Ben Elowitz: Blue Nile Co-founder Turned Start-up Rabbi
Ben Elowitz is the Co-founder and Strategic Director at Zeitworks, an enterprise software company that helps businesses reduce costs, boost capacity, and improve efficiency with AI powered business process intelligence. He is an investor, entrepreneur, and a senior adviser to CEOs and executive teams, helping them with strategic challenges, leadership, organizational design, fundraising, and M&A. As an expert in solving growth challenges, Ben’s friends refer to him as the startup rabbi. Previously, Ben founded multiple VC-backed startups, including Wetpaint, which was acquired by Viggle, Inc., and Blue Nile, which he took public.
Welcome to The Future is Borderless podcast with David Nilssen, we feature top entrepreneurs and thought leaders from around the world, those who bring a global mindset and a unique perspective to their life and business. Now, let’s get started with the show.
David Nilssen 0:23
Hi, David Nilssen here and I am the host of this podcast. I started The Future is Borderless as a way to connect with business leaders from around the world who I believe embrace a borderless mindset. A place where we can make space to exchange ideas, cast light on new innovations and even share best practices and not just professionally but also personally, the goal here is to ultimately help us to lead and to grow in a world that just continues to evolve rapidly. Now, this episode is brought to you by Doxa Talent. Doxa Talent helps businesses to source full time highly skilled workers from all over the world. And as a result, these companies can scale faster increase margin and improve culture. To learn more about Doxa Talent and how they can help you leverage borderless talent, go to doxatalent.com. Okay, onto the show. So I’m really excited for this particular podcast. Ben Elowitz, is an entrepreneur, a senior adviser to CEOs and executive teams. He advises primarily startup CEOs and management teams on their most strategic challenges, things like leadership and organizational design, fundraising, and M&A. And ultimately, he also works with them to sort of guide them through the most difficult situations with their boards, which are primarily venture-backed. Now Ben’s friends refer to him as the startup rabbi, because he’s known as sort of digging into the deepest part of a challenge or opportunity, and then working through it in locked arms with his clients. But prior to this work, Ben started many businesses, including Wetpaint, which ended an acquisition and Blue Nile, which he took public. Now he recently launched a new company Zeitworks, which is helping to reduce costs, boost capacity, and continuously improve efficiency with AI-powered business process intelligence. So with that, Ben, thanks for being on the podcast.
Ben Elowitz 2:14
My pleasure. Thanks.
David Nilssen 2:16
All right, well, I’d love to just sort of jump in and talk a little bit about your entrepreneurial journey. You’ve obviously played a massive part in taking actually two companies public, but the one that’s probably the most recognizable to the audience would be bluenile.com, which, as I understand, is going to do about $600 million in sales this year. Tell me, how did you come up with that idea?
Ben Elowitz 2:35
Yeah, at the time, when we were getting started on Blue Nile, a friend of mine was starting to consider buying an engagement ring to propose to his girlfriend at the time. And it was actually through another friend who had said, hey, you should look online at some of these websites. And this, by the way, is back in 1999, when E-commerce was still pretty brand new, it was not the way you’d start every purchase quite the opposite. Like you’re a pioneer, if you are starting a purchase on E-commerce, especially for something that was going to cost $7,000 that everybody had told me, said for a century, the best way to buy is through a friend in the business, right. And so as my friend was starting to look at the world of the internet, and some of the purveyors who are out there, it was an incredible light-bulb moment of seeing just that there were already businesses that were starting to sell diamonds on the internet, that this product could be purchased sight unseen, that you can offer and build a brand around it that really gave consumers the security and ultimately have a better offering than traditional jewelers did. So that was how we got started.
David Nilssen 3:45
Wow, that’s so funny, as you were saying that I was thinking to myself, you’re right, I mean, back then the idea of buying a big purchase, which I would put a diamond ring, as one of those things online was really, really just didn’t happen very often is sort of like buying real estate without actually seeing that. But you’re actually seeing that the market is evolving. What was one of the big challenge that you guys dealt with? I mean, with the sort of educating the consumer and helping them feel comfortable with making that big purchase online?
Ben Elowitz 4:12
Yeah, I mean, at the time, we did not start out with our own brand. Blue Nile is now been around for more than 20 years. And so people know it. But when you’re first getting started, you kind of have to look to how do you credential yourself by using other people’s brands. So things that were really important using the GIA which was the industry that certified diamonds, and making sure that we were really reinforcing their certification value is important. Putting a FedEx logo on the website and shipping every single package with FedEx gave people a sense of security that, wow, if I order this online, and it’s shipped in transit, do I have to worry about it? So we used a lot of credentials for other people’s brands that then kind of cast a halo on our own. And then over time, we invested pretty heavily in building our own brand. I will say like in 1999, we were really lucky when we started, the capital markets were extremely excited about what we were doing, we had the advantage of being able to raise a lot of money to do TV advertising. And Carter cast who was kind of virtual co-founder of Blue Nile put together, brilliant advertising, and we got to spend millions on it. Now that’s a luxury most people don’t have an impact few companies have had since that TV advertising all the way to the product photography, and the quality of our products all made an impression on people and created security and created a brand.
David Nilssen 5:32
Yeah, it’s funny, you were fairly young when you guys started that business and took it public, I’d love to jump into what I would call the 5%. Because, most of the time when I talk to founders, co-founders, entrepreneurs, what have you, they struggle with this thing that people have sort of coined the imposter syndrome. Curious if that’s ever been something that you were afflicted by.
Ben Elowitz 5:57
I’m happy to say I have so many insecurities. And that’s one of the biggest. I think, for me, I struggle with competence of like, knowing where I am competent, and where I’m not. And sometimes I’m off in the direction of thinking I’m more competent than I am. And sometimes I have, often the other direction. You know, Blue Nile, we were getting started. And there was, on the one hand, this incredible opportunity to say nobody knows anything about this category, E-commerce in 1999, I was actually really advantaged founder, because previously, I had already helped build an E-commerce business fatbrain.com that had already gone public. So I was one of the few timers in 1999. Second timers, I should say. And so on the one hand, I got to have some experience. But on the other hand, it was helpful that everybody could kind of embrace that insecurity. Looking back, I definitely see times where I had strong points of view that were well beyond how strong I could have deserved to have them. And it can be pretty painful, because you actually have to project some confidence to when you’re getting something started. You have to put stakes in the ground and make decisions. So it is a tightrope, I think.
David Nilssen 7:11
Yeah, well, speaking of ropes, I mean, it was ever a time that you guys felt like you were against the ropes, like what was one of the more difficult challenges that you dealt with, through that experience?
Ben Elowitz 7:21
The changing of environments, which kind of strikes a chord for right now, right where the market suddenly turned in 2000 from being incredibly favorable to companies like ours, to being incredibly suspicious and critical of companies like ours. Made capital go from cheap and available to absolutely unavailable. And it’s like slamming on the brakes of a car. Or even worse, it’s just seeing something coming up ahead that you realize you’re going to have to avoid. And that by far was probably the tensest moment in the journey was realizing that the cheap capital that we had was not going to last forever.
David Nilssen 7:58
Yeah. Well, I think I’ve read this right, when you were part of the Fat Brain team that took that company public, then you went to Blue Nile, then you started Wetpaint, which eventually sold as well, at some point in that journey. And of course, you started Zeitworks, which I shared in the introduction. And I do want to get to that at some point here in the conversation. But at some point in that journey, you started to make the shift away from operating businesses to advising and sort of helping new CEOs or even seasoned CEOs sort of navigate that environment. So what made you want to sort of make that transition and start working directly with the CEOs?
Ben Elowitz 7:58
Yeah, if I’m really honest and really personal about it. The CEO job is excruciating, there’s no harder job out there. And running a company and bearing all that responsibility for me was always a 24-hour a day job. And every hour, I wasn’t really putting everything I had into it was an hour that I would feel bad about. What I found is that there’s kind of back to your question about imposter syndrome, there’s the freedom to say, hey, I can be helpful. And there’s things that I know and things that I don’t know, without the responsibility of still having to figure them out. That as an advisor and partner with people, I’m able to help them work through and find the right decisions for them and their business. That is incredibly freeing and fulfilling. And at the same time, I feel like I’m able to have more impact by working with a handful of CEOs and executive teams at a time. We’re kind of handful of boards and really work on the very most important decisions. So it’s been kind of a dual prong of working out well for me. I’ve got a six-year-old and I get to spend plenty of time with now. While at the same time, I also get to have a bigger and bigger impact on businesses.
David Nilssen 9:50
Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. I’m glad you actually brought that up because I think a lot of people look at entrepreneurs CEOs as it being a glamorous role and to be fair, there are some certain benefits that come from that. But definitely is one that is hard to turn off for many. And I would put myself in that boat as well. As an advisor, I love this. There’s a book that I love that’s called Organizational Physics. And one of the things that the author Lex Sisney talks about who was actually a guest on our show, a couple months ago, he talks about the concept of genius zone. So as an advisor, like, where do you think is your zone of genius?
Ben Elowitz 10:28
Things that people really seek me out for which is kind of an easier question to answer than patting myself on the back. There’s a handful of them, capital planning, which is a combination of figuring out, what business am I really in? And what are the investment bets that I’m making here? And what are the capital sources that are going to let me keep making those bets so that that’s all coherent, is probably the most important. So the whole idea saying that I need to distill down what’s the very most important thing I’m working on? And how am I going to make that incredibly successful economically and for the impact I want in my business, that’s probably the number one and then from there. Number two, we get a lot into how to raise capital from investors, particularly venture investors, which is where I’m more specialized across the companies I’ve been involved in as a principal, we’ve raised over $200 million in capital. And if you include the ones I’ve advised on, there’s probably another 60, or 70, fundraisers that I’ve advised on as well. So I have a lot of expertise there. And what I’ll say about that, is that the thing that I think I’ve learned the best is how to have a real 360-degree view. The entrepreneur is always facing forward looking at their business and trying to figure out what to do from the entrepreneurs eyes, from a personal perspective, that has to work for the entrepreneur and the company. But there’s a whole 180 degrees on the other side of figuring out what makes us investable for someone else to put capital in. And so I say a lot of times that when you’re trying to figure that out, it’s not that useful to just keep saying, keep telling people what you’re telling them. For investors, you kind of have to figure out know, what’s the narrative that works for them. That is the reason they’re going to invest. And it’s usually different from an entrepreneur. So it’s a ton and ton a ton of fun. I I also use the analogy that if you want to make a great movie, don’t ask a movie critic for feedback. So if you’re looking to raise capital, don’t ask investors for feedback. They are critics. It’s like asking Leonard Martin, how to make a movie, but you’d rather do is ask like Martin Scorsese, or Francis Ford Coppola, like, how do I do this? Because Leonard Martin doesn’t know how to hold a camera. And so I think one of the things I really enjoy is being able to help entrepreneurs with that kind of directors eye view of how do we craft this story?
David Nilssen 12:47
That’s a great analogy, especially for someone like me, who’s a total movie buff. So hey, I guess question about that, though, when you start to work with these teams and try to help them identify what’s the real sort of investable opportunity, like is there a specific methodology that you take them through, or is each one unique?
Ben Elowitz 13:05
Some of each actually, the kind of steps in the process are always the same. But every business is unique, because figuring out what the business model is, what really makes it work is particular to the business. And certainly you see investors make mistakes where they think they’ve seen that movie before, to keep with our analogy, and they apply old decisions that work for another business to a new company, and try to give that as advice. And it doesn’t always work because every company is unique, the customer’s unique. There’s a handful of things that are incredibly valuable one, making sure that the CEO and management team learn how to present themselves with impeccable credibility and working on those self-intros. I have never done a self-intro exercise that hasn’t paid back 10x with any management team, where we start to workshop, how do you present yourself and build credibility from the start? And then similarly, the whole process of figuring out like, okay, if I set aside my own point of view as the leader of this business, what is it that makes it investable? And how do I play after my assets, and be honest, but not overly focused on my difficulties, the challenges I’m going to face so that I can engage somebody in a conversation? That always helps.
David Nilssen 14:17
Yeah. So let’s say you’ve gone through that process a you’ve sort of helped somebody think about, not only how to sort of portray themselves, but also the business opportunity itself. When it comes to actually going and asking for that cash and making those presentations, these different investors, what are some of the most common mistakes that you’re seeing, that entrepreneurs make in that process?
Ben Elowitz 14:36
Yeah, by far, the number one is treating it transactionally. A lot of entrepreneurs do not look forward to raising money, the vast majority like 90%, dread it. They’d kind of rank it up there with a bad medical procedure in terms of how much they’re looking forward to it. So what we find one is like how do you make it joyful and change it from a transaction where you’re going in thinking that it’s not asking for the money to instead, what it really is, which is building a relationship and getting to know someone so deeply that you can really partner with their business, it is a very different mindset. And by the way, it’s hard when you have to go meet 20, 30, 50 or more investors and to say, how do I enter each one of these in terms of building a relationship? But just like dating phases in people’s lives, if you’re gonna go out on a lot of dates, and you want one of them to be a long-term relationship, you can’t walk into each one transactionally. So the biggest mistake I’d say people make is walking in saying, well, here’s my pitch, I’m going to deliver this information to you. And then I’m going to either expect or demand that you make a decision quickly. And when you do that, you’re actually creating a disincentive for the investor to want to get to know you. Instead, far, far better is to walk in with the attitude of you know what, I’m going to meet a lot of people. And I have to find what motivates me and myself. I’ll tell you personally, David, for me, I love getting to know people, I love trying to use those meetings as a chance to actually understand like, what makes people tick, what can I learn about them? And what might we do together in the future? Again, hard to keep that mindset on your 50th meeting, but actually impossible to do it. Find what motivates you in yourself, walk into those meetings, saying, let’s go explore this together. And let’s see whether there’s a real partnership, because an investor as particularly a venture capital investor is not going to put in a significant investment, if they’re not really betting on you. And it takes more than a transaction to do that.
David Nilssen 16:27
Yeah, for sure. So I’ve had to experience both raising capital and providing capital for someone who was raising, but I think there’s two sides of that equation. So you just spoke about, how should the entrepreneur think about entering into those conversations, but when they go to choose a capital source, assuming they have a choice between them, what would you advise them in terms of thinking about how to select the right funding partner?
Ben Elowitz 16:53
Well, that’s where the relationship comes into. So you need somebody who first and foremost understands your business really well. I always like to use the question, do I learn from them in every meeting is a great marker of whether they meet that criteria. And particularly, I’m talking about venture investors where they’re going to be in a control position, they’ll be on your board, you’re going to be working with them for probably many, many years. So kind of looking for that will I learned from them. And then the second thing I think that’s really important is checking up on them behind the scenes, talking to other people who have worked with them and trying to get as much candor as you can about what’s it like to work with them? One interesting thing that it’s particularly an adventure, you find that money is kind of all the same, right? Like, a million dollars from one venture investor and a million dollars from the other, fill your bank account after the same amount. But the dynamics of who do you have around you, that’s really part of your team. That is what is drastically different about working from one investor to the next. So looking for not only the personal chemistry, but also like who can really bring something that’s going to help accelerate it is a wonderful place, if you’ve got multiple options to find the person who can do the best for that. I guess I’ll add one other thing, which is, I’m really conscious of something that I’m thrilled about, which is how people are appreciating diversity as well now. And so the ability to say, hey, what does this person bring to the table that is not part of my management team and my board is a wonderful thing, whether that’s diversity of kind of traditional demographic types of uplines, or whether it’s diversity of thought, or a diversity of network. And so I think having ultimately, a board and an investor group that is the investor group that you want to see succeed in the world and be partnered with you, that’s additive is a really big deal and look for those complementary things.
David Nilssen 18:43
Yeah, I’m glad that you actually hit that. I mean, at the end of the day, at least from my experience, I mean, most of the businesses that I’ve been part of, we’ve actually bootstrapped from the ground up. But when I have raised capital, the thing that was most important to me, was making sure that these people weren’t simply just providing capital, but they were adding additional value in terms of network and relationships and strategy, and so on, and so forth. So otherwise, it feels more like a donor. Tell me a little bit about the work that you’re doing. I want to raise up out of capital for a second, and maybe it includes us and certainly one respect anonymity. So I wonder, though, if you could sort of illustrate a couple of problems that you’re working on today, or have recently worked through that would give people a sense for some of the work that you do with entrepreneurs?
Ben Elowitz 19:27
Yeah. The markets have changed so fast in the last few months. And so one thing that I’ll say is that, we have a company that we’re working with closely and just to give you a sense of what I do, it’s usually partnering with CEOs for several months, well before a fundraise to figure out what we need to do in the business first, that’s going to make this an investable business, and only then getting to the question of okay, now, how do we present this into who to raise capital? And so to give you one example, there’s a FinTech company that I’ve been working with where when we started working together nine months ago, they had a really interesting brand new product, and it only been out for a few months, was showing huge signs of promise. And the question was like, what would it take to make this business investable raise capital and really pour gas on the fire. And the market climate live in the third quarter of last year was one where revenue growth and ARR annual recurring revenue were the most important metrics, where your cost base didn’t really matter that much. If you are burning cash, there is some appreciation from venture capitalists that that’s how you build a business. And where you kind of had to hit critical thresholds in growth as the most important priority. And so we work to figure out how do we grow responsibly with that still responsibly, but how do we grow and hit those ARR numbers? Interestingly enough, we get to this year, and the products doing great and the company is doing great. And the markets have changed. And so we’ve kind of acknowledged that where we say, hey, right now, there is a tremendous potential because the product is doing so well, the company can be self-supporting, and doesn’t even need to raise capital right now. And for that company, instead, we’ve said, actually, let’s figure out how successful of a business we can make it while keeping profitability, kind of insights. And then profitability is a big advantage when you start to market this deal or market the ability to raise capital and really be able to bring in capital much cheaper. But again, back to your question before David, so much of that as being able to bring in a partner who you really are glad to have around the table with you. And so it puts us much more in the buyers seat instead of the sellers seat as we would do a capital raise. So we’re going to put off the capital raise for a while longer and actually say, Let’s prove out not only to continue to ARR growth, which is going great, but also show what markets we can attack with the products by extending the product line a little bit more, and really earning a lot higher level of investment at less dilution, and much more favorable terms. So it’s a really nice case where the challenging market has actually helped the company to succeed even more, and the company has the right ingredients to make it through.
David Nilssen 22:11
I love how this company brought you on to sort of help them think about raising capital and you haven’t said no, but maybe not yet. And I love that you guys are working through that on the right timeline for them versus the initial outcome that we’re driving towards.
Ben Elowitz 22:26
Yeah, and I think it’s important, not just from a capital standpoint, but the conversations we have, and this is kind of the startup Rabbi reference, are really like, what do you want to do with this business? And that means like, what do you personally want out of it as the CEO, the business has to work for the CEO, or it’s not going to work. And so understanding where the CEO is oriented in terms of what kind of outcome they’re looking for, what’s important to them in terms of values of like, what’s going to make life feel fulfilled, what’s going to make this a success in their lives, what their strengths are, they can put into it. And a lot of those things go into it too. And ultimately, the CEO that we’re working with, isn’t motivated by collecting a bunch of logos of venture investors, the CEO is motivated by instead saying, look, I just want to maximize this opportunity, and have a great product, a great set of customers people are delivering a lot of value for and there’s a lot of ways to skin that cat.
David Nilssen 23:20
Yeah, let’s talk about the market, you were just talking about how the market shifted for this particular company, but I’d actually love to hear something that you’re excited about today. So when you think about the trends in business or technology, like what’s something that you’re really excited about it that you’re looking at, personally, investing in going forward?
Ben Elowitz 23:41
There’s been a ton of interest happening, and the world is changing so fast in terms of the economy right now. But a bunch of different things that I’m getting involved in one, there’s a lot more in biotech and health tech that’s becoming more accessible. It’s really interesting. And so I’m working on a handful of different things in that world, where, really, some of the AI advances and the advances in technology overall are powering the ability to do lots of different new things. And some of those can really improve humanity’s condition which I’m grateful for. So that’s kind of one sector that I’m putting a lot of interest in. Another is the idea that everybody’s kind of, we’re back in a phase where everybody’s needing to do more with less. And so effectiveness and efficiency of teams is really important. Zeitworks one of the company has companies that I founded recently. Zeitworks is very much in the role of saying, hey, there’s big complex business processes that take place in every company, where you have people working hard to execute long, complicated sequences of transactions to take care of our customers and our businesses. Boy, it is so hard to tell what would make those better and with Zeitworks for example, we’re able to start to untangle those threads and figure out how do we make these processes simple are faster, better for teams. And then the last thing I’ll say is for teams in particular, the world and work environment have changed so much, where here we are on a zoom, I probably would have been in your studio, if this were four years ago, wherever your studio is. And now we can kind of be anywhere. And the idea, especially in the category of companies, I work in tech and in smaller companies, you really have to figure out how to make companies cohesive and work together as a team, when you’re not having FaceTime as the kind of imposer of conventions and norms. And so a lot of different things, not only from an investment standpoint, but how do I work with companies is changing. So much can be done on Zoom, there’s so many ways to take advantage of talent from anywhere. And at the same time, we also have to learn new norms of how do we work so that we can be effective together?
David Nilssen 25:53
Yeah. Hey, curious about that. So by the way, I would agree, I think healthcare education, those are two places where I see a lot of change coming. So not surprised to see that portions of that are places that you’re looking to invest. You talked about the fact that we’re doing this over zoom today, and we can use Zoom in air quotes, it could be other technology as well. But my experience with working with remote teams, whether they’re here or abroad, doesn’t really matter, is that people can be really, really productive in a virtual world. But collaboration is where there is continued struggles, and I’m not sure that that’s been figured out yet. Have you seen anything with businesses that you advise that you think they’re doing something unique in that area?
Ben Elowitz 26:36
There’s a CEO I work with, who has everybody come into the office together one day a week, they’re a team, that’s all in the same city. So it works well. Another business, another CEO, I know picks up the phone and just calls, team members and make sure to call frequently. So he’s talking to a lot of his team every couple of weeks on the phone just for five, 10 minutes. So the phone I think is kind of interesting, like there’s some opportunities to go backwards to go forwards. Because you can build a different personal relationship one on one. I think there’s a ton of folks who are taking advantage of the environment and saying, hey, let me really embrace remote teams. So many digital companies now are able to use talent from outside the United States, and have people who are super interested and motivated to take part in things to help and put together teams that can be not only more cost-effective, but actually more effective, especially talent is so scarce right now in so many fields, and is just as tumultuous as the economy is employment is still at very, very strong levels of employment. So good being able to get access to talent. And a lot of companies are just embracing saying, hey, we know we’re not great yet at figuring out how to get that cohesive culture. But we also are going to recognize that that’s what we’re going to need to do. So let’s lean into it and start building that remote workforce, that remote team. And we’re going to figure it out as we go. And I think that idea of continuous improvements, so healthy, it’s one of my favorite patterns out there.
David Nilssen 28:08
Yeah, I’m excited to see how it evolves. I mean, obviously, I’m a little bit biased, because I’m in the global talent business. But I do really feel that COVID sort of flattened the world and showed people that they can be productive in a remote environment, and that sort of local competitive moat that we used to enjoy being in our own little geography sort of evaporated overnight, and now everyone is vying for the same talent. And so that sort of how do we sort of decentralize organizations? We’re working remote environment, what’s the future of office space? Those are all sort of really interesting topics that I’m excited to see how they continue to play out over time. But I do believe that there’s that whole idea of remote whether you go offshore or not as a philosophical question for the business. But that idea of being remote as a competency that I think everyone has to develop, in order for them to be successful going forward. You brought up Zeitworks a few minutes ago, I want to talk about that for just a few seconds. Tell us a little bit about like, what is the problem that you saw? And why did it ultimately sort of get you excited enough to jump in and sort of help to create that again?
Ben Elowitz 29:11
Yeah, you bet. We started working on this problem when I was at Madrona Venture Labs, which is one of the top labs in the kind of incubation tech space. And we were talking to people who worked in operational functions. And somehow we got to the question to them of like, hey, how do you make sure your teams are doing better at their execution all the time? They said, you know what, we’d really liked you. But to do this, we have to kind of have everybody stop what they’re doing, and go into kind of war rooms, conference rooms, and document what they’re doing first. And that’s pretty frustrating because we can’t change the process till we know what it is. And we can go further into like, well, how do you measure whether you’re successful or not? And they talked about squeaky wheels and listening to team members say, well, can you move this field from this page to that page because it’ll make me more efficient, while not really knowing whether it was going to need to be moved back because it was disrupting something else. We had enough meetings where people kept saying they would love to improve their processes, if only they knew what they were. Tons of people having trouble hiring talent to kind of keep scrambling and scurry faster at them, when really, they knew that the processes they were executing were more complex than ideal, right. But the tools to diagnose them were so poor, that people can’t stand the solution to their problems. And so they live with their problems instead of solving them. The idea of stopping work and spending weeks re-planning work, sometimes those efforts get called off once you’ve invested a few weeks because you’re just like, I can’t sustain this traffic’s back up. And we need people back at their desks. And we heard this over and over again, from people in different industries, FinTech, financial services, insurance, and claims every industry with a big back office process has a whole group of people who are having to just kind of keep scurrying to execute stuff with both technology and human processes that are kind of not well designed. And we started to ask kind of the question, what would it take to solve that? And as we worked with potential customers, and people who are having this problem, everybody kind of agreed, step one is can you help me measure what’s happening, measure and provide visibility to it? And then step two is help me figure out what are the opportunities to improve it. And so once Zeitworks, does is kind of like we call it Google Analytics for how work gets done. But for your human executed processes, it’s able to say, let’s figure out what’s happening, what all the steps are in the process that are taking place, not as you think, or they’re happening. But as they’re really happening as your team executes them. And then from there, start to untangle those threads and be able to lay out kind of a treasure map to saying, hey, here’s how you can improve this and make it a whole lot more effective for your team. If you do that, my favorite part is that your team’s satisfaction goes way up people’s productivity, but also, their experience gets way better. And so we think that has a real benefit to humanity also helps organizations scale way more efficiently.
David Nilssen 32:10
Yeah, it’s funny, as you’re describing this, and I spent a little time looking at Zeitworks myself, one thing that I would say that I’ve seen in my businesses that process optimization is not a muscle that many people have, right? It’s not a competency that is really strong, a lot of organizations, they’re good at laying out an initial process, when challenges come up, they duct tape solutions on top of it. And those processes become more complex over time. And so detangling, those, as you said a minute ago is really, really hard. And inevitably, because that muscle doesn’t exist, people use feelings more than facts to make those shifts. So I love that you guys are bringing visibility to the process waste that exists in organizations, I think there’s a really big opportunity behind that.
Ben Elowitz 32:51
Yeah, that’s right. And also remember, it’s interesting, 50 years ago, you didn’t have such complex processes, because what you had was a labor force that was empowered to figure everything out. And businesses that were much smaller and more local. So you’d have a local person in a local branch or a local office, like actually sitting down with a case. And that person was expert on all those processes. Today, businesses are much bigger, there’s many more of them, they’re more complex, more organized, because of the technology that regiments all of our work. There’s also a lot more kind of rigid paths and limitations. And a lot of times businesses don’t even realize how limiting those are. I was traveling the other day and had a disruption on American Airlines. And I think it was probably five hours of American Airlines employees trying to untangle my ticketing snafu. And you think about all that wasted effort where, if they had somebody who was really able to figure out oh, here’s what the process needs to be. They could get that done in 10 minutes. It’s a really big impact you can have what you can figure out the tough things.
David Nilssen 33:55
Cool. Well, for the listeners that are on here that are identifying with some of the issues that you brought up, if you want to check it out. We’ll put it in the show notes as well, but it’s zeitworks.com, and would encourage you to take a peek at what they’re doing over there. Very interesting work. Ben, one thing I know about entrepreneurs is that they are constantly learning. What is it today that you’re reading about or learning that you’re sort of focusing in on?
Ben Elowitz 34:21
Oh, my gosh, it’s funny lately, I haven’t been able to read any books, but I can somehow read 10,000 articles a week. I should actually get a counting in my Google history to find out how many of those. There’s a lot of things that I think for the business climate that are moving so fast. One I am keeping up very closely with the economic environment and the investment environment. It’s really important for entrepreneurs to understand what’s it going to take to be successful and so knowing what’s happening for your customers is kind of first and foremost, and what’s happening for your team and talent and your ability to hire and scale your organization so important. I think from there, I’m also kind of have a couple of subject areas that I put extra time in. I am in the Blockchain Web3 and defy rabbit hole right now. I’m loving looking particularly in defy which is my decentralized finance, which is my favorite section of that kind of Web3 crypto world, where you’re having the chance for a whole new generation of financial services and products to exist, that actually have some really favorable attributes that they don’t rely on institutional trust, but instead, rely on super reliable code that’s engineered to be trustworthy. And I think that’s super interesting. Spending a lot of my time on that. And then I think one of things I like working with CEOs so much is whenever something comes up, I am able to kind of go deep and have a ton of advisors around to learn from. So the issues that my companies have, whether it’s kind of in their domain, working with a Metaverse company right now, I’m working with a biotech company right now, I get to learn all about those things. So really, really lucky. And I think if I’d say one kind of special interest, underlying everything, I think, meetings you and I’ve had before, you’ve heard this from me, but I have so much interest in what moves people from a persuasion and influence standpoint. And that turns out to be true in terms of how do you recruit customers? How do you recruit team members? How do you communicate with people and help them be effective? How do you recruit investors and acquire capital? And so there’s one big theme I have of kind of always looking for more information about how do you better frame what you’re interested in in ways that will attract and bring other people around you? And so that’s kind of an evergreen topic for me.
David Nilssen 36:44
I love that one. Yeah, I’ve always thought competency, energy and authenticity are sort of the trifecta to help with that. But that’s maybe for another show. Ben, we’re getting close to the end here. I’d love to just ask you, one of my favorite questions to ask experienced entrepreneurs is if you were to look back at your 20-year-old self, and be able to give yourself advice, what would that be? What would you tell yourself?
Ben Elowitz 37:05
Oh, that’s a great question. Let me think about that for a second. We talked about impostor syndrome a little bit ago. And it is really interesting when you’re an entrepreneur. And particularly, as a first-time CEO, I think this is really important. You don’t have a playbook for most of the things you’re doing, you’re learning as you go. And I think there is, as we talked about a lot of pressure to somehow have the answer anyway. I think if I were to kind of come back to that question of advice, and I’ve probably gone both ways of saying this too much, and not enough. But I would say, the more you can say, hey, I don’t know, let’s think about that together, the better. So much learning takes place when you can lower your garden, say I don’t know, let’s think about it together and kind of bringing out other people’s ability to help is a really, really, really great thing. I think when I say I did too much, I don’t know, part, I was happy to say a lot of times when I was younger, but I don’t think I knew the second part of that, let’s think about it together quite as well. And so the ability to say like not I don’t know oh shit, I’m a failure. But instead, I don’t know, let’s see, what we can come up with is a really different mindset and attitude. And I think it’s one that now as a CEO coach, and assistant, and so on, I’m really happy to say because it’s not about what I think, it’s actually about for the CEOs I work with. It’s about them coming up with their own answers to things and one of the best ways to do it is say, I don’t know, let’s think about that together and play with it.
David Nilssen 38:50
I think that’s a really important point. I remember when I was a young entrepreneur, I struggled with telling people I didn’t know the answer. And so oftentimes, I would try and jump to an answer really quickly to make it appear as if I knew what I was talking about. So I think one of my old advisors was gave me some free advice. He said, once you write a business plan, it’s wrong. And so just kind of gave me the I think the freedom to say, we can be adaptable, we got to learn as we continue to drive forward. And I think you summed that up really nicely. So I think we’ll leave it there. Ben, I appreciate you being on the show. Where can people learn more about you and the work that you do?
Ben Elowitz 39:29
Oh, I keep a profile on LinkedIn. But I’m lucky to have a lot of folks I get to interact with so I have not invested in any kind of website or promotion or anything but happy to look me up on LinkedIn.
David Nilssen 39:32
Well, we’ll leave that in the show notes. Ben, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Ben Elowitz 39:48
You got it. Thanks so much. Have a great day.
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