Alena Eager

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Few things are better for than heading an that’s always at the cutting edge of innovation. Being responsible for a breakthrough won’t just mean more revenue by selling the innovative product or service you’re offering — it will also cement you as a thought leader in the eyes of your customers. When you think of innovative phones, don’t you think of ?

Yet, innovation isn’t just about a company’s products and services. It’s about what’s going on internally behind the scenes, which arguably lies at the heart of everything else.

Related: 4 Ways to Drive Internal Innovation and Unleash Employees’ Entrepreneurial Side

Why internal innovation matters

You probably don’t need us to tell you why innovation matters. According to the Boston Consulting Group in 2015, 79% of respondents thought innovation was one of their three biggest priorities. Likewise, a 2014 survey of 500 senior leaders by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) found that 94% of organizations believe innovation is crucial for success. Yet, although 77% of these firms were trying to improve innovation, just 14% felt they were achieving success.

Often, companies put too much focus on making changes to their products or services, which are sources of external innovation. But what about internal innovation, which can be defined as changes made within an organization (e.g., adapting the hierarchical structure)? It’s often overlooked.

Both types of innovation can help companies grow, avoid getting behind the times, and carve out a niche. However, internal innovation can be a more affordable and accessible solution since changes with more long-lasting changes. Once the people in a have the tools they need to succeed, you free them up to create breakthrough after breakthrough.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff. Innovation is all about taking action, so here are four of the best ways to drive it forward:

1. Create a culture of experimentation

By definition, innovation involves trying new things that may not have much precedence. But when you do something for the first time, there’s a significant chance of you getting it wrong or failing. Combine this with an organizational structure where individuals are trying to climb the ladder by succeeding consistently, and the natural result is that most people will shy away from innovation in the fear it will hinder rather than help them. It’s the responsibility of leaders to create a culture where the opposite happens, and everyone in an organization feels actively encouraged to experiment.

One way you can do this is leading by example. If the leaders in a company share their attempts and failures explicitly, it makes it clearer that trying and failing is accepted as normal in the organization. You can also make an effort to celebrate small successes along the way if they involve experimentation.

Related: Creating a Culture of Innovation Starts With the Leader

2. Use data to detect inefficiencies

Innovation typically involves finding something that isn’t working, then implementing a solution. What’s the most foolproof way to identify these problems? Data.

Collect data on your current processes, such as what happens in your meetings, how long different processes take, or what exactly different team members spend their time doing. Are there any areas that stand out as being particularly inefficient? If so, figure out how to address them.

Naturally, this analysis will involve some degree of data literacy, so you may need to train your team for the best results.

3. Encourage bottom-up ideas

When we hear about a huge innovation that’s taken place in a company, we usually imagine the CEO or other executives are responsible, and they’re often the people shown on billboards. In reality, though, the people who are best at coming up with solutions are those who are the most familiar with the problems — and that can mean low-level employees.

Unfortunately, most organizations don’t provide any kind of opportunity for these people to share their ideas, never mind making them feel valued when they do so.

Once again, leaders have the responsibility for creating the kind of culture that encourages this. Why not make it part of your standard business meetings to leave some time at the end for people to give their own suggestions? You could also consider some kind of always-open form online for people to leave their ideas to be discussed in the next meeting.

Related: 9 Ways Your Company Can Encourage Innovation

4. Don’t be afraid of new technologies

When you’re familiar with a technology and can’t imagine life without it, looking at someone who refuses to use it is painful. Imagine speaking to someone from the year 1990 who was reluctant to use Excel and favored pen and paper — you’d almost certainly feel frustrated. Yet, when we’re on the other end of the change and are faced with a technology we don’t understand, it’s tempting to run.

On an organizational level, this can feel particularly daunting, since adopting new technologies could result in weeks of disruption as staff are trained and new equipment is installed. But ultimately, embracing technology will prevent you from getting left behind.

And on another note: If individuals in your organization feel scared of the new technology, be patient with them. They may be technophobic, especially if they’re not in a technology-centric position. Do you need to provide extra training?

Innovation is yours for the taking. No two organizations are exactly the same, so you may have to adapt the four strategies above to your unique circumstances. However, one cornerstone principle remains: We’re better off embracing change than shying away, and your organizational structure is the perfect means to do exactly that.

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The pandemic brought us a new normal. During these times, a new version of a leader has risen. While some leaders continually struggle to identify, understand and use the below notions that can lead them to their soul’s fulfillment and success, tomorrow’s leaders bring forward new ways of knowing, being and doing. They fulfill their soul’s purpose on Earth while also respecting the development of all human species.

If you consider yourself a leader, find out which one of these seven concepts you could make further use of.

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When Aman Bhutani became CEO of GoDaddy in 2019, he saw a problem: The company had a good culture of experimentation, where individual departments were running many experiments, but it didn’t have a good system of experimentation.

Courtesy of GoDaddy

As a result, the team’s experiments weren’t driving as much innovation as they could. “Experimentation is about mindset,” Bhutani says. “It’s not something that people who are not aware of can suddenly discover. You have to coach people through it.”

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() is an umbrella term for financial products (lending, trading, savings etc.) that don’t require a centralized institution like a bank or exchange broker. Instead, they run on smart contracts, which are automatically executed when certain conditions are met. Users transact directly with each other and maintain control over their assets.

First DeFi apps appeared around 2017, but it was in 2020-2021 that the market really exploded, reaching a valuation of $100B. Apps like Compound, Curve and Uniswap handle billions in volume.

Nevertheless, the DeFi industry is facing some formidable challenges. Perhaps the biggest is connecting (traditional currencies, like USD) and . The general consensus is that DeFi can and should foster the coexistence of both fiat and crypto – but how? This guide explores the most promising solutions.

Providing Bank Lending Services for Both Crypto and Fiat

Related: Decentralized Finance Is on the Rise. What You Need to Know in 2021

DeFi can generate a synergy of crypto and fiat by integrating traditional currencies in decentralized financial products. After all, fiat-based systems have been the lifeblood of the global economy for as long as there HAS been a global economy. Banking services such as easy lending contribute vastly to the sustainability of the financial sector globally and to the citizens who rely on loans in their daily lives.

DeFi can unite the crypto and fiat worlds by providing similar lending and banking services using BOTH types of currencies in tandem. Examples include Compound, MELD and Aave. Most of these platforms offer loans in crypto and also in fiat, backed by an existing cryptocurrency stake, or the converse. By doing this, a DeFi network  crypto holders with faster access to standard fiat assets without losing or diluting their existing crypto stake.

Already, there are multiple DeFi networks providing lending services using both fiat and crypto. Offering cash loans by using crypto as collateral is a good way of fostering this type of old and new currency coexistence.

Allow Fiat Backing in Stablecoins

Related: The Path to Stability: How Stablecoins Can Drive Borderless Business Across

Another promising way to allow the coexistence of crypto and DeFi is by leveraging the concept of stablecoins. Stablecoins are simply a class of crypto assets backed by another asset such as Gold, commodities or fiat currencies such as the U.S. dollar.

However, it is vital that more upcoming DeFi projects provide similar stablecoin services to allow for the coexistence of both crypto and fiat in the financial sector. As stablecoins increase, so will their users, resulting in faster crypto adoption.

Lending Fiat Liquidity

Another way for DeFi projects to help ensure coexistence between crypto and fiat is by allowing fiat liquidity pools. A fiat liquidity provider offers its fiat assets to a lending pool – their fiat assets are then used to give other people loans.

One of the existing platforms providing fiat liquidity options is the MELD Protocol. The network will allow investors and institutions to offer fiat liquidity by using the MELD app on mobile, desktop or Web. In the process, the investors will earn yields in high APYs. On top of lending fiat liquidity, this platform will also allow investors to use their line of , thus making crypto assets even more liquid.

Allow Investors to Earn Income with Fiat and Crypto

Related: Build New Wealth by Circumventing Old Money

Savings accounts remain one of the most popular banking products, though falling interest rates and rising inflation mean that real yields on such accounts are zero or even sub-zero. DeFi projects offer similar savings products but provide higher earnings. DeFi yield farming is an excellent example: users lock up crypto tokens and get rewarded with more tokens daily, with nominal APYs often above 100%.

DeFi projects often require other investors to deposit their assets in a liquidity pool (savings account equivalent). The asset is then lent to someone else who offers another asset as collateral.

When lending cash, DeFi projects will often create a liquidity pool for depositing cash, with the  cash then offered to others who collateralize crypto in return. However, in this case, the individuals depositing fiat will earn rewards in interest after the loan repayment.

Increasing Ease of Exchanging Crypto and Fiat

Related: Here’s How You Can Tap into DeFi to Maximize Profitability

Providing better liquidity of crypto tokens is another way for the Defi space to co-exist with both crypto and fiat. Already, there are many crypto exchanges today offering liquidity for assets – however, it takes a lot of time to change the tokens back into cash with most of them. They are not highly-liquid by default.

However, DeFi projects can help streamline the issue. There are many ways through which this can be accomplished.

Expert Ken Olling, noted several options: “One is by providing the option to purchase crypto directly with bank accounts or other fiat options. Decentralized exchange platforms, for instance, can make it easy for investors to buy crypto using credit cards. By doing that, there will be ease in converting fiat to crypto.

Secondly, DeFi projects can provide instant cash access for those holding DeFi assets. The lending platforms can give crypto investors a line of credit. Moreover, Defi projects can link with banking institutions and other money changers. The result will provide more ease towards exchanging crypto to fiat and vice versa.”

Final Word

This guide has been exploring how DeFi can provide coexistence between crypto and fiat. There is a high need to ensure a good link between fiat and crypto for the two to co-exist. DeFi has already been playing a major role in linking fiat and crypto-assets.

DeFi networks provide essential services such as lending and yield farming, all of which can provide space for fiats. In lending, DeFi projects allow people to access fiat loans by using crypto as collateral. By doing that, they provide a pool for investors to offer fiat liquidity. There is no question that DeFi is a powerful new tool in the financial market to bring more money to more people in a safe, liquid and disruptive fashion.

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A considerable amount of hype has developed surrounding what is known as “.” Web3 is essentially based on distributed ledger technology and many companies are using Web3 as an umbrella term to describe alternative utilities and marketplaces built on an underlying

There are many benefits to decentralized protocols, but there’s just one problem. These protocols are not going to set themselves up, and there is little incentive for new entrepreneurs to set up a business that will inevitably be taken out of their hands one day. As a provider, you rake in the profits in perpetuity. In a decentralized network, the rewards are distributed. Even so, these permissionless protocols will become the foundation for Web3, and the profits from a token launch can be extremely convincing. In a world that is changing faster and faster, it may not be such a bad idea to create something great and then move on to the next thing. We don’t always have to hold onto our babies forever. 

Related: Web 3.0 Is Coming, and Here’s What That Really Means for You

The following are three reasons why Web3 requires protocols instead of service providers.

1. Centralization needs to be avoided

This one is fairly obvious. The backbone of Web3 is decentralized protocols that can be used by all parties, instead of centralized service providers that get to pick and choose who they deal with. In Web2, sites like , , Twitter, UpWork, and monopolize large portions of the market and force their users to toe the line. In most cases, this isn’t always a huge problem. But with this power, they set their own terms and ignore any call for change that threatens their comfort or their wallets.

They were revolutionary innovations and undoubtedly served to increase the quality of life for users around the globe. At the same time, they are known for rampant data harvesting and can influence events like elections. The power they have to skew public opinion is chilling, especially Google and its YouTube subsidiary. 

There’s no reason to suggest that it will be any different if we have a centralized company marketing itself as Web3. A prime example here would be Facebook, now known as “Meta.” The idea of the world’s largest platform launching its own Libra and monopolizing the virtual reality environment is not exactly heartwarming. It is Web3 in name but not in essence. 

Upwork, meanwhile, has suspended freelancers in Russia and Belarus from working to assist Ukraine. It might be safe to say that this is ultimately for the best, but because of the nature of the platform, it’s also possible that only innocent, struggling freelancers were affected. It’s not up to individual companies to make these kinds of decisions. Moreover, Upwork does not offer cryptocurrency payments, and the gig industry as a whole is set for disruption to give freelancers a voice. The H3RO3S project has already taken aim at this industry. 

2. Digital sovereignty needs to be maintained

Data is the new currency. Actually, data always was the real currency, but most were unaware of how their data was tracked, monitored and sold to third parties. Part of the reason for the proliferation of blockchains was the rampant hacks and scandals. 

Related: The Get Rich Using Your Data. What Do You Get in Return?

Centralized databases (including major credit agencies like Experian and government websites) were hacked and sensitive information was leaked. At other times, enterprises such as Facebook sold user data to political parties like Cambridge Analytica for processing. 

Web3 is built on having a secure to verify your transactions. You don’t want your digital identity tied into a corporate database — this is the identity you will use to purchase houses and property and to access your multiple VR Metaverse accounts. You certainly don’t want this information leaked because a corporation forgot to patch a security vulnerability. It will be tied to everything. 

The bottom line is that your core digital identity in a Web3 environment cannot be stored in a centralized database (unless we get to a point where it is combined with a retina or fingerprint scan). Even with 2FA, the information is too sensitive for centralized storage. This has been proven time and time again with all of the scandals. 

3. Protocols are cheaper

Service providers exist to make a profit. Protocols are public utilities that people can use to supplement their own abilities. If you can use the underlying protocol without using a service provider, then you are bound to save money. SHOPX will allow brands to plug their inventories into the blockchain and create brand-NFTs in order to access Web3 e-commerce. Amazon charges over 25% commission, but blockchain protocols like this will cost next to nothing. 

Another would be banks and their SWIFT messaging protocol. Access to this international bank transfer would be easy and cheap without having to use a bank, the service provider. There are also online service providers who can do this function, but it is still expensive and you are required to give up your sensitive information to use this protocol. 

Through the use of blockchains, you can send an equivalent amount of currency (as cryptocurrency) anywhere in the world, for a tiny cost. This is the most direct and obvious use case — it’s extremely fast, extremely cheap, private and secure. And you don’t have to upload sensitive details. 

Related: Build New Wealth by Circumventing Old Money

The necessity of distributed service providers

While centralized service providers are being rendered obsolete, we still need distributed service providers to offer a suite of protocols. Service providers will simply take a different role in facilitating transactions over specific protocols. They will be a necessary interface to enable Web3 residents to familiarize themselves with certain protocols. A better name would perhaps be protocol providers as opposed to service providers. 

We also need Web3 providers to maintain servers (which people don’t want to do, despite all the rhetoric) and for their efficiency. Decentralized protocols are very difficult to change, and run more slowly than centralized service providers. WhatsApp went from unencrypted to E2EE in a single year. Yet it is now owned by Meta, a major Web2 platform. 

So it’s a tradeoff. But even though centralized platforms are quicker and more convenient in certain regards, the cost is too much and we need to become more digitally sovereign through protocols. 

But there are options that allow the best of both worlds. Ankr is a decentralized Web3 infrastructure that makes it easy to integrate DeFi on your dapp, earn yield and of course, access a decentralized, multi-chain blockchain infrastructure. The simple tools make it easy for anyone to participate. Anyone looking into getting deeper into blockchain tech will have the ability to deploy staking nodes as well as developer nodes in minutes. Over 50 protocols have been integrated into the ecosystem, including Binance and Polygon, with more features added regularly for a fully democratized protocol. Instead of becoming a node provider for a specific blockchain, you simply add your node to the protocol along with other node providers, creating a highly decentralized pool of nodes that blockchains can access as a whole. 

Although Ankr realizes its position as technically a service provider now, the Ankr DAO is on the roadmap to change that. Until then, they are offering new projects an extremely low year’s subscription for another month.

Old versus new service providers

Historically, each user would be assigned a username/account number for identification. All their activities on a given platform could be tracked and cross-referenced against their information and their subscription package. This is not the case with distributed providers. You are merely handed a set of tools/protocols to work with, along with help documents and some support features. 

A major benefit of distributed providers is that there is no user identifier and no central database to store them in. For instance, when you create a Web3 wallet with Metamask, you merely get a tool that facilitates token storage and decentralized exchange purchases. The support team is available on Reddit (kind of, they are typically overwhelmed) but you don’t really have an “account” to access. Your information can’t be hacked because nobody owns it. 

The downside is that if you lose your wallet keys, you lose your wallet, but that’s Web3 — you can’t have sovereignty without risk, a fact modern citizens will have to come to terms with.

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Image Credit: Viktor Koen

How do you foster an environment that sparks innovation? That’s the million-dollar question — and for a long time, the most common strategy has been for capable leaders to hire sharp minds and then assemble them into effective teams. But as it turns out, some of the greatest innovation happening today begins quite differently: Leaders hire sharp minds, but they do not assemble them into teams.

So who does? The team members themselves.

Teams arranged this way are called many different things: “empowered,” “self-directed,” or “autonomous.” Whatever they’re called, surveys have found that 79% of Fortune 1000 companies and 81% of manufacturing organizations currently deploy some version of this principle. The implementation may look different, but the general idea is the same: These companies encourage their employees to band together on their own and organize to explore new ideas, products, and services — and as a result, drive greater innovation, increase productivity, and improve employee satisfaction.

Related: The 5 Crucial Phases of Building a Team

Some companies give employees total freedom to define their jobs; others make it a freewheeling portion of a more fixed role. Tesla, 3M, Google, and Zappos, for example, allow employees to proactively focus on their own ideas.

To see how it works, consider a rural Pennsylvania company called New Pig. The company’s workplace safety and spill containment products are used by more than 300,000 facilities worldwide, but its success doesn’t begin with its products. It begins with the mission that attracts its employees.

New Pig seeks workers who share in its reason for existing — not just to contain leaks and spills, but to think more broadly about how to keep the environment safe from gas, oil, and other pollutants. These people arrive full of energy and ideas, and they wish to make a personal impact. New Pig harnesses that energy: It gives employees the freedom to develop new ideas and then recruit colleagues to join them on teams that are supported (but importantly, not controlled) by the company.

Ideas might originate from customer feedback, technological developments, suppliers, or marketplace changes — and these ideas do not have to be fully formed. According to Dan Silver, the company’s chief product officer, new ideas are first tested with some big questions: Does the idea potentially solve a real problem? What is the size of the opportunity? Is the idea capable of generating new customers? And is it compatible with the company’s core mission?

Once an idea is conceptually developed, it’s time to build a team. Someone from the product development department proposes an idea. The idea is put into a product management system and is then reviewed by management. Once approved, a team with the most appropriate skill set and greatest availability is formed. The team meets to set objectives and a timeline. Then, management provides broad-based organizational support but allows the team to work unrestricted. After a prescribed amount of time and money is expended and evaluations are made by the team and others, a decision is made to continue work or abandon the idea.

New Pig believes it’s important to “fail fast” to preserve resources for other ideas and to learn from the experience. This does not mean that the team is rushed to make an up-or-down decision, but that everyone is mindful to not prolong the project if it’s looking shaky.

Related: 5 Ways Lean Teams Can Work Smarter and Get More Done

Many ideas don’t advance beyond the initial concept stage. Others that show promise are turned into minimally viable products and tested to capture customer feedback (and then advanced or killed). Regardless, nothing is considered a failure. Every project contains lessons that are disseminated to others so they can avoid similar problems.

Of course, some ideas do become successful. That’s the point. And that’s how New Pig created its PIG Umbrella-Style Roof Leak Diverter.

Some time ago, a New Pig product development associate visited a customer with a leaky roof. The customer positioned a trash can underneath to catch the water. However, in addition to being unsightly, the leak and the trash can were in the middle of a walkway. The associate had the idea of catching the water at the source of the leak near the ceiling and redirecting it with a hose to a container placed in a safer, out-of-the-way area. This idea was brought back to New Pig’s headquarters. A team was formed. Tests were made. And, ultimately, a product was rolled out.

How can you pull this off in your own organization? It’s not as simple as just telling people to create their own teams. It starts by rethinking the role of management.

This starts at the very top. Leaders must be clear about a company’s mission, be driven to attract others with a similar mindset, and believe deeply that the best ideas — as well as the best improvements on old ideas — will come from employees. Emotionally secure leaders do not use their position to influence the actions of others; rather, they relinquish authority in order to benefit the company as a whole.

A company that embraces self-managed teams also has fewer managers. Managerial responsibilities still exist, of course — they’re required to manage budgets, and to make sure that teams meet timelines and are working on appropriate tasks. But these managers should think of themselves as advisors or coaches. There is little direct “management” in a traditional sense.

Next, timelines and goals should be reimagined. To empower a self-organized team, you must allow the group to think differently. It can’t be focused on the company’s current plans; instead, it must be left alone to think creatively. It should spend less time reporting on its work, and more time actually doing its work. In short, teams should act like startups.

Related: 10 Simple Ways to Build a Collaborative, Successful Work Environment

Finally, reconsider the employees you hire. You don’t want people who are thinking about titles. Ideally, they aren’t even (primarily) motivated by money. These team members are excited about your mission and have a strong desire to be a part of an “agile” work environment. As a result, they’ll create order out of chaos: They will thrive in light, fluid environments; they will be flexible in their interactions with the organization at large; and they will think entrepreneurially, with a sense of purpose that enables you to get the absolute best out of them.

Employees are capable of doing much more than adhering to a narrow job description. By providing opportunities for them to demonstrate their range of talents and abilities, you will discover their full potential, increase social capital, enhance mutual trust, and realize your true power to innovate — keeping your company one step ahead of the competition.

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“Plastic is not created equally,” says Heidi Kujawa, CEO of ByFusion. “It’s super complex, which is why this problem is really broken.”

Amy Lombard

The very short version of the problem goes like this: Despite all those triangle-arrow symbols on the bottom of your bottles, most plastic is not recyclable. And the stuff that is often isn’t recycled anyway, because the process is dirty and cumbersome. Which means your recycling bin may be emptied into a landfill.

Kujawa wants to fix this. She had a successful career in entertainment and tech, but was looking to do something more meaningful. Around 2015, she heard about a company that had developed an interesting concept: It smushed old plastic into blocks, which could be used as construction material instead of concrete or bricks. “They had a prototype and it kind of worked, but not really,” Kujawa says. The company had since closed, and the patent had lapsed. “I said, ‘I know I can make that better.’”

Related: How to Make Sustainability More Than a Buzzword

Now she has. Her company, ByFusion, builds machines that literally fuse up to 30 pounds of plastic — no matter the type or how dirty it is — into blocks that can be used to make walls, furniture, small structures, and more. Its work is starting to appear around the country: A park bench was installed in Boise in February, followed by projects in Tucson and .

Below, you can follow the process of a block — as well as Kujawa’s journey to reviving a once-failed idea, and putting old plastic to real use.


As Kujawa looked to fund her company, she knew she was in a bind: She’d innovated inside the waste and construction industries, both of which are in need of new ideas — but “waste management and construction are two massive industries that VCs typically never invest in,” Kujawa says. How can entrepreneurs get funding in an overlooked space? First, prove the idea: Following the sale of her last company, she bootstrapped the first few phases of ByFusion herself — establishing the market and tech before going to investors. Second, seize the moment: As the culture shifted, with the talking more about climate solutions, “VCs started to say, okay, I guess we have to start focusing on this,” she says. She’s raised a $1.5 million seed round.

Related: What You Can Learn From the Rise of Sustainability-Focused Entrepreneurship


“I grew up with a hammer in my hand, not necessarily a Barbie doll,” Kujawa says. She always loved construction–“but I realized early on that it’s probably not a good career path back in the ’70s and ’80s for a girl.” That’s why she went into tech and entertainment. “But I never dropped the hammer.”


ByFusion’s plan isn’t just to sell blocks of plastic. It sells the machines that make the blocks, and has designed them modularly so that a broad range of clients, from waste management companies to municipalities, can utilize them to fit their needs and then produce the blocks themselves. Kujawa pitches it as a financial, logistical, and landfill diversion solution: Instead of transporting worthless plastic and dealing with associated compliance issues, cities and companies (and even universities) could create these blocks. ByFusion will buy back any surplus and sell to market on their behalf. “As we saw with the pandemic, there’s been a shortage of building materials. So let’s give them the ability to create their own material.”

Image Credit: All Photographs by Amy Lombard

Related: The Business of Sustainability

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Susan Rockey loved trucking. What she hated was compliance.

Lured by the call of the open road after years of working as an ER tech and running group homes for emotionally disturbed kids, she took a job in 2015 at Conner Logistics. Mostly she drove an 18-wheeler, a reefer — meaning “ree-frigerated,” as she’s had to explain way too often — hauling meat and produce across America. But half the time, she was rooting around in the truck for a pencil and her three-ringed binder to enter her hours on the required gridded paper. She needed a ruler, too, and often had to fax the logs in from the next truck stop. All drivers had to do some version of this; no one liked the rigamarole. “There was a lot of noncompliance, a lot of cheating,” she says.

One day, she found an app called KeepTruckin. The name wasn’t fancy. It was free. It solved her problem.

The app also solved a problem for the guy who made it, Shoaib Makani, who was for many reasons an unusual figure in trucking at the time. An immigrant from Pakistan, he’d become a tech-focused venture capitalist and was doing well at it in 2013. But while his peers were falling all over themselves for crypto and AI, Makani saw white space in tar, tires, and 80,000-pound semis. The industry was almost untouched by outsiders in Silicon Valley. He just needed a way in.

Related: How Apps Are Changing Our Everyday Lives

His KeepTruckin app opened the door, and it led to a company that’s grown by 75% year-over-year. In 2021, it was valued at north of $2 billion with annual recurring revenue of $150 million, and by the end of 2022, it expects to have 4,300 employees. But in a way, his app is almost too successful. At the beginning, Makani didn’t see quite how big the opportunity was; seizing it in full has meant rethinking a lot about his business — and running the risk of upsetting truckers like Susan Rockey in the process.

After all, sometimes the biggest opportunities are the ones you can’t spot until you’re further down the road. But once you’ve gone that far, is there any turning back?

Makani’s technology gives each driver a score based on safety. But he admits that his isn’t great. “I’m challenging it!” he jokes.

Image Credit: Courtesy of KeepTruckin

Makani was born 38 years ago in Pakistan and moved with his family to Texas at the age of two. They eventually settled in Little River Academy, a rural town of about 1,000 where they were the rare immigrants. Makani still loves it, but found his way out: first to the London School of Economics and Political Science, then to Silicon Valley doing business development at Google’s AdMob. He’d moved on to Khosla Ventures in 2011, leading investments in startups like Instacart and Yammer, when he met Joe Kraus at Google Ventures. “Shoaib was very hungry,” says Kraus, now president of Lime. “He had a desire to put a dent in the universe. I told him: ‘If you ever start a company, I’d love to be working with you.’”

Makani was itching to build something. He was struck by how the vast majority of startups were improving life for those in the digital economy — “but the same was not happening for the businesses and the people who did physical work,” he says. There were whole areas of industry that hadn’t been irrigated by technology, and the more he thought about the disconnect, the faster he wanted to get in. He’d always been fascinated by trucks; 72% of goods in the U.S. are moved by them. Interested in learning more about the industry, he suggested to Obaid Khan — his brother-in-law who also wanted to start something — that he go see what he could find out.

Khan couldn’t glean much from analyst reports, so he started going up and down California’s I-5 and hanging out at truck stops. “I would be the awkward guy saying, ‘Hey, I’ll give you this $15 Starbucks gift card. Just tell me: How do you do laundry? Keep in touch with your family? Do banking?’” he says. “I made it broad.” Once the drivers got talking — like Rockey — they vented about compliance and the obnoxious gridded paper and rulers to enter their hours of service. But they were also concerned about a new law that seemed to be coming down the pipeline.

Related: Technology Is Already Disrupting Our Lives. What Will the Future Look Like?

A 2012 congressional act, Khan and Makani learned, had just directed the Department of Transportation to develop regulations to mandate electronic logging devices (ELDs). This was a major change, and a challenge. An ELD is a little box installed in the truck and connected to the engine that tracks things like driving hours and miles covered. It would completely replace the compliance work on the gridded paper, but drivers bristled at the idea of Big Brother moving into their motors.

Makani already had a million ideas for a company that provides technological solutions to truckers, but he suddenly saw compliance, with its shifting regulations and obvious pain points, as the perfect entry. It wasn’t clear when, or even if, the authorities would succeed at passing a mandate. “This ELD regulation had been deliberated for almost a decade and there were lots of legal challenges,” he says, “so we weren’t betting on that.” But for the moment, truckers were frustrated with compliance, so he would create his own tech solution.

Makani launched the company with Khan, along with a third founder, Ryan Johns. Then he sunk his intention like a crampon into the climb, building an app to enter compliance data and spending nearly a week at a Denny’s in Seattle asking truckers for their feedback. As for the name? “Shoaib would always close our meetings with ‘Keep truckin’!” says Khan. It stuck, and clients loved it. 

KeepTruckin is expanding to other industries. Now many construction clients use products like this one, which alerts managers to risky driving.

Image Credit: Courtesy of KeepTruckin

Once they had the app, Makani and Khan decided to make it free. They wanted to create value for their customers and build trust before making them pay — you couldn’t get anywhere without trust. The plan was to grow the base with as many truckers as possible; then they’d upsell other products to those in the industry.

For four years, no revenue came in, but more than a million drivers downloaded the app and gave it high ratings. Meanwhile, Makani started developing an ELD, the device regulators were trying to hash out a mandate for, in hopes that it would become KeepTruckin’s first monetizable product. As it turned out, the regulators succeeded. Beginning in December 2017, commercial trucks were required to have ELDs.

Suddenly, there were a lot of people like Lauren Abrams, who needed to outfit her fleet of 300 with the new devices. She’s a product manager at Reliable Carriers, which transports luxury car shipments worth up to $63 million each load, and she discovered that several of her employees were using KeepTruckin’s app. “By then, KeepTruckin already had a pretty good reputation among drivers,” she says. “And that went a long way, compared to some of these other ELD companies that were more looked at as watchdogs. Their strategy of how they came into the industry was really smart.”

While the KeepTruckin app was no longer as useful on its own, it worked well with the company’s ELD product and was expanded to include features like telling drivers where to pick up the next load and guiding them through inspections. Meanwhile, sales of the ELDs took off, and Makani began to think about all those other ideas he’d had. As he saw it, the company faced a fork in the road: It could either become an online marketplace for individual truckers to find work, or it could become a platform for fleet managers to automate many of their tasks. Ultimately, he chose the fleet managers, where the money and big purchasing decisions are.

Related: Innovation is an Incremental Process. Here are 3 Ways to Reach Your Big Idea.

Makani started raising more capital (as of today, $450 million), invested in expertise, and acquired two AI companies. He also hired Jai Ranganathan, who’d been at Uber specializing in machine learning and data-driven technology apps, to head up the product team. Under Ranganathan’s direction, KeepTruckin’s platform expanded into things like GPS, maintenance, spend management, and safety — mostly enabled by tracking devices in trucks. Now, fleet managers and operators not only know where their are at any given time, but they can do things like predict when cargo will arrive, monitor fuel use, and determine driving behavior that is causing drops in mileage (corrective actions can give up to 10% savings, says Ranganathan). They can also record accidents and spot employees out on the road who are driving poorly in real time.

Just as KeepTruckin’s founders had learned so much by hanging out at truck stops and diners, their teams gave their new customers products to play with and always invited suggestions. Abrams says she worked extensively with KeepTruckin on adjusting the ELD to more efficiently handle pairs of drivers, like husband and wife teams who often trade off to meet tight deadlines. Now, they’re going back and forth on a side camera feature.

Cameras, as it happened, were another turning point for the company.

In April, KeepTruckin’s dashcams will look a little different. It’s the next turn in an adventurous journey.

Image Credit: Courtesy of KeepTruckin

In theory, truckers should welcome dashboard cameras. Some 80% of crashes involving commercial vehicle operators aren’t caused by them, says Ranganathan — but they’re often blamed for the accidents anyway. “If you imagine an 18-wheeler in an accident with a Prius, it doesn’t matter who’s at fault; one side is not going to look like anything happened to them and the other side is going to be gone,” he says. Cameras could prove a trucker’s innocence. But drivers and owners were ambivalent. After all, the camera would be damning if an accident was their fault. They also saw it as a slippery slope — first the cameras would point outside, but what’s next? “If the truck I’m in ever gets a camera installed in it facing me, facing inside this truck, this home where I live in, I will stop the truck and quit on the spot,” YouTuber ‘Trucker Josh’ told his more than 100,000 subscribers in 2017.

Still, Makani saw a major opportunity in dashcams, just as he had with compliance. His clients were increasingly concerned with what were called “nuclear verdicts” — lawsuits over accidents with outsized penalties that top $10 million (one case had hit $280 million). So KeepTruckin introduced a simple road-facing camera in 2018. Once owners and managers saw the benefits, Makani figured, the company could roll out more sophisticated versions.

Conner Logistics signed on. By then, Susan Rockey had moved up from driver to operations safety manager and was known around the office as Mamma Sue. She’d been the one to suggest KeepTruckin. “We were ardent opposed-to-camera people,” she says. “But it didn’t take long to get over that.” 

Soon after installing KeepTruckin’s cameras, they had a multi-vehicle collision where their driver was accused of hitting a passenger vehicle. The camera captured the real story: A car swerved into their truck’s lane and clipped it before spinning out. Quickly, accusations were dropped. CEO Sean Conner, a former police officer, remembers replaying the footage in slow motion, and noticing a child’s face through the car’s window looking up at the camera. “It was cool to see that the kid wasn’t injured,” he says. “The cameras have saved us 10 or 15 times since then.”

Related: Diversity and Technology Have the Power to Boost Business Revenues

By August of 2021, the market was a lot more accepting, and KeepTruckin launched its AI dashcam, which also had an inward-facing option. The product alerts managers if an employee isn’t driving safely — texting, drowsy, speeding, not wearing a seatbelt, braking aggressively, drifting out of lanes — so they can intervene immediately and provide coaching (which KeepTruckin also offers). That same month, a jury in Florida awarded a $1 billion penalty against the trucking companies involved in a road fatality — reinforcing the need for a product like this. “As a company,” says Reliable’s Abrams, who also bought the dashcams, “you have one bad accident and you’re done, closed for good.”

So far, KeepTruckin’s data shows their AI dashcams reduce accidents by 22% and safety incidents by 56%. That got the attention of insurance companies, several of which they now partner with, who give discounts for members that install the cameras — a major boost for sales.

“If you could have seen KeepTruckin four to five years ago, it was nothing,” says Rockey. “Now, at my desk, I’ve got it on three different screens: my fleet maps up on one; then I’m watching the safety videos created by alerts for phone use, no seatbelt, hard braking, et cetera; and sending coaching messages on the third. What keeps us coming back is that they continue to expand.”

Today, ironically, the expansion Makani is eyeing has nothing to do with trucking. More than 30% of his clients aren’t in the industry.

Instead, they’re in construction, drilling, agriculture, oil and gas, and field services — industries that also involve large equipment and trucks that need help with compliance, safety, and tracking data. More and more frequently, KeepTruckin has been building features for these clients, like Cascade, a leading environmental, water, and geotech drilling company, which wants to measure fuel burned by their rigs on the job site. “We get a tax credit for that,” says Alex Amort, vice president of compliance, “so it can be a huge gain, because we can burn up to 200 gallons a day.”

Over the last couple of years, Makani began to realize that trucking may not be the biggest opportunity for this company — and the name KeepTruckin is a potential barrier to entry for new industries and larger clients.

Again, he found himself at a fork in the road. His had projected a casual, insider vibe, which won the trust of the . Should he risk it all with a rebrand? If he didn’t, would it limit the company’s potential? “It was a hard decision because you get attached to your name, and it becomes part of your identity,” Makani says. “By changing it, you lose a lot of brand equity.”

After much thought, he came to a conclusion: “Don’t let a name constrain your opportunity.” On April 12, 2022, the company will no longer be called KeepTruckin.

Related: 4 Ways Market Leaders Use Innovation to Foster Business Growth

The team considered many new names, but the winner was Motive. “It evokes movement and automotive, and also motivation, so there’s some connection to where we came from,” says Makani. “But importantly, it also is totally unbounded, because it is hard to know what the next problems we will solve are.”

He has some ideas. Motive is closely watching autonomous driving, and many of its products are ready to be adapted to driverless vehicles. It’s also building out financial services, including corporate cards that will be issued through Motive — a name roomy enough to go after those enterprise clients. And Makani wants to be clear: Motive hasn’t forgotten truckers. Among other things, the company is looking into a feature that finds drivers parking spots.

The rebrand will take time. Changing the assets — sales tools, customer invoices, stickers drivers put on their trucks, everything internal — is daunting. So is starting from scratch with name recognition. “But we’re growing this company for the next 50 years,” says Makani. “So a few years of effort to build this new brand? It will be very worthwhile.” 

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Founded in 2015, Belgian Boys is led by Belgian-born wife and husband duo Anouck Gotlib and Greg Galel. The couple has bootstrapped the business from one small idea into a cult-favorite now sold in over 5,000 retailers (like Target and Walmart) nationwide. Recently for the first time, Belgian Boys raised funds from strategic partners including KIND Snacks founder ’s Equilibra Ventures and other fellow CPG founders, industry leaders, and excited about scaling the Belgian Boys mission to “turn up the happy” on every day moments.

Belgian Boys

Gotlib was still working in fashion when Belgian Boys was in its infancy. Leveraging her skills from the world of fashion, Gotlib began helping Belgian Boys as a side project, designing its original branding and packaging. She quickly fell in with not only the product, but the smiles it brought to people’s faces, and came on board full-time first as a head of marketing before taking on the CEO role in 2018. Gotlib and Galel now work side-by-side, all while raising two children together in Brooklyn, where Belgian Boys is based.

Related: 10 Simple Steps for Starting a Business Today

For Belgian Boys, the success was not an immediate overnight phenomenon. Gotlib notes that she and Galel took a methodical approach to building the foundation of their brand. Because they were bootstrapping the business on their own, they sought cost-efficient ways to incubate new ideas in-market. At Costco, they tested out the idea of offering beloved European breakfasts (like mini pancakes and crepes) in the chilled refrigerated section, as is typical in Europe, as opposed to within the frozen section, as was common in the U.S.

Gotlib reflects, “For us, it made complete sense. is a that we eat every day. Merchandising our foods as frozen sent the message that this is something you stick in your freezer and pull out on occasion. And why should our customers walk across the from fresh to frozen when they are already grabbing their breakfast items like eggs, bacon, and yogurt, when they could add on their pancakes right there?”

The innovative idea caught on and more and more consumers started adding a serving of to their morning routines. That happiness that Gotlib is so passionate about spreading shows up in every part of the brand from its nostalgic flavors to its brightly colored packaging that as Gotlib says, “just makes people feel good.” The lineup is made in Europe with premium, non-GMO ingredients. Though the stroopwafel was Belgian Boys’ first product, and it’s the breakfast line of heat-and-serve Crepes, Pancakes, Belgian Waffles and French Toast that is the fastest growing. The Brioche French Toast, which launched exclusively with Target in early 2022, is already showing potential to become the millennial household’s “indulgence” staple. As this generation takes on parenthood, Belgian Boys breakfast manages to be convenient, delicious, and without any sacrifice in ingredients.

Related: The Power of Innovation

“Our goal is to pack the maximum amount of love and happiness into every treat we make and bring a smile to our customers’ faces. We never take ourselves too seriously, and we deal in the currency of smiles. We’re passionate about creating joy for our customers, and about spreading sweetness in people’s lives, and we know we make the best products that do just that” Gotlibexplains that the brand’s focus on “turning up the happy” on everyday moments has steered most of her business decisions to date, and that includes helping the brand identify meaningful partnerships. For example, through its partnership with DryBar, Belgian Boys is delivering a little bit of joy at a moment when customers are already treating themselves with a fun and pampering experience. Happiness for Gotlib starts with her family and her team, whom she considers to be an extension of her family. She shares, “My family brings me so much joy, but I’m a workaholic and I’m not ashamed of it! Every day I wake up happy and blessed to be able to do what I love surrounded by the talented team working so hard to grow Belgian Boys into the global brand I know it can be. The team and our happy customers have become an extension of Greg’s and my families.”

Related: The Secret to a Successful Business Is Happy Customers

Especially as people continue to deal with the weight of Covid, Gotlib hopes that Belgian Boys can spark a little more joy during everyday moments and even difficult times. The brand linked up with investor Daniel Lubetzky for the first time when participating in a KIND Snacks program to deliver donated snacks to frontline workers like doctors and nurses. Gotlib recalls that hospitals would call her team to say how grateful they were for their deliveries. She would think, “You are saving lives, I am sending a waffle.”

She adds, “I felt like that was the power of our brand. If you have a bad day, that little cookie will make you smile. That’s what we are all about: sparking happiness.”

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