“Why failure lessons only work if you are open to understand why you failed” with Anthony Gold of ROAR for Good
…failure lessons only work if you are open to understanding why you failed. Unfortunately many people believe the reason they failed is that market conditions were bad, the competition was better, we didn’t have enough money, or the team was lacking. The best leaders are the ones who can look within and acknowledge, “I screwed up.” When we can look ourselves in the mirror and be open to critical feedback (whether that’s from others, from the market, or even from ourselves), then rapid personal growth will follow.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Gold. Anthony is a social entrepreneur, writer, and director for several commercial and nonprofit organizations. As VP & GM of hardware engineering for Unisys Corporation, Gold led the teams responsible for creating several of Unisys’ most successful products. Along the way, several of Gold’s inventions became patents in the field of high-speed computer processing. And one of the servers he helped architect is in the Guinness Book of World Records for its performance. Gold built an Open Source software startup inside Unisys that, within three years, generated over one hundred million dollars in highly profitable revenue. That accomplishment led the press to call Unisys “Open Source’s biggest services gun” and name Gold “one of the top business leaders in Open Source software.” He subsequently helped build a healthcare software startup along with several of the world’s top physicians focused on reducing the incidence of chronic illness. Gold serves on the board of several companies, contributing as an advisor and mentor. Most recently, he co-founded ROAR for Good, a social mission wearable tech B-corporation focused on reducing assaults and empowering women. Gold speaks and writes on topics related to personal growth and societal transformation. His How to be a Workplace Ally workshop helps participants learn how to elevate their co-workers, especially women and minorities, by becoming a workplace ally. Gold also developed the career track curriculum for the Philadelphia chapter of Girl Develop It, a non-profit dedicated to helping women pursue careers in software development. Gold advises business leaders who have a mission to make a strong impact on the world. He coaches on business strategy, leadership development, fundraising, social impact B-corporations, personal growth, spirituality, and male allyship in the business environment.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Sure, it’s a pleasure being here.
I started my career as an engineer designing mainframes. I loved the intellectual stimulation of the work, but I found myself particularly drawn to “business” side of business. Why were we designing computers the way we were? What impact were they having? How were they being used? What could we do differently to create even more impact? Those sorts of questions. I had incredibly supportive mentors and brilliant colleagues, and I was very fortunate to have been given a lot of responsibility to lead teams and grow the company. One of those opportunities was the creation of a startup business inside the company — an intrapreneurial venture if you will. I had a sense that open source software could be a game changer for many companies, particularly because the model of mass collaboration and meritocracy-based software development could lead to much faster, better, and less expensive code. So I got the opportunity to run this business and it turned out really well. By then, I was totally bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, particularly the desire to help companies with a mission to make a difference in some way.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
In my first startup, the timing couldn’t have been worse. It was right at the start of the recession. We had a business model for a healthcare IT platform that could help make a huge difference in the lives of millions of people suffering from chronic illness. And the market was ripe for innovation — or so I thought. But given the funding challenges at the time, we had to keep the team small. In fact, I wrote the entire first version of the software platform, nearly burning myself out in the process and ruining a few personal relationships along the way. I too slowly came to the realization that it would be better for me to focus my time on the business and not so much in it — and I hired a superstar software developer to make the product much better. Unfortunately we weren’t able to close enough sales to keep the company going. But the lessons learned were numerous, particularly on what not to do. And one of the company’s first investors became a lifelong mentor.
My most recent startup, ROAR for Good, was the brainchild of my friend Yasmine Mustafa. She had the idea for a wearable tech company that could help reduce assaults against women and truly impact society. It wasn’t a hard sell for her to pull me out of semi-retirement to be her co-founder. Very early in our fundraising, we had the opportunity to present to a prominent investor group. The meeting was going very well, the investors clearly liking what they were hearing. Toward the end of the meeting, Yasmine stepped out to use the restroom. At which point the investors, both male, turned to me and said, “We’d invest if you were the CEO.” That was very frustrating and disappointing, and unfortunately an all-too-common experience that many women CEOs face. However, we didn’t let the experience deter us from our mission, and we ended up finding investors much more aligned with our values.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I can’t speak for all entrepreneurs, but I think I speak for many when I say that when you launch something, it isn’t for the riches — it’s to make an impact in some way. There will always be bumps in the road — sometimes even massive ones — but with a strong sense of purpose you plow through.
So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?
In the case of ROAR, grit got us through many challenges in the early days, enabling us to launch a crowdfunding campaign that blew away all our expectations. In fact, the campaign was so successful that we had to change manufacturing vendors in order to support the volume of units we’d need to make — eventually leading to our initial shipment of over ten thousand safety modules.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This was many years ago, before I had done any startups — think early MySpace time. I, like tons of other people, had an idea for a social-connectivity platform that could help people better relate to one another. I happened to know someone at Kleiner Perkins. And I just thought I could setup a meeting and pitch them on the idea. I had no clue how the venture capital world worked, and the concept of an MVP was meaningless to me. I was a young naive entrepreneur who thought, “well, it’s a great idea — of course they’ll love it.” They did at least agree to do a call with me. Unfortunately at the time of the meeting, I was stuck in Boston’s Logan Airport due to a cancelled flight. So I decided to do the call from the US Airways lounge, an airline that isn’t even in existence anymore. And just when I’m starting the call with Kleiner Perkins, into the lounge walks Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, along with his whole entourage. Needless to say, the place went a bit crazy, and here I am trying to conduct a serious business pitch while Steven is holding court in the lounge. The whole thing was a giant clusterf***. I don’t even recall what the KP folks said, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t have any proof of concept, I was premature in meeting with investors, and I’m surrounded by a throng of exuberant groupies. The opportunity was over.
Lessons learned: know when it’s time (and not) to speak with investors, create a good environment for important business meetings, and don’t mix Aerosmith and Kleiner Perkins in the same meeting.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’ll speak about ROAR for this question. The company stands out for a number of reasons, first and foremost is my co-founder and CEO, Yasmine Mustafa. She is not just a passionate entrepreneur, but also a refugee and first-generation immigrant. Her grit and determination are boundless — coupled with her desire to improve the lives of people less fortunate. The world needs many more such people leading companies. ROAR is also a B-Corporation, which is a certification for companies focused on social and environmental improvement. ROAR’s first product, Athena, is a wearable safety device that can emit an audible alert and send text messages to your emergency contacts. And ROAR’s goal is not just to help reduce assaults but to get to the root causes of violence.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Don’t try to do it all yourself. Surround yourself with people that complement your skills. Know what you are good at — play to those strengths — and find people to fill in your gaps. Build an advisory board of people you can turn to with any questions — especially challenging ones. And consider a co-founder that you respect and trust so that you don’t feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world alone. You can certainly do it by yourself, but it can be easier — and more fun — with the right co-founder.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I would never have been a good entrepreneur or business leader if I didn’t have great mentors who helped keep me on the right track. I liken good mentors to bumper guards in a bowling alley. The kind they put up for little kids so they can’t bowl a gutter ball. With bumper guards, you can focus on going for a strike, but if you get too far out of the lane, good mentors will gently bounce you back toward center.
There are too many to list them all, but a few deserve special mention. The folks who recruited me to my first startup (Charles Robins, Walter Buckley, John Ryan, and Chris Conway) were so instrumental in helping me develop as an entrepreneur. John had this incredibly empowering philosophy of creating a vacuum above his mentees’ heads so that they could rise as fast as they were capable. I learned so many life and business lessons from John, Charles, Buck, and Chris. Another was Leo Daiuto, the former President of Systems & Technology at Unisys Corporation. Leo guided me as a very young engineer and helped me understand what great leadership was all about. Mary Massung, my HR business partner for several years at Unisys, helped me understand the importance of emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and inspirational leadership for building superstar teams. Lastly is Sagar Dukle, my operations head for a few businesses. I owe so much of my growth to Sagar’s insights, business acumen, radical candor, and lifelong support.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In the case of Unisys — I think we helped contribute to the acceptance and flourishing of open source software. As part of that initiative, I had the opportunity to co-found the Open Solutions Alliance, a non-profit industry consortium comprised of many of the world’s top open source companies to help usher in the new era of open source software.
At ROAR, the ability to touch lives and make a difference has been so rewarding. Many people have let us know how ROAR has helped them feel more empowered. ROAR also helped me become more aware of my privilege as a white male and the many situations I benefit as a result of my race and gender. I write and speak quite a bit on that topic, and I developed an allyship workshop to help companies recognize the challenges and how they can take steps toward greater equity.
It’s also an honor contributing to nonprofit organizations like Girl Develop It, TechGirlz, and Coded By Kids — each making a difference in so many lives.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit?
- Have a north star. There will always be challenges in building your company (not to mention, with life in general). People will disappoint you, and let you down. The market won’t always agree with what you’re convinced they’ll love. Crappy things will happen. And it’s so easy to reach a point where you say, “Why am I doing this? It isn’t worth all this pain!” And then you turn to your north star — whatever that is for you — and you realize, “That’s WHY I’m doing this. I have to do this!
- Related to #1, if you haven’t identified your WHY, start there. Everyone touts Simon Sinek’s TED talk — and with good reason, it’s really good.
- The open source software movement had this mantra that I loved: fail early, fail often. Meaning, the quickest way to learn — to really learn — is through doing … and most powerfully, through failing.
- Related to #3 is that failure lessons only work if you are open to understanding why you failed. Unfortunately many people believe the reason they failed is that market conditions were bad, the competition was better, we didn’t have enough money, or the team was lacking. The best leaders are the ones who can look within and acknowledge, “I screwed up.” When we can look ourselves in the mirror and be open to critical feedback (whether that’s from others, from the market, or even from ourselves), then rapid personal growth will follow.
- Building on #4, grit doesn’t come from just from being beaten up or beating ourselves up. It can’t stop with “I screwed up.” The next step must be “But I understand what I did wrong, and I am committing myself to learn from this and improve.” A desire to continually grow serves us well in business — and in life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
One of the hardest things to do is to empathize with another person. And I don’t mean empathy in the sense of caring for of wishing good things for another. I mean it in the sense of truly being able to put yourself in the shoes of another person. I like Abraham Lincoln’s quote when asked to condemn the South. His response: “Don’t criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances.” Each of us believes we are in the right. And we justify sometimes awful behavior in the way we treat others because of our self-centeredness. So, being able to step outside ourselves — and just trying to imagine walking in another person’s shoes — especially those people we don’t like or don’t agree with — leads to much more fruitful conversations and much greater peace.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find ROAR here: www.roarforgood.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!