Interview with CEO at eRelevance, Bob Fabbio

How do you feel about risk? If you are like most people, you are risk adverse. It’s not your fault, according to Nigel Nicholson (professor of organizational behavior at London Business School), “On average, people avoid risk except when threatened.” Nicholson continues, “The world of hunter-gatherers was complex and constantly presented new predicaments for humans. Which berries can be eaten without risk of death?”

Unfortunately, if you have dreams of becoming an innovator, then you will need to figure out how to get over your genetic predisposition of risk aversion. Bob Fabbio explains, “I don’t think you can be an innovator without taking risk.” 

Leaders don’t just take risks; they take calculated risks. They set the grand vision and move forward deliberately to make the vision a reality. Let’s read about how Fabbio’s leadership took him from selling tires to selling Tivoli Systems to IBM.

So, Bob, what’s your story?

I was raised by working-class Italian American parents in a small town in upstate New York. My parents, who have been married for 61 years, were both college-educated—rare at that time, especially for people of Italian American descent.

Through their example, I learned important values that have stayed with me: work hard, be honest, do the right thing, always find a way to succeed, and more. As a CEO and entrepreneur, these values still guide me, and I try to instill them into the cultures of the companies I lead.

Even as a kid, I was curious and resourceful. 

I always found a way to get what I wanted. At four years old, I sold used car and truck tires door to door for two cents each. I cut lawns and shoveled driveways at 10 to earn money for hockey skates, and I worked two jobs as a teenager to buy clothes, sports equipment, and a car.

I’ve spent my career conceiving big ideas, rejecting the status quo and developing better business solutions with category-creating companies like Tivoli Systems (acquired by IBM), DAZEL Corporation (acquired by Hewlett-Packard) and WhiteGlove Health. 

My hard-working parents and grandparents were role models, and combined with my natural drive, my childhood prepared and inspired me to become the entrepreneur I am today.

Why should leaders lead, and when they do lead, what is their first responsibility?

Good leaders surround themselves with smart people who they know will make the right decisions 80 percent of the time. The 20 percent of the time they don’t, it’s not likely going to be so off that it will kill the company. There is nothing worse than not making decisions, except for making them and not acting on them. A leader’s job is to quickly course-correct when necessary.

How do you make sure that when you are assessing talent, you are not only identifying the ability to do the job but the talent’s capacity to scale and do more?

I learned long ago that identifying the best people for a team is not a matter of checking skills off a list. A culture and values fit is what matters most. But that doesn’t mean just hiring people you know. Instead, find and hire the absolute best out there. This requires asking the hard behavioral questions during and after the interview. Check references. Make sure they will fit and thrive in your culture.

In the competitive market of product creation how do you manage your No’s?”

Don’t spend energy looking over your shoulder. Play offense. Be mindful of your competition, but do not let it dictate how you run your business. Focus on your business and what you need to do to succeed. Let others worry and react to you.

So you have two options — 1. Take the risk or 2. Don’t take the risk. 

By opting for the latter, I can guarantee that you will never be the innovator you have envisioned. Seneca wrote, “You are living as if destined to live forever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply.”

It’s been my experience that those who are risk adverse spend an enormous amount of time waiting for the perfect moment to act on a decision. Unfortunately, by waiting you let critical moments slip by; if you allow too many of those moments disappear what you're left with is a pile of unrealized goals.


Original Post: Huffington Post

Interview with CEO of Capsule Pharmacy, Eric Kinariwala

You have a massive headache perhaps a migraine. You contact your doctor, and he prescribes medication. You stumble to your local pharmacy to pick up the prescription, but it’s out of stock. Unfortunately, the pharmacy is providing little to no support. Making matters worse you call the doctor, to see if there is an alternative, but you can’t get a cell phone signal so out of frustration you head back home.

Unfortunately, that is not just an opening paragraph it’s what happened to Eric Kinariwala. But instead of shrugging the experience off as status quo; Eric got angry, not road rage angry, but what Todd Henry explains as a compassionate anger. Henry describes, “What do you experience that fills you with compassionate anger and compels you to take action? What do you see and think someone should do something about that?

Kinariwala’s compassionate anger gave birth to Capsule Pharmacy; whose mission is to be a better, smarter, kinder pharmacy. Let’s read as Eric explains how his effective leadership is evolutionizing the pharmacy business.

So, Eric what’s your story?

I grew up in suburban Detroit and spent the early part of my career investing in retail, healthcare, and technology companies. I had the good fortune early on to learn and be mentored in the investment business from some of the very best people in the industry.

One morning in early 2015, I woke up with a throbbing headache and that led me to the pharmacy and an awful experience, where everything that could go wrong, went wrong. That experience was the spark that connected so many things and led me to start Capsule. It brought together thematically the big structural shifts in the retail and healthcare industries that I'd explored as an investor and it led me to reconnect with an old friend who became Capsule's Chief Pharmacist, Sonia Patel.

A close friend loves Sir Francis Drake's motto: Sic Parvis Magna, which translates to "Thus Great Things From Small Things Come." I think most people's lives–personally and professionally–follow that arc and I try to remember it daily.

Why should leaders lead, and when they do lead, what is their first responsibility?

Leaders should lead because they have somewhere worth taking people–whether that's physical (like a place) or figurative (careers, skills). Everything starts with trust and the first responsibility of a leader is to build high trust, emotionally connected relationships with her team.

What is more important to you, the traditional hierarchy (director, manager, the boss, etc) or how teams are formed to get the work done?

I'm naturally averse to hierarchical structures, but have come to appreciate that clear structure is a necessary, but imperfect solution to organizing a large group of people to move forward toward a common goal while rapidly growing. It's always more important to me that we get to the right answer as quickly as possible than figuring out who was responsible for arriving at that answer. 

We all cross the finish line together or not at all–there's nothing in between.

Are you open to the nontraditional ways that teams can get work done? Can you site one example you are currently fostering?

We have a highly diverse team–both at on the individual level and in our role structures. We have software engineers sitting next to our pharmacists and our partnerships team regularly interacts with our operations team. We focus on fostering empathy for each other's work and workstyle–so that together we are enabling our collective best work. We regularly have people from different teams do the day-to-day work as if they were on another team. It builds real empathy across the team and enables us to continuously approach our work with a fresh perspective.

How do you make sure that when you are assessing talent, you are not only identifying the ability to do the job but the talent’s capacity to scale and do more?

The ability for people to scale and do more is a function of two things:

  1. The self-awareness to seek feedback to understand what's required from a skills and experience perspective to scale to the next stage and the gap that exists in current skills and experience between today and that next stage.
  2. The tenacity, desire, and resourcefulness to acquire the experiences and skills to close that gap.

We hire people who are honest with themselves about both where they are today in their careers, where they want to go, and how driven they are to move between the two places. 

All three ingredients are important for an individual to scale: a clear, honest view on current capabilities, a clear understanding of what success looks like at the next step, and a strong desire to close the space between those two things.

In the competitive market of product creation how do you manage your No’s?”

We try and stay focused on the ONE THING that is most important right now. It requires ruthless prioritization and a strong belief that we will eventually get to all of the things we want to do, but that sequentially executing on them one at a time is the best way to succeed. We have spent a lot of time crafting our strategy so that it will unfold on itself as the business progresses—where the sequencing is natural and logical and where accomplishing today’s focused objective very well, will make tomorrow's easier and more impactful.

Shortly, after the launch of Capsule Pharmacy a woman texted the team about 9:00 PM asking, “Is it safe for me to take this medication while I am pregnant? You’re the first person that I am telling I am pregnant. I have not even told my husband that I am pregnant yet.”

At Disrupt NY 2017, Eric explains, “That was a special moment.” He continues, “It was an amazing moment for the team because we really built the right thing.” As a leader, especially in a young company, it can be challenging to build the right thing. Why, because it’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on multiple things.

It takes a competent leader to recognize when the company is diminishing its limited resources by focusing on too many objectives. Kinariwala mentioned in the last question (above), “We try and stay focused on the ONE THING that is most important right now.”

While there is no one strategy in building a successful company, but if there is a cornerstone, it would be to focus on one thing at a time. That is a level of maturity that comes when you have good leadership in place.


Originally Posted: The Huffington Post

How Joey Groh, Director of Creative Design at Phase2, Is re-Framing The Problem. Read His Answer To #6.

You don't know where this amazingly unpredictable journey called life will take you. But one thing is certain that if you don't take control of your environment, it will control you.

You want to be happy. You want to create an impact. You want to live your life on purpose. But you're wired through past experiences, not to take risks, not to ask questions, and not to stand out. Essentially, you have been groomed to be unremarkably average.

But why is it that some of us refuse to be defined as average? Take Joey Groh, director of creative design at Phase2, as an example. Groh refuses to live a life that is defined by his environment. Joey decided to leverage his love of art, music and the web to design the life he wants to live.

Now Groh's journey was not the proverbial walk in the park. Joey's trek was a rollercoaster ride of uncertainty and distress; especially when the company he co-founded was in trouble. But Groh did not allow himself to give into the self-doubt. He explained, "We still had a fight left in us."

With the help of his team, Joey changed his focus and was able to reposition the company. The decision not only saved the company but caught the attention of Jeff Walpole, CEO of Phase2; who in January of 2014 invited Groh's team to join the Phase2 family.

So what is your desire? What are you committed to make happen over the next 30, 60, or 90 days? What actions will you take to achieve your goals? More importantly, notice what’s not working and pivot until it works.

Joey Groh is not superhuman, he’s not a genius, he’s like you and me — with one important distinction, Joey knew what he wanted and was relentless in his pursuit. Now let’s take a listen to Joey Groh’s story.

1. So Joey What is your story?

Growing up, my two loves were art and music. I picked up a pencil about the same time as a pair of drumsticks, and the two have always been a vehicle for how I define and express myself. As I grew up and explored more mediums in art, I explored more instruments.

From an airbrush to a piano, oil paint to guitars, and illustrations to singing; I was always on a journey to get lost in something magical–to peek, and live in a different dimension. In retrospect, I probably should have gone outside more often, or worked on my social skills by hanging out with friends instead of constantly being holed up in my studio.

Oh well, being socially awkward helps me be a better artist, right? I’m going to keep telling myself that.

After high school, I discovered the web, and quickly joined the ranks of early webmaster-dom by starting a website for the band MxPx from my hometown of Bremerton, WA. Through the years of running the site, the band got big and started selling a ton of records. At the time, I had no idea, but it was the connection that would be my foot in the door to the music industry down the road.

In my college years, I was a graphic designer by day, and a musician by night–playing bars and frat houses brought in some extra cash that would ultimately be spent on guitar strings and gear. I took on any design work I could find and knocked on doors to build websites for the various college departments. As we excitedly moved into the next stage of our lives where we were supposed to get jobs in the tech industry, the dot-com bubble burst along with the changing sides of the tassel.

With nowhere to work, my friend Sean Kelley and I started a boutique creative agency specializing in website design for musicians. With the connections we’d made into the music industry, we’d offer insanely cheap sites, and turn them around quick. My new canvas had become Flash, where illustration, technology, and storytelling could come together to form a new touch-point for the artists’ brand.

Soon we were designing sites for household names like Christina Aguilera, Eagles, Neil Diamond, Ice Cube, Bette Midler, Queens of the Stone Age, and dozens more. As we grew, we hired our friends–and former band members–to join along for the ride.

Skip ahead about ten years, and now I work for Phase2 as the Director of Creative Design. I’m leading our team as we forge new processes in responsive prototyping and component based design. I’m blessed to be able to work with my friends, and to be given a position where I can impact real change in the way that we design and build sites for our amazing clientele.

2. What's the biggest mistake you've made and what did you learn from it?

I think the biggest mistake I made was letting my creative side become stagnant while we focused on establishing the development side of our old company. As the labels started to flesh out their in-house design teams, we were slowly losing more and more creative work. The projects started shifting to building out other people's designs, so we put our development hats on to pay the bills.

We had mouths to feed, and mortgages to pay, so it seemed like the noble thing to do at the time. This was both a blessing and a curse, though because I learned how to write code, and I will always be thankful that I have that under my belt. Being both a designer and coder helps me bridge gaps that are commonplace between creative and technical people, and puts me in a spot where I can see the holistic picture of the entire project.

I’m able to be a better creative director when I can understand how brand ties into the visual language, how the visual language ties into components, and how those components tie into the implementation. With that said, I wish I could have spent more time being creative during that time, and learning from experienced mentors, instead of having to learn everything on my own. I feel like I am still catching up from that, but I’m in a great spot now at Phase2 with the people I work with. I’m way too hard on myself, so maybe I should give myself a break now and then.

3. Tell me about an accomplishment that shaped your career?

I feel like the biggest accomplishment that has recently shaped my career has been working with our team to build up our design practice at Phase2. With the crew that we have, I’ve been able to put on my creative hat full time and leave most the code – I still hop in now and then to stay frosty – to our brilliant developers.

We’ve mostly ditched doing comps for prototyping out our designs, which is core to our creative process. Our medium is the web, so we feel that’s where we need to be iterating. It’s also not just designers who are in on it. Our front-end and back-end devs have a say in what we are designing, and it’s been revolutionary.

Gone are the days of handing off finished designs for implementation. We all work together to build better experiences, and we’re having a hell of a time doing it. That’s what design is, right? I could talk forever about what we are doing, as could anyone from our team. I can’t wait to see where we are in a couple of years when we’ve been able to continue our path of increasing efficiencies, and letting design lead engagements.

4. Tell me about the time you realized you had the power to do something meaningful?

When I joined Phase2, I had the opportunity to move to New York and work from the Manhattan office. My wife and our two boys grew up in the small town of Bremerton, WA, across the water from Seattle, and I’d been here most of my life as well. Leaving our friends and family to relocate across the country to a fast-paced metropolis could be disastrous, but we have always been adventurous and optimistic, and could always come back home if we needed.

My brother and his family lived there, so they would help us find a place nearby, and assist with the schooling situation. The thinking was that this would give me a boost in my career, give us a chance to live life, and provide our kids with a view of the world that they would otherwise not have by staying.

We sold our cars, got rid of a ton of stuff, and ventured off to the East Coast to live in a two bedroom, one bath in Queens. It was the hardest time of our lives, but also the most amazing. We became masters of the subway, explored as much as we could, and ate and ate and ate. Did I mention that we ate? One of the biggest lessons I learned was that seeking comfort was never as good as the reward at the end of a grueling adventure–one mostly comprised of walking, taking buses, and multiple trains.

Oh, and don’t forget to dodge the occasional spitting crazy person. Also, the pizza is the best. Hands down, sorry Chicago.

We have since moved back from the New York Groh family experiment, but it remains in our hearts, and we plan on visiting our family out there and our new beloved friends as often as we can. We are more resilient, patient (ironic, right?), and our eyes have been opened to the larger world out there.

The creative scene is just mind-boggling, and it has left me with a lifetime of inspiration. Leaving and then coming back, is not the same as never leaving, or something like that.

5. Can you tell me about a time when you almost gave up, how you felt about that, and what you did instead of giving up?

We always used to joke about becoming carpenters when the going got tough–if we only knew how hard their jobs were, I don’t think we would have said it. Then again, anyone involved in building websites knows that now and then it can be its own private hell. There was a time back at our old shop where we almost hung up our hats and left the industry altogether.

The roller coaster that is a small agency climbs hills of fortune and falls through low drops of famine. We were surely no stranger to this. Our big label retainer was just canceled, and other work had dried up.

We’d just laid off a few good friends, not taken a paycheck for a couple of months, and were at the end of our ropes. We felt heartbroken to have to say goodbye to our friends and coworkers, but giving up wouldn’t have helped anyone at that point. One thing we knew how to do was to bootstrap our way through, so we chose to keep on keeping on.

We still had a fight left in us. What we did was take stock of what we were doing, and try to get perspective on where we could skate to catch the incoming puck. By choosing to focus on Drupal expertise over our proprietary CMS, we were able to go back to the labels and help build their artist sites as the need had grown substantially. Looking back, I think we could also have focused on the creative side of things and did something similar, but it is what it is.

I’m so thankful that we had the courage to change direction completely because I might be swinging a hammer on a roof somewhere if we had given up–but who knows; maybe I’d enjoy that better?

6. Solving complex problems often requires a re-framing the problem. So what is your process of re-framing the problem so it can be resolved?

So often, we think that we need to come up with the solution to a problem on our own. Others outside of the direct group can have valuable insight into the problem, and also, provide a perspective that wasn’t originally considered. Get the project manager, developer, analyst, designer, and client stakeholders into a room, or hangout–anyone who has an important perspective.

Iterating on questions to get back to the cause of the problem will allow the re-framing to start in a truer place. To allow for people to listen more deeply without waiting for their turn to respond, allow everyone to speak their mind without judgment. Good ideas don’t care who they happen to, so going back to the start and casting a wide net to gather perspectives, and ask the right questions to the right people is key.

Only when the true root of the problem is exposed by the right people, can it be solved by the right people. If all else fails, take a long shower or sleep on it.