This week we’re going back to the archives, to bring you one of our earliest and best guests, Hank Fortener. Hank Fortener is an adoption expert, speaker, and sought-after authority on culture and leadership. As the founder of AdoptTogether.org and World Adoption Day, Hank has dedicated much of his life to helping young people who are “without a tribe” feel a sense of family and belonging. AdoptTogether’s mission is simple but powerful - to create a world in which there is a family for every child. Through his organizations, Hank has helped thousands of families raise literally millions dollars towards adoption expenses to help bring their children home. Luckily for us, Hank has applied much of his learning around human behavior and belonging to the business world. In our conversation, Hank talks about the importance of empathy in organizational cultures; why solving problems is the most important job of any individual, team, or company; and why storytelling is at the heart of great leadership.
Ask Erik Huberman what sets Hawke Media apart from other marketing agencies, and he doesn’t mince words: “Most agencies suck.” In fact, that’s one of the main reasons that Erik founded Hawke Media more than three years ago. Hawke Media is an “outsourced CMO” company that provides creative marketing solutions to some of the coolest companies around. Hawke has seen massive growth since launch, scaling to nearly a hundred employees and landing big name clients like Verizon, InCase, Creative Recreation, and many more.
In case you haven’t heard, esports are kind of a big deal. They’ve attracted massive worldwide audiences, sold out live events at Staple Center and Madison Square Garden in mere minutes, and boast an aggregate viewership that has eclipsed traditional sports like baseball. To bring us up to speed, we talk to someone on the leading edge of the esports revolution - Mike Milanov.
How’s this for a recipe for success: Work at McKinsey. Go to film school. Take over a high-level entertainment strategy role when your colleague has a mental breakdown. Start your first company in your mid-thirties. Sound a bit... circuitous? Well it's precisely the path that today’s guest Adam Zbar took, and it seems to be working out. Adam is the CEO and founder of Sun Basket, a San Francisco-based meal-kit delivery service that makes healthy cooking easy by delivering ready to make recipes and organic and non-GMO ingredients every week.
Sometimes being the company that VCs just don’t “get” can actually work to your advantage. Take MeUndies, the wildly successful direct-to-consumer lifestyle brand on a mission to produce the world’s most comfortable and sustainable underwear. After a seed round in 2011, they found that convincing investors to pour money into their subscription-based underwear business was more challenging than they anticipated. Compared to some of their startup peers, they often felt a little underfunded. But this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Being largely bootstrapped taught them an important lesson that they would have never learned any other way - the importance of taking calculated risks. When you’re underfunded, you have to be savvy enough to see an opportunity when it arises, nimble enough to mobilize and take advantage of it, and brave enough to actually pull the trigger.
There’s no one out there who embodies the idea of “enjoying the journey” quite like today’s guest, YAS founder and CEO Kimberly Fowler. YAS stands for Yoga And Spinning, and is a pioneering hybrid fitness concept that combines yoga for athletes with the high-intensity cardio of spin. And quite a journey it’s been. Before she launched YAS, Kimberly had already lived everywhere from LA to New Jersey to Monaco, been an attorney, a corporate executive, and a professional endurance athlete. Kimberly’s story is one of incredible grit, creativity, and constant reinvention. In this conversation, she takes us through several pivotal moments in her life, major forks in the road that forced her to pause and ask “now what do I do with my life?”
He also has the track record to back it up. Since beginning his career in Silicon Valley in the 90s, Rafe has founded, invested in and advised dozens of startups, including Pickem Sports, Full Tilt Poker, and Crowdfunder. To date, his companies have generated over $1 billion in revenue and $450 Million in liquidity to stakeholders. He also has the distinction of being the only Awesome Office guest to win a bracelet at the World Series of Poker. But Rafe’s success hasn’t come without challenges, and his entrepreneurial path has taken him to a few dark places.
The Giving Keys has put up some impressive numbers under president Brit Gilmore’s watch: 70+ employees. 1400 retail stores around the globe that sell their products. Half a million keys sold to date. But there’s another, even more impressive number. 100 - that’s the percentage of the company’s production team that is staffed by people who are currently transitioning out of homelessness. This week, co-host Sean Spear sat down with Brit Gilmore, the president of The Giving Keys a “pay it forward company” that makes necklaces from keys engraved with inspirational messages. Besides making beautiful hand-crafted jewelry, the company also works with local nonprofits to hire individuals who were recently homeless.
By all accounts, LA’s Rareform was doing pretty well. They had a unique product that was clearly resonating with Millennial consumers - one of a kind bags and accessories made from repurposed vinyl billboards. Then a little thing called “Shark Tank” happened.
If you ask Seth Epstein what his company, Los York, does, he could tell you that that they create "culture defining content" for top brands like Samsung, Motorola, and JBL. He could tell you that they're the creative agency of record for the Jordan brand and work with athletes like Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony. He might even tell you that they’ve been called Nike’s “advertising swat team” by Inc. magazine, and landed at #8 on the coveted Inc. 5000 list. But he’ll probably tell you that they’re in the business of “Holy shit.”
There's no doubt about it - big changes are coming. New technologies like artificial intelligence and automation will fundamentally alter the way we work. But what will that look like, and how should companies adapt? This week on the show co-host Sean Spear interviews Chris Rising, the Founder and President of Rising Realty. Chris is a 19-year veteran of the real estate business, and someone who’s always been ahead of the curve in terms of building spaces that support how the most innovative companies work.
Is it better to choose a company with a great idea but with a team of B-level players, or one stacked with A-level talent but an average idea? It’s a question that early-stage investors have debated for decades, but for this week’s guest there's no question about it - a great team executing a mediocre idea beats a great idea with mediocre execution, every time. That’s according to Ronen Olshansky, the visionary CEO behind Cross Campus, a Los Angeles based on-demand workspace and business event venue that provides peak office experiences to a community of creative professionals.
When you hear the word “company culture,” what comes to mind? If you picture a whimsical work environment filled with highly social Millennial co-workers, cruising around on hoverboards and gathering around the company’s kegerator on Friday (or Tuesday) afternoons, you’re not alone. According to this week’s Awesome Office guest, you’re also completely wrong. In this episode, co-host Sean Spear talks to longtime friend and mentor Tony Knopp, the CEO and co-founder of InviteManager. Together with his co-founders, Tony has built the leading entertainment enterprise SaaS company, so he knows a thing or two about building high-performing teams.
Tero Isokauppila radiates an undeniable energy. As soon as you meet him, you can tell he’s got an insatiable curiosity about the world around him. This 13th generation family farmer has lived in eight different countries, served in the Finnish military, and is currently making plans to fly to the edge of space in a Russian fighter jet. But his true passion is dealing ‘shrooms. Tero is the founder of Four Sigmatic, a company whose mission is to make medicinal mushrooms - some of the world’s most researched superfoods - more accessible to everyone. They do this through their best selling mushroom coffee, mushroom elixirs, mushroom cocoas, and other fungi-based products.
Simon Cohen’s doctors thought it was a heart attack. Back in 2006, the self-professed workaholic was on a business trip in China on behalf of Henco, the global logistics company he founded in Mexico at the age of 24. But not everything was going well. Simon could barely eat, and only slept a few hours at a time. He spent his days meeting with his partners in Hong Kong, and stayed up all night working with the team back in Mexico. On the last day of the trip, he felt a jolt of pain in his chest - so powerful that it knocked him off his chair at dinner. The next thing he knew, the 32 year old former Olympic-level swimmer found himself in the back of an ambulance racing to the hospital. In this interview, Simon tells us about his remarkable turnaround, and how this experience inspired him to make happiness the centerpiece of his life and business.
In the CPG space, most entrepreneurs, start with a product. They might stumble upon some product innovation, and see their job as merely to figure out how to sell it. Things like brand and story are usually afterthoughts. Livio Bisterzo tried something different. What if, he wondered, instead of starting with a product, you started with a brand proposition? What if you first built a story that your audience believed in? A big, powerful story, one that resonated with consumers, retailers - anyone who came across it? Something more akin to a tribe or a movement? What would happen? Big things, it turns out.
Seeing as February is the time of year most closely associated with love, we're shifting gears this month to focus on love, compassion, and empathy in the workplace. For many, love in the workplace is still a bit of a taboo subject. It wasn't long ago that the office was a strictly unemotional place. Heavy emotions just weren't discussed, let alone celebrated or rewarded. But times have changed. More and leaders have realized that a loving and giving culture doesn't just make for an enjoyable work life, but for a more profitable business as well.
Each year, 190 CEOs from 40 different countries gather at Harvard Business School for an intense week of learning, teaching, and sharing. It's a truly special program organized by the Young President's Organization that brings together some of the best and brightest leaders around the globe. Among them, AO's own Sean Kelly. Sean's back this episode to give us his top learnings from another immersive week at HBS. And like year's past, the week was full of breakthroughs and surprises. One of those surprises - the telltale signs when it's time for an employee to move on.
This week we explore a phenomenon that few leaders understand, and even fewer take full advantage of, despite the powerful effects in can have on your company. We're talking about the office subculture. Sure, a lot of leaders are starting to come around on the idea of company culture. But what about subcultures? How do they work, and how might they have a place in your business? What do we mean by subculture? We mean a distinct team or department culture within an already well-defined company culture. We wanted to know how these smaller cultures develop, why they might be necessary in your organization, and how to go about shaping and defining them. To help us find out, I spoke to Chelsie Lee, the VP of Customer Success and Experience at SnackNation.
For a lot us, the beginning of a New Year is all about change. Our sights are set on changing our diet, changing our habits, changing our careers - changing our lives. But as we explore in this week’s episode none of this change is possible unless we first change our beliefs. Hold your beliefs constant and your life is guaranteed to stay the same. Change your beliefs and… real magic can start to happen.