Craig DeMarco Podcast – Founding Partner of Upward Projects

craig demarco

Today we’re interviewing Craig DeMarco, one of the founding partners of Upward Projects, which is better known for its family of restaurants including Postino Wine Cafe, Joyride Taco House, Windsor, Churn, and Federal Pizza. In this spirited discussion, Craig shares stories related to:

  • Lessons learned watching his entrepreneurial father
  • The power of venturing off the beaten path, when visiting new places
  • The underrated quality of having a beginner’s mindset
  • Challenges of growing a neighborhood-focused business and the creativity that comes from hard times
  • The amazing power of True Hospitality
  • Why having a purpose beyond profit leads to more profit
  • And, some other odds and ends that involve a VW Rabbit, and Alpine Stereo, skateboarding, and a Playboy wall installation

If you live in the Phoenix area, you’ll love this episode. If you don’t live in the Phoenix area, you’ll want to listen in so you know where to eat the next time you visit the Valley of the Sun. And, if you have no plans to be in Phoenix any time soon, well, this episode is a great example of an inspired leader who wakes up every day with one purpose in mind – to raise vibrations. Enjoy this episode with Craig DeMarco.

Show Highlights

  • 2:00 – Craig’s eclectic history — through family moves, childhood stories, entrepreneurial household
  • 4:03 – Valuable influences from his youth
  • 6:37 – Working for someone else versus working for yourself
  • 8:41 – Stinkweeds Records: the first album he purchased
  • 9:40 – Prioritizing visits to non-touristy areas when traveling with his wife
  • 12:03 – Returning from Italy to face a major neighborhood opposition to a restaurant use permit in Phoenix
  • 16:20 – From naysayers to Postino enthusiasts
  • 17:24 – Purpose: “to create spaces and experiences where people can connect”
  • 20:17 – Aiming for a mission over money
  • 21:00 – Failure rate among entrepreneurial ventures in the restaurant industry; prioritizing historically relevant buildings for these restaurants
  • 24:45 – Creating a neighborhood around Central Ave. in Phoenix, complete with bike paths, etc.
  • 27:50 – Opening Postino at Kierland Commons, as it didn’t fit into the classic strategy for location
  • 30:35 – The power of hospitality (such as serving families with young kids,
  • 34:56 – One anecdote of a hardworking server at the Windsor restaurant in Phoenix
  • 37:00 – Prioritizing employees before restaurant guests and seeking authenticity in new hires
  • 39:04 – Having three other company partners: his wife, and another husband-and-wife team
  • 40:55 – The #1 book Craig DeMarco re-reads and recommends
  • 41:29 – Discussing the pursuit of joy
  • 42:57 – The five core values of Upward Projects
  • 44:59 – Billy Joe Armstrong quote & challenging the status quo

Show Links

5 Restaurants To Add To Your Bucket List

Craig DeMarco Interview

Given the gift of hindsight, as you reflect on your dad and his entrepreneurial spirit, was there ever any emphasis that he stressed on the importance of working for yourself versus working for someone else? Or was this something you just naturally fell into?

It was really a life lesson my dad was drilling into me from an early start. He had many entrepreneurial adventures and was up and was down. But he always said, “You always want to control your destiny.” Working for yourself was a very important core value in our family. So I always knew someday I wanted to start my own company. I stumbled into the restaurant business because, when I was 15 years old, I had my first serious, heavy crush on this gal named Jamie Odell, and wanted to take her out, and realized that if I wanted to ask her on a date I needed a car.

Unfortunately, my parents didn’t have those kind of resources. Even if they did, I don’t know if they would have bought me one. So I rode my BMX bike down to a restaurant and got a job washing dishes, saved up $1200, spent $400 of it on a Volkswagen rabbit, put an $800 alpine stereo in it. It seems appropriate at the age, to have your stereo be more than twice the amount of your car. I’m off on a tangent here but I did end up taking her out on a date, on my 16th birthday, in my rabbit with my alpine stereo to see Modern English, the one hit wonder band that sang “I Melt With You.” So at least I could say I was successful in closing that deal with that first crush.

During the first few years of your marriage, you and your wife Chris traveled a lot. You guys really prioritized visiting the non-touristy, more local-type spots when visiting major destinations. Was that by design? Was there a specific experience that had led you to follow this ‘off the beaten path’ type of philosophy?

My wife injected me with the travel bug, wanderlust, and intellectual curiosity and discovery. She’s always been like that. When we were together traveling, she was always doing research even pre-Internet. She researched Zagat guides or whatever she could get her hands on, and found the coolest, newest, trendiest places to go and see. We love getting off the beaten path as well as having those discovery moments. My favorite story is how Postino came into existence.

For my 30th birthday, my wife and I decided we were going to go to Italy with my mom and dad to celebrate. We’d already been there and done most of the major cities and tourist attractions. So we decided we wanted to see how the locals lived and get lost on a crazy adventure.

Chris Bianco, from Pizzeria Bianco’s name, suggested we check out Luca, a city north of Florence. We found a farmhouse, rented it, flew over it. I rented an Alfa Romeo and drove around the North of Italy for a week or so getting lost in little towns and kind of just meandering around. That’s what led to the spark to do Postino. We had this amazing experience in these little towns where people had a local hangout where wine was accessible and not snobby and affordable. We came back to Arizona looking for that, and it didn’t exist — so we created it.  

Let’s transition. I wanna talk about the concept of hospitality, and I want to focus on Danny Meyer, whose famous book “Setting the Table” talks about the power of hospitality. He says hospitality exists when something happens for you and it is absent when something happens to you. I’d love to get your take on this philosophy of hospitality.

I ate at Union Square cafe in Manhattan last Tuesday, with my wife, my parents, and my kids, and Danny was in the restaurant. I’ve been a fan since day one, fortunate enough to meet him. So, here’s my take on hospitality, and this is what I tell a lot of the new leadership and it’s very simple. Take a circle and cut it into 3 equal pieces. You’ve got quality products, you’ve got technically-sound service, and you’ve got connections the guest. Start with the quality products — essentially manufacturing. We take raw materials, add some value to them, plate them, and sell them for a profit. We have total control over raw materials we’re using, and we don’t compromise on quality — so our team members have a high level of pride in what they’re serving and they care about it.

The second piece to this puzzle? Technically-sound service. Our training keeps getting better and better, giving you the skillset to do the job effectively. It’s kind of “hit the ball and run to first base.” Take the order correctly, enter it into the computer correctly, deliver it correctly, make sure the guest doesn’t feel like they’re in a business transaction. We have smooth, smooth service.

The third piece, the connection to the guests, is that it’s our obligation, responsibility, and pleasure to raise someone’s vibration. And I tell the team all the time when someone comes to visit us, we’re going to get them for 50-70 minutes at lunch, maybe 75-100 minutes at dinner time, and they’re coming in and life’s tough, they have a flat tire, their kid got bad grades, they’ve gotta get a root canal, who knows. Life’s just up and down, and it’s our job to take them from where they’re at and when they leave, be in a better place.

We need to raise their vibration in a positive way, and that also takes creating those moments and recognizing them and being special, making them feel important, finding ways to interject them with positive energy. And the staff always says to me, if we keep giving our positive energy away to all of the guests, aren’t we going to be depleted? And I say no, that’s really the most fun thing about this, the universe rewards you with more positive energy when you give it out, almost on like a ten X level. So, when someone visits us, yes — we’re going to provide you with great quality products, yes we’re going to give you smooth service, but more than that, we’re going to give you connections.

Katharine Halpin Podcast Interview – President & CEO of The Halpin Co.

katharine halpin

Today, I’m interviewing Katharine Halpin, President & CEO of The Halpin Co. Katharine grew up in the “mad men” era of Mississippi in the 1960s, assuming a great amount of leadership responsibility at a very young age through the oversight of her four siblings, as well as through her working hands-on with clients at her father’s small CPA firm. She carried the knowledge she gained when she “escaped” Mississippi to work with Touche Ross in Dallas, which is now part of Deloitte.

Katharine believes we’re born with innate and unique skillsets, and that leadership, creativity, and innovation are her personal strengths. She’s always been itching to channel them appropriately. This desire also led her to the significant work with which she’s currently engaged. Centered around the concept of organizational-wide alignment, Katharine wrote and published “Alignment for Success: Bringing Out the Best in Yourself, Your Teams and Your Company.”

In it, she offers advice about the importance of leadership and self-diligence. She also notes how these things contribute to successful and positive business results. She presents several helpful ideas about time-management and self-care. They both have had a profound effect on business and organizational efficiency. Currently, Katharine is overseeing The Halpin Co., where she focuses on dynamic team-building and cementing sustainable practices into businesses.

Listen to this episode and more interviews from the Built On Purpose Podcast at yscouts.com/podcast.

Paul Spiegelman Podcast Interview – Chief Culture Officer at Stericycle

paul spiegelman

Today I am interviewing Paul Spiegelman, the chief culture officer for Stericycle, a globally traded public company with over 25,000 employees. Prior to that, he was the founder & CEO of BerylHealth, a company that won nine awards as a best place to work. Paul is a New York Times bestselling author of three books about culture and employee engagement, and he speaks often on the topic to convince other businesses about the power of values-driven leadership and the ROI of culture. He also acts as CEO of the Small Giants Community, a membership organization of small-business leaders who believe that as a business you don’t have to be big to have a big impact.

Paul says the relationship between culture and building a great business has become a passion for him, discussing his journey from leaving a career at a law firm to collaborate with his two brothers to create a revolutionary new company. He reflects on the values his parents instilled in him and his brothers, and how it renders them kind, caring people with good core values and a strong potential for leadership.

Paul genuinely believes culture lies in both the grassroots origins and the outreach strategies of the business. He also feels companies flourish by selling who they are, not what they do. This episode is full of endearing lessons about family, teamwork, and genuine leadership that everybody will appreciate. Enjoy this interview with Paul Spiegelman.

Show Highlights

  • 2:10 – Paul Spiegelman practiced law before moving into the call center space. How culture played into it
  • 7:38 – Family feelings on company culture
  • 10:06 – Story of a major, multimillion-dollar call center he was trying to win a contract for
  • 19:48 – Why it’s hard for seasoned leaders to express how much they care
  • 23:52 – Work/life balance vs. work/life integration
  • 27:50 – Acquisition of BerylHealth by Stericycle
  • 45:17 – Treating culture like a process, and being CEO of Small Giants Community
  • 49:05 – Time frame of Small Giants (three years)
  • 53:18 – Recruiting
  • 57:32 – Purpose, Appreciation & Learning pillars – focus on learning to make a transition into becoming more present with family, work, etc.

Show Links

Paul Spiegelman Podcast

You practiced law for a couple of years before starting BerylHealth, a call center focused in the healthcare space. I could probably arrive at the conclusion that you would never become such a culture champion. How did you truly become an ambassador for the positive effects of culture and what it’s done for the businesses you have been part of?

It’s safe to say that neither industry is probably known for really high cultural standards or internal engagement. The idea of culture and its relation to building a great business certainly became a passion of mine over the years. It’s something that grew over time and wasn’t necessarily by initial design. When I left the law practice to start my business with my two brothers, we did it because we knew we wanted to do something in business together at some point. It really wasn’t a call center business; it was a business to help people with medical conditions get help at home in the case of an emergency.

The “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercials — that wasn’t us, because we couldn’t afford to sell to the public, but the idea was the same. We could help people who had medical emergencies in their home, and we could send help out. We started in an 8×10 room, and we had a cot that one of us would sleep in because we were 24/7 day one. Then, we would put a receiving unit in their home that would dial our response center. We went out to start to sell those services to local hospitals so they could offer the service to patients leaving the hospital.

Actually, we didn’t know what a call center was; we were kind of a monitoring center. I would say that the whole cultural evolution began a couple years into the business, when we had 10 or 12 employees. Employees would comment, “This is a really fun place to work. We always do things together, socialize together, and you and your brothers seem to genuinely care about us as people.”

Then, we started to ask questions about where they used to work. The comments started to flow about how poorly they were treated. Our approach seemed unique. We didn’t know why — we can only conclude that our parents raised their boys to be good people and to have core values. My dad always said, “Always be nice, never burn a bridge, and treat people with respect.”

Not everyone acts that way in business. But we had something special — so we built on it. “We’re going to do more and more of this.”

Leadership is collaborative, team-focused and culture-focused.

Why do you think it’s so hard for some leaders — ones that have been around the block, who have some decent tenure under their belt — to express how much they care?

In my experience, it seems there are three different types of people. For the first type, it comes pretty naturally to them to care. It’s not something they have to fight to do or to express.

Then, you have the one who gets it, but they don’t know how to do this stuff. Teach me how to do it.

Then, the third doesn’t care at all. That’s been interesting for me — and I thought there was this third group. I sold my company to a large public company. For the last four years I’ve been the chief culture officer there. So, I’ve gotten to know many of these corporate executives who grew up in the “big company” world, and they were much more comfortable in the command-and-control-style of leadership. In many cases, I thought those people were jerks and didn’t care at all. When I got to know them, I found that they do indeed care and they have hearts — they just don’t know any different. Now, we’re challenging them by saying, “Did you realize there’s another way?”

Instead of just focusing on hitting the numbers, would you be open to the idea of focusing on your team? Then, you’d get this warm-and-fuzzy feeling about what it’s like to impact people’s lives. So, over the years, I’ve come to realize there are probably just the two camps.

Talk about the notion of work-life balance. Some of these leaders grew up in a time and place where this was a big emphasis. “I have to be a persona that fits my job title when I go to work, and then when I go home, I get to be husband, or father, or whatever my role is there.” There was a very clear line between my “work” self and my “rest of my life” self. Where do you fall on this notion of work-life balance?

I don’t think there’s any such thing. So I just call it “life.” Obviously, our smartphones keep us connected 24/7 to what’s going on with each other. I love that. Yes, we need an appropriate balance so that we pay attention (both to work and to our family). That’s why we use that message while building the culture in the company to say that we’re going to incorporate home and work together. Whether it be the quarterly newsletter that we would send to the homes of our employees with coloring books in the end for the kids to fill out. Or the Family Day, where we would bring in carnival rides to the parking lot and invite the families to come and participate. Or the annual contest for the T-shirt design that came from kids participating.

We’re there to not only be their work life, but also in many cases to be their social life, too. We’re in a call center with a lot of single moms, people making $29,000 or $30,000 a year living paycheck to paycheck. The least we can do is show that we care about them and also involve them and their families. Some of their best friends and relationships are with people at work — so let’s have Movie Night and get people together. We encourage people to socialize with each other.

The person who’s 100% focused on work, who comes home and perhaps doesn’t fully pay attention to what the kids are saying, and your spouse saying, “Snap out of it!” — that means I don’t have the correct balance.

With the acquisition of BerylHealth by Stericycle back in 2012, I imagine you had many thoughts racing through your mind. You’d been a part of BerylHealth, founding it, and running it for what would’ve been 30 years in 2015. What was going through your mind as the entrepreneur, as one of the founders, as the leader of the business being acquired?

Up until we sold, we never had any outside capital in the business. So I’m very proud of that, and I think it contributed to how we were able to build our culture. There came a time around 2009 when a few things were happening. One, the business had really grown and we saw a greater opportunity to accelerate our growth in healthcare. I had also diversified my own time; I had written a couple of books, I’d been doing some speaking, I had started some other organizations. So I saw some opportunity for me to do some other things.

We decided to raise some outside capital (hiring an investment banker, putting a book together, and it ended up getting a lot of attention at the time. It wasn’t a great time for deal-making, but we indeed got 20 bids on the company. We ultimately signed a letter of intent to sell the company to a private equity firm.

But the kind of questions you were just asking really hit me hard during the due-diligence phase. I started to question whether the culture of the organization could be sustained in a private equity-type environment. I also realized that if I was going to leave one legacy for myself, my family and the company, it was the survival of the culture we’d built. Or else, I’d be a hypocrite. Luckily at that time, we didn’t need that money to grow, but it was very opportunistic for us to go down that road. At the eleventh hour, with about two weeks to go, I walked away from the deal. While I can’t say that private equity is wrong, it’s really not compatible with the business we had built.

So, I went back to work and told everyone. The management team was mostly saying, now what do we do? How are we going to grow? I said we would build a new plan on our own. I started to rack up some debt, we maxed out our $5 million line of credit, I put money back into the company for the first time ever. We actually lowered our profitability by 50%. We needed to achieve a much more robust goal. But then, Stericycle approached me in November 2011. I’d never heard of this company. It turns out, they’re a waste disposal company in healthcare. Why would they be calling us?

I learned quickly that these big companies diversify, expand and get into new areas. A few years prior, they got into the patient communication business. My initial reaction was, Thanks but no thanks. I said from a valuation standpoint it wouldn’t even make sense, because we invested all this money. They kept at it. The initial offer was quite attractive — but we didn’t stop there; it took us almost a year to do it. I had several considerations — not just financial — because I didn’t want our culture swallowed up.

The turning point for me was meeting the CEO of Stericycle. He pulled me aside, and he said, “Paul, I’ve heard a lot about your company, your culture and what you’ve built. It sounds like you guys have a wonderful reputation. I don’t know if we can get a deal done with you guys, but I want to be honest with you: Our company has had tremendous financial success. We’ve been a Wall Street darling for years, very customer-focused. But we have never really looked at the employee as a key stakeholder in the business. As the new CEO, I want that to be my stamp on the business. I want to learn from you. Would you be open to me coming down to Texas see if I can learn what you’ve done?”

I said, “Of course! I’d be honored.” Two weeks later, he came down, we spent some time together, and I thought, this guy gets it. Once that started and I built other relationships in the business — those ensuing months — I thought, wow, our company culture would survive within this larger organization.”

For Paul Spiegelman and other podcast interviews from the Built On Purpose Podcast, please visit 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.

Danielle Harlan – Founder & CEO, Center for Advancing Leadership & Human Potential

danielle harlan

Danielle Harlan is the author of “The New Alpha: Join the Rising Movement of Influencers and Changemakers who are Redefining Leadership.” She’s also the Founder & CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership & Human Potential. 

Growing up in a small oceanside town in California, Danielle’s perspective was slowly shaped by the conglomerate of open-minded, thoughtful people surrounding her, inviting her to question how she can go above and beyond individual success to truly benefit her community. Before pursuing a masters and PhD, Danielle worked for Teach for America and taught special education in a fairly under-resourced area of San Jose. She feels like she derived purpose and also gave back to her community through this area of strenuous, yet rewarding, work.

Danielle says leadership and human potential have been woven into everything she’s done, right down to her doctorate-level dissertation for a Stanford PhD in political science. After earning several degrees as the first person in her family to graduate from college, Danielle wrote and published her book, as well as founded The Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential. Danielle’s work as both an author and CEO focuses on what our responsibilities as human beings are to others. They also focus on how we can maximize our impact on others through leadership.

Show Highlights

  • 3:17 – Growing up
  • 5:56 – Teach for America: How Danielle decided to teach kids with special needs
  • 11:50 – Challenges with the curriculum when teaching
  • 14:20 – The Carnegie Foundation
  • 17:38 – Breaking away from that impactful work to pursue social science & leadership
  • 23:55 – Data from Gallup: getting better employment satisfaction scores & productivity
  • 25:16 – The “Traditional Alpha” leader
  • 29:00 – The three core focuses of “The New Alpha” book: personal excellence
  • 39:50 – How to best help a leader who’s accustomed to traditional leadership styles
  • 45:30 – The most selfish thing leaders can do
  • 48:00 – Prioritization of health, wellness and stress management in leadership roles
  • 59:00 – A Grateful Dead comparison in marketing
  • 1:05:50 – Danielle’s hidden talent

Show Links

Danielle Harlan Podcast Interview

Give us a sense of who you are as an individual, in addition to this great work you and your team are working on. 

I’m here actually in the bay area in California, but I grew up in a little coastal town called Big Sur. And it’s interesting because at the time I just thought, “Oh, it’s a beautiful place to grow up by the ocean and the redwoods and all that.”

But Big Sur is actually known as the seed of the human potential movement. There was a lot going on there in the ’60s and ’70s. But I grew up in that community of open-minded, thoughtful people. They really thought, “What are my roles and my responsibilities to my community?” It certainly shaped my perspectives as an adult in a deep way.

I went on to the University of Maryland on the east coast. I became the first person in my family to graduate from college. Anyone who’s had the opportunity to attend college can sort of attest to this, but it was a point in my life where I realized, “Wow, what an incredible amount of privilege to have this education, to be surrounded by so many amazing people and great organizations.”

That also really got me thinking about my responsibilities to others, now that I have this privilege.

And so through University of Maryland, I found out about Teach for America, became a special education teacher and then went on to grad school because I really wanted to better understand the issues. I did my doctorate and master’s degree at Stanford, and studied political science.

All of this seemed so random; at the time, I was just following gut instincts, but I think leadership and human potential were woven into everything that I did — even down to what my dissertation was on in political science — I looked at leadership on the Supreme Court, group decision-making, all of these things that at the time just seemed interesting and cool. But later, that research came into play in such deep ways: my leadership roles, and then also writing “The New Alpha” book and also founding the Center for Leadership & Human Potential. It revolved around how leadership can really help us maximize our impact in the world and solve the problems that we care most about.

At what point did the Teach for America pursuit come into play?

I remember sitting in the car with my mom in the early ’90s right when Teach for America was new. She said, Hey, I heard about this program for teachers. I honestly didn’t even think about that conversation until so many years later when I was in college, when there were Teach for America recruiters on campus.

The reason I connected with the ideas behind that organization and the reason I still do stems from being the first in my family to graduate from college. I saw how that experience gave me access to resources, jobs and a network that many people didn’t have. Many smart people didn’t have the opportunities I did, who were probably much more intelligent and competent than I was. Just because I have this college degree my world is forever different. And so I felt like I wanted to really pay it forward. I got a lot through great mentors and teachers and professors. Being able to give back gave me a sense of purpose and still does.

One of your first teaching gigs happened at a relatively under-resourced part of San Jose, and it involved teaching kindergarten students with special needs. So, why special needs? Why in an under-resourced area?

I remember when I was a special ed teacher full time, people were always like, “You must be a saint.”

I’ll tell you honestly that when I joined Teach for America I didn’t think I’d teach special ed. I had a really naive view of what special education was. Overall, I just assumed it was the most challenging and most intense. Technically, there are many categories of learning differences that fall into special education. So, when I got to San Jose, they said they assigned me to the English and Social Studies middle school. Every teacher’s dream, right?

But they actually said they have a really high need in special education. “Would you consider doing that?” My background wasn’t in education. The school district and Teach for America said they’d train me, and they could give me the skills and confidence needed to be successful. That is, if I was willing to do it.

Teach for America itself is a two-year commitment, and I knew I wasn’t going to be a full-time classroom teacher. I didn’t know that teaching would become a deep, integral part of myself as a human being and a leader. I thought, well, I have a limited amount of time in this experience. So I want to throw myself in in a way that I feel is going to make the biggest impact.

And it turns out that special education was a great choice and a great way to make that impact.

Also personally, I got so much more out of that experience than if I’d chosen something less challenging. Working with students with learning differences challenged me to find ways to help people reach their potential that didn’t follow the conventional path. All of them were so brilliant and so eager to learn and improve. It was just a deeply fulfilling experience. When I look back on my career and all the different things I’ve done and the impact I’ve had in different domains, certainly being a special ed teacher was one of the most meaningful and impactful aspects of my career.


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.

Best 7 Research And Development Interview Questions

research and development interview questions

If you’re looking to hire an R&D professional, we have the rundown on the best research and development interview questions to ask during your next hiring cycle. An R&D role involves the innovation, introduction and improvement of products and processes — so a great hire can truly propel your company forward.

Top 7 Research And Development Interview Questions

What fuels your competitive drive at work?

Research and development roles require at least some sense of healthy competition, particularly against business competitors. Does the candidate have a drive to succeed? Does he or she have both the skills and the passion for the work?

Explain how you have used research methods in prior roles.

You can follow this up by asking, “What tools or programs would you need at your disposal on Day One of this role in order to succeed?” Dig deep to find what research methods (and even specific technology) the candidate has used to make products or processes more efficient.

In your opinion, which is the better approach: Working quickly to develop a good solution or taking more time to craft an excellent solution?

This is one of the top research and development interview questions, as it reveals how the candidate performs under pressure. Much of the role involves working under deadlines. But how does the quality of the work match up to those pressures? This question will help you discover if the candidate can balance various factors, such as time-sensitivity and quality of results.

Elaborate on the most challenging project you have worked on. What challenges are you looking for in this role with our company?

An excellent R&D professional would never wish to remain stagnant or avoid challenging projects and situations. This question will clue you in to the intensity of projects the candidate has completed, as well as any aspirations to grow he or she may have.

What do you know about our company, and what would you bring to the table in this role?

All candidates should have researched your company. It’d be laughable any other way — a research and development professional showing up to the interview without any research. Does he or she have any improvements in mind for your company? Top-tier R&D professionals are especially astute at formulating better and better ideas and products. Thus, the candidate should have some fresh ideas to bring to the interview based on his or her research about your business.

Have you ever faced difficulties in convincing others of your own ideas? What did you do to get them on board?

This is one of the best research and development interview questions, as it reveals the candidate’s leadership style and ability to promote ideas before bringing them to fruition. How does he or she go about informing team members or other departments (see below) of blueprints for a great project? What happened after convincing fellow employees your idea was valid?

How would you cooperate with other departments? Which other departments would be most crucial for your work, or would influence your role most?

How effectively does the R&D candidate work with other teams and departments to achieve goals? This question is a must. You can also conduct a reference check following the interview to see how the candidate fared with other coworkers. A research and development professional shouldn’t just work solo; collaboration is essential to creating a positive culture and fostering positive business results.

What other research and development interview questions would you add to this list? Let us know — and contact the professionals at Y Scouts when hiring for R&D roles.


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.

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.

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.

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