Ep. 0 Dan Saks, host of Decoding Digital at AppDirect

Decoding “Decoding Digital”: Dan Saks on Profiling Digital Heroes

A CONVERSATION ABOUT SHARING STORIES OF SUCCESS

36 min

Ep. 0 Dan Saks, host of Decoding Digital at AppDirect

36 min

It takes a special type of person to succeed in the digital economy. They need vision, curiosity, grit, and determination to achieve their goals and create a bold impact, both at work and in the world at large. Hear podcast host Dan Saks explain why it's critical to tell the stories of these Digital Heroes, and why he's decided to do just that on Decoding Digital.

“Decoding Digital is for anyone who wants to learn how to transform themselves and transform their businesses. It could be anyone from a high school student to someone at the tail end of their career who wants to embrace innovation.”

Quick takes on...

The Importance of Vision


"Have conviction in your vision. You need to have a vision for yourself, for what you want to do to make the world a better place, and then really make sure that you test your assumptions and build just this crazy conviction, because starting anything, it's super hard and you need to be so in love with the idea that during those dark days and long nights you need to have something inside your head that's almost irrational that's just telling you, this is what you are meant to do."


The Impact of Technology


"I think what's so encouraging about the technologies that are out there today is that if you truly embrace digital, and you digitally transform, resilience builds in business and it really does provide the opportunity for entrepreneurship across the organization. Even though we're in a stage of disruption that's pretty unprecedented, I'm confident that out of the challenge, you're going to see even more entrepreneurs."

Watch “Decoding ‘Decoding Digital’” with Dan Saks

 

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Meet your guest, Dan Saks

President & Co-CEO, AppDirect

Spotlight Dan Saks v2

Dan has always been an entrepreneur. The son of small business owners, he caught the business-building bug when he was still a kid and started a lemonade stand. As a teenager, he launched a tour company to show visitors the sights of Niagara Falls. Since then, he has gone on to co-found AppDirect and help build it into a global business with a billion-dollar valuation.


Dan is a life-long learner and is constantly looking to discover and share ideas about new things. He is honored to have the chance to learn from some of the smartest people in business and technology, and share his conversations with the Decoding Digital audience.

Listen to the next episode

Ep. 1 Decoding Lean Principles with Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup

Decoding Lean Principles: Eric Ries and The Long-Term Stock Exchange

A CONVERSATION WITH THE AUTHOR OF "THE LEAN STARTUP"

41 min

What do you do after you’ve changed the way an entire generation of founders launch and build their companies? If you’re Eric Ries, you tackle one of your most ambitious projects yet—creating a new stock exchange to generate long-term, sustainable value. Hear Eric discuss “The Lean Startup,” the hard work of changing the status quo, and more.

Episode transcript

Daniel Saks: [0:01] What the podcast is designed for is really anyone who wants to learn, who wants to hear from others, who wants to take a risk but, ultimately, who's willing to stop and ask themselves really, really hard questions and then use those responses to be like, "I can do this. I have now heard from these people. I know I can transform myself. I can transform my business."


Mary Montserrat-Howlett: [0:23] What does it take to pursue your vision and innovate in today's digital economy? That's the big question we're here to answer on "Decoding Digital," a new podcast about navigating the digital world. Each episode, we invite innovative business leaders and thinkers to share their unique story or perspective on a digital trend that we want to decode.

Decoding Digital is hosted by AppDirect Co‑Founder and Co‑CEO Dan Saks. For our first episode, we decided to put Dan in the hot seat to share his thoughts on why now is a critical time to hear from individuals who are pursuing their vision and succeeding in the digital economy. Let's listen in to Dan as he talks about the podcast with his friend and colleague, Naomi Mbakwe.


Naomi Mbakwe: [1:12] Thank you so much for having me on the pilot episode of Decoding Digital and getting to host this podcast with you. I am super‑excited to be here. Firstly, just thank you for having me.


Daniel: [1:27] Thank you, Naomi.


Naomi: [1:26] Why don't we get into it? Dan, you interview a lot of founders. What many people may not know about you is that you also are a very accomplished founder yourself. You were named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for enterprise technology.

You've built a billion‑dollar unicorn company, AppDirect, along with your friend and co‑founder Nicolas Desmarais, which, 10 years later, now reaches 35 million businesses around the world. Before we get into the podcast content, tell me a little bit more about your founder story.


Daniel: [2:01] I appreciate that, Naomi. For us, it started back in 2009 actually at the height of the Great Recession. Businesses all around the world were struggling. In fact, my family had a furniture store started by my great‑grandparents on Main Street in Niagara Falls, Canada, called Saks Furniture. After over a hundred years in business, my family had to shut their furniture store down. I really attributed that to not having access to the technology that would allow us to compete.

At the time, the future of entrepreneurship looked bleak. The idea of Main Street and retail was really struggling. It wasn't obvious if entrepreneurship would really be a thing of the future. In many lenses, you could look at it and say, "Big enterprises are going to take over, and everyone's going to be an employee for a hundred big companies."

Nick and I, at the time, had brainstormed previous business ideas, but were always passionate about this idea of, "How do we help businesses?" Nick was at Bain & Company at the time in San Francisco. We were looking at different technologies, and we learnt about Software as a Service in its infancy. We said, "Wow, this SaaS thing," and I think we didn't even know how to pronounce it — we called it S‑A‑A‑S —


Naomi: [3:14] S‑A‑A‑S.


Daniel: [3:15] Yeah, exactly. "This S‑A‑A‑S thing seems like it could really help businesses, and it may have in fact helped my family's business compete and stay around."

We were big believers that people who can be entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs, but have that entrepreneurial spirit in any organization, and be empowered through technology, they could ultimately create an environment where you have a ton of innovation, a vibrant work culture, and a thriving economy.


Naomi: [3:43] It's really interesting how you just mentioned in that short little description of the entrepreneurs and the intrapreneurs, and how actually both of those types, personas, need technology and need access to SaaS to be able to really expand and extend their reach.

Could you touch on that? How do you see an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur and their particular personas and how they leverage technology to really drive that?


Daniel: [4:11] If you recall back to 2009 pre‑cloud days, software was clunky, expensive, and hard to manage, and it would be outdated. I remember with my family's furniture store, one of the biggest purchase decisions we ever made was when we brought this software service called Profit Systems. I think I was 13 or 14, and my dad and my grandfather brought me out for dinner at this restaurant in Niagara Falls, and the guy's name was Rick Stark, who was the software salesman, I think from Colorado.

Rick was selling us on all the value of technology. My grandfather was like, "There's no way I'm buying this software thing, but you know what? I'll let the guy buy me dinner." At the dinner, Rick was so good and passionate about selling furniture that he actually sold the waitress a mattress on the spot. Throughout the end of the dinner, my grandfather went from total skeptic to "We're going to mortgage the whole store, make the most expensive purchases we've ever made, and buy this technology," which is called Profit Systems.

It really helped for five years or so, but then it went obsolete, and other people outpaced us. The lesson learned for me was, technology can be super‑valuable, but, A, there's a huge trust issue where you have to trust the person providing you the software. It's also not just about the technology, it's how it's adopted and how it transforms your business culture.

Daniel Saks: [0:01] What the podcast is designed for is really anyone who wants to learn, who wants to hear from others, who wants to take a risk but, ultimately, who's willing to stop and ask themselves really, really hard questions and then use those responses to be like, "I can do this. I have now heard from these people. I know I can transform myself. I can transform my business."


Mary Montserrat-Howlett: [0:23] What does it take to pursue your vision and innovate in today's digital economy? That's the big question we're here to answer on "Decoding Digital," a new podcast about navigating the digital world. Each episode, we invite innovative business leaders and thinkers to share their unique story or perspective on a digital trend that we want to decode.

Decoding Digital is hosted by AppDirect Co‑Founder and Co‑CEO Dan Saks. For our first episode, we decided to put Dan in the hot seat to share his thoughts on why now is a critical time to hear from individuals who are pursuing their vision and succeeding in the digital economy. Let's listen in to Dan as he talks about the podcast with his friend and colleague, Naomi Mbakwe.


Naomi Mbakwe: [1:12] Thank you so much for having me on the pilot episode of Decoding Digital and getting to host this podcast with you. I am super‑excited to be here. Firstly, just thank you for having me.


Daniel: [1:27] Thank you, Naomi.


Naomi: [1:26] Why don't we get into it? Dan, you interview a lot of founders. What many people may not know about you is that you also are a very accomplished founder yourself. You were named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for enterprise technology.

You've built a billion‑dollar unicorn company, AppDirect, along with your friend and co‑founder Nicolas Desmarais, which, 10 years later, now reaches 35 million businesses around the world. Before we get into the podcast content, tell me a little bit more about your founder story.


Daniel: [2:01] I appreciate that, Naomi. For us, it started back in 2009 actually at the height of the Great Recession. Businesses all around the world were struggling. In fact, my family had a furniture store started by my great‑grandparents on Main Street in Niagara Falls, Canada, called Saks Furniture. After over a hundred years in business, my family had to shut their furniture store down. I really attributed that to not having access to the technology that would allow us to compete.

At the time, the future of entrepreneurship looked bleak. The idea of Main Street and retail was really struggling. It wasn't obvious if entrepreneurship would really be a thing of the future. In many lenses, you could look at it and say, "Big enterprises are going to take over, and everyone's going to be an employee for a hundred big companies."

Nick and I, at the time, had brainstormed previous business ideas, but were always passionate about this idea of, "How do we help businesses?" Nick was at Bain & Company at the time in San Francisco. We were looking at different technologies, and we learnt about Software as a Service in its infancy. We said, "Wow, this SaaS thing," and I think we didn't even know how to pronounce it — we called it S‑A‑A‑S —


Naomi: [3:14] S‑A‑A‑S.


Daniel: [3:15] Yeah, exactly. "This S‑A‑A‑S thing seems like it could really help businesses, and it may have in fact helped my family's business compete and stay around."

We were big believers that people who can be entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs, but have that entrepreneurial spirit in any organization, and be empowered through technology, they could ultimately create an environment where you have a ton of innovation, a vibrant work culture, and a thriving economy.


Naomi: [3:43] It's really interesting how you just mentioned in that short little description of the entrepreneurs and the intrapreneurs, and how actually both of those types, personas, need technology and need access to SaaS to be able to really expand and extend their reach.

Could you touch on that? How do you see an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur and their particular personas and how they leverage technology to really drive that?


Daniel: [4:11] If you recall back to 2009 pre‑cloud days, software was clunky, expensive, and hard to manage, and it would be outdated. I remember with my family's furniture store, one of the biggest purchase decisions we ever made was when we brought this software service called Profit Systems. I think I was 13 or 14, and my dad and my grandfather brought me out for dinner at this restaurant in Niagara Falls, and the guy's name was Rick Stark, who was the software salesman, I think from Colorado.

Rick was selling us on all the value of technology. My grandfather was like, "There's no way I'm buying this software thing, but you know what? I'll let the guy buy me dinner." At the dinner, Rick was so good and passionate about selling furniture that he actually sold the waitress a mattress on the spot. Throughout the end of the dinner, my grandfather went from total skeptic to "We're going to mortgage the whole store, make the most expensive purchases we've ever made, and buy this technology," which is called Profit Systems.

It really helped for five years or so, but then it went obsolete, and other people outpaced us. The lesson learned for me was, technology can be super‑valuable, but, A, there's a huge trust issue where you have to trust the person providing you the software. It's also not just about the technology, it's how it's adopted and how it transforms your business culture.

Going back to your question around SaaS in the early days, what we saw is a model where you could try before you go all‑in, subscribe. You don't have to worry about building servers or physical security. Everything's online, accessible from anywhere.

As a business owner, you could access your technology whether you're on vacation, or whether you're in another city, or at a conference. These ideas now are really commonplace to us today. Back in the day, that was not at all the way software or business technology worked.


Naomi: [6:17] It's really interesting how you've then taken that and we're now in this completely digital, hence the title "Decoding Digital." I would love to understand, how did you birth the idea of this podcast? Where did the idea start? Was it back in the furniture store in some way, shape, or form? Tell us.


Daniel: [6:36] It's interesting. One of the things that we're grateful about is that I get to travel around the world and meet so many incredible people. You mentioned the intrapreneur versus entrepreneur. What I'd say is while I'm a startup cofounder and based in Silicon Valley, a lot of the people I get to interact with are very far away from Silicon Valley.

In the early days of our business, I traveled to Japan, Australia, all across Europe, Latin America, and got a global perspective. One of the unique points that I recognize is that founders in Silicon Valley all are early‑adopters, willing to test, experiment a lot of things, but most business owners around the globe are very skeptical and need a lot of confidence built, and trust, and referrals.

We work with many Fortune 500 organizations around the world. A lot of those organizations need business cases. There's a culture where they might say that they're innovative companies, but then they don't have the appropriate risk balance to reward someone for taking a risk.

I sat at the intersection for many years of these small businesses who don't adopt technology but maybe could and get value out of it, these large organizations that could be a trusted provider to deliver to these small businesses but definitely had a risk challenge, and then all these crazy people in Silicon Valley that took extreme risk but almost couldn't translate as effectively to others around the world.

One of the first things I learned about technology when I read a million books was Geoff Moore's "Crossing the Chasm." It was around this idea how there's early‑adopters, then there's the majority, and then laggards. In many ways, what I recognized is, our mission was to help the majority and the laggards figure out this early‑adopter tech. From speaking to all these people, I realized that everyone speaks somewhat of a different language, but they could all really learn from each other.

In speaking to all these different people, what I recognized even 10 years later to today, there's not a place where you can go where you can hear stories of intrapreneurship, entrepreneurship, founders, Fortune 500 CEOs, small business owners. What we wanted to do is tell these stories of innovators and encourage anyone around the world across any industry to be empowered to do the best they can at work and love embracing innovation at work, regardless of what they do.


Naomi: [9:18] Dan, I know that from day one when I met you, I heard you speak at Collision Conference, to the day that I walked into the doors of AppDirect, you talk a lot about being vision‑oriented and what that looks like. How does that play out for you and either perhaps AppDirect or how it is that you're seeing that play out within this particular podcast series?


Daniel: [9:40] Thanks, Naomi. Like I said, my favorite question to ask people is, "What's your vision?" and hear how that evolves. Our vision was somewhat of a simple one but very hard to explain. That was just, we want to see a world where businesses, and business owners, and people at work have easy access to the technology that they need that's going to allow them to thrive. Therefore, we define our vision is making technology accessible globally.

What we meant by that, is really this idea that technology can be the great equalizer to enable people at work to be productive and happy, and enable small businesses to thrive, and enable intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs to ultimately have the tools to be able to compete and succeed.

Hopefully, a business like my family's furniture store could still be in business today if they had these technologies and tools to make them stronger. When we think about this vision, what a lot of people say is like, "Oh, I can just go to Staples and buy software off the shelf for Best Buy, or I could go to online to box.com or dropbox or whatever it's going to be and sign up."

But what our belief is that, today, it's ironic because you buy technology, but it's actually the most old school, hard way to buy things. It's kind of like buying all the pieces of a car separately, and then figuring out how to assemble them, and then expect that that car's is going to drive as fast as you know... And it's kind of crazy if you think about it. Like the way a business, even a medium‑size business, to buy their IT, they have to go first subscribe to Internet, then a bank account, and then they have to get all these different software tools. They might be using 20, 30, 50 tools, and then, as you have more employees, there's security issues and no visibility in the data. That fragmentation can be really frustrating.

I'm sure everyone at work has the issues around like, "Oh, I forgot my password or I don't have access to this," and you also have app fatigue where it's like, "OK, I'm going to use maybe Salesforce for CRM, but if I have to log into like the 10th app or 15th app, I just don't know if I will." I think that it's so crazy how archaic using business technology is, even though we're in a digitally transformed era.

One analogy I like to give of that fragmentation turning into a harmonization is the evolution of music. If you go back to prehistoric times, people could make voices with themselves, and then there were lullabies and songs that could be heard across a bonfire. Then, finally years later, you're able to capture that on a record player or the phonograph. Then, that involved into more efficient CDs.

What's interesting is, with the advent of the MP3 player, it was really a turning point where you started to have these songs that could be distributed digitally, and you're no longer confined to 12 songs on a record.

If you think about what happened over the last few years with really Spotify, now you can access the world's library of music anywhere you want and pay one monthly fee. You don't have to worry about passwords or going to this new record store or whatever it is. Once you have that place where you can use everything you need seamlessly, then it starts to work for you.

What's cool about Spotify is I can follow friends' playlists. Then Spotify recommends playlists to me, and then that gets intelligent and it becomes a whole new discovery engine.

I realize that I'm connected with artists that I would have never otherwise uncovered, and then I can follow those artists and see them in live shows or in this world virtual conferences or virtual festivals. What's amazing where music is today, is you have unlimited access to the world's library of information, super easy, super seamless.

If you think about your business technology, it couldn't be further from the truth. You still have to go buy from all these separate vendors, manage different passwords, you have security risks. Every new employee that joins this company or leaves, you have to activate and deactivate. All your devices are fragmented, and that's really tough.

Really, our vision with AppDirect was to bring together the best of business technology, enable a business to simply subscribe to those services from a trusted adviser, someone that they believe in, and ultimately be able to use everything they need in a seamless way with one bill, one password, and, therefore, really have the world's library of business technology and information at their fingertips, so they can compete with large organizations.

Just as with music, once you have access to this, then it can start working for you where you have data and AI recommending things. Imagine the business world, if you essentially start having intelligent recommendations of actions you can take to boost your revenue or to save costs. That's really when the world can be truly transformed, and it can be really fun to interact with your technology to make your business bigger and stronger.

There's no reason why that shouldn't exist. It's just to bring those pieces together into a simple ecosystem is hard. The stories you're going to hear at Decoding Digital, many of those are people who have transformed their organizations through using technology, and have gone through these challenges of building a platform or an ecosystem that can scale around a specific subject.

That's a little bit about our vision. What's funny is we think we're just at the beginning. We're just the tip of the iceberg.


Naomi: [15:40] With that entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, co‑founders of small businesses, Fortune 500 CEOs, how did you get the guests on the show?


Daniel: [15:51] This is actually something that stems back from a long time. When I was seeing success stories in digital transformation, I couldn't pinpoint it, but for years, I could meet someone and be like, "This person's going to succeed and this business is going to thrive, whereas this business is not."

It's funny because what I pinpointed is of all the successful stories I've seen and all the failure stories I've seen, it comes down to one persona. If there's a persona which we call the Digital Hero, which is someone who has the foresight, the courage, the confidence, the tenacity, there's certain characteristics that they have that just focus on the future and are willing to take the risk.

These Digital Heroes are the ones that were able to transform first themselves, then their vision, then their organization, and then, ultimately, a broader community. What was interesting about these digital heroes is they could come and be found at any level of the organization. Sometimes it is the CEO, but sometimes it's a change agent that's an entry level employee that has this idea for something new.

Sometimes it could be a first-time startup founder that dropped out of high school but other times it could be a veteran, a startup founder who's raised a ton of capital, and he's going to do it again.

In all these stories, it was really these characteristics that we recognized, and there's so many amazing diverse voices around industries, geographies, all different types of people, and we really wanted to create the podcast to bring out these hero stories here from the digital champions, and really inspire others to take action to become an innovator within their own organization or to really transform themselves.


Naomi: [17:40] You've got this concept of the Digital Hero, someone that kind invokes change and drives that transformation. Why the title "Decoding Digital?" Like do these Digital Heroes, are they the ones that are decoding that? Like why the title?


Daniel: [17:54] Great question. What we found is that, in any digital transformation story, it comes down to specific tactics. What we really wanted to uncover from speaking to these Heroes is specific lessons that they had, failures, success stories, the characteristics, but also really the data.

If we look at similarities in success stories, we recognize that everyone actually starts small to get big. Even if you're a Fortune 500 company that's $30 billion in revenue, every success story that we've seen is one where the digital hero thinks about a specific persona. It's like, "I want to sell to this one person, and I'm going to focus on getting that first customer, and that's everything I'm going to focus on maniacally."

When you can hear these Heroes talk about the personas and talk about the problems they're solving, you realize that what they've done in their own heads is decoded the problem that they have, and all of them share something similar. That is that they have a clear vision, a vision for the way world's going to be, and a vision for the way they can show up to change the world to make it a better place. Then they also have a set of clear fundamental principles that allows all the stakeholders around them to align on that vision.

Oftentimes, that could be a metric. It could be values. It could be the stated objectives of the business. That's really what we wanted to decode. We wanted to listen to these heroes decode their stories, and be able to give others very tangible advice and actions that they can take in order to transform themselves and transform their businesses in their own right.


Naomi: [19:36] I have a question coming. I'm going to hold it for a little bit later, but I will say that I did do a little bit of cheating before we got to talking today. I actually looked up the definition of “decode.” I was like, "OK, let me see if I can educate myself as I enter into this conversation with Dan."

The definition of decode as per the Oxford Dictionary, because the English, they know what's up when it comes to definitions. It says, "Decode is to convert a coded message into an intelligible language.” I was thinking that part of that process to decode something is someone looks to find patterns to find that intelligible language, that intelligible messages within something that feels very hidden.

Can you shed some light on perhaps some of the patterns or the common patterns, intelligible messages that you are seeing as you're having conversations with the guests on the podcast?


Daniel: [20:30] First of all, really well‑articulated concept of decoding, and that really personifies what we're looking to do. When you speak to the intelligible messages, what we see is that there are common patterns across all digital heroes, and they're honestly hard to pinpoint.

At some point, I'd love to actually do a study on these digital heroes where we, from a data‑driven way, look at these unified characteristics and can almost put a plan together. That's part of the Decoding Digital vision is it can go far beyond a podcast, but it can be a research area, a book, etc.

In terms of these similar messages, when I step back and ask people simple questions, "What's your vision? What are your values? How do you start? What were the lessons learned?" every single person has a very crisp answer to those questions. There's also this infectious energy that they bring to the conversation.

In a pretty short order, I can figure out the people who are going to have the best odds to succeed versus not. It has nothing to do with my innate ability to assess talent. It's actually just seeing the patterns, like you said, decoding the patterns.

From seeing success and failure stories over so many years, including many of our own, I can see what projects will work and what won't. I can't be necessarily perfectly precise in it, but we've actually tried to algorithmically look at what innovations at AppDirect or across our partner ecosystem have led to success and what have led to failure.

Almost all the time, answering a few macro questions can give you a footprint or almost a blueprint of how this will work. It's maybe not obvious, but in every conversation, if you ask an open‑ended question around, "What's someone's vision?" the heroes actually can very articulately, succinctly define that vision in three words.

Not only that, they can give an elevator pitch version. Then when you start to inspect those questions, you can decode each word. You realize that they have a blueprint that goes many years out that's flexible, but they have a certain level of conviction in their vision that you just know they're maniacally focused on executing.

It's so encouraging, and they're so enthusiastic about it that you almost want to jump in and help them in any way possible. That conviction is actually the biggest difference that I've seen between successes and failures. What's funny is, if you contrast that with the transformations that I've seen failed, it's ones where if I asked, "What's your vision of the transformation?" they run on, use a lot of verbose words, use a lot of buzzwords. "I want to use AI and big data to transform SaaS, and it's going to take my business and it's going to make it much bigger," but it's not precise.


Naomi: [23:29] What does that mean?


Daniel: [23:30] Yeah. It's like, "What does that mean?" When we look at these decoding stories, it really is about asking the right questions and looking almost at the patterns that are not obvious, and really taking the time to learn.


Naomi: [23:48] Now, I don't want you to give too much away about the guests themselves or what they've shared, but I would be interested, can you share some early predictions and insights about what you're hearing and learning from all of these guests who seem to have this digital hero persona, creative vision, very succinct, very articulate? Can you share some early predictions on learnings that you're seeing from them?


Daniel: [24:20] The first, I'd say, is there's this insane energy in the room. Even though, we're doing a lot of these virtually, it feels like the people are popping out of the screen and almost giving me this amazing personalized sermon. They're just infected with a higher purpose, and you feel that energy. I would really say the energy is just off the charts, and that's super cool.

The other insights that we'd really glean are that if you look to any of these leaders, they all have a very clear vision. They can articulate it. They have very clear values. They can articulate them. Then they're also open to just sharing the craziest stories and learnings, and really open to taking risk and embracing failure. It's super interesting how, when I start each series or episode, I'll have a script and questions, and the podcast team has done such incredible research. We'll start with the first question like, "Oh, so tell me about yourself," and then an hour goes by...


Naomi: [25:29] I know. This is going nowhere. It went this way.


Daniel: [25:33] Exactly. Then when you listen to them after, you're like, "Wow, we really did touch on and decode specific topics that are so interesting and relevant." I'd say the coolest thing about Decoding Digital is actually nothing about me. It's really about hearing the Hero stories from these great people, but seeing the common patterns in whatever topic they're decoding.


Naomi: [25:57] Yeah. We actually haven't touched on that. Who is the intended audience of Decoding Digital, Dan? If you would give me a one line of who should be listening to this podcast?


Daniel: [26:07] Decoding Digital is for anyone who wants to learn how to transform themselves and transform their businesses. It could be anyone from a student in high school to someone at the tail end of their career that wants to embrace innovation, to a CEO, to a startup founder, to everything in between.

What really connects the fabric of everyone in this story is that you need to be able to want to make meaningful change, and that change often starts with yourself. While Decoding Digital is really focused on the business transformations, what we also uncover is the personal transformations that are required in order to transform a business and get others associated and align with the vision.

What the podcast is designed for is really anyone who wants to learn, who wants to hear from others, who wants to take risk, but ultimately, who's willing to stop and ask themselves really hard questions. Then use those responses to be like, "I can do this. I have now heard from these people, and I know I can transform myself, I can transform my business. I can get the dream job I want. I can start the dream company I want. I can innovate and make the world a better place."


Naomi: [27:30] A couple more questions for you, Dan, because I know that there are a few questions that you ask each guests, same question, different guests. I thought it would be nice for our listeners to know how you would respond to those same questions. I'm actually going to ask you those. First question, what inspires you most about the work that you do, and what impact do you hope it has?


Daniel: [27:56] In one word, it's people. I'm inspired every day by the amazing people that I get to work with. I'm just so grateful and humbled by the people that I get to interact with.

Part of this story and the origin story behind Decoding Digital is, over the years, we've had these conversations sometimes in one‑on‑one, sometimes in front of teams, sometimes at our annual conference that Naomi was the best co‑host for. You hear these stories, and people are like, "Wow, these are stories that I've never heard, and they're so inspiring. Why don't you do something about it?"

It's funny. Just like we have values in our business, me and my wife actually have values and objectives. Our wedding vows were our values, which is positive, present, and grateful. I vowed to be positive, present, and grateful in all our moments together, which is really hard by the way to execute on. We also had objectives, and it's to inspire, experience, and grow.

One of the things that I found is I'm doing all these things, I'm running, meeting a lot of people, having a lot of stories. When I thought about this objective of inspiring people, I do think there's digital channels today that hadn't existed before, where you can reach so many people.

We thought that Decoding Digital would be a great way to bring out these stories that we're having behind closed doors or within our conference and within the AppDirect community, but bring these stories out for everyone around the world.


Naomi: [29:31] What is one piece of advice, Dan, that you would give to a business leader to help them compete in the digital economy?


Daniel: [29:38] Have conviction in your vision. First of all, you need to have a vision. Have a vision for yourself. Have a vision for what you want to do to make the world a better place. Then really make sure that you test your assumptions and build just this crazy conviction, because starting anything, transforming anything, it's super hard.

You need to be so in love with the idea that during those dark days and long nights, and times when you feel in complete despair that it's not going to work, you need to have something inside your head that's almost irrational that's just telling you like, "This is what you were meant to do. You need to just persevere."

It's all about having a vision, having conviction in it, and just knowing that that becomes your North Star, your true north.


Naomi: [30:27] Not to liken Decoding Digital to the Michael Jordan documentary series of "The Last Dance," but that's exactly what that reminded me of. It was just you need to have a vision of where you're going. You need to have conviction, because it's going to get really hard. People are going to try to throw you off. Things aren't going to go the way that you expected them to. If that's where you're going, just really holding fast to that. I digress. I've been finishing that series, which is awesome.

As you look ahead, Dan, what is one word that summarizes how you feel about where we're heading?


Daniel: [30:57] I feel inspired. From speaking to all these guests, I truly feel inspired to do more, to innovate more, to get the word out.

Maybe if we can, let's go back to that founding story 10 years ago when we were in the height of the Great Recession and businesses around the world were struggling. There could have been this future that small business doesn't exist.

Everyone's working at this big, large organization. 10 years later, we're in another recession. It's clear that many businesses may not survive. The future of entrepreneurship is stronger than ever. If you look back to 2009, there were very few digital entrepreneurs but there were a ton of small businesses on Main Street that were closing their doors.

Today, what's fascinating is there are millions of digital entrepreneurs that just with an idea and a computer could start a business that impacts people around the world. It is the heart blood of the economy. What I like to think about is, if you're a retailer and you were just selling skateboards in person, you arguably wouldn't be able to make it through this recession.

But, if you were a retailer that started an e‑commerce shop and started to sell online, you're right now pretty resilient. Even stronger, if you figured out multiple ways to sell through partnerships, through syndicating to Shopify stores, and Amazon stores, and building online communities, your business could be thriving more than ever.

There's a couple stories I have. One I really want to tell. Speaking of me, and my wife, and our wedding, and our vows, at our wedding, our florist was this incredible lady that had this amazing energy. Her name's Nisie. She had a company called Nisie's Enchanted, which was a floral shop. You go in that shop and you're like, "Wow, these are the most beautiful flowers."

COVID hit and you're thinking, "Oh my gosh. How is she going to be able to survive?" She quickly started a new segment of her business called Nisie's Express. I'll put it in the show notes. You can check it out online. They're the most incredible flowers shipped to you anywhere. Her business is thriving.

Everyone probably has these stories. You have your favorite restaurant that shut down due to COVID. Those that figured out, "OK, we can deliver, or we can create a new innovative menu," they're thriving. You're getting great food. You realize that they have resilience.

What's so encouraging about the technologies that are out there today, if you truly embrace digital and you digitally transform, is the resilience it builds in business and the fact that it does provide the opportunity for entrepreneurship to prosper.

Even though there's a stage of disruption that's pretty unprecedented, I'm confident that out of the challenge, you're going to see even more entrepreneurs who may have been people who previously had steady incomes but essentially said, "OK, right now because of the economic change, I'm going to take the risk and I'm going to start something."

Those people are going to be the leaders of the future. A lot of the timing of "Decoding Digital" and launching the podcast now is all about what's going to be that next wave of entrepreneurship. I truly think that, if people look to Silicon Valley and say, "OK, they were startups entrepreneurs in this one location, I may be not like that because I'm from somewhere else or I look different."

What I'd say is, "The cool thing about the technologies today is you can start a business from anywhere. You could be any age. You could achieve anything. If you're resourceful and you embrace digital change, you can achieve great things. I truly think that out of this wave and out of what's happening in 2020, we're going to see 10 years out no strict persona or definition of an entrepreneur other than these Hero characteristics. That's what's so exciting about the future.


Naomi: [35:15] I am super excited to listen, and to hear from these digital heroes, and to see the transformation, and to follow on the podcast. Dan, I have one final question for you. It's not a pop‑quiz question. That'll come later. One final question, where can people find out more information about the podcast? How can they get insight? What channels? Tell us a bit about the lineup. Where can we tune in? When's it going live?


Daniel: [35:41] Definitely. Decoding Digital is going live in the fall. Check it out on your podcast player of choice, Apple, Spotify, SoundCloud. You can sign up for updates and more at decodingdigital.com.


Naomi: [35:57] Awesome. I know I will be as soon as we wrap this up. Thank you so much, Dan, for having me co‑host this pilot episode. I can't wait to see and hear more of the content of Decoding Digital, and, hopefully, do another one of these with you in the future.


Daniel: [36:11] Thanks.


Daniel: [36:13] This season on Decoding Digital.


Michele Romanow: [36:15] My biggest piece of advice is just get started. [laughs] Here's the thing is you're never going to feel like it's the right time. By getting going, by jumping in the pool, you have to swim.


Brad Feld: [36:27] Try to approach things from a perspective of kindness. The amount of pressure that people are under is immense. The amount of heartbreak going on in our world is immense. It's incredibly easy to be angry at it all the time.


Eric Ries: [36:41] For companies that exist in the 21st century, anyone who thinks, "Oh, don't worry. My industry is safe. There's not going to be any disruption in my business," come on. Those days are over.


Daniel: [36:51] Thanks for listening to Decoding Digital. Make sure you never miss an episode by subscribing to the show in your favorite podcast player. To learn more visit decodingdigital.com. Until next time.