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Five business leaders share their career pivot stories

It is not uncommon to have a career pivot, and while the path may vary, almost every business leader shifts focus at some point in their careers.

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career pivot

career pivot

Have you ever experienced a career pivot?

Sometimes we graduate college with a Geology degree, but we end up practicing real estate. We launch a tech startup but end up at an ad agency. Life is funny that way in that every day we are faced with choices, some of which are not only career changing, but put us on a completely different path. It can be because of life changes or choice, but not all business leaders were born in the role they are presently in.

We asked six respected business leaders if they have ever experienced a career pivot, and all six had gone through the transformation. Here are their tales:

Saying adios to a cushy corporate job

Scott Lerner, Founder of Solixir said, “If you call leaving a comfortable job in corporate America to the start-up world pivoting I would say yes. Before 2008 I was working for large CPG firms like ConAgra, Kimberly-Clark, and Pepsi. I decided to leave that all behind and launch Solixir by myself in Sept. of 2008. It was a scary yet exciting time for me and I haven’t looked back.”

I realized I was in the wrong place

Sanjay Sathe, Founder and CEO of RiseSmart said, “I have pivoted across several industries, from information management to telecom, from banking to travel, and now HR. At the beginning of my career I was on the accounting side, and within a few months I realized I was in the wrong place. I quickly switched to sales, where I established my early career. I then moved into marketing.”

Sathe succinctly calls it “more of a career lattice than ladder,” adding that it “seems to be the name of the game in the corporate world today.”

Life after startup success

Donna Horton Novitsky is the CEO of Yiftee and is proof of a unique path in her career pivots. “Sure – from big company to start-up. From start-up to Venture Capital. From Venture Capital back to start-up. From all that to professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at Stanford.”

From volunteer to CEO

Nancy A. Aossey, President & CEO of International Medical Corps offers a very inspiring tale. After graduating from college, she worked as a sales executive at AT&T and dreamed of running her own business some day, but knew she wanted it to be meaningful. She moved to L.A. and learned about International Medical corps, a humanitarian relief organization that had gotten its start training Afghan medical professionals during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

“I met International Medical Corps’ volunteers and its founder, hoping I might volunteer in some way,” Aossey said. “They told me they were looking for a C.E.O. I was only in my mid-20’s at the time, but I loved the organization’s mission and never doubted that I could do the job. I told them that I would be committed to the organization, work hard and do whatever it took to get the job done. So they hired me as their CEO in 1986, two years after its founding. I later asked them why they hired me for the role, given that I had no experience in humanitarian relief, and they told me that they were looking for a deep commitment to the mission of the organization and for qualities that could not be found in a C.V.”

“When I started, International Medical Corps was comprised of a handful of volunteer doctors and nurses,” Aossey added. “I had to be very hands-on in war-torn countries like Angola, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda and more to reach those most in need with lifesaving medical care. But as we’ve grown—International Medical Corps now has 4,500 global staff and a network of thousands of volunteers—my role has shifted and I now focus on bringing in the right people to lead those programs, and continuing to foster our entrepreneurial culture.”

Ditching corporate life

Paul Aitken, CEO of borro spent eight years working for large corporations, but in 2004, he and a friend decided to start their own company. Aitken said, “Movota provided interactive mobile solutions to Europe’s leading TV and Radio broadcasters. It was financed by private investors, and the company was sold to Bertelsmann in 2005. After this, I founded borro in 2008.”

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

Business Entrepreneur

Talking entrepreneurship and sextech with Liz Klinger [INTERVIEW]

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) A conversation about entrepreneurship and sextech with female entrepreneur Liz Klinger, CEO of Lioness, the FitBit for your sex bits.

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Lioness app, the first of its kind in the sextech entrepreneurship world.

“We had this observation that a lot of people had questions about sex, but there weren’t many resources for them”, said Liz Klinger, Co-Founder and CEO of Lioness, the smart vibrator and app brand that helps you visualize, track and analyze your orgasms. “We wanted to have a way for people to explore and learn more about themselves, because there is not a ‘one size fits all’ answer to questions about pleasure.”

Klinger has always had an interest in sex. After a brief stint in investment banking, she began selling sex toys at various “parties” where, she describes, someone would always come up to her after the presentation and ask her in-depth questions that she had no idea how to answer. At least I’m not the only one obsessed with this stuff, she remembers thinking.

The idea for Lioness came from AI – sex toys can be hard to use, complicated, or just plain intimidating. So, what if there was a toy that adjusted you and what your body wanted?

After a bit of prototyping and collecting feedback, it was clear to Klinger what her users wanted: Data. People wanted to see what their bodies did and use that data to better understand themselves.

The Lioness vibrator and accompanying app does just that. By using biofeedback and precision sensors to visualize your orgasm via the app, users can easily track their experiences. When you try something new, you can see how your body reacts to it.

But Lioness isn’t just a vibrator.

Last year, the company launched a research platform where users can choose to participate in medical or scientific studies, as well as ask those questions we all have about sex. Additionally, the Lioness site provides many “Sex Guides” for users; the thorough, no-nonsense sex-ed we wish we had growing up. This is Klinger’s dream come to life.

More recently, Lioness is launching “(S)explore” – a premium version of their existing Sex Guides to tackle the less popular, more personal questions users have. This feature is set to launch on Black Friday.

By 2021, Lioness hopes to release a remote-control distance feature for the vibrator (gasp!). There will also be a 2.0 update for the app, in which users will be able to access new visual experiences, such as a heatmap that adds pigmentation to your most pleasurably moments (here for it 100%).

When asked about how COVID-19 has impacted her business, Klinger was happy to tell me that Lioness and other ecommerce companies in the field are going strong, largely unaffected by the nation’s stunted market. If there was ever a time to experiment with pleasure, it’s during lock down, right?

Unfortunately, many other brick and mortar sex shops, like the ones Klinger got her start doing sales for, are suffering during this time – much of the adult market didn’t qualify for PPP loans.

I know I’m not alone when I say that I love seeing women like Klinger fighting the good fight by paving the largely untouched way in SexTech. Lioness is radical in the sense that it takes something so internal and pleasure-based (and, unfortunately, overlooked) as the female orgasm and externalizes it. By using data and tech, Lioness, in a way, validates an experience that is so foreign to so many of us.

There’s a reason there are a million and one fertility trackers, but Lioness is the first of its kind.

When I asked for her words of wisdom as CEO in SexTech, Klinger told me:

“If you’re a woman, or someone who isn’t the typical start up person, it’s important to focus on your customers first, above all. You’ll get all this different advice and feedback from investors and people in the industry but at the end of the day you have to focus on your customers and what need are you fulfilling for them. If you focus on that, no matter how difficult the business side of it will be, that is how you will stay afloat.”

It seems like 2021 will be a big, exciting year for Lioness. I’d also like to add that the potential uses of the Lioness technology outside of recreational pleasure are endless – I just can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

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Business Entrepreneur

If you’re an employer, don’t hire without knowing about these hidden traits

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) A candidate can look great on paper, but if you’re an employer, research shows you should look for these personality traits alongside their qualifications.

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Employer look at a hiring candidate, seated across from each other while one takes notes.

We all know that one person who’s a genius on paper, but a total wash when it comes to completing basic tasks. As an employer, sometimes someone high achieving can be tougher than simply spotting a high GPA on their resume.

In new research from the journal Personality and Individual Differences, Thomas Gatzka of the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) tackles the question of what personality traits are associated with achievement. What Gatzka and his team came up with are two traits – openness and conscientiousness – with two additional sub-components.

The sub-dimensions of openness are:

  • Senso-aesthetic openness: The preference for sensory and perceptual exploration and immersion in art, creativity, and imagination. This is pretty self-explanatory – if they are artistically-inclined, or take interest in the arts in any way, they are statistically more likely to be high-achieving.
  • Intellectual openness: The preference for intellectual stimulation, scholastic pursuits, and cognitive stimulation. Think: that person who is always reading, watching, discussing, and asking you to share your opinion so they can absorb as much as possible. This person is chronically curious.

For conscientiousness, the sub-dimensions are:

  • Orderliness: The preference for routines, deliberation, and detail-orientation. They keep a tidy calendar and map out their days for the utmost optimization. People with this trait will remember specifics and can be relied upon in team settings.
  • Industriousness: The tendency to stay focused and to pursue goals in a determined way. As the word implies, those who are industrious are constantly making moves. They have a high threshold for work, and they stay focused until their goals are complete. You want this person working for you, especially in a startup setting.

It’s interesting to note that the latter two components—intellectual openness and industriousness—were typically associated with slightly higher levels of achievement than senso-aesthetic openness and orderliness.

What does that mean? Well, if you’re an employer truly looking to build a robust team of super-achievers, skip over the artsy interviewee with the color-coded organizer. They’re only high-ish achieving.

This is not only useful information for hiring managers, but also for those of us who want to become higher achievers — who want to be hired. You might not be naturally curious or goal-oriented, but that’s okay. You can 100% take actions to promote those traits in your day to day to show a future employer.

Read more. Set little, attainable goals for your day. Become intentionally over-organized. Professional development is one thing, but fortifying your personality traits to promote achievement can help you in the long run.

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Business Entrepreneur

Is gifting an entrepreneur a website like gifting motivation, or anxiety?

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Is a website really the only thing stopping someone from starting their own business? Are there entrepreneurs who simply need a push to start their own thriving empire? Let’s find out.

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Website design open on dual monitors for an entrepreneur.

Being an entrepreneur is arguably the highest form of self motivation someone could have – the drive to build out your own business, deliver a product or service that you know is in demand, and ultimately secure profits. It’s something that is discussed over and over and over.

It’s the holiday season, and Exchange Marketplace is making the rather surprising argument that you could gift someone a business. Their pitch states that they provide some ebooks, Shopfy credit, and some other starter materials, and promises that you could pay as little as $50 to jumpstart a brand new career.

Looking around at their site, it’s essentially a list of companies that their respective owners are willing to sell. They provide some data (someone who is more familiar with this stuff could parse it better than I can) such as revenue, profits, average number of hours worked, and so on. I’m going to assume the legal side of things are all in place, and other considerations are handled.

But my question here is – who is this truly for? And what message are you sending when you surprise someone with a website and start telling them it’s time to get to work, better learn fast before your entrepreneur business fails?

The logistics alone are mind boggling – where is the base of operations, knowledge of an industry, obtaining inventory, knowing which suppliers are involved, will language barriers be a problem, contacts, the quality of the product or service, etc. I’m not a business person by any means, so maybe I’m overstating the difficulty here, but it just seems like you’re opening the door to a literal galaxy of unknowns on the part of the entrepreneur that would require immediate understanding and action.

Look, gift certificates are sort of a bad gift – you restrict where money can be used, and it’s usually not enough to cover a full purchase, and that requires you (the receiver) to cover the remaining cost. Giving someone a car (despite all the slick commercials with celebrities) is even worse; setting aside the tiny chance someone pays off the vehicle entirely, you’re still leaving someone with increased insurance rates, future maintenance, and other costs. Even a new pet – while adorable – might arguably be the worst possible gift, as someone shovels responsibility for life itself onto an unsuspecting person.

(Before I continue, please feel free to buy me a car and fill it with puppies wearing Amazon gift card suits.)

I’m being a little unfair in the above scenarios, because there is definitely an audience for each. The problem is that each option requires some amount of work and thought by the receiver, and putting the onus on them to fully realize the gift can be daunting.

So maybe the better way to describe this is that these situations are a bit niche in their efficacy – that there’s a smaller number of people who are actively able to accept a gift that requires additional work.

Gifting a business, then, could be seen as something negative – “I think you need to work harder.” And that carries a rather heavy payload of consequences, thoughts, and considerations. Maybe you aren’t outright calling someone out as lazy, but that implication is easily arrived at if someone is blindsided. At the least, you are saying I need you to do something.

Surely, there are people who represent the targeted audience, and it would suggest that they already have business training/education, considerable free time, access to investment, and enough drive and motivation to eagerly begin an entirely new chapter in life as an entrepreneur. But that has to be a small group of people, and even fewer so when you consider those who would be successful at it, and would actually want to undertake such a massive task.

Beyond all of this, I have to question a number of things, and they are all centered around how trustworthy all of this might be. My only interaction with anything remotely close to this subject is watching episodes of Shark Tank, and I know that the panel there would meticulously go over a LOT of things before even offering to buy a percentage of a business. Purchasing the entire thing seems volatile and full of risk; who wants to negotiate all of that?

Maybe it is simply that I am not the type of person who would deal with that amount of uncertainty willingly. I am very much a look-before-I-leap type person, and the thought of being handed a potential money making an entrepreneur enterprise when I have no insight into it beforehand is completely terrifying.

I’d need to prove to the gift giver that their faith in me was valid, to say nothing of whatever audience already exists. But I’d have literally no idea where to start on all of this; the numbers on businesses failing is scary enough.

In a way, I applaud the idea of businesses being fluid enough to become commodities themselves. I just question how easily this sort of marketplace could mask true costs, exaggerate profits, and seemingly hide all sorts of disturbing, unpleasant details. And then taking all of that and gifting it to someone? What a wild ride.

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