Aaron Hurst Podcast Interview – CEO of Imperative

aaron hurst

Today we’re interviewing Aaron Hurst, the co-founder & CEO of Imperative, and the author of The Purpose Economy. Aaron has been wired to challenge the status quo from a very early age. He sees opportunity and potential in every direction, and by his own admission is a bit of a troublemaker. During Aaron’s childhood, he moved around a lot and, as a result, he developed the important skill of pattern recognition, a trait that has served him well throughout his entrepreneurial efforts. Early in Aaron’s career, he founded the Taproot Foundation, a pro-bono community of professionals who volunteered their time and expertise to helping mission-driven nonprofits with the marketing, PR, and other important services they need to achieve maximum impact. This community blossomed into a $15 billion marketplace. 

Perhaps the most interesting takeaway was the power of purpose that emerged. Aaron would constantly hear about the sense of meaning the participants would feel from helping the nonprofit community. This theme continues today; Aaron and his team at Imperative focus on unlocking and measuring the power of purpose inside of organizations, not only for the organization, but helping the individual employees inside of organizations to connect their individual purpose to the purpose of the company. In 2014, Aaron published his book, The Purpose Economy, which predicts the next economic wave will be known as the Purpose Era.

Show Notes

  • 3:30 – Early memories from Aaron Hurst of entrepreneurship & innovation
  • 5:18 – The benefits of frequently relocating during childhood & becoming a global citizen
  • 7:50 – Buddhist upbringing & the idea of consciousness
  • 10:00 – Taproot Foundation
  • 13:08 – The gratification of doing pro-bono work outweighing that of the “paycheck job”
  • 14:35 – Labels on the economies of the human existence (agrarian, industrial, purpose economies) and how his work at Taproot led to Imperative
  • 16:27 – The biggest myths & truths around purpose
  • 19:18 – Cause versus purpose
  • 21:10 – The Imperative process
  • 26:01 – Is purpose a luxury?
  • 28:48 – Job crafting
  • 32:03 – Metropolitan areas trying to become the “next Silicon Valley
  • 34:26 – Book by Aaron Hurst, called “The Purpose Economy,” and his strategy for releasing it
  • 39:37 – His daughter’s education campaign for Congress on bullying

Show Links

Aaron Hurst Podcast Interview

You’ve essentially had entrepreneurial DNA flowing through you your whole life. Is there a particular memory you have from when you were young where you knew pursuing an entrepreneurial path, challenging the status quo and living on the edge of innovation was going to be the hallmark of who you are?

It’s funny — I don’t think anyone in my family even knew the word “entrepreneur.” It wasn’t something in my vernacular. I just always sort of saw myself as a troublemaker. I always saw the status quo and felt like a better way to do things existed. Also, I always started clubs — I probably had 10 different clubs in high school that I started. I had my own business in high school, and I saw opportunity everywhere. Although I wouldn’t have called it entrepreneurship at the time, in retrospect, it was. I remember being very much a futurist with a progressive mindset.

My dad always tells me this story — I think it was in junior high. We were walking by a small lake outside of our hometown, Boulder, Colorado. For whatever reason, I started talking about how we were eventually going to have water shortages and we should start pooling our money into buying fresh water sources. That way, we could still have a little bit of profit when water becomes scarce. Even then, I saw where the world was going and saw opportunity in that.

You moved around quite a bit during your childhood. You lived in quite a few different places — both in the states as well as abroad. As you look back on that, I can imagine it was challenging making friends and then having to uproot and move. What have been the positives of that?

It definitely was painful at times, but there were a lot of positives. We moved every few years. One, it really taught me pattern recognition. You started to see the same things emerge across different cultures, and you saw the actual similarities between people who called themselves “different.” It helped me learn how to quickly connect with new groups of people. It also taught me that we’re way more resilient and adaptable than a lot of people who were born and raised in one town and never go anywhere.

Since I graduated from college, I was in Chicago, then San Francisco, then Brooklyn and now Seattle. I believe in that old cliché: “Wherever you go, there you are.” And also realizing you don’t need to be fully rooted in any one area; you can really make the world your home. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I think it was great to be able to move around that much. There are certainly downsides. I have some level of jealousy of kids who lived in one place, who also had the same friends in kindergarten that they did in high school. But I think they miss something significant. I’m a big advocate for study abroad, for example, and other opportunities to get students to see themselves as a global citizen.

Did I read that you were raised Buddhist?

Yes, my parents were both Tibetan Buddhists, part of a Buddhist cult out of Boulder, Colorado. They moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia. I grew up going to a Buddhist elementary school in Boulder and then had heavy involvement up in Nova Scotia as well. It was a largely Jewish population of folks who had embraced Tibetan Buddhism. I struggle to even call it Buddhism, because I don’t think it was authentically of that culture. I think a lot of religion is culture, not just faith. While I don’t practice Buddhism and rejected that cult, I feel like a lot of my work since then was heavily influenced by that. Especially around the whole idea of consciousness, and seeing the world as those who are conscious and those who aren’t. Much of my career is trying to increase that sense of consciousness in the workplace.

You did something truly magical in creating a multi-billion dollar, pro-bono network of services for not-for-profit communities. What spurred the Taproot Foundation?

Taproot Foundation was my venture before Imperative. It started in 2001. Most good ideas are very simple ones. The idea was that nonprofits need the same marketing, tech, finance, HR, recruiting etc. services as companies, but they can’t afford them. Almost without exception. So they’re increasingly being left behind in a market where those services are what define successful organizations. We said, “How do we make pro-bono services prevalent in these other professions?”

It took about five years of really understanding intrinsic motivation as well as how to harness it. How do you actually get someone to complete a complex project? You can’t reward them with a promotion. That really led to the largest experiment that I know of in history on intrinsic motivation — really figuring out, over the course of thousands of complex projects, how you use that intrinsic motivation to inspire people and then get them to finish pro-bono work.

It was remarkable, because when I started Taproot, nonprofits basically said, “We don’t want pro-bono work. It never gets done.” By the time I left Taproot a dozen years later, it was a multi-billion dollar marketplace, we had affiliates all over the world. We had really proven that, once you understand intrinsic motivation, nonprofits really can count on pro-bono work. It got to the point where the amount of work was about four times what is done in terms of cash philanthropy in corporations. It had a massive impact on the nonprofit sector, and people’s identity as professionals.

You mentioned that roughly only 1/3 of the workforce is truly purpose-oriented. Is purpose a luxury that only certain people have access to?

We saw no correlation at all between income and purpose. We saw people in the highest-end jobs not purpose-oriented, as well as those in low-end jobs who have purpose. I think the whole idea that you have to have a certain amount of income is false. In some ways, it’s actually really patronizing. It created part of the problem — of leaders often believing, “I have certain jobs. There are certain people who can’t possibly worry about purpose.” That’s not how it works. You go into a Starbucks and see baristas who are working with purpose and those who aren’t. You see hospital janitors, who have the really challenging job of cleaning hospital rooms, and they still find purpose in that experience.

There’s the great book and work of Viktor Frankl, who was a slave at a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. He found meaning in that experience. We really do a disservice when we say that poor people can’t have purpose. It’s patronizing. It gives us an excuse to create jobs and management styles that are dehumanizing.

For Aaron Hurst and more Built On Purpose Podcast episodes, visit http://www.yscouts.com/podcast.


Y Scouts is a leadership search firm that finds purpose-aligned and performance-proven leaders to help organizations achieve their missions faster. Ready to supercharge your leadership search and get the right person in your organization? Contact Y Scouts.

How To Tell If You’re Truly Hiring A Team Player

hiring a team player

How can you tell if you’re really hiring a team player? The interview process alone can’t possibly reveal that — so it requires delving a little bit deeper to find employees who pull their own weight and more.

We asked leaders from all over to answer this question: “How do you know you are truly hiring a team player?” Before your next hire, take a look at some real insight and wisdom from various business leaders.

Hiring A Team Player

Going The Extra Mile

Deniz Sasal, Founder of The Career Mastery, says trust is paramount.

“Just as everything else in life, trust plays an integral role in choosing a candidate,” he says. “This is a critical element that many employers somehow tend to forget.”

Sasal continues:

“A new addition to a team should not only have the desired skills and experiences, but also should be someone of integrity, someone who will proudly represent an organization in his/her social and professional circle, someone who will go extra mile because he/she believes in the organization and fights for its future success. Now, that’s what I call a true team player and that’s why I believe trust and integrity should play a key role in choosing candidates. You can always bring a new hire up to speed with training, yet it’s not easy to instill integrity in someone.”

Another crucial point he noted: “A candidate who tries to deceive the interviewer in a job interview will continue to do so once hired.”

Offering Hands-On Collaboration Opportunities

Jonathan D. Roger, Operations Director & Certified ScrumMaster at AndPlus, suggests adding a hands-on activity to the interview process.

“We’re a software firm. A key part of our interview process is having the candidate come in and build a simple application with a couple of our senior engineers in the space of 30-45 minutes,” he says. “This often makes it easy to tell whether or not a candidate plays well with others. Some candidates grow frustrated when offered suggestions, which often leads to a no-hire decision. Candidates who are receptive to criticism and treat our engineers like resources and teammates rather than annoyances always seem to be our best team players.”

Volunteering, Mentoring & Facing Failure

Founder & CEO of Source Capital Funding, Inc., Sacha Ferrandi, offered unique insight on hiring and identifying team players.

“There are many traditional ways to identify team players,” he says. “However, we have found that there are other several more non-traditional traits to look for that indicate a great, team-focused candidate.”

Ferrandi provided three key traits to seek out when hiring a team player:

1. Volunteer Experience.

Look for volunteer experience that goes deeper than donating or one-time community events. The key here is to find candidates that volunteer their time and actually go out and make an impact with the organization they volunteer at. This shows a dedication to their community and indicates that they like to help build and hold together a team.

2. Handling Failure.

One great way to gauge a candidate’s team-oriented traits? Talk about a time of failure. Look for someone that is comfortable taking the blame and not pushing it off on others. Especially as businesses win or lose as a group, having a member who has the mentality of: “Well, I did my part. It was someone else’s fault.” — does nothing to grow a team’s long-term cohesiveness.

Putting blame on others, even if others are responsible, is a warning sign of a bad team player. No one likes working with someone who throws people under the bus. Having someone like this on your team could be detrimental to your group’s success.

3. Mentoring

Does your employee or potential candidate mentor others? This trait is an exceptional quality to have in a team environment because it demonstrates that the person wants to help others succeed. This is especially true for roles that require specific knowledge. Those willing to share their expertise and help grow others’ careers fit extremely well in any organization.

hiring a team player

Watch For Warning Signs & Seek Out Certain Traits

Bret Bonnet of Quality Logo Products points out: You never know for sure what you’re getting beforehand, but in my experience, employees who are true team players:

a.) Are more productive.

b.) Stick around longer.

c.) Cause fewer problems.

“We’re slowly but surely replacing those who don’t want to play ball (and get upset when their favorite type of sugar packets go missing from the snack room) with those who care more about the company’s goals,” Bonnet adds.

He continues: “It all starts with the interview questions. When interviewing candidates we do our best to avoid any off-the-shelf questions that the employee might have had a chance to prepare for. The goal is to make them uncomfortable or catch them off guard. Then, we hear real, honest answers instead of rehearsed answers.”

At his organization, Bonnet says, they pose questions such as:

Saturday is your boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s birthday. Saturday is also the night of the big company party. Do you attend the company party or celebrate the birthday? Why?

On the surface, it doesn’t seem anything too complicated. But if they can’t give a good reason for missing the company party, their answer to this question often weighs heavily against their chance of getting hired. People who are unable to celebrate it on a different night/day than a mutually agreed upon day where 100% of your co-workers will be in attendance does not belong at your company.

Finally, check for other telltale signs of employees who are not team players. This includes: Those who ALWAYS keep their office door closed, and those who ALWAYS wear headphones. Candidates with extroverted personalities also ultimately have a higher likelihood of being a team player.

Dig Deep

David Waring, Co-Founder of Fit Small Business, says the interview process gives employers the chance to dig deep and figure out if they’re hiring a team player.

“For an experienced candidate, the type of jobs they had prior can give you great insight as to whether or not they are a team player,” he says. “For example, salespeople who work on commission are used to an environment where they need to worry about their own sales and productivity. They are generally out for themselves rather than working as a team. So if you are looking to hire a team player, proceed with caution.”

Waring added that projects, interactions and even extracurricular activities can shed light on your hire.

“For other types of positions, simply asking the candidate what types of projects and interactions they have had with their team can give you good insight. However, you need to consider this on a granular level rather than a high-level view of things.”

Finally, the questions they ask at the end of the interview can give you great insight. If they’re asking about culture and interacting with people, then that is a positive sign. If they ask about compensation and growth in position, while it’s not a bad thing, it doesn’t give any insight into whether they will be a good team player or not.

It May Not Be Completely Innate

Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, says her goal is to hire team players.

“We screen for ‘team player-ness’ by asking questions about their work ethic, examples of how they contribute to their prior companies and willingness to go above and beyond,” she says. “Sometimes we can identify people who we believe could be team players with a little nurturing and then we pair them with other already-established team players in our company.”

Sweeney continued: “I don’t think being a team player is innate. It needs to be learned at times. It also often comes from management. A team player mentality can be contagious; when leadership in a company are team players, then the team tends to rise to the occasion. So, if someone has the right attitude, you can further evolve their ‘team player’ status by setting expectations, setting a good example with leadership and rewarding behavior that shows a can-do attitude.”

What other advice do you have for hiring a team player? Let us know — and contact the professionals at Y Scouts when hiring a team player.


Y Scouts is a leadership search firm that finds purpose-aligned and performance-proven leaders to help organizations achieve their missions faster. Ready to supercharge your leadership search and get the right person in your organization? Contact Y Scouts.

Brett Hurt Podcast – Co-Founder & CEO of data.world

brett hurt

Today, we are interviewing Brett Hurt, the co-founder and CEO of data.world. To say Brett has accomplished a lot at a relatively young age would be an understatement. Brett has been a part of launching five start-ups, and, with the help of three co-founders, has just launched his sixth. Brett grew up in a household of entrepreneurs. His dad was the inventor of the first-ever halogen fishing light. At age seven, Brett received his first computer and began programming. This marked the beginning of a lifelong pursuit of Brett Hurt seeking to understand how things work.

Between ages 7 and 21, Brett spent close to 40 hours per week programming. He credits his parents, in particular his mom, with supporting him and helping him find his true passion. This passion led him to the co-founding of Bazaarvoice where he served as the President & CEO for 7 ½ years and the eventual IPO in 2012 — rated one of the top five IPOs in 2012 by the Wall Street Journal. Brett’s current project, data.world, squarely focuses on building the most meaningful, collaborative, and abundant data resource in the world. This episode with Brett Hurt is full of meaningful life lessons and a series of great stories everyone will appreciate.

Show Notes

  • 2:13 – Relevant & inspirational Abraham Lincoln quote
  • 3:30 – Brett talking about his background growing up in entrepreneurial household
  • 8:45 – Brett Hurt & his upbringing in programming and hard work
  • 15:34 – How Brett’s father turned down a big offer from Walmart
  • 21:40 – Talking about losing his parents and starting his own companies and making a lot of money
  • 26:14 – Talking about famous entrepreneurs/industrialists like Elon Musk
  • 29:51 – Talking about business through lens of Trump election
  • 35:22 – data.world
  • 41:46 – Impact the data.world will have on the way people find the organizations they may eventually work for.
  • 44:38 – data.world’s setup as a public benefit corporation
  • 50:20 – What’s the best way to engage with what is happening at data.world?
  • 54:33 – The key messages from Brett’s 2015 commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin Master of Science in Technology Commercialization
  • 1:02:10 – The expected major increase in life expectancy & its impact on work

Show Links

Brett Hurt Podcast Interview

I want to start with a quote that I know will resonate with you. Abraham Lincoln once said, “There is just one way to bring up a child in the way he should go, and that is to travel that way yourself.” You were born into a family of entrepreneurs. Your dad was the inventor of the first halogen fishing light. What was it like growing up in a house of entrepreneurship?

It was incredibly cool, and I love that quote. When I started data.world, I put a blog post out on luckyseven.io, and I quoted Lincoln with that same quote. It was an incredible experience growing up in an entrepreneurial household. At the time, you don’t realize how much you’re actually learning by working with your parents. They also had furniture stores I would work at. They raised me to intuitively understand the customer. How to serve the customer, ask the customer questions about how they found us, have them navigate the store more efficiently. And also do the hard work, like sweeping the floors.

That hard labor, too, is something you never forget as a child. The thing I remember most was that my friends were kind of jealous of my parents. I didn’t entirely understand it, and I took it for granted because it was all I knew. As an adult, I realized that my friends were jealous that my parents truly enjoyed their work. They heard their parents complain about their jobs. That made a huge mark on me that, no matter what I do in life, I should do something I’m truly passionate about. Otherwise, why do it at all? There are so many programs that make fun of work. There’s “The Office,” there’s “Silicon Valley,” the movie “Office Space.” These are all great fun, but their real tragedy is that a lot of people look at their work in that way.

Especially given the fact that the data shows we end up spending ¾ of our adult lives at work. For it to be anything other than meaningful seems like an incredible waste of an opportunity.

It is, and you only live once. Why not make it count? We were put on this earth to hopefully do great things, and I find it a real tragedy that so many people hate their work. That’s no way to live, and it’s no way to bring up a child, either. Your children are paying attention. My “innate” entrepreneurial skills are innate because of the environment I grew up in. My parents were some of the most important mentors I’ve had entrepreneurially. I very much miss them.

Was there a certain point in your life where you knew you were destined to follow in their footsteps and be an entrepreneur? Was it gradual?

If I trace back to my early roots, I started programming when I was seven years old. My mom — when she first got me the Pawn game, she could tell I was really interested in how it worked. I wasn’t just content playing the game. I was maybe four years old then. How do electronics work? How does this magic come to life?

So, when I was seven, she read an article about the computer age arriving. Atari had come out with one of the first personal computers. She bought that for me because she thought it would make me interested in mathematics. My grandfather taught mathematics at UT Austin for over 35 years. My mom had majored in math as well as accounting. She thought this would really light me up. She was right, but she never anticipated how right she was. I then programmed over 40 hours a week from age seven to 21.

My mom had to have a superhuman discipline to keep everyone out of my way. The pressures of childhood — “You should be outside playing, you should be doing this activity and that activity.” My second-grade teacher took my mom aside one time and told her I was going to be a loser in life. She told her I would be hopelessly lost, and that all I did was play with computers and talk about computers. She was really concerned about me. That really offended my mom, and she didn’t tell me that story until I was an adult and was already successful. This passion for technology and how technology would change the world was really embedded from a very young age.

I’m forever thankful that my mom sat down with me and learned how to program with me and gave me that gift of finding my passion. It’s one of the most important jobs a parent has is to help a child find out their true passion in life, and then let them do it with no judgment, no matter what societal pressures come along. But then, having that childhood, I didn’t feel too comfortable interacting with lots of people.

I realized I wanted to go into business when I was in undergrad. I worked for Accenture full-time for my junior and senior year. The way I got that job was very karmic. At age 10, I helped an 18-year-old kid set up his first bulletin board system. He remembered that and called me as an adult. Later, I decided to become an entrepreneur. Deloy had this program where they would pay for your MBA, as long as you got into a top school. I launched four businesses while at the Warden School. Also, I worked regularly until three or four in the morning. I really established myself as an entrepreneur.

One lesson you learned early on from your dad involves a story about Walmart.

It’s an interesting story for quite a few reasons. I remember so fondly working on the fishing lights with my dad, and learning about direct marketing with him. When I was 10 years old, Walmart approached him to sell his products (all fishing-related) — in all the stores nationwide. He told them no, and I just couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t take the chance to become a really big company.

I was really angry at him. I remember he sat me down, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Son, you may realize the value of keeping life simple one day, or you may not. That’s your choice.” He just didn’t want to take on the growth of having big factories. He was comfortable. Someone later told me, “Brett, just because it was right for your parents doesn’t mean it’s right for you. You’re a different person, and you should honor the drive that you have.”

brett hurt

Even during the businesses that you have launched, you have always preached the importance of reflection time — even taking four, five, six, sometimes up to 10 weeks off for vacation throughout the year. Is that your dad’s lesson ringing through?

I incorporated that lesson in that way. It’s also non-negotiable that, no matter what I do in life, I must be there for our children’s most important moments. My parents, I realized as an adult, were really your classic lifestyle entrepreneurs. You look at Elon Musk for example, who is the founder of three companies simultaneously. They are all dramatically changing the world. I’m sitting in a Tesla right now as we have this conversation, which is my favorite car by far. He has had a pretty challenging personal life. He works very hard, and that’s what is right for him. Look how much he is changing the world. He’s the ultimate expression of an entrepreneur that can change the world.

I choose to have some limits. My limits are that, no matter what’s going on, I’ve got to be there for my children’s most important moments. I’ve been married 20 years. It’s a huge part of who I am. I have to have that reflection time, because that reflection time is what strengthens me as a leader. It helps me understand what I’ve learned and be able to apply that. People put massive pressure on themselves to say “I’m the CEO of a startup, and therefore I should work nonstop,” and they do not take time for themselves. Their marriage, friendships or their physical health could fall apart.

Hopefully all entrepreneurs are passionate about what they’re doing, but if they don’t take that time, I would argue that they could actually create a worse company. Companies are so often a reflection of the leaders at the top. They must have a mental balance, or you have a whole company running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

I want to read a quote: “If the universe of data were suddenly made available, it would unleash the creativity of problem-solvers to combine different data sets, public and private, to develop innovative solutions to innumerable challenges.” That said, what exactly is data.world?

data.world is basically a project that, in many ways, the world has been gearing up for. It’s a social network for people who love data, to be able to share the data sets they love so they can work more effectively on them with other people in the public as well as with their teams. At the end of the day, we’re creating the most meaningful, most abundant and the most collaborative data resource in history. That’s a very ambitious goal. We’re doing it as a public benefit corporation. The other nomenclature for this is a B Corp.

The reason I say that it’s been in the making for a long time: you need to get to the point where storage costs and processing costs have fallen to where you could build something this ambitious. You also need to get to the point in the world where there are a lot of examples of the power of collaboration. A great example is GitHub. It has over 14 million programmers from all around the world who are collaborating and sharing open source code. It became a force multiplier for people in the programming industry. If you’re a programmer, you’ll just share your GitHub profile with a potential employer to show your work.

I very much envision data.world being what my children use in college, and them asking me, “Dad, what was it like before data.world?” And I would explain you had to email people and submit data on a thumb drive and you couldn’t tell how people were working with the data and collaborating. But, as we get all this data in one place, it will create an enormous opportunity to solve the world’s problems — whether it’s poverty, climate change, cancer. You will be able to address any of that in data.world, and everyone can see how you addressed it and be able to create derivative work on top of it. It will accelerate all of our progress in humanity.

For more Built On Purpose Podcast episodes, visit http://yscouts.com/podcast/.


Y Scouts, a leadership search firm, finds purpose-aligned and performance-proven leaders to help organizations achieve their missions faster. Ready to supercharge your leadership search and get the right person in your organization? Contact Y Scouts.

Corey Michael Blake Podcast – CEO, Speaker, Storyteller

corey michael blake

Today, we’re interviewing Corey Michael Blake. It’s difficult to put a label on Corey — he’s many things: an entrepreneur, an actor, a director, a storyteller, a CEO, and an all-around great guy. I might add — I’m giving him the title of having the most contagious laugh of all time, something you’ll get a taste of during the podcast. Corey is a soulful human being, full of deep insights and someone who is constantly pushing himself to learn and grow.

He’s a student of the power of Vulnerability, and we dive into a tour of his life and the many experiences and lessons that have led him to where he is today. Corey’s guiding principle of life is to Lead with Love — a learned skill that requires consistent practice. Whether you’re a CEO looking to up-level your leadership, or you’re searching for a more meaningful existence at this thing we call life, this episode is loaded with authenticity and realness. Enjoy this episode featuring Corey Michael Blake.

Show Highlights

  • 3:50 – Reflecting on 2016
  • 7:00 – The game “Vulnerability Is Sexy”
  • 7:26 – Discussion on vulnerability
  • 11:26 – How the Meisner Technique in acting contributed to Corey’s sense of being present
  • 18:00 – Childhood moment where he felt a true connection to staying present
  • 20:42 – The experience of living and working as an actor in L.A.
  • 23:52 – Starting Writers of the Round Table and Round Table Companies
  • 26:52 – From The Barrio To The Boardroom: Meeting Robert Renteria
  • 34:12 – Creating children’s books and coloring books warning kids of gangs & drugs
  • 35:11 – Corey’s inspiration for novels marketed toward children
  • 38:32 – Round Table Companies
  • 44:25 – Love as a guiding principle
  • 51:10 – Values pasted to a wall versus living them
  • 55:20 – The power of the pause
  • 59:11 – Having a support system in experiencing life breakthroughs

Show Links

Corey Michael Blake Podcast Interview

You started the Vulnerability Is Sexy game in part through a KickStarter campaign?

Yes, we did a KickStarter campaign in 2013 that was successful. Then, we decided to launch this campaign to activate and excite our network and to at least know from a resonation standpoint what we were looking at. That proved successful.

Let’s talk about vulnerability, given that it is such a huge part of who you are and what you stand for. As you retrace your life as a student of vulnerability, is there a particular point where you recognized this was going to be a pursuit for you?

I look back at my time in L.A. I was in Los Angeles from 1996 until 2005, and I kind of shifted from acting being my priority to wanting to be a more prolific storyteller, and wanting to be more involved in the production. Really, I wanted to manage more of the process and support the level of quality that I was excited by. During that process, I created two storytelling companies prior to RTC. Both of them failed, and ultimately “imploded” because I made bad decisions in terms of who I got romantic with.

That period of my life was wrought with desperation and hunger and passion and pain and self-torture. It was a really dramatic time in my life. And during that time, I felt deeply connected to some of the people around me. The acting technique I was learning when I lived in L.A. was called the Meisner Technique, and it was about stripping away language and being with people in this energetic exchange. We would have 20-minute exchanges that would stay with me all week and live in my body. I got addicted to connection, and addicted to being in those moments where we feel so much — whether it is incredible love and attraction, or deep sadness triggered by an exercise. Being in those truthful moments, at that time, was life-giving to me.

So when you ask that question, I think it was that period when that addiction began and eventually blossomed into using it in a healthy way — with what I do now through the company.

During your time in L.A., you were in a really well-known Super Bowl ad for Mountain Dew, you were in the movie “Fight Club” — you’ve done some pretty cool things. Is the chaos of L.A. what most suspect it to be — with the politics and perceived superficial nature of L.A. and the acting community? What was your experience?

I don’t believe it is that for everyone, but I do believe it was very much that way for me. I had a strong hunger to be successful out there, and I brought my very competitive nature. As a result of that, when I look back at my time there, I describe it as this: I became what I thought L.A. wanted me to be in order to get where I thought I wanted to go. It was pulling me into the commercial world, and I certainly didn’t go to L.A. to be a commercial actor. But commercials pay really well, so I found myself building a career being a spokesperson for major brands.

It was exciting to audition for the work and to get the work — until it hit a point where it just wasn’t anymore. When I started producing and directing some projects, I found auditions to be a distraction. I found myself angry when I was stuck in traffic heading to an audition that was taking me away from what I really enjoyed — which was more control over my creativity. As an actor, I felt like a tool for other creative people. It was very disconnecting for me, and it was what started pushing me away from continuing in that regard. If I had gotten serious regular roles, or a major film, that might have changed — in which case I might have had more input.

I found that Wanted to be part of a project from start to finish, and that meant I had to change my direction.

Is that realization what led you to Writers of the Round Table and eventually Round Table Companies?

Not strategically. But if I look back on the path, I had been successful at commercials. I didn’t need a day job, because I got to study acting and rehearse a lot. I saw this 45-minute PBS documentary while I was in college on a guy named Harold Clurman, who started the Group Theatre in the 1930s. That went on to become Broadway, and then Hollywood. He described himself as a “generator.” He was not the best actor or the best director. But he was the person who brought the talent together to create art about what was important to speak of during the day. I had an epiphany moment in L.A. — that’s who I want to be.

So I invited nine of my other classmates to join me at Mammoth Lake in a lodge. Eight said yes. We went up there for a few days and started the first iteration of a storytelling company. It was such a stunning, loving experience that it became my new addiction. From there, we started making films and winning awards at film festivals. That led to the understanding that my work would need millions of dollars behind it in order to be seen. Or, I could ultimately create a lot of stuff that would sit on a shelf. That was eventually the reason to transition over to the writing world and to books — which became the impetus for Writers of the Round Table. On a much more modest budget, you can create something to go out into the world and start changing lives.

Is this where you ended up connecting with Robert Renteria? Talk about the From The Barrio To The Boardroom foundation.

I started Writers of the Round Table in a very practical way. I recognized that I was leaving L.A. Also, I was getting married and I needed to find a way to generate income that wasn’t tied to Los Angeles. Once, I think I was playing around on Craigslist and I was applying for writing jobs that looked creative. I found there were all kinds of writing jobs I could do, that I was curious about. Originally, I founded the business as a conduit between writers and businesspeople who needed quality writing. I wasn’t just an agent where I would find work for someone and say, “Good luck.” Instead, I became integrally involved.

Eventually, because of my L.A. background, my storytelling and my theater degree, Robert Renteria crossed my path. He was looking for someone to help him with his biography. At our initial meeting, when Robert talked about the life that he had lived and how he wanted to use that to inspire people, I got emotional when I talked to him about helping him paint that picture. We worked for a solid year and a half putting that first book together. That kicked off a new addiction of creating things that pushed people to make dramatic changes in their lives.

These graphic novel translations of popular books, and this idea of leveraging a pictorial version of stories to market in a new way — you’ve been very successful in that realm. What inspired you?

Around 2010 or so, we would have conversations with all our staff members and call it “dreaming time.” We wanted to know what we weren’t doing that we would love to do. Our creative director said he loved comic books, and he wanted to get us into that area. Lo and behold, as a result of that conversation, someone approached us about creating a nonfiction comic book series based on bestselling business books. We had some initial dialogue, but this person decided to go with someone else. But because our creative director expressed how valuable it would be to him, I fought for it. I told this person I respected his decision but we stayed in touch. I asked if he had feedback for our process.

A month later, he came back to us. We did three prototypes: Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends And Influence People,” Dale Covey’s “Seven Habits,” and we did “Think & Grow Rich.” Eventually, we parted ways with the comic book company and created Round Table Comics. Suddenly, we were off to the races doing our own series. We’ve done a whole bunch of them for disabled children, helping kids to understand the disabilities they face.

How would you best describes what Round Table Companies is and does?

We’re an amazing, brilliant company, but we’re nontraditional. Nothing else quite like us exists in the world. We were born as a book-writing company; that was our first love. Helping people write the book they were born to write. We write very moving, emotional, page-turning books. Then, we built out a whole array of services for thought leaders. How do we support them and their brand identity? How do we support them in telling their story in different ways so people want to read the books?

I describe the book as going to bed with someone. When you first meet someone, you can’t invite them to bed — that’s an intense request. So how do we create an ecosystem around the thought leader so that people go through the whole stepladder. Flirting, talking, dating, getting into a relationship with the brand to the point where they then want to curl up with the book. Hopefully, by the end of the book, they feel like their life has changed as a result.

That blossomed into finding other creative ways we can support them. That grew into illustration, comic books, and graphic novels. Then, because we were attracting world-class, amazing, talented people — we realized we had access to incredible levels of genius, especially in the coaching world. We started hiring more coaches, and getting into the world of executive coaching — helping people to tell a new story. Then, it opened us to how storytelling can shift a culture. How can storytelling help amplify what a business stands for so that the world can truly see the essence of the company, and know if they want to be a customer or if they’re totally repelled?

For more Built On Purpose Podcast episodes, visit http://yscouts.com/podcast/.


Y Scouts is a leadership search firm that finds purpose-aligned and performance-proven leaders to help organizations achieve their missions faster. Ready to supercharge your leadership search and get the right person in your organization? Contact Y Scouts.

Y Scouts Featured In Forbes & Fortune

The New Year is upon us, and Y Scouts is all for celebrating — our very own Brian Mohr has recently been featured in Forbes as well as Fortune in two articles!

Take a look at some top tips for maximizing your LinkedIn profile, and read up on how Y Scouts expertly matches purpose-based leaders and companies.

Forbes: 4 Things Successful Leaders Need To Know About Their Own LinkedIn Profile

Let’s just call it evolution. Take a quick trip to the other side of town, the other side of the country, or even the other side of the world, and it quickly becomes evident that our lives have drastically evolved due to technology.  Gone are the days of walking into any old restaurant and hoping for the best meal. Today we ask our smart devices where we can find the best burritos.  Need a good Pilates class? We quickly check Yelp reviews.  And, instead of filing those business cards we collected in a drawer, we simply go back to the office to connect on LinkedIn. And, here lies the problem. Many of us, especially leaders who aren’t looking for a job, aren’t doing a very good job putting our best profile forward.

“Tacky photos, incomplete sentences, poor spelling or grammar, and a lack of effort placed on who you are and what you stand for vs. just focusing on what you’ve accomplished in your career, are a few turn-offs for our team,” says Brian Mohr, cofounder and managing director of executive search firmY Scouts, based in Scottsdale, Arizona. “LinkedIn reveals how people present themselves to the world of business.”

Mohr’s statements, as an executive recruiting professional, may not be all that surprising, until you consider the level of employee his firm is looking to recruit—the rock star leader who probably doesn’t have their next career move on their radar.

“People don’t clean up their resumes until they’re looking for new work,” adds Mohr. “But, the world has changed now. Companies aren’t recruiting people based on whether or not they need a job. They’re looking for the best people who align with their purpose.”

Read more tips for maximizing your LinkedIn potential here.


Fortune: The Difference Makers: Matching Purpose-Based Leaders and Companies

Around the turn of the 21st century, job boards like monster.com transformed job search by taking it online. Today, LinkedIn and other websites make it easier than ever for recruiters to find job candidates, and keyword search has automated much of what hiring managers do.

Yet Brian Mohr and Max Hansen  felt the technologies failed to recognize candidates’ increased appetite for work that lends a sense of meaning and purpose, and reflects their values. As a result, they built Y Scouts, a digital-centric recruiting platform that helps connect purpose-based leaders with like-minded companies. “We call this whole profession human resources, yet humanness is being removed almost every step of the way,” says Mohr. So in 2012, he and Hansen created this new category of executive search. “Profit is the outcome, not the goal,” says Mohr, now Y Scouts’ managing director. (Hansen is its CEO.) “But when you align people to something with a higher purpose, you end up creating a more profitable business.”

The Scottsdale, AZ-based firm — a Certified B Corporation — focuses greatly on a responsive digital platform that poses questions to candidates that help tease out their passions and values, such as, “If you could create your dream job right now, what would it be, and what kind of problems would you be solving?” These potential job candidates are initially not even told what company is hiring. Says Mohr: “We call it our covert search approach—the less we tell, the better!”

The concept has been successful, with Y Scouts doubling its growth every year since it launched. Its success has been predicated upon a number of technologies, including CRM software called Tracker. “Everything we do is in the cloud,” says Mohr.

As far as the future, Y Scouts is poised to scale its business with the launch of a data-based digital tool, developed with an organizational psychologist, that will allow it zero in even more effectively on purpose-based recruiting. “This new technology will create a diagnostic on a company’s DNA, and when we get that blueprint back, we’ll have candidates do a very similar DNA assessment,” says Mohr. “We believe it’s going to really accelerate the pace of uncovering what makes a company’s culture unique, and the flip side of how candidates align with it.”

Among those who appreciate this attitude is Lenovo, as a company championing “Difference Makers” who are making a positive difference in the world through technology. For Y Scouts, that means integrating new platforms that target Millennials every step of the way. “The world is changing. Millennials are starting to occupy a larger part of the workforce. Businesses must move quickly to recognize that if they don’t satisfy the head and the heart of their people, the best will go work somewhere else,” says Mohr.


Y Scouts is a leadership search firm that finds purpose-aligned and performance-proven leaders to help organizations achieve their missions faster. Ready to supercharge your leadership search and get the right person in your organization? Contact Y Scouts.

Best 6 Product Manager Interview Questions

product manager interview questions

Are you looking to hire a project manager to propel your company forward and make revenue goals come to fruition? Take a look at the top product manager interview questions to pose during your next hiring cycle.

Best Product Manager Interview Questions

Tell me about recent product launches in your last role and how you determined their success or failure.

A good product manager understands the problem he or she is trying to solve before solving it. This means that the candidate will have clear, data-driven metrics for success and failure pinpointed before the work begins. As such, the interviewee should be able to clearly tell you if the launch was a success or a failure.

Walk me through the steps of how you would design “X Product.”

A great candidate would follow up with clarifying questions for this one. This is one of the top product manager interview questions, as it reveals a specific example of a product—and how the interviewee would execute the idea from start to finish.

If you were given two products to build from scratch, but you only had the time & resources to construct one, how would you decide which one to build?

Product strategy means saying “no” sometimes. Product managers should prioritize by selecting the project that will likely generate 80% of the impact and forecast what that impact is. Also, he or she should factor in the SWAG cost in resources, money and other scarce resources before deciding to build.

This system forces a product manager to really think through themes, create a plan, allocate resources, eliminate the need to prioritize different projects against each other, and forecast impact. That’s what makes this one of the top product manager interview questions.

Tell me about your current role on your team, or previous role. Who else did you work with, and how did you work with them?

Excellent product managers will discuss working with analysts and engineers. Listen for indications that the candidate follows a continuing regular and flexible feedback loop with everyone involved.

Share some insight on how you would improve our own product.

This is one of the best product manager questions to ask, because it opens the floor for the candidate to be honest about your product. What works? What doesn’t? How could it be improved? Dig deep on this one; it also reveals if the interviewee has done his or her research.

How would you explain product management to a stranger?

An excellent candidate for the position of product manager would know the ins and outs of the role. Watch out for a candidate who hesitates or speaks in cliches and offers an unclear picture of product management.

Do you have any more product manager interview questions to add to this list? Let us know!


Y Scouts is a leadership search firm that finds purpose-aligned and performance-proven leaders to help organizations achieve their missions faster. Ready to supercharge your leadership search and get the right person in your organization? Contact Y Scouts.

Top 7 Business Development Interview Questions

business development interview questions

If you’re looking to add a business development manager to your company, the first step is to ace the interview. Asking the right business development interview questions ensures you’re choosing the right candidate for the role.

Take a look at some of the most important topics to cover when interviewing a business development manager candidate.

Top Business Development Interview Questions

How has your background prepared you for sales?

One of the best business development interview questions uncovers the candidate’s prior experience in the field. What past roles have led him or her to your company? Furthermore, what specific skills have led the candidate here?

How do you feel about working to targets? Can you share your annual quotas in your most recent job?

A truly talented, driven business development manager would be enthusiastic about working to targets. After all, that is what the role encompasses.

Have you ever lost an opportunity to do business with an important partner? Why? What did you learn from the experience?

A candidate’s failures are just as important to discuss as his or her successes. Thus, when it comes to the best business development interview questions to ask, this is a must.

Pick something in this room and then sell it to me.

Test the candidate’s most basic selling techniques. Seek out a focus on differentiation as well as value. If the interviewee hesitates or can’t present valid selling points for a random item in the room, it’ll reveal traits you may not want in a business development manager.

What does your ideal customer look like?

Ask the candidate to share the kind of customer he or she would love to serve, because this will uncover the interviewee’s priorities for how they seek out clients. It will also show you the way in which the candidate wants customers to react to proposals.

How do you sell unpopular ideas to people? Also, what keeps you motivated in your work?

A great business development candidate would focus on the positive aspects of any idea, and then explain why it will benefit someone. Ideas might be unpopular, but their outcomes are often welcomed once people understand more clearly what is being proposed. Hitting targets and achieving goals should be a business development manager’s primary motivation. Is he or she motivated by wanting to do an excellent job and improve business?

How would you keep in touch with existing customers?

Prospective customers may be a shining twinkle in the eye of a business development manager—but so should current and returning customers. One of the best business development interview questions points the focus at the customers.

Do you have any more business development interview questions to add to this list? Let us know!


Y Scouts is a leadership search firm that finds purpose-aligned and performance-proven leaders to help organizations achieve their missions faster. Ready to supercharge your leadership search and get the right person in your organization? Contact Y Scouts.

Top 8 Marketing Director Interview Questions

Marketing Director Interview Questions

Looking to hire a marketing director to propel your business forward? We’ve collected a few of the top marketing director interview questions to pose to a candidate.

The marketing director is responsible for interpreting market data while developing and guiding the marketing staff. Candidates must create excellent marketing strategies, motivate the team and also pinpoint room for improvement. A candidate should express a true passion for marketing—challenges and all.

Top Marketing Director Interview Questions

What is your current employer doing better than we are?

The candidate should have done his or her research prior to the interview. You might offer this follow-up question to the candidate: “Based on our website and marketing materials, what’s the first thing you would do to enact immediate improvements?”

What was the most comprehensive marketing strategy you created and executed?

This is one of the best marketing director interview questions, as it invites specific anecdotes from the candidate. How did the strategy execution go? What were the candidate’s main challenges in creating the strategy and bringing it to life with a team?

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Every great candidate should have a rough idea of a five-year plan. Is his or her future with your company? Leading a team? Pushing the business forward? This shouldn’t elicit an “I don’t know” response.

How do you work with other departments or teams within the company to accomplish a project?

This is a must on your marketing director interview questions list. Is he or she a true team player? How well does the candidate jive with other teams and departments and working styles? Dig deep on this one.

We have two potential designs for our website homepage, but we have no clue which one to use. The CEO prefers one, and the COO likes the other. Half of the company likes one, and the other half of the company likes the other. Which should we use?

This should bring up many questions from the candidate, such as who the target audience for the homepage is. If the candidate only responds with a blank stare, he or she may not have enough know-how to address the situation. Find out how the candidate might work through this conundrum.

If they do choose one homepage layout and give you a reason, ask the candidate what the goals are for the homepage and how he or she would meet them. 

We have a new product coming out in four months. What would you do in order to launch it?

This will show you how well a candidate understands the various tactics of marketing as well as how to tie them together into a solid plan. You’ll also gain insight into how creative he or she is, and whether the candidate can formulate new ways to do marketing.

Someone just posted a negative review on the company’s Facebook page and you have to respond. How do you handle it?

A great marketing director would handle this situation with grace, openness and an attitude of assistance. Beware the candidate who feels deleting the reviews or ignoring them is the best approach.

Give an example of a campaign that didn’t work out as you had planned.

This is one of the best marketing director interview questions, because it allows the candidate to recognize why a plan went wrong and to learn from the experience. Both analytical and problem solving skills are being scrutinized with this question. Often, campaigns fail as a result of poor research, non-solidified objectives or ineffective communication.

Do you have any more marketing director interview questions to add to this list? Let us know!


Y Scouts is a leadership search firm that finds purpose-aligned and performance-proven leaders to help organizations achieve their missions faster. Ready to supercharge your leadership search and get the right person in your organization? Contact Y Scouts.

Top 8 Social Media Manager Interview Questions

social media manager interview questions

Social Media Manager Interview Questions

Looking to hire a new Social Media Manager, but not sure where to start with getting to know the candidates during the interview? Well, start here—because we have some social media manager interview questions that are sure to get the answers you’re looking for (or not looking for).

Top Social Media Manager Interview Questions

What online communities have you managed in the past?

This question can help you separate the social media manager from the social media user. If the candidate is able to tell you about pages he or she worked on beyond creating a profile and simply posting content to it, then that’s a good sign. You want someone who will tell you they built a relationship with the community through engagement.

How do you stay in tune with the latest updates, innovations and platforms on social media?

Social media never stops changing. It seems like every day there’s a new update. Thus, it’s important for even the absolute best social media guru to stay on top of new trends. If you want to hire someone who will create success in this position, make sure he or she has ways of finding out about and learning the new trends pretty quickly.

Which social media platforms do you recommend for our company and why?

This question is one of the top social media manager interview questions because you can take it farther and request more details. Candidates should always research the company before they head in for an interview, so by asking this question, you can see if they know your online brand. If they know your brand, they should be able to go through each platform and say exactly what you should do for each. And if a candidate can do that, you’ll get to see how well they know their social media.

What would be your first goals for our company?

Social media goals should always go beyond something as simple as getting more likes or followers. You’ll want to hear details from the interviewee. How will the candidate actually acquire those likes and followers? If he or she can walk you through how to grow engagement through various methods, then you’re on the right track toward hiring a great social media manager.

How do you deal with negative comments or a brand reputation crisis?

Social media managers might see many negative comments and reviews, so how a candidate deals with them is obviously important. Furthermore, how he or she defines a crisis could say a lot about the interviewee’s experience. If a social media manager’s idea of a crisis is someone blasting the company in a Facebook post, then chances are he or she hasn’t seen too much action in that area. However, it’s not just about how much this candidate has dealt with in the past. You also want to hear how they would approach any new issues while at your company. What steps would he or she take to calm the situation and control it?

What customer service experience do they have?

This goes along with the last question, in a way. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows on social media. Sometimes, you’re going to have angry people come at you—so it’s important to have some customer service experience. A candidate who is familiar with customer service will prove that he or she knows how to express empathy and compassion. Plus, it shows the candidate can deal with an upset customer in a professional way.

What is your biggest social media failure?

Failure happens. It is how you accept it as well as what you learn from it that’s important. Maybe your candidate does not have any huge failures, but he or she certainly has made some mistakes. Maybe the interviewee posted the wrong information or forgot to post an important announcement—all “fixable” issues. If he or she can still admit to doing those things and describe how to keep from making that mistake in the future, that’s what you really want out of this question.

Tell me a story.

This one’s a bit different—and a bit fun. Social media is all about telling a story about your company, so you’ll want someone who can tell a compelling story. See what your interviewee comes up with. If the candidate can tell it well and make it interesting, then they have the basic skills required to do excel in social media management with your company.

Do you have any more Social Media Manager interview questions to add to this list? Let us know!


Y Scouts is a leadership search firm that finds purpose-aligned and performance-proven leaders to help organizations achieve their missions faster. Ready to supercharge your leadership search and get the right person in your organization? Contact Y Scouts.

Gavin Armstrong Podcast Interview – Founder & CEO of Lucky Iron Fish

gavin armstrong

Today we’re interviewing Gavin Armstrong, the Founder & CEO of Lucky Iron Fish. As a young kid, Gavin was bullied extensively, and he channeled those negative experiences into a strong drive to become a success in the world of high finance. During his university experience, he volunteered in refugee camps in north Kenya and saw firsthand the level of abject poverty, malnutrition and hidden hunger that existed in the world. Determined to make a difference, Gavin decided to channel his drive and energy into addressing this problem. And from that, the Lucky Iron Fish was born—an iron ingot that is making a massive difference in helping cure the major iron deficiency that roughly half the world’s population suffers from.

Among many other awards he and Lucky Iron Fish have received, Gavin was also recognized as the first Canadian to receive the William Jefferson Clinton Award for International Work Against Hunger. His story is one of inspiration, perseverance and hope.

Show Highlights

  • 1:58 – The story of Lucky Iron Fish
  • 3:09 – The worldwide issue of iron deficiency
  • 5:02 – Gavin’s switch from a finance mindset to a humanitarian one
  • 6:31 – The African trip & the university course that led Gavin to tackle iron deficiency
  • 9:04 – How he handles pushback from naysayers
  • 10:19 – How the shape of the Lucky Iron Fish evolved
  • 11:26 – The number of people impacted by Lucky Iron Fish
  • 12:46 – The cost effectiveness of Lucky Iron Fish versus common iron supplements
  • 14:10 – The Unreasonable Institute
  • 15:35 – Why much of Gavin Armstrong’s work focuses on Cambodia
  • 19:30 – Why people come to work at Lucky Iron Fish
  • 21:44 – Awards
  • 23:46 – B Corp certification for Lucky Iron Fish
  • 26:58 – Advice for leaders looking to create impact

Show Links

Gavin Armstrong Podcast Interview

Give an overview of the Lucky Iron Fish project.

The Lucky Iron Fish is a simple health innovation to combat iron deficiency around the world. Quite simply, it’s a specially formulated iron ingot. When boiled for 10 minutes in one liter of water, it can release a significant portion of your daily required iron intake. It’s shaped like a fish, because that’s seen as a symbol of luck and prosperity in different cultures around the world.

How did this iron deficiency story hit your radar?

Iron deficiency is the world’s most common micronutrient issue, negatively impacting the lives of half the world’s population. Though it’s predominantly seen in the developing world, it still is an issue in developed countries, like Canada and the United States. It mainly impacts women and children. I became engaged with malnutrition and the concept of “hidden hunger” when I was volunteering in refugee camps in northern Kenya. There was so much effort going into providing food and meals to the hundreds of thousands of people who were there. But there still was a greater challenge, which was providing nutrition. This would provide long-term, sustained health. Iron deficiency has been labeled a serious threat by World Bank and by the Copenhagen Consensus. I decided to dedicate my life to making a difference.

From your perspective, were you always wired this way, with the desire to create positive impact and make the world a better place?

It was actually quite the opposite. I came to university wanting to get into the world of finance for very selfish reasons. I was bullied quite extensively growing up, and I thought that making a good living and having a job with wealth and affluence would somehow validate myself and prove bullies wrong. It was a field course that took me to Botswana that really opened my eyes to global challenges. It was my first time leaving Canada, really. I had an incredible experience on the trip, but also saw abject poverty and hunger up close. Then, I realized I was on such a selfish trajectory, only to prove some bully wrong who I was probably never even going to see again. I came back and reflected on it—I just couldn’t live that life anymore. I needed to actually do something to make an impact.

This trip you took to Botswana—was this a trip as part of a university course that you took with other folks from your finance background, or was this an eclectic group of individuals from the university?

The course was called “Politics, Science & The Environment.” It was an interdisciplinary first-year seminar course. So students were from all backgrounds. Interestingly, I was the only business student in the group, and for the longest time throughout the semester, I felt out of place. I felt like I didn’t belong. I was too shy to participate because everyone was bringing their science background, political science, engineering. After some of these experiences, I realized they brought their perspective, and no one brought the business perspective. That was where I could fit in. So I started talking about my business education. Some problems came in where business could be a solution, and they didn’t know. So we were complementary to each other. It was such a rewarding experience. It took me a little bit of time to gain confidence in it.

Share any resistance you are met with, and how you respond.

I’ve actually had resistance on both sides. One camp would say, “You should be providing your product for free. If it’s for health, it’s a right that should be given out. Having any kind of profit margin is just wrong.”

We have a “buy one, give one” model, so if you purchase a fish for yourself, we commit to donating one for free to a family in need around the world. We’ve had other people say, “I’m buying this for me, let them buy their own.” So I’ve had arguments on both sides, but I think that those are sort of a small portion of the people we engage with, and the vast majority believe in our mission, are purchasing our products and are making us a sustainable and growing company.

When you launched Lucky Iron Fish, it wasn’t a fish at first. It was a disc or bar-type chunk of iron. Tell us how you’ve evolved into what has become the Lucky Iron Fish.

When the project started, it was being done for research from a student at Guelph named Chris Charles. He was doing research on cooking with cast iron. He used an iron block, or an iron disc. Although that proved scientifically effective, nobody wanted to use it. It was like asking someone to put a piece of garbage in their cooking pot.

So he tried some different shapes, and discovered the symbol of a fish really resonated with people in Cambodia because it was a symbol of luck. He shaped it like a fish. And people wanted to engage with it because they thought it would make them lucky. And then when I got involved, I absolutely loved the story and saw some potential there. But I knew the fish needed to have some innovation to it to make it more sustainable and patentable. I innovated what he called “the Happy Fish” to develop the Lucky Iron Fish, which is the product we sell today.

Since the product has been available, do you keep track of the number of people and families impacted as a result of the Lucky Iron Fish?

We definitely track the distribution of fish. And we work with other NGOs, non-profits as well as clinics to do impact assessments. So when we’re providing the fish, we can actually measure the impact it has and the improvement of the health of the families who are using it. Last year, we sold 70,000 units—meaning we’re in the process right now of giving away an additional 70,000 free fish.

I watched a video that covered the cost comparison of a typical iron deficiency pill, versus the Lucky Iron Fish. Share the cost effectiveness of a Lucky Iron Fish.

In the developing world, iron supplements can cost around $30 per person per year. It’s a pill you have to take every day, and there are also negative side effects—which actually results in the compliance rate of only about 32%. So if you’re giving 100 people pills, only about 32 people are taking them every day.

Lucky Iron Fish costs under $10, depending on the quantity ordered. The whole family can benefit from it, and it’s reusable for five years. Not only that—because there are no negative side effects, and it doesn’t change the taste or color of the food, it has a compliance rate of about 92%. So not only is it astronomically cheaper, people are actually using it on a regular basis—which is making it arguably more effective.

Let’s talk about some of these awards. It’s an impressive list. Just a few: The Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneur Award, Social Innovator of the Year for Babson College, Forbes Top 30 Under 30… You were also the first Canadian to receive the William J. Clinton Award for International Work Against Hunger. Being early in your career, how does it feel to have all this attention in the form of awards and recognition?

Awards, accolades and recognition—you have to be very cautious. We at Lucky Iron Fish are really proud of the awards we’ve received, because they create a platform for us to tell our story. And for me, it’s encouraging to have other young entrepreneurs see the story of how Lucky Iron Fish started and see the success we’re having to really empower and inspire them. But you also want to avoid getting caught up in awards.

One piece of advice I would give to anyone who is starting to receive some awards is, once you get one, you’ll find a lot more want you to apply for them. Some awards do come at a cost, and you’ll hear, “You’ve won the Forbes 30 Under 30. Would you consider applying for this award?” And then when you say “yes,” they send you a bill. It just becomes a bit of an ego piece. We’re strategic in how we think about recognition, because you want to do it for the right reasons. Not just to have something great on your shelf.

For business leaders out there, what advice would you give for those trying to create impact, whether regarding the environment, clients, community, or perhaps something as simple as amongst their team?

I think there are a few takeaways from the Friedman economics model. I think that maximizing shareholder returns isn’t the only mission of a company. Customers are identifying with that and are thus moving toward sustainable brands. Employees are looking to work for companies that have a social mission; they want to feel good about where they work. I think we’re seeing this trend because millennials are becoming more and more of the purchasing power in the market. Companies need to adapt and provide the kind of product these individuals want to have. There’s a huge shift of purchasing power going from the Baby Boomers to the millennials.

The second is, sustainable development goals through the United Nations are really focusing on private sector involvement. There have been studies that show that by achieving those sustainable development goals, which include health and nutrition, sustainable consumption, and protecting the ocean, there will actually be a few trillion dollars put back into the economy. So as a global society, it’s all in our best interests to invest in making the world a better place, to create more economic opportunities. There’s a social mentality as well as a strong return on investment for it.

Listen to Gavin Armstrong and more Built On Purpose podcast guests at yscouts.com/podcast.


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