Brand is absolutely essential for entrepreneurs to incorporate as they build their business.

What is your favorite quote?

I have so many favorite quotes! Here’s one that is on my mind and heart right now: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Jack Welch

Key Learnings:

  • If you want to grow and/or scale your business, it’s important to know that you can’t do everything alone
  • Working with the best expert vendors that are aligned with you and your business will amplify your business and message
  • Strategic partner progression and the right innovation in technology can help entrepreneurs and businesses be more productive at the least possible cost
Originally published on IdeaMensch.
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Interviews

Interview with Dayana Doncheva, Founder of EcardForest Group Ecards

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Interview with Dayana Doncheva, Founder of EcardForest Group Ecards

Dayana Doncheva is the founder of EcardForest Group Ecards – a company for greeting cards that can be signed by many people online and sent digitally. Their ecard collection includes all key occasions and features birthday, farewell, baby, wedding and many more cards. EcardForest is highly invested in environmental protection and engages in tree planting around the world.

Where did the idea for EcardForest come from?

EcardForest was inspired by a personal use case. I was about to organize a leaving card for my colleague in early 2021 and looked for options online that would allow group signing so that the full team can share their goodbye wishes. I didn’t like the available options and realized that this could be a business idea. After doing my research and checking the competitors, I embraced my entrepreneurial spirit and thought I can give it a go.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

There is not a typical-day concept for us yet. We are growing fast and our routine changes very quickly, allowing us to navigate between new feature integrations, the creation and release of new greeting card designs, as well as support tasks. Of course, every team member has devoted tasks, but we work in an agile setup and adapt quickly based on the priorities.

How do you bring ideas to life?

The process is quite funny actually. We dare to dream and think out of the box. Most of our ideas come to life as funny suggestions. If some of those suggestions still keep us wondering a couple of days later, we put them to a sense-check and see what comes out. We do proper research and talk to a couple of external people to verify the idea before putting it into our backlog.

As a next step, we deep dive into the execution. Once we launch a new feature on EcardForest.com we make sure to monitor it closely. Is everything fine? Does it work as expected? Does it generate added value for our consumers and us? If not, we remove it.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Hybrid working. Naturally, that drives our business since our online greeting cards experience higher demand when people around the globe work in a hybrid setup.

Hybrid working is an interesting trend to us in general too. We experienced first-hand how easy working in a global model could be. Our team is spread around Europe and when needed we involve freelancers from around the world, which allows us to work with the best talents no matter the location.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

People often tell me that I appear to be very well organized. In fact, I am not, and I enjoy the creative mess to the fullest. It nurtures my imagination. It’s contra intuitive but working in a messy environment has proven to help me become more productive in the long run.

If I need to focus on a bigger analytical task though, I try to get a fresh mind by going on a short walk before I start. That helps a great deal.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be braver! Today, I love to challenge myself, even though I know that some things won’t work out. I take it as a learning and grow from there. But a couple of years ago I was still quite hesitant and tended to lean towards safe bets.

Looking back, I am not sure when I changed to become braver, but I can’t help but wonder where I would have been today if I would have done it earlier.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

There is always more to learn. The schedule of an entrepreneur is usually terribly busy and that’s no different in the corporate world. Often times people feel quite comfortable after completing a task or a project and turning a new page to handle the next one. I see great value in reviewing decisions and processes based on new learnings. In my mind, the “good enough” solution can always become a better one, powered up by new learnings.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Do research. I trust in data and have learned to appreciate its value a lot. Doing your research not only saves a lot of potentially unnecessary work but also helps you focus on what’s important.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Investing in advertising has certainly helped us grow EcardForest. We make sure to capture the available demand as much as possible.

When starting a business, thinking about advertising costs might be scary but advertising is usually what kickstarts your business, once the product is ready. Being brave, spending some money but also monitoring the success closely can go a long way.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Before starting EcardForest I was working on another startup. It was focused on financial investment data and most importantly it was a B2B product. That turned out to be incredibly hard to market and required a lot of sales and support efforts. Soon afterward I discovered that the idea was not worth the effort, and it was not going to work out as expected.

I learned two valuable lessons: First, bringing a B2C product to life is easier. Second, holding on to an unsuccessful business idea for too long doesn’t bring you anywhere.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Circular economy products. I am a big fan of renting and reselling and it’s great for the environment. This is applicable to so many product types – from tools to equipment, mobility, etc. Just find a new niche.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

As part of our sustainability efforts, we donate some of our revenue to tree planting organizations around the globe. Just recently we onboarded a new partner – Ecologi that allows us to not only plant trees but also offset carbon emissions by contributing to additional projects like wind power development.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

We use Github for our backlog and task management. The project section is a perfect solution for agile teams like ours and keeps us focused on important and urgent tasks. It certainly increases our productivity, and I can’t recommend that enough.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Refactoring UI by Adam Wathan and Steve Schoger is a great resource for any digital business or any website for that matter. It provides an understanding and best practices of website design, UI, colors, fonts, visual hierarchies, etc.

What is your favorite quote?

A single tree doesn’t make a forest. I just came up with that one, but the key message is that even the best entrepreneur or the most knowledgeable person can only go so far on their own. Building a strong team around you is what will bring you further.

Key Learnings:

  • First, do your research before you invest too much time and resources in an idea
  • Be open to exploring and learning more
  • Invest in bringing a strong team together to drive your idea further
Originally published on IdeaMensch.
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Interview with Dana Obleman, Founder of Sleep Sense Publishing

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Interview with Dana Obleman, Founder of Sleep Sense Publishing

Dana Obleman is the founder and CEO of Sleep Sense Publishing Inc., an education and training company dedicated to helping parents teach healthy sleep habits to their children. After becoming frustrated looking for easy-to-follow information online to help her with her own son’s sleep challenges, she launched Sleep Sense from the kitchen table of her two-bedroom apartment back in 2003. Since then, she has shown over 107,000 parents how to get their children sleeping through the night and has helped over 500 entrepreneurs launch fulfilling careers as Certified Sleep Sense Consultants.

“The secret to getting your baby to sleep through the night is actually the same as the secret to a successful business,” Ms. Obleman says. “Find a step-by-step system that has already been proven to work, and follow that system until you get the result you’re looking for. You have to expect a few challenges along the way, but if you have a clear path and a teacher you believe in showing you the way forward, I believe success will come your way.”

Dana has been featured on Good Morning America, CNN, WebMD, The Washington Post and Today’s Parent Magazine, among many others. She lives in Florida with her husband and 3 children.

Where did the idea for Sleep Sense come from?

I remember this like it was yesterday. My husband and I had struggled terribly to get our first son sleeping through the night. It was 2002 or 2003, so the early days of the internet. I kept going online and Googling “how to get baby to sleep” and getting so frustrated that all I could find was a bunch of conflicting information.

I have degrees in Education and Psychology, so I decided to dive into the world of baby sleep and figure it out for myself. After reading about a dozen of the most popular books on the subject, I came up with a system and — within just a few nights — our son was actually sleeping through the night!

I can’t tell you what a life-changer this was. The sleep deprivation (and resulting post-partum depression) had gotten so bad that I had pretty much decided I was NOT going to have any more children, even though I had always wanted a big family. As soon as our son was sleeping through the night, all those feelings disappeared and I felt like my old self again.

We were living in Canada at the time, where they give you a full year of maternity leave. I was about 4 months away from having to return to my previous job as an elementary school teacher, but I have to say I was not really looking forward to it. (The kids were great but the commute and staff politics were not my cup of tea!)

One day, my husband and I were walking around the park trying to brainstorm ideas for something I could do instead of going back to teaching, when he said, “You know, you’re so passionate now about babies and sleep, do you think people would pay you to help them? Almost like a personal trainer, but for baby sleep instead of exercise?”

A felt like a lightbulb had gone off inside my head! “Yes!” I said. And that is exactly what I decided to do, right then and there!

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I’m not a morning person, so I usually wake up around 7:30 or 8. I spend at least a half hour journaling every morning, as that really helps me plan my day.

As far as being productive, I’ve managed to build a great team around me that takes care of all the parts of the business that I’m not good at. So I spend a good part of my day delegating stuff out to them and focusing on my “areas of excellence” which mostly revolve around helping my community of Certified Sleep Sense Consultants become more successful.

I also still LOVE to help parents with their babies’ sleep problems, and will connect with my customers any chance I get.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Well, I am very much an “ideas” girl, but I really struggle with thinking things all the way through. That’s why, for people like me, it’s so important to have a team that can help talk things out, brainstorm, and then make a plan. In other words, I bring ideas to life by telling other people what I want, and then letting them help me see how it can actually be done.

What’s one trend that excites you?

One of the greatest things about the Internet is that it has given so many people the freedom to create their own businesses. As a woman, I am particularly passionate about helping other women escape from jobs that do nothing to fulfill them by showing them that they CAN be their own bosses! You don’t need anyone’s permission, you just need some inspiration and someone who can show you how to get there!

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

As I said before, I spend a lot of time journaling. I find that by writing things down first thing in the morning, I can set my intentions for the day so that when I get to the office, I know exactly what I need to do in order for the day to be considered a success.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Hire people sooner than you think you need them. I waited forever before hiring a person to do customer service and administrative tasks. I thought “Why would I pay someone else to do what I am perfectly capable of doing myself?”

As soon as I hired someone to take those tasks off my plate, I suddenly had a couple of extra hours a day to come up with ways to make our product better and keep our customers happier. Plus, I no longer had to spend 2 hours a day doing work I disliked! A total game changer for me.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

“Hard work is not a requirement for success.”

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I have three kids, all teenagers now, and I insist upon what I call “meaningful hugs.” I’ll hold them tight for a good ten or twenty seconds and just think about how much they mean to me. Do this with your kids — or whoever will let you — at every opportunity!

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Some businesses come and go based on fads and the tastes of the times, but some businesses are “evergreen.” If you can build a business in an evergreen space, you’re better positioned to weather the downturns.

People are always going be having babies, and those babies are always going to have trouble sleeping, which means there will always be food on my table!

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Back in the early days of the business, I decided that it would be a great idea to set up a system where people could buy our product, The Sleep Sense Program, as a gift for others. Keep in mind, this was back when setting a system online for buying, sending, and redeeming gift cards was WAAAY more complicated than it is today.

We spent a ton of time and money building this idea out, and then launched it to absolute crickets. I mean, like, I think we maybe made 3 sales. Turns out people do not want to give a gift that says “You’re parenting incorrectly!”

As for how I overcame it? I just shrugged and moved on!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Totally unrelated to babies or sleep, but why doesn’t someone invent a smoothie vending machine that makes smoothies out of fresh ingredients and put them in hotels. That way, I do not have to wait in a long line at the coffee shop first thing for a stale bagel!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Mani-pedi at my favorite salon. Part of my self care. I’ve been paying someone else to do my nails since LONG before I could afford it! Still feels like a luxury to this day!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Slack. I hate email and am impatient, so Slack lets me communicate with my team in real time without having to “compose” a thoughtful message.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

A little book called ‘Anything You Want‘ by Derek Sivers. I would estimate I have purchased about a thousand copies of this book over the years to give away to clients and friends.

What is your favorite quote?

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”

– Margaret Fuller

Key Learnings:

  • Start your day by journaling. It clears out the cobwebs and sets you up for a productive day.
  • Find easy-to-follow systems that have been proven to work in the past, and then follow those systems. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
  • Starting and running a business should be mostly fun and fulfilling. Sure, there are always going to be parts of a business that you don’t enjoy, but there are usually ways to minimize your exposure to those parts of the business.
Originally published on IdeaMensch.
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