What I’ve Learned – Strengths Distilled from Highly Effective People

Over the past six years, I’ve had some once-on-a-lifetime opportunities through BW Missions. Here are just a few ways they've enabled me to make my mark:

  • Helping to build brands

  • Nurturing new communities

  • Amplifying voices I believe in to forward missions that matter

Throughout this process, I’ve gained invaluable insights into what makes certain people tick. I've seen so many special visions come to life while applying this work to the brand we're building at BW Missions. 
Here are the 15 critical lessons I’ve learned over the past six years about brands that have made a big difference in my life and the people that power them. All these takeaways have changed how we operate at BW Missions for the better.

1.How to Truly Achieve More, Better, Faster: Live Outside Your Comfort Zone

CEO: David Schnurman

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Mission: The Fast Forward Mindset
What if you challenged yourself daily over the course of 30 days to do things that push you outside your comfort zone. Then, what if you did this repeatedly, month after month? Working with David has shown me truly how much is possible if you are continually stretching your mind to where you want to go, creating detailed plans of exactly how to get there, and then getting it done.

Keeping your commitments and not breaking them builds confidence, allows you to overcome fear by doing things that are challenging, and makes you focus on what is truly important.

Resource: The Fast Forward Mindset Book

2. How to Design a Brand

Mission :Kairos

Founders: Ankur Jain, Ryan Bloomer, Alex Fiance
Mission: Building a community of the brightest young entrepreneurs around the world

When I first started working at Kairos, I was writing and designing tons of  visuals for our community. I heard these words on numerous occasions: “This is not on brand...” However, at the time, the “brand ideal” felt so abstract to me. What does “on brand” really mean and how do you achieve it?

After digging in more thoroughly, I had a huge breakthrough moment:

I realized that a brand could encompass everything a company does. 

A brand dictates how a company communicates internally and externally, if you consider all these steps to take — and take them right:

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  • Designing a brand for its  intended audience, down to the accompanying visuals. 

  • The quality and depth of an email newsletter, even if replicated in a very similar fashion. 

  • Consistently in every endeavor

All these dimensions determine the people who a brand will attract.

Designing a brand architecture before it is even launched is incredibly important so you don’t have to “rebrand” and reinvent the wheel half way through of trying to get your startup/company off the ground.

Lesson 1: Personal Branding and Creating People-Centric Brand Assets: Chloe Belangia

 She has designed a lot of my brand architecture, from the messaging and the voice to the tone and other aspects. I’ve learned the importance of building a brand from the inside out from Chloe – understanding who you are going to attract and designing around them in every detail, communication, and graphic possible.

Lesson 2: Copywriting and Curation: Catherine Kushan

 She has been helping carry out the brand in written form on the newsletter and product side.

Lesson 3: Graphic Design and Visual Identity: Zac Oransky

 He’s designed our brand stylistically, with graphics, images, a color palette, typography choices, etc. Through him, I’ve learned to appreciate the value of clean, simple, and modern design. 

3. How to Ask Introspective Questions and Bring People Together

Founder: Caroline Pugh
When sitting at the table with Caroline, it’s apparent how in tune she is with the conversation. Phone down, mind churning, always thinking about what to ask you next,  and forming a deeper bond.

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She has a knack for asking great questions to foster relationships and then figuring out how those relationships can be put together to create value for everyone.

She accomplishes this lofty goal through different avenues, such as in-person dinners across the country with leaders in various areas of interest.

I have never met a more selfless person. Caroline has the sheer desire to build great communities that extends far beyond her personal interests.

4. How to Develop Operational Efficiency 

Author:  Allen Gannett

Mission: The Creative Curve

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Have you ever wondered how someone can get so much done in one day? Have you ever wondered how one person can do it with consistency? Finally, have you ever seen consistency add up over time to build something really special?

Working with Allen for a year, I watched/studied how he operated with attention to every detail. It was his early morning “heads-down” approach to getting stuff done. 

One actionable technique: he cc’d me on every single email and taught me to track everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) to ensure nothing fell through the cracks.

I’ve always been so impressed by his always-pleasant persistence, even when following up 3-4-5 (and sometimes more) times until we heard back. He has truly unmatched dedication to writing content consistently.

 I’ve taken to heart how he planned his travel schedule and itinerary, making sure every detail was perfect with tips like these:

“30 minutes on and 30 minutes off”

“Take an approach to work that’s both proactive and reactive”

“Execute with both precision and speed.”

Allen’s  strategic mindset and understanding of content and the digital world are his secret keys to activating a true online community.

Resource: The Creative Curve

TEDx Talk

5. Stacking Systems, Process Compounds

Author/Founder: Nathan Latka 

Mission: How to be a Capitalist Without any Capital

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Nathan has a great mind for stacking systems. With everything that came on his plate, he asked how it could be optimized, then delegated in an efficient way. Operations Manuals and teams who could execute in a fast-paced environment were what separated Nathan from many. 






6. How to Build Products that Change Behavior:

Using Behavioral Psychology to Create Healthy Personal Habits

Author: Nir Eyal: 

Mission: Indistractable 

Nir has a knack for understanding what makes people tick. I love speaking with Nir because I feel like he’s truly present on the other end and really cares. He asks insightful questions, wants to know “why,” and is very data-driven with tracking to create better performances – or for him, products.

A healthy blend of understanding human psychology, marketing, and why people do things really is what separates Nir from the pack. 

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Nir understands how to help people take certain actions by understanding internal triggers – whether that is helping product designers and entrepreneurs build habit-forming products.

Everything he creates, he makes specially for everyday people who want to understand that distraction starts from within and that if they put in the right behavior changes and habits, they can do things like spending more time with their families without being distracted.

Resources: 

Book: Hooked

Book: Indistractable 


7. Leadership & How to Delegate  

Founder/CEO: Rick Smith

Mission: AXON (formerly TASER)

The first time I met Rick in person was on Capitol Hill. He was with his team of executives. What I noticed about them was how buttoned up and sharp they were – all knowing what was supposed to happen, understanding their respective roles, and executing fluidly. 

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This is the number one sign of an effective leader who trusts his team.

Today, Axon is a publicly traded company that has dramatically changed how law enforcement works, offering nonlethal weapons options for police officers and military personnel worldwide. They are also developing software that utilizes AI and Machine Learning to relieve police officers of the stress that comes with making split-second decisions. 

Axon is keeping all points of view in mind while doing so and as such, is making the world a safer place and fortifying justice for every member of our global community. 

I’d say that he must be doing something right.

Resources: The End of Killing

Ryan Hawk Leadership episode with Rick 

8. Changing Your Neighborhood- With People Who Make You Better

CEO/Author: Mark Green

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Mission: Performance Dynamics Group

Mark speaks about this as an Activator – a concept found in his book, Activators: a CEO’s Guide to Better/Clearer Thinking. Leading companies and teams, we always to be elevating who we surround ourselves as we grow and finding people who have been down the path we have been down before to make sure we don’t make similar mistakes. 

Resource: Activators Book: A Guide to CEO’s Clearer Thinking

9. Data Driven Insights

Founder: Jacqui Chew

Mission: Next-Gen Analytics, ATDC

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The first time I met Jacqui, she said, “Let’s dive into your analytics...” I didn’t understand what she meant, but what unfolded was two hours of analyzing story data on my first startup, Wish Dish, to determine what readers liked the most. We discovered which articles had the most comments, likes, and shares … 

Once we figured that specific niches had the best readership, I created growth efforts around those categories and figured out how to multiple our user-based end readership with a clear focus. 

This was the first time I ever dug into analytics with any reasoning and it’s been a recipe for success on other projects since. Jacqui was one of the best mentors I ever had on my first started and owe a lot of our early learnings to her and the efforts she provided.

10. Owning Your Digital Distribution 

Mission: Morning Brew

Founder/CEO: Alex Lieberman

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Algorithms change. Emails don’t. Owning your own distribution and who you can message is very important – it’s important to control your own reach. LinkedIn, Facebook,Twitter, and other platforms have shown they will decrease reach on certain aspects as they get more popular and make you pay. While a great model for them, it’s not great for the user. 

The fact that they have figured out a way to share digestible content in an informative, thought-provoking way and lessons that you can apply to your own brand are what set Morning Brew apart. Additionally, thinking about an email newsletter as a product that can be grown is also fascinating when everyone leans on building platforms or personal brands instead. 

Resource: Article on my Website

11. Brand Storytelling

Founder: Jeff Gadway 

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Jeff has a unique way of getting to the heart of people and their stories and communicating it in a way that resonates. From his work at Blackberry to what he’s doing now while building Galvanize, I’ve always been impressed with his messaging.His authentic communication style makes his words really matter to his listeners.  People who hear or read his thoughts care on a deep and genuine level.

While working with Jeff, the leadership and communication style of Simon Sinek – which shows great care for other people and understanding who they are as an individual – really resonated with us. 

Jeff also has a compelling way of sharing his narrative through many LinkedIn posts which feel “human” in this day and age of media saturation and automation.

12. How to Run an Effective PR Campaign — From Scratch

Author: Jimmy Soni

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I was talking to Jimmy late one night and trying to find a good PR angle. I start describing the story to Jimmy and what resonates most strongly with me. Then, Jimmy says, “That’s it … Let’s play into the narrative of ‘time’ and ‘burning the boats’ to achieve something and then show how that story played out. We’ll write 2 articles, then go pitch Medium publications and big outlets to try and create some momentum.”

Understanding how to find the angle, how to craft a story and narrative from there, and then going and pitching to writers is a rare skill. However, it is important to understand the core of the ideas and what will resonate with the intended audience.

13. How to Combine Humor with Tact

Founder:  Dhruva Rajendra

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Dhruva is really smart – sometimes to smart for his own good. But in his RIOT articles/newsletters, he does a really good job with self deprecation and relating to his audience in a funny way while still being intelligent in his writing.

I’ve heard from my friend Leah Walsh that being able to combine humor with serious, intellectual work makes you more relatable and connected to the end user.

Resource: RIOT Newsletter

Side Note: Dhruva also builds really awesome products!


14. Rock-Solid Product Development: 

Founders: Matt Danna & Sean S: Boulevard

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Boulevard is a company that has been in stealth mode for three years. They believe in getting the product “just right” before launching publicly. Why market a product that isn’t already formed?

One time way back when, I launched a product too early without an audience. You might have heard of it- it was called WishDish. 

While really impactful, there were a lot of things wrong from the outset I would have gone back and changed – like getting the product right from the beginning.

Matt and his team have been adamant about getting it right before trying to scale, because at that point, you save yourself from wasting valuable marketing dollars on a leaky product. 

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In addition, Matt and Sean picked Boulevard as a name to have a brand that can scale with them as they grow across multiple industry verticals and so they can avoid changing their name halfway through. They are currently backed by X Ventures and have 40+ employees.

15. Why “Domain Real Estate” is Important


Founder of VPN.com: Michael Gargiulo

Simple and effective domain names are really important. It shows brand strength to have a domain that is digestible, yet meaningful. 

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II first met Michael five years ago, and he asked me a simple but transformative question when I described my ideas:

“Does it pass the telephone test?” 

What this meant in action included a few follow up queries:

  • Can you share what you want your brand to say over the phone?

  • Is someone easily able to type it into Google?

  • Is yours an idea or a concept that can easily stay top-of-mind in this saturated media environment?

In addition, a strong domain with high search volume helps drive traffic without spending any money on marketing dollars.

16. The Importance of Empowering From Within

Founder: Stephen Shedletsky

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Stephen works with Simon Sinek and after reaching out to him my senior year of college, he helped me navigate my decision to not pursue my job full time and try my startup. 

On our various Skype conversations, when I was done thanking him, he said:

“No, don’t thank me;  I learn just as much from you as you learn from me.” 

In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to know someone like Stephen. Always learning, appreciating others’ individuality, and making people around him feel important.

17. Building Startup Communities

UGA Lecturer/Founder Four Athens: Jim Flannery

After prior success in business, Jim landed in Athens, GA when there was no startup community. He built it from the ground up, inspiring students and talented professionals in town to build companies. 

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Jim has a knack for fostering talent within a community, getting them to work on problems that matter, while helping a surrounding city and economy. His impact on the youth and people with ideas is unprecedented. 

Resource: Startup Communities (book) by Brad Feld

18. My Most Secret and Powerful Weapon: You

Every member of my community, not just the founders, give me the willpower and creative dose of thinking I need to keep pushing forward every day. Did you get something useful out of this list? . I want to hear from you- and I know I will continue to add to this list as I build out more takeaways from the amazing people I meet along my journey. 

If applied the right way, you will build yourself a really effective tool belt to bring into other projects. I try and work with people for knowledge that goes beyond a paycheck. From these industry experts, I can learn and bring their talents and strengths into my own work to have a more useful tool belt, all supplemented with a growth mindset.