Communicating a Vision, with Nichole MacDonald

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Audio Version

Welcome to this episode of The CTO Studio! We have a first today: our guest is our first non-CTO to join us! Nichole MacDonald is the founder and CEO of The Sash Bag, and is also in the process of creating an exciting e-commerce solution.

I asked Nichole to be on this episode because she’s the other side of our usual coin: rather than the usual CTO who tells us what they are doing and how they doing it, Nichole is here to talk about how she views the CTO role in her tech company. We dig into that topic and more on today’s edition of The CTO Studio.

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • Why it’s important to say yes first, and work backwards from there.
  • What’s the true role of a CTO?
  • Should you hire someone based on whether you like them or not?
  • Why doesn’t Nichole see herself as a tech entrepreneur?
  • And so much more!

Nichole and I met during start-up week in San Diego. She asked me how her team could convince their CTO to build a specific idea. She said the main issue was her vision wasn’t coming throug: she didn’t know if she wasn’t articulating the vision properly or if they weren’t understanding it. As a result, the questions and solutions that would arise weren’t in line with her vision.

Never having built a tech company nor having a tech background, she assumed there was a language barrier that was getting in the way.

I asked her to explain more about what was happening in her conversations with CTOs that made her feel like the problem was with her.

Nichole says in hindsight it was a trust issue on their part. The problem her idea is based on is easy to describe but the solution her technology offers isn’t the simplest solution. In fact, it is actually the hardest but it’s the best. And she knows it is the best because of her experience in e-commerce.

But everyone she spoke to wanted to simplify the solution down to the most basic option.

In essence, she had a solid idea of the product she wanted to build, but the people she spoke to didn’t necessarily trust she knew what the product needed to be. And she couldn’t find common ground between them to bridge that trust gap.

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On this episode of The CTO Studio, Nichole explains the technology she is building and how she’s taken it from an idea into reality. To fully understand where this idea comes from she also explained how it all began.

About a year ago she was selling her patented Sash bags online through live video. They would display the bag during the video with a number for that bag. If a person wanted to buy it they would comment sold along with the specific number for the bag they wanted to buy. The video went for an hour and Nichole sold 144 bags – about $14k in revenue!

That was great, but what wasn’t so great was the follow up needed after the video.

It took two of her team members 3 days to fulfill those orders: they had to reach out to people, send them an invoice, get them to pay the invoice, and then ship out the bag.

She knew there had to be a better option for live video. Clearly live video was a great opportunity to sell but it needed a much easier sales system to go along with it. That’s where her idea for the world’s first live video e-commerce platform comes in!

To finish up the show, we talk about the importance of having a code of conduct, why we need women in tech, and how can we encourage more diversity in the tech space while ensuring everyone feel safe, welcome and appreciated in tech workplaces, including conferences.

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Building a Company Based On Service First, with Eric Weiss

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Audio Version

Welcome to the inaugural episode of The CTO Studio! Our special guest today shares his journey as a CTO and how that journey has shown him the importance of building a company based on service first.

On this episode, Eric Weiss, former CTO of Rock My World Media, talks about the origins of his love for computers, the Internet and technology in general. We also discuss the creation of the Rock My Run app, when you need a chat bot (and when you don’t), and how to implement user-centric design throughout your company and culture.

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • Is a chat bot artificial intelligence?
  • What is the ultimate reason he has left every company he has joined?
  • What is the main reason for communication breakdowns in a business?
  • Why does he recommend every person within a company take a turn doing customer service?
  • How bad user experiences can lead to greater trust.
  • And so much more!

Eric’s love for computers began as a kid when he tore about his dad’s so he could rebuild it to play video games. He carried that love and passion into his teenage years and then into his collegiate studies.

After graduating and working both on the tech side and the leadership/business side, Eric eventually joined Qualcomm where he worked for 10 years. From there he went the opposite direction and became the CTO of Rock My World Media.

RMWM is a digital health and fitness company. It began with an app for running called Rock My Run, a music app for running and fitness. They expanded that model into creating technology products for health and fitness market. From Rock My Run, the company went into AI chat bots.

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I asked him when is it necessary to have a chat bot? Eric says the only reason to create a chat bot is if you are trying to create an experience that is made better by a chat bot. There are certain use cases where it makes sense.

For example, if you want to count your calories you use the MyFitnessPal app and you type in your meal. But if your item wasn’t in there (say a burrito) you’d have to type in the individual components of the burrito. So it became clunky and hard to use in that instance.

People resolved that issue by developing chat bots that use natural language processing; you could tell the bot you had a burrito and it would break up the ingredients and add them to your daily log. In that example a chat bot makes sense because it created a better user environment.

On today’s show we also talk about what he is doing today. Eric left Rock My World Media recently because he was basically burned out. After some contemplation, he noticed a pattern at all of the companies he joined: a focus on generating profits. Eric says problem emerge when the fundamental goal of a company is to generate profits.

It’s like a musician who goes to a big record label: the label crushes the independence and the integrity and the spirit of the music. The same happens to start-ups when they take on funding from aggressive investors who are focused on increasing profits and growing the bottom line – rather than the users.

Instead, if companies focus on the discipline of user-centric design that will ultimately lead to a product collaboration with users, and the empathy and trust that is created with those users based on that model.

We wrap up today’s episode with how to implement empathy for users and build the company’s mission into every department, as well as the books Eric is reading right now.

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