Isa Watson: Making Workplaces Work For Humans

With a background in chemistry and pharmacology and being an MIT MBA with a focus on finance and economics, Isa’s corporate career started at Pfizer where she was a chemist and data scientist before moving to JP Morgan Chase. Whilst VP, Digital Product & Strategy for Small Business at JP Morgan, Isa observed that the bank branches that were most profitable were ones with the most engaged people.

She took the leap into the world of entrepreneurship when she founded Squad in 2015 having seen an opportunity to help companies understand how to do this better but it was a huge career pivot that saw her leave corporate life to go it alone and pursue this.

She will talk about some of the ways that companies can provide a better environment for humans to work and share how she came to realize that in her startup, she had to bring her ‘best self’ to the business every day – no one else in the business has more impact on the morale and well-being of the team than the CEO.

also available on the podcast


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Can you guys hear me? Great.

Greg [Baugues] That is one tough act to follow. I was like I am not trying to get emotional before I go out there but thank you so much for your honesty and your authenticity and it’s actually something I want to build on and you know what I’m about to say.

So the first thing I want to get clear is that this is not a HR talk. I’m not an HR specialist didn’t study HR. I’m not trained in HR and I’m a chemist and I’m a technologist and when I was talking to Mark before coming to speak at the conference the one thing that he was really interested in was kind of this juxtaposition between my personal experience and kind of the software that we’re building. So, I run a software company based in New York City. And I’ll tell you a little bit more about it later, but I want to start by taking you guys through the beginnings of my journey.

The starting point

So can anyone guess this is a picture of the West Indies. So you see South America is down there. Florida’s up here. Can anyone guess what dot that island is. He say a St Bartz? Martinique? Okay. Any other guesses. St Kitts, St. Lucia so huh.

It’s a picture of St. Kitts. So that’s where my family’s from is where this all started. And this where my dad immigrated from in his early 20s to come to the US to go to college. So when you think about like the American dream you think about someone like my dad; immigrated from a developing island – the population today is still about 50,000 people, I think there are more people enrolled in university California Berkeley. And he came to the US, studied computer engineering, had this career through all the kind of older school tech companies (IBM and MCI, AT&T things like that). And when you think about not just my dad being an immigrant but also being born in the 50s what was some of the messages that were told to be with our born in the 50s and 60s because it’s very different than what’s told to us today as millennials. He was told that you go to college, you build a stable family and those are kind of your biggest values like:

  • family
  • work

Family and providing for your kids. And so that’s what he did. I have five siblings. My family was really busy all the way for three technologists there are few engineers some real estate developers were all up and down the East Coast doing different things. But between that and all of us playing sports and all of us playing instruments like that was pretty much the only thing my parents had time to do. And so I wanted to adjust really quickly before delving in this generational shift in priorities. So again when I talk about the boomers; again stability financial freedom and providing for a family or come some of the bigger things that they care about. But when you shift gears and think about who the boomers kids are those are millennialls and what they told us were that we should find our passion. We should build community. But people also think we’re selfish and we’re lazy not necessarily true but those are some of the worries you think about when you think about the millennial population.

So 1987 the year I was born. I think it was a particularly good year. I say that because a lot of people they get so confused by my age because I have three degrees, I’ve had three careers, but you look twelve and I’m like not quite. But 1987 gas was $0.89 a gallon, eggs were $0.65 a cart – a dozen eggs are like $4 now Whole Foods. ‘Full House’ and ‘The Simpsons’ came out, but you know it was the year that I started to kind of farm, receive all the values that my parents instilled in me and so the things that were really high kind of. Revolved around a few things. So

  1. You could be anything you want
  2. If you can find your passion, the money will follow later – which is why a lot of millennials are over educated and underemployed
  3. You can do anything you want.

I remember I would always ask my parents like ‘are you sure I can do anything I want? Like what if I wanted to be president?’ And they’re like ‘you can do that’. And now I actually think that I could like given that anyone can be president.

I was like well what if I want to go and build a house on Mars. They’re like you can make that happen. And so, I grew up with this sense of optimism that I could really do anything – and it wasn’t arrogance – it was just my parents said if I really work hard, I can just really do it. And so, the one thing that they instilled in me at the foundation level though was that:

“whatever you do, do as much as you can to positively impact as many people while you’re here on this world on this earth because your time is limited.”

I never really understood what it meant when I was like twelve when you start telling this to me. I was like shut up like I’m trying to watch TV but it’s something that stuck with me. It’s one of those things where parents say these things over and over and they’re very esoteric at the time but over time it starts to make sense and so what did I do? I really focused in kind of doing this on accelerating my experiences because I just want to get as much experience as I can to figure out how it’s going to impact the world. So, I studied and got my undergrad in chemistry at Hampton University and did my master’s in pharmacology at Cornell. And now my first job I was a diabetes chemist at Pfizer and I was also a data scientist for the drug Lyrica which I’m sure you guys have seen commercials on ‘cause Pfizer is a great marketing company. And then I change course is a little bit. I wanted to be a little bit closer to the impact and just dealing with people so I went to business school here at M.I.T. because I thought that I was going to go back to pharma and you know build and sell big pharma companies and kind of got wooed into the world of Wall Street. I don’t know how that happened. Life just happens and I went to JP Morgan Chase. So, I had to go buy suits I bought heels and I like figured it out on Wall Street. And the interesting thing about my role at JP Morgan Chase was that I was brought into this program that Jamie Diamond had created to facilitate a pipeline of money Jamie Diamonds. And so, his view is that people should be more generalist people on Wall Street or too specific and too niche. And you know we should kind of cultivate a group of leaders that are doing a lot more than that. And so, one of the things that was interesting was that my start at JP Morgan and on the fifth day I had a very traumatic life experience that I might have a difficult time talking about right now.

The Hardest Day

It’s funny, Mark, when I was talking to this presentation, I could talk about all those slides except this one. So we’ll see how I do. But this is a picture of a bus accident. My parents they sponsor bus trips for kids to visit colleges every single year. And these were generally kids who could not afford college visits on their own. And my parents were kind of situated at the front of the bus and the bus flipped over on a straight road and ejected both my parents and my dad did not survive. And they had to lift the bus literally off his body. And this is my fifth day at JP Morgan Chase like I’m this like Hot Shot MBA I’m supposed to be doing these like great things and this is how I felt.

I just I felt confused, I felt empty, I felt angry. My dad was like a 58 year old healthy, productive citizen like went to church, paid his taxes, and was happily married to my mom. And so it was just a lot for me to digest and I really couldn’t digest human interaction so I just kind of went into this like dark place where I was just going to work and coming home. I think for like probably three months my dinner consisted of two glasses of wine and blueberries and that was pretty much like all I ate. So the one thing that I kept remembering and that kept playing over and over and over in my head though as I tried to pull myself out of this rut and also keep in mind my mom barely survived and she had almost no memory of everything. And so out of the six kids and probably the one that my parents kind of gravitated the most to for all these things and so I had to kind of put my own grief aside and make sure that my mom was OK, and basic things like OK where’s your cable bill, where’s your bank account, those things were handled while still being one of the top 10 percent performers in my job at JP Morgan. So, I go back to my roots and like what am I doing with my life. Because what I’m not going to do is I’m not going to sit and be unfulfilled and just be miserable all day and work for somebody else and so this “whatever you do do as much as you can to be a positive impact as many people as you can”. It just kept playing over and over and over in my head and what did I decide to do with that? At the time I decided to double down and what I was doing so again limited human interactions I like abandon my friends for a few years and I was just like I just want to accelerate all my experiences. I raise my hand for every new big job. They moved me out to Hong Kong to build this. They moved back over to New York to build that and next thing you know I had a 90 million dollar budget at like twenty seven where I created a billion dollars revenue for the firm.

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The Eureka Moment

So that was like how I coped with what I was doing and so again it was like really accelerating the experiences and different type of experiences because I was like I need to figure out what I’m going to do to positively impact as many people as possible. And so, the eureka moment that I had that led me to start to leave JP Morgan which everyone was just really shocked about, like how can you like Jamie knows you like you like you do. You can’t leave. Well I did. I became the youngest actually head of digital product for all of small business banking. So that’s a division that banks the five million American small businesses with all their digital services. And so, what I did is I led a revamp of all digital products that they used. And that was really cool. And my view is that when you’re building products you can’t build a product from ivory tower and hanging out with like Jamie Diamond. That’s cool but you’re not going to get to understand what your users are doing and what your biggest pain points, the biggest opportunities are. And I always love to say that I’m like I’m for the people I never like to be in the top floors all the time and so what I did is I make friends with branch managers across the country. When I would travel, I didn’t ask for permission, I just did it. And the one thing that I found that was super interesting was that the branches that had the strongest workplace engagement and what I mean when I say that is that these branch employees were self-organizing to like go run two miles together by the Hudson, to go hear cool industry speakers, to go smoke cigars together. Those ended up being our strongest performing branches in the country and not from a like ‘oh they have the best employee satisfaction scores’. No, they had the fastest growing assets. If you look at all the branch metrics from a scorecard perspective they were the strongest performing branches and so it was like you know for a while I thought it was this creepy millennial of like well if I’m like happier at work and I feel more connected at work then like outperform perform better and people were always said this has ROI. All the things that people say you know when you come up with ideas and the reality was that actually saw definitively on paper from branches that were like highest asset branches to lowest asset branches or branches that were all the way New York to Ohio to Texas to California. That was it was pretty consistent. And it was this kind of moment I said. Well, everyone loves money you know once I was able to communicate that this made money. I felt more comfortable taking the plunge and feeling a lot more validated a lot more conviction. And so the inflection point. Do I stay or do I go? I can’t reveal how old I was I think it was 28/29 and I was like You know I’m not getting any younger; once I like get married and if I have a child I have a child. This isn’t going to be as much of a reality as I wanted to be, so let me just leave and you know being the child of immigrants – when you tell your parents, who came to the U.S. so you can go to school, you tell them you’re leaving your 401K and your health insurance go do something that doesn’t make sense to them. You know my reaction was. Are you OK? And you know talk about it you know your dad just died. So like you know maybe you really need to talk about it with somebody.

And no it was just you know I was actually think that my dad would have been supportive because again finding your passion and so is the idea good enough. You know we talked about how to kind of materialize this. I think that when it comes to figuring out if you want to start a business you have the idea you have the founder and you have the team and on the ideas side again you know facilitated and kind of engagement among people in a way that’s natural. And you know it’s really funny because I imagine people in this room are a little bit diverse in ages but you’re able to have conversations with people whereas I have a younger brother who’s 24 who’s like the most charming guy everyone loves him but he can’t make friends. You know the way that you know we make friends because they grew up on Twitter. Like Twitter was a thing when they were like nine. And so how do you actually like reverse that a little bit and bring online communities offline at scale. And so that was a huge opportunity. And so you know the founder TBD I was like You know I figured out all the other sh*t that I’ve done in my career so I can probably figure this out I’m in and the team I was able to recruit one of the earliest engineers on the Gmail team who was there from 2004 to 2016. So I said All right let’s make this happen. So the idea was really around humanizing connection and when you think about you know how to kind of building a what Greg said how to really empower the people around you and your workplaces. I think that a lot of times especially because of the tension and generations people are often think that you know work is completely separate, where you know my dad probably wouldn’t have gone to smoke cigars with his co-workers but they were just doing that and very grassroots ways. And so the idea was to actually build technology that can empower that like I said at a big scale. And so being able to build that technology and not just build it but being able to sell it. We actually started out in the work in the strictly enterprise software. So we like we are you’re kind of modern workplace engagement tool. I will put this out there to the audience. How many what would you guess the number of no’s I got before I got our first enterprise contract?

Mark Littlewood: Zero

Isa Watson: You’re funny. I should’ve come to you first.

Ten? Twenty? One hundred? I got three hundred and twenty no’s

I didn’t even realize it until like two weeks ago when we were looking at our hubspot data because we were moving off hubspot in all the conversations at some point I was just like a crazy person and HubSpot all the time and I got the first yes I got was of a midmarket Credit Union and the second. Yes I got shortly after that was from Walmart. I was like OK I can breathe and I’m just kidding I can’t breathe but. It took a lot and it took a lot of persistence but again this whole idea of kind of connection was really important and the really interesting thing about it is that in our industry category enterprise software that’s optional. I mean you’re not getting paid from it you’re not selecting your 401K stocks and things like that you usually struggle to get even 10% engagement but you are you know customers Walmart etc we’re consistently seen over 50% of employees use this offer every single month which is significant. And so we just really needed that that push to kind of validate it and it’s really really just taken off.

The Generations

And so back to the generation is really quickly. So I talked about the boomers I’ve talked about millennials you know it’s the funny thing about it is that one of the biggest things we learned about the product is that our initial hypothesis is wrong. So we said oh we’re going to allow you to create this work community over here where you have your groups of people so you have your new moms group, your book club, your you know marketing analytics people, you have people that are like your react JS connoisseurs. And the reality is that people didn’t want to just have their work community isolated they wanted their work to be completely integrated with their life. And so when you think about kind of whereas work prioritize relative to other things with the boomers it was actually prioritized very highly. And it was completely separated right because you can kind of separate the things that you prioritize.

But with millennials the reality is that they wanted not just their work community but they wanted their work community that were integrated with their kind of life. And so the second generation idea of Squad by Envested was really not just having a community of different groups in a repository of all activities and again we had the AI conversation earlier  today but the platform is built on certain AI machine learning principles actually learns you over time and learns of people that you’re connected to over time and actually recommend certain things to you and every event is scored relative to you. But the reality is that like I said people didn’t want work completely isolated. They wanted it integrated and so what we did recently is we deploy the ability to have multiple communities so you can be part of your community, or your Vevo community, or your greenhouse software community all whom were who are enterprise customers of ours. But you can also join your kind of tennis community or your in New York City Meditation Community. And again it’s really interesting to see the impact of Engagement that’s had and how much you know engagement has really taken off when you really focus on human connection that people weren’t really able to achieve in other places.

And so how do we think about making our workplace more human. I have you know some just kind of basic principles and I think a lot of these kind of build off what you were talking about, Greg, but the first thing first and foremost is respect. You know I think that the workforce is getting much more diverse and the way that I was raised was that my we lived a little bit right outside the county lines when I was in middle high school in Chapel Hill North Carolina . And so my parents would have to like take the trash to the dump is what we call it. But my dad always struck a conversation with the guy who he met in the dump. He would bring him Burger King and I was like Dad I always bring him Burger King. He was like because he’s human you know people are kind of probably sh*tty to him and like you know is really important to make him feel like he’s you know just worthy and respected and my parents always said don’t ever think that you talk to Jamie Diamond differently then you would talk to the janitors. You know that’s not how we do here. And so I think that I’ve kind of empowerment implemented this and our workspace but it’s so fundamental. You’d be surprised how much like disrespectful things kind of go on in different corners and it really does shape the workplace. I think that honesty and transparency are super important.

When I went to my first job at JP Morgan I was working for the CEO of the mortgage bank right after the crisis so cleaning up all their sh*t. And I remember I walked in it was my first time in corporate America. I was so insecure. I was like ‘All right I’m this like tall, like I’m unambiguously black’. I mean my aunt is like Mark’s colour, I’m just like. And I know my voice sounds assertive. I was like so I’m going to go and I’m going to put on my suits and I’m going to walk like a robot and talk like this and yes the analysis and excell blah blah blah, the regression blah blah blah. And people did not like me. They did not mess with me and it made me realize I was talking to one of my mentors who’s a vice chairman at Morgan Stanley she was like they don’t like you from this review and she was like it really seems like you’re not being yourself and I was like well how should I be. She was like yourself.

So I was like ‘All right cool I’ll be myself and I’ll talk like how I talk, I will walk or how I walk’. Greg, when you talked about cultivating vulnerabilities is really interesting because I see my therapist every Tuesday and my team knows at six fifteen – so my sessions are at 6:45 p.m.- but my team does the success scene. They’re like All right you’re going to go see Dr. Marshall. All right. Peace our. I am open about it because I’m just like people think that CEOs are this like untouchable thing like that we’re these like non-human transformers. And the reality is that we have struggles too. One thing I just really struggle with was I was the 20th black women in the US to ever raise over a million dollars in VC funding or something like that was crazy. And most of our investors are in Silicon Valley and so there’s I mean investors that were like the earliest and like Birchbox and Harrys and Heroku and companies like that and so you know there was one time where I started feeling a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of things I’m digesting as a founder. And I like it’s really helpful to have people around me. I feel really moody today. You know I just think that when you are open and transparent and human there is something that it does to the people around you. And so that’s one of the things I think makes the workplace more human and authenticity kind of plays into that

Empowerment. So I think it’s really important to make sure that you empower the people around you. And what I mean when I say that is really kind of driving what makes them great right and what they care about. My team is incredibly diverse. We’re like a third Asian, a third white, and a third black. And we’re Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Catholic Budist. I think I’m probably missing a few too. But the reality is that we’re so different and the people who are like we don’t see colour does not like this I’m really realistic what we do what we do is we actually have what we call them community lunches like once a once a week like my aunt was that from St. Kitts and she made this huge Caribbean feast and like my engineers took all the leftovers home like and gave it to all their friends for like have food for like a week. Right. And it’s just different things about feeling empowered to be who you are and to bring yourself. I’m Caribbean and yes I like curried chicken like it is great. It is good. You know I’m and I’m not going to pretend to like your salad with no dressing. And so I think that there are a lot of differences culturally, country wise all that and how do you empower the people to be who they are? And so I know when I was in power to be who I made myself empowered to be who I was when I was in corporate America. I just performed completely differently. And you know it’s so much easier and you get much better performers who are constantly in top 10% when you are empowering people.

Another thing is inclusion. So I talked about kind of you know the difference the culture aspect on the team. But I think one thing that people in tech get wrong and particularly I see a lot of white Americans making this mistake is that they get to a certain place and they’re like Oh great, now we need to focus on diversity and we need to like get numbers and we need to make sure you interview a certain number of women and a certain number of black people so that we can fill it. But the reality is that that doesn’t work. It’s a force mechanism. You just have to focus on being inclusive first because I can’t tell you like every single black person I went to a top ten MBA program that was a year below me or above me. I know them like it’s the community is incredibly small. And you know people are attracted to places that feel inclusive. And so I think that this society we kind of do diversity and inclusion look backwards. But like focusing on being inclusive and it’s not just being inclusive of like race, by the way, is being inclusive of people who want to be open about like mental health issues. I think that mental health is real I struggle with this with my own family because the last thing you want to hear is a Caribbean is that you’re your child’s going to a therapist or your child’s on medication. And it’s very not accepted in a lot of immigrant populations and so I actually talk about my family to my grandma and I’m like grandma you need mental health like you need some help too like all of it. And so you know it’s inclusive about whatever that person’s experience is. However they show up. You know I had some of some of the women that report to me last week were just really really sh*tty on Friday and Thursday and I was like what’s going on. And they’re like I don’t like this Cavanaugh thing is like really getting to me. And I was like OK. Like we want to talk about it you know. And I made a space for them. And I like it didn’t get to me the way that I got to some of them but I was inclusive of their differences of you know their opinions and how they were feeling.

Other thing is experimentation. I talked about kind of accelerating experiences and that was just my approach to finding what I wanted to do in order to kind of amplify my impact to the world. And I’m also a scientist by training so I was a chemist and everything’s an experiment. When you’re building a high growth company it’s also an experiment. It’s like rapid experimentation. I think that it really has to be part of our culture. And another reason I call it experimentation is because when you’re really pushing the edge and you’re experimenting, you’re going to fail. And most people aren’t really comfortable with failure. They talk about failing fast but I fail all the time you know and I also win all the time and I think that you know making an environment especially is a particular particular to high growth ones where experimentation. Is part of the environment. And failure is accepted is also important.

And then last thing is empathy. This is something that my first leadership coach was like you suck. because I was like I don’t understand what’s so hard about that like I did it I made it happen. They should make it happen too. And it’s really not that simple. My experience is not their experience. There’s this really awesome video by Brene Brown. I’m sure you know talking about empathy versus empathy and talk about and empathy is Oh my God you know I had a miscarriage. Oh I really don ‘t know what it’s like to feel that way but you know I’m really glad you told me and sympathy is I had a miscarriage well at least you could get pregnant. You know that’s like when you think about empathy versus you know sympathy and the need for people to have empathetic folks around them. That’s also really important. And so those are the components I think that kind of humanize workplaces. But it’s also you know very kind of embedded into the software that we build in that we’ve scale through thousands and thousands of users and you know dozens of companies. And so what’s next for us on that side again just kind of wrapping it up. You I’m not at H.R. person at all but you know connection really drives everything that we’re really able to do. And so the one thing that we’re losing kind of in this society is a little bit more of that human connection with the amplification of you know a lot of social media which I’m actually I’m being a hypocrite because I IG story all the time but I’m also trying to course correct with the software that we’re building and scaling. So again whatever you do do it as much as you can to positively impact as many people as you can. The stories that I hear from our users on like how they were able to you know build connections outside of their units and even find different friends and it’s really hard to make friends as an adult and to get the next big opportunity those are actually super inspiring where we haven’t had a user meet their spouse yet, I’m waiting on that. And so we just focus on our user growth you know straight line up. That’s what Silicon Valley companies do. I mean they’re making my business a sh*t ton of money. So you know I just wanted to end with you know the fact that like it’s that connection drives everything. And those are the things that components that I think make workplaces more human and that’s what we drive through our software and that’s is also like I said I just really shaped my own personal life experience that I was happy to share with you guys today.

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Mark Littlewood: Incredible well, You followed it you followed it and I’m sorry to start with it. We’re going to have a couple of questions I think look a little bit of time before we go off anyone.

Audience Member: Thank you so much for inspiring and meaningful talk. You and your Greg both. I didn’t get to thank him at the end his. I’d like to look at it from point of view of business design. You create software that creates connection. That is that is a derivative of what you’re doing. But when you talk about the business you’re talking about leading from the front in the main, you’re talking about what you do to create environment that other people will follow. What about after your last day? What are the considerations that you would put into place where you would have others in this room put in place to be able to hold up the principles that you described in your carrot slide that can survive us so not just doing what we can during our short time on earth it can go beyond?

Isa Watson: So let me let me clarify you mean my last day at the company or on Earth?

Audience member:  I’ve just meant at the company. We can plan around our last day at the company.

Isa Watson: Oh okay. I was like Well I hope my last day isn’t soon, but either one actually. But I think it’s really about training and how you socialize what you do. So the only thing about it is that employees are actually everyone’s quite malleable and adaptable to environments and humans are very resilient. And so when it comes to making sure that the values that you created and the culture that you created can survive you it won’t be the exact same like you know Apple wasn’t the exact same when Tim Cook came in and took it over from Steve Jobs. But I do think that there are certain like very hardcore written things you could put in place and they’re kind of the intangibles. So on the tangible side there is like the mission and the values and all the kind of HR-y things that you want to do and however you want to write them. I think that most of them actually written pretty robotic and are very confusing and so I think that like being super clear there is one thing and I also think on the intangible side is really – the one thing I’ve noticed is that people who have worked for me who have then gone to work for other people I see me in them is this very strange like how I see me and my mother and my father and so you know one of the things of being consistent with how you’re engaging with people and kind of knowing who you are and having a refresh I guess I mean between my therapist and my life coach actually have a refresher on who I am as it evolves and being clear about that like I’m not the same person I was like two years ago. And just how that kind of transcends your employees. I think those are kind of two kind of tangible and intangible things that you can do.

Audience member: Hi. So thank you so much for sharing your story. Something that was really remarkable to me was to hear the amount of times you are told ‘No’. That is a lot of no’s and something that I’m curious about as someone who is you know building my own consulting business. I get told no all the time. And I’m curious. How did you, obviously humans are very resilient, but how do you take the time to have some type of emotional response. Because of course like being told no sucks while also gathering some type of learning experience to move forward. Or do you just like, you know, brush it off and move forward? I’m curious to hear.

Isa Watson:
well the first thing I did is I gained 30lbs so to be completely real it wasn’t like a smooth sailing thing. But and I got a stomach ulcer and my doctor was like you need to sleep more. So, I think that one I’m a negatively motivated person and people have told me so so much in my life and I’m like my head I’m like. That’s ok you don’t need to believe me like I’m about to go do this anyways. So I think there’s like that and I actually like how I’ll get it when I’m around talk to myself in the mirror and I’m like ‘Yo you got this’ you know or I have a circle of friends where I’m like out they know what I need when I’m like Texan and these certain things and they’re like yo if you don’t kill it today I’m going to come fight you. And so I think it’s like building the right support around you and figuring out like however you need to cope with it. But it is really hard you know from a very tangible perspective. The one thing I did is that I have this document that I manage called an objection tracker. And so whether it was fundraising or whether it was with customers one thing that I was doing is that was consistently you know tracking the objections I was getting was it what when what were the trends was it pricing? Was it oh we don’t know that this will work? Was it you know something else was we don’t have the right buy in. And over time I started to address those objections like earlier in the process and like more strongly and then I would see those kind of like fizzle out. So I think part of it is like mindset and just you know I didn’t take care of myself the best and I was just like sleeping consistently two hours a night. And I thought I was OK. And that’s not great. But also you know from a tactical perspective making sure that I was super clear about how I could improve and getting the right feedback and input to do so.

Audience Member: I have a correlation causation question. Have you found that companies that are already performing well or teams that are performing well have an easier time of the social engagement portion?

Isa Watson: That’s a really good question. So we now I can’t name names. So we have a company that everybody wants to work at and they have a pretty strong culture and their engagement is actually pretty high. We also have a company that laid off 10% of employees and people were just like ‘F you’ to the management and they told us. And we deployed, we just did the SSO integration. And we tested it out, in three days, 25% of the company had on their own with no notice no notification. They had adopted the software and it took off on its own. And so we’ve seen it work well in environments where there is a lot of strong engagement positive culture. But we’ve also seen it in situations where the culture was pretty sh*t and this was like a mechanism for employees to do things on their own because when the culture is bad is not is usually the management’s fault and employees are usually distancing themselves from the managers. And so when we were able to actually kind of use this kind of grassroots tool that works very much like a social media tool in the workplace people adopted it as a way to just kind of have their own place. I feel about this. This guy’s been having his hand up for a while.

Mark Littlewood: Oh, don’t feel bad about him, it’s only Gareth!

Audience Member: So two things. One we’re a completely distributed team. So what you said about going to the branch offices resonates with me. You’re just trying to build any kind of culture on community or togetherness. I totally agree with you I know that the value of this because I’ve seen it. Do you have any advice on what do you do if you have a distributed team or is there anything that you can do? We try to get together occasionally it’s probably the best thing that we have. And then two I didn’t see anything up there in Gen Xers and I’m feeling kind of like the forgotten middle child!

Isa Watson: Oh you call me out so I’ll just do a Gen X thing later. Yes But as far as the distrubeted it seems it’s really awesome because we’ve talked about companies like vision and a ton of other companies who were like completely distributed. And you’re right it is harder because you don’t have those opportunities to cultivate you know online connections and bring them offline. And so the one thing that’s you know that distributed teams do that. You know there are two things. So one is that whole kind of we call them squads on squad but you know you’re tennis squad or you’re running squad or whatever the case is make sure that they’re participating in kind of these groups of employee interests. Everyone wants to do diversity groups say women. I mean I’m of the thought that diversity groups are a little bit outdated. But the second thing you can do with that is just various competitions and recognitions even though they’re distributed. So we do this with one of our customers where they’re like these Fitbit challenges or there are these kind of tennis challenges or like if you meditate meditation people you meditate five days in a row then you get like a particular thing and so kind of building community through some of the competitions and things like that. Everyone can do competitions to do online.

Oh yes sorry. Gen Xers so two of my siblings are Gen Xers so it is really interesting. So Gen Xers there they’re this hybrid like they’re kind of cool like they’re on my Twitter and some of them have some snapchats but then they’re like ‘oh my god the millennials’ you know I’m glad I’m away from them but I think that Gen Xers they’re this they’re this interesting middle that I think skews a little bit more towards the boomers. So I still think that they focus on stability and focus on hard work they’re focus on paying their dues to make sure that they can kind of you know climb, up the passion thing is a bit more secondary to Gen Xers. And my view then it is millenialls were there though just quit their job and travel for three months and not have any cash. And so yeah.

Mark Littlewood: Thank you. Last question

Audience Member: I think he really enjoyed the talk. One of the things that we’ve seen this week with the founding team departing Facebook from the Instagram founding team the departing Facebook them saying you know we kind of understand the social media works but we don’t really understand how it works. And we’ve seen these big unintended consequences these big negative aspects of social media. Providing space for really bad things to happen; is that something that concerns you with the platform that you’re building and if it is what are you doing about it?

Isa Watson:
Yeah I think that’s a really good question. And you know to kind of just expand upon what you’re saying you know social media also has negative mental health effects where you know people don’t they’re looking to social media to feel validated. I know people who they don’t get enough likes on their Instagram pictures they take them down. Because they weren’t validated enough and that’s just silly. And so I’m more of I will I’ll put something up on Twitter if I have no likes that’s fine. Like you don’t have to rock with me. That’s cool. But I’m also I know I’m in the minority in that regard. And so the one thing that we’re doing and how that has happened is that when you’re building a high growth tech company Twitter went from like 250,000 users one year to like 1.2 million next year to like I mean they were going growing multiples right. What they’re focused on and they’re there you know what they’re focused on is engagement. Right whatever engagement looks like. Right. And so I think that the one thing that we do that’s a little bit differently is we actually kind of asked ourselves what’s the kind of human impact of what we’re doing. Even while we’re growing and I think that it’s important to not lose sight of that. You know for instance of the AirBnB guys Not to make fun of like four white guys start everybody but if they had like stopped to ask like are people going to be OK with like Muslims or black people come into their houses like they probably would have built a product that was a little different. If they had stopped to ask themselves that question. And so I think that you know for us it’s we’re conscious of it. And I’m actually very mindful of making sure that I don’t build a product that has kids out there people out there feeling like very invalidate it. It’s making sure that we embed that in our process and our investors are actually completely onboard with it to.

Mark Littlewood: Isa, Thank you very much. Absolutely incredible.

Isa Watson
Isa Watson

Isa Watson

Research chemist, data scientist, Wall Street, now software entrepreneur. Determined.

Isa has a background in chemistry and pharmacology and an MIT Sloan MBA with a focus on finance and economics. Her corporate career started at Pfizer where she was a chemist and data scientist before moving to JP Morgan Chase where she was responsible for their digital product strategy for small business. She took the leap into the world of entrepreneurship when she founded Squad by Envested in 2015. She has never had a cup of coffee and has played classical piano for 25 years.

More from Isa.

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