Taylor Kenerson 0:02
Welcome to the Hyperengage podcast. We are so happy to have you along our journey. Here, we uncover bits of knowledge from some of the greatest minds in tech. We unearth the hows, whys, and whats that drive the tech of today. Welcome to the movement.
Adil Saleh 0:21
Hey, greetings, everybody. This is Hyperengage Podcasts, Adil and I have Taylor alongside me as co-host. And we have a special guest from- she’s CEO, Lissy. Thank you very much Lissy, for taking the time today.
Lissy M. 0:36
Thank you, thank you so much for the invitation.
Adil Saleh 0:39
Okay, cool. So first off, you know, just like I said, off record, like looking at your platform, the way it’s making an impact, like massive impact, in just so little time and, you know, getting in school from Y Combinator that was your initial journey, and you with a background from MIT, and then, you know, Yale, and then you did Master’s from MIT, just let our audience know a little bit about your past background and how it eventually drove you getting into this, this, you know, parking up with this platform, co-founding this platform, what was the real motivation? What was something that actually told you from inside and said, “Okay, let’s- let’s do it.”
Lissy M. 1:21
Definitely. Well, I was born and raised in- in Monterrey, Mexico. However, as you mentioned, I had the opportunity to go abroad for college and also my Master’s degree. And I think these different educational opportunities that I’ve had in my life have really impacted what- what I have achieved or what I’ve done. So a big part of me, always wanted to make sure that if I could dedicate my life to something, it would be to make sure that more people can have greater and better access to different educational opportunities.
Taylor Kenerson 2:02
That’s amazing. Can you dive a little bit- you mentioned that, you know, having those educational opportunities really drove you into where you are now, can you touch a little bit just on like, the types of experiences you had, and some, like really exciting moments throughout those, your time learning? Not that you ever stopped, but- and more in the university sense?
Lissy M. 2:24
Yeah, I mean, one of the key components going abroad is having a more international experience, being able to connect with friends and peers from all over the world, it’s one of the things that has, that has really helped me today and that I cherish as well, having friends and being able to meet them throughout the years, even after graduating in different and random corners of the world. But one of the main components of, of going abroad, it’s also opening up to new ideas, new innovations that are going on in different parts of the world, and making sure that these can also be brought to a region like Mexico and Latin America that has a lot of areas of opportunities, particularly in helping especially those that- with lower levels of education, how we can help them connect with these educational opportunities as well.
Taylor Kenerson 3:27
That’s, that’s so beautiful. So you, you started it, so can you take us a little bit along the journey of how you landed here now as a co-founder of Vinco and what that journey has been like, how that even came to be? And then we’ll dive a little bit more into you know, your, your journey at YC and beyond.
Lissy M. 3:46
Yeah, so in the back of my head, I always wanted to do something much more focused on impact and education. But I did go on to college, in undergrad in Liberal Arts, got a Liberal Arts education, where you learn a little bit of everything, but then nothing. So I wanted to make sure that I could understand all the different components in how a business actually works and operates, so I did sell my soul into consulting for a few years. However, I learned a lot from different industries, different areas of, of the business and I think that really helped me not only in understanding how everything works in businesses, but also in being able to connect with different companies that our clients today know. So in consulting I, throughout COVID, when the pandemic hit, that’s when we saw that mostly, the operational base of companies or those with lower levels of education are the ones who have been impacted the most. But then on the other hand, we saw how more and more into COVID that everything became online, and more programs became available online, much more accessible and affordable, especially for the working adult, I figured it was a good time to take the leap and make sure that we could help connect these two where the operational base of companies can connect more with these different online education opportunities.
Adil Saleh 5:27
Amazing, amazing. I’m just thinking through this right now, let’s say, I know that Vinco encourages companies to invest into education, training, management, and all of that. A lot of companies that are- once they grow, they invest, so definitely invest right from the vertigo, even from the early days, they do. So how, initially, did you guys, you know, identify that these are kind of the gaps in the education, in the corporate world, like when it comes to teams there are different teams, different educations come into play, let’s say customer-facing team means training on different- on a professional level on a different- differently as compared to technical teams. So how did you guys figure that out in the first place? And what is that real education gap? And what segment or what target audience that we need to capture in the first place, or some of the friends that we are in good terms with? What kind of gaps that they would have or their teams would have?
Lissy M. 6:22
Definitely, and in Mexico and in Latin America, we started with something even more basic, where two thirds of the workforce doesn’t even have a high school degree. So a lot of stuff got started from there, where we’re helping many of the employees get their high school degree. And then from there, move on to learning different and more specialized- connecting with different and more specialized programs. Now- but one of the key things is, in when we first started out, our main role is making sure that we have the offer side and that demand side. Now on the offer side is making sure that we have the best educational programs on, on board for the different levels and areas of expertise. So it was one of the first things that we did, because then afterwards, we would reach out to different companies and be like, “Hey, these are the educational partners that we work with.” And companies may have different needs, especially large corporations with large workforces, some as you mentioned might be just finishing their high school degree, but some others it’s learning more on customer experience, UI, UX, more digital skills, but then also some others, it’s more technical in the mechanics and how everything operates.
Adil Saleh 7:44
Okay, so you basically started with the group level, and then you tried to build up. So also, you know, looking at- that you started with, like, Y Combinator team, and I know that how they work like, the entire process, could you walk us through that? How hard or easy was it to get your idea into, into their hand? And, you know, actually convincing their team, you know, you know, have their back starting off, like helping them strategically- they have SaaS businesses, so who knows, like, you know, listens to this conversation, it- you know, it can help a lot of early stage founders that are thinking of getting some help from these top notch accelerator teams like Y Combinator and Techstars. So could you walk us through, you know, your experience with br- from the beginning?
Lissy M. 8:31
Yeah, and I would give two main recommendations, that first thing is, always apply, you know? And for us, it was- we were just starting out, it was a little bit more on the idea side, and me and my two co-founders were like, “Let’s apply to YC,” particularly because it’s known as, as a strong accelerator program, and we decided to apply in that application process. My second recommendation is reach out to other founders who have gone through the application process successfully, because that really helped us in starting to connect with other founders, especially in the EdTech space or in the region, and they would give you feedback on, on your application, but then also help you prepare for the, for the mock interview, they would give you mock interviews so that you could prepare for the real interview. So, the main recommendations is one, apply, and the second is start connecting with other founders who went through the process. It’s a really positive community where we all want to help each other out and, and have other great startups be part of the program.
Adil Saleh 9:40
Building on this, what was that process that you actually followed and then how to successfully get through the initial qualification and everything, so could you walk us through that too? Because this, this- people that will definitely be nervous.
Lissy M. 9:54
Yes. And one of the key components I mean- the application process, is first filling out a set of questions where we did our first draft ourselves, but then obviously got a lot of feedback from other founders who had been in the program. And then afterwards from that batch, also, one of the key components is to make sure you can get other founders to recommend you, I think it helps. We made these connections with, with founders who had been in the program, so they could send in a recommendation for us, and then out of that you get selected for the, for the interview. And for that, it’s always good to prepare as well, by having these mock interviews with, with other founders, you know. And even if you don’t get in, you already make these like new friendships where they, these other founders will help you, maybe it wasn’t for YC this time, but for something else, for connecting with other investors, other startups, other companies, other connections.
Taylor Kenerson 10:56
That’s really great. It’s really, it’s really great that there’s such a community feel to all of this is that you know, you you find similarities and other people who make- might have been on a similar journey you’re looking to strive for. So it’s amazing that you know, there are so many people out there that are welcoming. So it is that- one insight is reach out, and actually go, and go and like just have the conversations with people because you never know where that might lead to, right? I’m sure you can, you have so many experiences where you’re like, “Wow, I never thought that that conversation would lead me into this person or this insight.” And that’s-
Lissy M. 11:31
And that’s one of the main feedbacks I got from a founder probably in the first month that we started Vinco, where he told me every- just think about every conversation that you have, everyone has a great story to share and you might- you will always learn like a thing or two that can help you as well and how to best operate your startup as well.
Taylor Kenerson 11:55
That’s so beautiful, especially in such a, like a cutthroat- so many people perceive you know, startups as being so cutthroat and like, of course, it can be you know, you have your challenges, you have your times where you have to compete and be that rival. But then there are times where you could put that aside and share and share those insights and that knowledge with each other, and have those open conversations, which is amazing. So at your, you know, through your experience with YC, and just building a product in general, what are some insights that you could share or something that you wish you knew, before you started the product? Or something you would write to- a letter to your younger self? Like what are the some insights or tidbits that you would, you know, mention in there?
Lissy M. 12:37
What are some insights that I would share about earlier on? Hm, one of the things that we really try to push the team, is to make this- like, we always want to make sure that we can design the best product, the best customer experience, the best service at everything, but from one- at the speed that the business is growing, or you can design it as perfect as you want, even though that’s the ideal. So what are my key components is to always make sure that I love that idea, you can find always the the quick wins that you can implement first, to make sure that you can test something really, really fast in like, two weeks’ timeframe. So you can get some feedback and then from there, decide whether or not it’s worth to invest a lot more time and resources into a specific feature or into a specific component of the customer journey with, you know, so we- you always get stuck into the ideal journey that you want your, your customers to experience, but it’s always best to think about what are the- how are we going to make sure that they can have a really good experience with the limited time and resources, and then from there start building up.
Taylor Kenerson 14:02
And can you dive a bit deeper into how you prioritize that stuff? I mean, you’re, you know, you’re developing a product, you’re getting so much feedback from the users, it’s like, “Oh, my God, what is most important to leverage, you know?” The resources you have versus, you know, shipping fast?
Lissy M. 14:18
Yeah, and there’s two things. I mean, one is just being able to get a couple of data points that give you an indication on whether like, yes, it’s, it’s what our customers need, or no. But then another thing and something that I do often with the team is that they’ll share the idea, and I hate being that person, but a lot of times it’s, “Okay, that sounds awesome, how can we do that in like a 10th of the time to test it and see if it’s going to be worth spending a lot more time and resources in it?” So it’s really pushing the team in thinking about what are those shortcuts in a way to make sure that we can test things and make sure if it’s good or not, before we invest a lot of time.
Adil Saleh 15:04
Absolutely. And it works for a lot of startups like you, you plant the seed on a very smaller scale and you figure out, you gauge, how does that experience could make an impact with a customer and consumer? And then if it works, then you can scale it like, you can put in all of the resources, not because- you need to make sure you’re, you know, optimizing the costs and resources. That is one of the biggest problems as well for a lot of startups that don’t get funded, in these times, like most recent times, in the first one and a half, two years. So they need to make sure they are making smart decisions and even if they’re investing into experiments or trials, they have to, in order to nurture anything, or gauge anything, they do it on a very small scale that, you know, that consumes limited amount of resources. I appreciate that you brought that element. So let’s talk more about this product, like as a platform, initially, what you guys taught? Like how would a customer would- perceive a value out of, out of this platform? Of course, you have integrations with learning centers, and, you know, you have the best programs that you can, you can host for teams, individuals, startups, like to any scale. So what was that one thing that you thought in the beginning, when this product was an idea, that your customer would perceive it as a value? Out of the product.
Lissy M. 16:25
Yeah, one, I mean, the main goal for Vinco to make education much more accessible, and we do it by making it easy for companies to offer education as a benefit, you know? Many times, there’s a limited team of HR or the Talent Team and there’s 1000s of workers, and as much as they want to give this like, personalized attention in helping each and every employee find the best educational opportunity for him or her, it’s difficult to give that personalized attention when it’s only a couple of people and a large workforce. So through our platform and our service, we’re, we automate a lot of the different processes going on to make sure that we can give and provide this personalized attention where each worker has access to a personal coach that helps them find the best program based on, on their interests. And then we also provide this consolidated reporting, and that no matter the, the program that they’re enrolled in, no matter the education level, the company gets one single report where they can see data on how the- their students are doing in the English program, or the high school program, or the bootcamp; everything’s centralized in one place.
Adil Saleh 17:50
Cool stuff. Yeah, absolutely. So this is, you know, how you can strategically streamline all of these things in the beginning, and then having a strong baseline. So ticking off your role, like, since you’re a co-founder amongst two other co-founders, so what is your role that, you know, is it, like, it’s more geared towards the customer side of it- like the revenue business side of it or more towards the product side?
Lissy M. 18:15
It’s interesting, because sometimes I feel like since we’re three co-founders, and I would say, hey, my- one of my co-founders, COO Miriam, she’s more focused on the client side, the operations of it all. And then Sophia, who’s our CTO, she’s more focused on the tech and the product. And then outside, I ended up being a little bit in the middle where I gear both sides and try to help the team align and prioritize resources.
Adil Saleh 18:46
Okay, so you just, you just need to decide what had to be there at times when, when you’re needed. So that works fine, like it’s all about, you know, not complicating too much on the goals and not drilling down too much on the goals, having a bunch of co-founders, but making sure what’s on the time, what’s needed, that’s getting served, with the best person, with the best skillset, best, you know, resources. Great. So, you know, you know, a team of around 30 odd people, with two- around two and a half million dollars of seed funding, what is your next plan? You know, ever since you raised funds, how did your speed shift? Could you could walk us through some of the, you know, transformation that you, you didn’t do before, because you didn’t have funding? And once you had funding, what kind of transmissions in terms of team, technology, you know, outreach, investing into marketing – what kind of steps did you take, post funding?
Lissy M. 19:40
Yeah, and there are so many different things related to that where one, I was seen in the team, a lot of- before a lot of the growth has- had been focused mostly on Mexico, but then a lot of the large corporations that we’re working with, they have operations elsewhere. So they’re like, “Hey, we should launch in other parts of Latin America.” But for that, you need team members to help us execute and then we also need local educational partners as well, well, but then on the, on the product side, a lot had been done. I mean, it’s always a process where a lot of other things had been done manually, and where now, it’s automating a lot of the components, particularly data from from the educational partners, where each university or each partner has their own system and their own way of processing data, how we can get that data and consolidate it, so the company has the visibility and reporting that they need, to take better, better decisions, and then a lot of these prioritizing in that customer experience. And for us, it’s not the end customer, it’s a student, you know? So we want to make sure that they have the best experience in the enrollment process and once they have started their program, where it’s our coaching team, it’s having the data readily available, so that they’re able to guide them and understand what their interests are, how they’re doing in their classes and that way, they’re able to give them a better support to make sure that they’re successful students.
Taylor Kenerson 21:26
That’s such a huge, you know, thing, too, it’s like, once you get this funding, what do you- how do you prioritize, what to do with the funds and like, what’s most needed? And like, what will drive the most value on the other end of like that input, which is super critical? And like for some people that are interested in maybe either creating their own product or joining a startup, what are some things on, you know, we’re putting our HR hat on, what are some things that you look for in like, building a team? And like, when do you know when the right time is to start building a team? And how do you- what are some tips and tricks you, you take to onboard someone on your team? Can you just dive a little bit into that?
Lissy M. 22:04
Yeah, so when do we know when we need someone on our team? I think we’re always a little behind on that. But it’s interesting, because, I mean, you’re so focused on the operations and growth and where you’re going strategically, but then it’s like, “Hey, in this area, we know that we can go- move way faster.” And I think that’s one of the indications where, as a founding team, we decide to go out and find someone to help us fill that role. And how do we find them? I think, given that we’re in at- mostly focused on, on impact, we’ve been pretty lucky in finding talent. One of the main components that, that we try to ask in the interview process is to make sure that education and having an impact actually motivates whoever we’re interviewing, you know? And, and even on the tech side, someone might be really good technically, but in the end, if what you’re doing really, it’s something that you, you really enjoy, no matter the problem, you’re, you’re gonna want to solve it, you know? Versus if you’re not that interested in that tech, and maybe you’re interested much more in other industries, you can see that a lot in the interview process and then once they’re, they’re part of the team.
Taylor Kenerson 23:25
That’s the key thing, that alignment, that alignment of the passions and the stuff that someone else likes, you know, they might have the soft skills, and they might have, you know, the requirements that actually fulfill the job that you’re looking for, to be a part of the team, but then it comes- the next layer of things that sometimes is missed is like, what are they passionate about? Like, are they actually interested in this space? Is it something that they see themselves growing in and like providing that unique value into the space to be a disrupter? And it’s aligning with, you know, someone on that, you know, component that sometimes gets missed often a lot of, you know, team building, so that’s really criticial.
Lissy M. 24:03
Because in every role that you do, I mean, I wish 100% of everything that we do on a daily basis was a lot of fun, you know? But sometimes you have to do the nitty gritty that- it’s not as exciting. But if you know that, that’s important to make sure that you have an impact necessary and you’re motivated because of the impact, then it makes a huge difference and you enjoy the process a lot more and it permeates as well with other team members and the culture where no matter the task at hand, everyone’s excited to do it because of the impact that we’re having on, on the students and the operational base.
Adil Saleh 24:40
Absolutely. So that’s, that’s the way to go. Like sometimes, you feel like you’re, you’re a bigger part of something and it’s just not this tiny little thing that you’re, you’re doing, it’s, it’s connected like- it’s just connecting the dots to something that’s, that’s creating a massive impact. So I really appreciate one more time that, that you, you know, you came up and shared your story. Rest assured, I really appreciate your time, your knowledge and the way you, you put it together. It was really overwhelming and pretty great to have you.
Lissy M. 25:13
No, thank you for the invitation and hopefully one day we can meet in person as well! In Pakistan.
Adil Saleh 25:20 Yes, come be our guest!
Taylor Kenerson 25:22
Really appreciate you, Lissy. Have a beautiful rest of the day and we’ll talk soon.
Lissy M. 25:27
Likewise, great meeting you!
Adil Saleh 25:30 Sure. Thank you so very much for staying with us on the episode. Please share your feedback at email@example.com
, we definitely need it. We will see you next time and another guest on the stage with some concrete tips on how to operate better as a Customer Success leader and how you can empower engagements with some- building some meaningful relationships. We qualify people for the episode just to make sure we bring the value to the listeners. Do reaches out if you want to refer any CS leader. Until next time, goodbye and have a good rest of your day.