06 Mar March 6, 2020 – 4 Exits Peter Sisson and Drama-Free Workplace Anna Maravelas
That’s what products are about, that’s what companies are
all about; they’re about solving a problem.
Peter Sisson has had four exits from very successful companies. He runs an accelerator that has graduated 24 companies across four cohorts, those companies have attracted over $30M in funding and employ 150 people. His new business, Yaza, is the world’s first app for secure, authenticated videos on maps. His expertise covers all aspects of designing, building, launching, growing and monetizing great products, designing and scaling organizations to support those products, and making them profitable. He volunteers his time mentoring startup founders at the European Innovation Academy and StartOut Growth Lab. As a passionate world traveler, he has flown more than 4 million miles and visited over 30 countries.
Anna Maravelas – President of Thera Rising International and Author of Creating a Drama-Free Workplace: The Insider’s Guide to Managing Conflict, Incivility & Mistrust – Read interview highlights here
The research says if we can think of three positive things to
reinforce everyday, our brain will rewire itself as a happier person.
Anna Maravelas has resolved more than 300 workplace conflicts painlessly and permanently. At the conclusion of her seminars attendees have lamented, “Why didn’t someone tell me this before!?” The New York Times named her “the best source on workplace irritability and tension.” Her best-selling book pinpoints simple, but common, reactions to disagreement that spell the difference between lasting success and a lifetime of frustration. As the president of Thera Rising International, Anna combines insights from the field with strategies from neuroplasticity, conflict resolution, anger management, and process improvement into life-changing, transferable skill set. Her work has been featured in more than 35 publications including “The New York Times,” “MSNBC,” “Oprah Magazine,” “Forbes.com,” “Harvard Management Update,” and “The American Bar Association Journal.”
Highlights from Anna’s Interview
Avoiding Workplace Drama
Workplace drama sometimes comes from someone that moves into the office, and right away, things kind of start deteriorating. But most likely, it comes from all of us. That was the big surprise I got when I started doing conflict resolution full-time in the workplace. I resolved conflicts in just about every kind of industry you could think of for about eight years, and then I went, “Oh my gosh, the patterns that make disagreements destructive, those patterns are everywhere! Every time I go somewhere, I see the same set of patterns.” So, that’s when I stepped back and I thought about one of the things I learned that really helped me put this in perspective; and it was the idea that we have a negativity bias in our brain.
The one negativity bias that I’ve learned a bit about is universal. It’s an interesting little phenomenon that our brain does, leftover from when we were hunters and gatherers, and sudden death was a constant threat. Our brains are still wired with that in mind, so we’re a little bit dissatisfied and anxious and insecure. According to the people that do research in this area, that applies to all of us. We have this little bit of suspicion and we’re always kind of looking over our shoulder. But of course, today it isn’t a physical threat, today it’s an emotional threat. That negativity bias, if we’re not aware of it and if we’re not compensating for it, that can really take us down a lot of dead ends and get us all wrapped up and get us into escalated conflicts.
Part of my work was just figuring out, where does that negativity bias take us especially when we’re unaware, and how can we of take charge of our brains. There’s a great saying in psychology that, “We don’t have to believe everything we think.” The reason that’s such a great idea is because so much of what our brains will generate is not useful to us and is based on negativity. We have to go from what I call a reflexive reaction to frustration and disagreement, to a reflective reaction.
One of the questions I get is, how come I always have to become a better person? We can kind of flip that over, though. The more we can get reflective in our assumptions about each other; give each other the benefit of the doubt, think that there’s some reason going on behind their behavior, approach them and ask them in the workplace instead of what most people do. What most people do is, when they get into some kind of tiff with a co-worker, or two leaders can do this too, they withdraw. The first thing they do is they withdraw: they stop talking. Because they don’t want to deal with it.
Let’s see why it’s good for us to be more reflective in how we respond when we’re frustrated. The research says that we have an average of 30 frustrations a day; and that could be a disappointment, or a disagreement, or a delay, or a new demand that’s put on our plate. They can be small little things that go wrong throughout the day. So, there’s three ways we respond to those mini-crisis. We’ll take the example that maybe we’re stuck on the freeway, because everybody deals with that.
The first reaction to that is we start to blame others. It’s very reflexive and it inflames the event. We work ourselves into a tizzy. We might say, “Oh, I can’t stand this. This is horrible. None of these people can drive. They’re all jerks.” So, it’s very outward-oriented. It looks around at other people and look for reasons to denigrate the people around us. Well, that reaction leads to anger, or the biofeedback word for that is flooding; which is severe emotional stress to the nervous system. We can wire our brains so that becomes our automatic response anytime we get frustrated. And then as we walk around, we’re miserable, because we’re elevating people around us.
The second way which is very similar is based on the same idea; inflammatory thinking, lots of exaggeration, except now the target is me. So instead of blaming the drivers around me, I’m going, “I’m such a moron, why did I take this route to work? I always get in the wrong lane.” As soon as we say that in that exaggerated way, we lose all of our mojo, we lose all of our energy. So the reflexive reactions blame others or blame self; those two kind of feed off each other. We see people dealing with a lot of anger and cynicism. Then we see them also dealing with low-grade depression, because when I make a mistake, I say I’m an idiot. So those are what we call the two reflexive reactions. And we can wire our brains so that those are our automatic responses. We also get help with a negativity bias to do that.
The third reaction then is what we call reflective, and that’s just more analytical. It’s actually a different part of the brain that kicks in. The analytical response is more like, “Well, why is the freeway backed up this morning?” “Oh yeah, that’s right, there’s a game going on tonight.” Or, “This is a really old road. When the Department of Transportation planned this one, they had half the traffic that they do now.” So, it’s really more of a situation where you’re looking for reasons underneath what’s going on in our world and in each other.
Imagine, you talked over me in a meeting. We were in a meeting together, I was saying something, and you just brought something in and started talking over me. The first thing I could do in my head: reflexive, is to blame you and call you names in my head. I can just say, “Oh, my God! That Jim, he’s just such a jerk! He’s a control freak, typical guy!” There’s that blowing it up, inflaming it, generalizing it, and getting pissed. Second response could be “There’s something wrong with me. I’m not assertive enough. I don’t have anything to add. Maybe I should work on the way I present myself or my appearance. No one ever listens to me.” Now, I’m depressed.
Then there’s that third response, which is “Why did Jim talk over me? What’s going on with him?” So the third reaction is really to get curious and not to label you and blow the whole thing up, and then go and tell 10 people that you’re a jerk. I can just say, “Well, maybe he didn’t realize I wasn’t done. Maybe he’s got a hearing problem.” Many times, there’s a reason behind other people’s behavior. But when we jack ourselves up with all that negative energy, we’re not in any place to talk to each other. So if I’m thinking you’re a jerk and you’re a control freak and all men are like you, I’m avoiding you like the plague, and I’m telling 10 people that you’re a jerk. But if I get curious use that third reaction; the reflective one, then I will track you down later and go, “Jim, come here. Did you know that when I was telling you about the proposal at the table that I was about halfway through, you just took over the meeting?” Now, I’m curious.
The research just talks about those little-mini-hassles that happen all day long. If you react to them in that first assumption, then they turn into big frustrations. But if you can just take them in stride and give the benefit of doubt and have a talk about it, then it’s just a nothing.
I think it’s great thinking of wonderful things every day, because that’s how you balance out the negativity bias; by developing a practice of gratitude. The research says we have to think of just three things to be grateful for, except the trick is they have to be three new things; you can’t say every day, DoD, pizza, beer is what I’m grateful for. If you can keep a list, I think it’d be such a neat thing for your family to do. Because what you’re doing, as far as neural plasticity, is that they can actually see a change in your brain after six months using a functional MRI, because you’re strengthening those neurons that are associated with appreciation. I haven’t read this yet, but I think as we do that, there’s neurons that are really strong for frustration and flooding, they’ll probably go away with a shrink. Because when we don’t send energy down certain neurons, they start receding.
I think one of the things that I help people with is just understanding where the drama comes from. It comes from that negativity bias, that we get our hands on it, we exaggerate, we inflame. Instead of talking to each other, we start talking about each other. We start drama venting to other people. We ask them to join our faction, and that’s really subtle. It sounds like, “Don’t you have problems with Jim too? All of us have problems with his department.” That’s subtly recruiting someone to join your faction and to just make it a norm that the group adopts. There are ways you can do that: you can do that just by talking about it, or there’s other more structured ways you can do that.
The rule is, we don’t talk about each other, we talk to each other, and then we just adopt a really simple way to open the dialogue with each other and make that the norm. And you also say, “No gossip here. We don’t spread rumors. We don’t drama-vent. We talk to each other face-to-face.”
The one thing that organizations across the board do that just drives me nuts, is they let their employees come in their office, and they’ll start drama-venting, and the boss will say, “Close the door. I want to hear all the gossip.” That’s just their mission to throw people under the bus. And if bosses participate to make that one change to stop dramas and to stop allowing it, and do anything else; call that person in, work out a three-way [Unclear], let’s problem solve. Something like, “Employee, I’m not going to encourage you to do this kind of thinking. Go out there and find him and talk to him face-to-face. What do you want from him in the future going forward? Ask him for that. Get curious about why he’s doing what he’s doing. Open the dialogue. Don’t talk about each other, talk to each other.” That’d be my number one rule.
You can get the book on Amazon Creating a Drama-Free Workplace: The Insider’s Guide to Managing Conflict, Incivility & Mistrust. Our website is thera-rising.com.
Highlights from Peter’s Interview
Creativity versus Innovation
I actually think that creativity is essential to creating something new, and innovation is just applied creativity. I feel like I’m a pretty creative person and I am the sort of guy that obsesses about why can’t they do this better. I find that when people encounter problems in the world, there’s types of people that just complain, and there’s other types that say, maybe there’s some way to fix that. That’s what products are about, that’s what companies are all about; they’re about solving a problem. If you can get your creative juices flowing to solve that problem in a new way by using the different pieces of the technique ecosystem; all the tools that are out there, then you can start to move the needle.
I think the Me Too strategy is as much a fault of entrepreneurs as it is a fault of VCs because a lot of investors are not leaders, and they look to see ideas that are getting funded. Insanely, they WILL fund more of the same to compete with that because they say, “Well, someone invested in it. I’ve kind of covered my ass.” It’s such a weird psychology when it comes to raising money with the Me Toos. Whenever something gets big, you’ll always see the Me Toos, they’re funded, and then everyone battles it out. In fact, that’s what happened with Wine Shopper; my first company.
We started with an idea, which was ordering wine online, having it shipped to your house, legally, which we discovered quickly it wasn’t except for a few states. There was an incumbent wine.com at the time that was doing it illegally. I thought, maybe there’s a way to do this where we can actually make it squeaky clean and grow a really big business. So, I went and partnered with the industry association representing wholesalers. I was in a temporary office and it looked really professional. They came to meet with me. It was only me at this point, and they thought that all the people in the office worked for my company and that I was a big company. We signed an agreement that gave me the exclusive rights to represent their member wholesalers for distributing their inventory. So, by partnering them, we could suddenly have massive inventory and basically sell from their inventory through a lot of database work and stuff like that. I segued there into my first venture, which is Wine Shopper. We had raised 46 million from Amazon, Jeff Bezos.
Then what happened is, basically our competitor, they raised $96 million; the original one that was doing it illegally. We just battled it out until April 2000 when everything collapsed and it ended up putting the two companies together. It wasn’t a happy ending as much as I would have liked, it was kind of a merger under duress forced by the investors. But in the end, it was a springboard into all the companies I’ve done since. I learned more through challenge and failure than I’d ever do through success. So that’s kind of how it all started, with Wine Chopper, an office that looked more impressive than it was, and some wholesalers that were worried about this illegal direct shipping and wanted to be a part of it instead of cut out of it. That was a big deal, but in the end, nobody really made any money. Although, the company does exist as wine.com, and there’s also another wine fulfillment company that was spun out of it as well. The one thing I can say is that every company I’ve started has created something that customers used, and ultimately survived, and became profitable or got acquired.
There are those days when I’m not creative or it’s just not working. I have a very active mind, so usually when I’m feeling like I just can’t come up with anything else is when I’m depressed after some bad news or some setback, and I’m burnt out because I’ve been working constantly. The immediate-term fix to that is take a little break, even if it’s a four-day vacation. The longer-term fix to that is something I’ve learned, which is, you can still work tons but you have to structure some time for yourself. So, I try to get up early, I try to start my day around 7am, and then wrap up my day around 7pm. That gives me three hours each night which is my time. Usually I’m just wedging to Netflix, but at least I’m giving my brain a rest from thinking about Yaza, which is what I’m really focused on right now is growing that business.
Yaza app is kind of one of those things that when you use it, you get it. It is, as I rather boringly described, authenticated videos on maps with built-in messenger. But really, it’s a way to manage HD video and keep your video organized; find what you need, and share it with friends without using up all your phone memory or using up all your mobile data because HD video files are massive. If you try to text an HD video, what happens is they get clipped, you have to shorten them, and their quality is reduced. So, it really is about fixing problems with mobile video. The videos have become 80% of the internet now. Young people, Gen-Z, and Millennials consume much of their news and content and video form. Videos and the cameras have gotten very good. With iPhone and Android, these cameras are ridiculous. The problem with those ridiculous cameras with all the pixel counts is they generate massive files; particularly when you’re doing video. You can easily get into the gigabits, and those files become just impossible to use.
What we do with Yaza is, you record the videos in Yaza; that’s how we authenticate. We don’t let you upload, we don’t let you edit, we don’t let you add filters, there’s no bunny masks or anything like that. It’s basically just a live video recorded at the place it happened in HD. There are lots of applications and use cases for that. Our fastest growing use case is, realtors are using Yaza to create house tours where they do a narrated house tour like they would do if showing a house to a potential buyer, but they do it on Yaza. And then, all of the videos they create of the different rooms and their narration about the schools in the neighborhood sit at that property on the map. Now, people who follow them on Yaza can look at their properties and actually get the tour experience without taking the time to drive their car somewhere. This is really resonating with younger realtors who are used to using social media and video sharing tools, and their buyers who are very busy working often double income families. Maybe they’re being relocated, so they can’t really tour the houses, so they can tour them on the map with Yaza videos as though they were doing it in person. And then that narrows their search dramatically so that when they do finally meet with the realtor, they’re more ready to sign an offer. It saves realtor’s time and buyer’s time, and that’s one of the most popular use cases.
The other popular use case is travel. Let’s say you’re going to Paris for the first time, and you have friends who have been there. You remember last year Johnny went there but where’s all that stuff? Is it in Facebook, was that Instagram? Where did it all go? It’s all scrolled away into oblivion. All of that content that was created, maybe even if you had been there before, all that is just lost in this blob of stuff that scrolled away in social media, or it’s sitting on your phone but you never use it. So, we’re like, let’s bring that content forward and let’s put it on a map. Now when I go to Paris, it’s sitting right there, and I can find the places that my friends went and had a good time, and I can see what it’s like there because it’s all video. I can also get directions to them because it’s all on maps. Basically, it allows you to take advantage of all the information that you and your friends and others have captured in videos. It just puts it to work rather than just sitting there in a blob never used.
We make the video searchable for what’s inside them. With Yaza, you can just go type in the keyword, for example, “snow”, and maybe identify you as the poster, and all the videos that you’ve taken of snow will come up. When you record a video through Yaza, we upload it to our servers, we encrypt it, upload it. We run it through an image classifier which is an artificial intelligence; a machine learning type of technology. In fact, what we’re going to do is allow you to upload your own videos. After we got the product in market, we realized there’s a real ghost town problem. So, we’re going to allow you to sink in your videos from your iPhone.
HD video files are massive and we’re storing all of those for you, so we give you two gigs of storage for free. But then if you are a heavy user and need to store more, then it’s very much like a Dropbox model where we’ll charge you somewhere between $4-9/month to get one terabyte of memory, and then you’d basically have all the memory you need. We’ll also offer a more advanced camera because it uses our camera; it uses the iPhoto tool kit but it’s customized for our needs. We’re going to be adding some additional cool tricks to the camera that you’ll also be able to pay for with the upgrade. Believe it or not, Dropbox only converts 2.7% of their users and they built a solid business. Only 2.7% of people who use Dropbox pay for the enhanced storage plan, and the rest of them are just using it for free.
One thing that I’ve learned is, raise as little money as you possibly can and wait as long as you can, because the more people that get involved, it’s more cooks in the kitchen. It just gets harder to stay focused sometimes because everybody has different ideas. Literally, we could be debating on a color of a marker with investors sometimes; the ones that get a little too involved. We’ve only raised $150k but we’ve done it very strategically. It’s actually from five investors, each doing $25k and each of which brought something to the table. One is an EVP of PayPal who is really connected in the payment space, which is something we’re thinking about in the long-term for our roadmap. We have a guy who ran the App Store within Apple for seven years from when it opened; 2019 [Unclear] through 2016. He is well-connected with Apple, and even more so, to the investors that wanted to talk to him all the time to get their apps featured when he worked at Apple. Then we also have a professor from Dartmouth, from the Tuck School of Business where I went. He’s a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship. He has put in money as well, because he’s written a book called “The Wide Lens, which is all about timing. If you boil it down, it’s really about the importance of timing and success for startups. He’s a big believer in our timing, and that’s part of the reason he put money in.
The idea of having those types of investors is, what you want when you’re looking for investors is someone who can add value, as well as someone who ideally has connections to investors that you’ll want to raise from for your next round. So, it’s really important to pick those initial angels carefully. You don’t always have the luxury, but it’s like getting married when you pick your early investors.
Here’s another thing about Yaza. Anything you share, even if you share it externally like onto another social media platform, you can flick a switch and make it all disappear. So, you have total control over your content. Wherever you share it, we have a little magic trick that will make it disappear if you decide you want to un-share it. You can even edit a text after you send it or delete it. We’ve got a lot of sort of next generation stuff in the messaging aspect that is super cool.
To get the app, you can go to the App Store for iPhone right now. We’re coming to Android later this year. You can download it in the App Store. You can learn more about us at our website “Yaza.io”.