Ania Rodriguez of Key Lime Interactive: “Watch margins like a hawk”

One of the most rewarding parts of taking part in strategic customer experience research for the Fortune 500 is that the conversations we have with our client’s customers, the stories and struggles, become part of our deliverables via video to our clients. As we thread together the realities of what people do, think, and feel […]

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One of the most rewarding parts of taking part in strategic customer experience research for the Fortune 500 is that the conversations we have with our client’s customers, the stories and struggles, become part of our deliverables via video to our clients. As we thread together the realities of what people do, think, and feel we are able to highlight opportunities for our clients. For example, one of the largest retailers asked us to conduct in-home ethnographies last year to understand the Black, Hispanic and Asian perspective and their head of AI shared with us that the things learned from our research fundamentally redirected their strategy. Similarly, we conducted high-impact research for one of the largest telecommunications companies that resulted in creation of a product for the underserved and underbanked community. This is why I love the work we do. Our research becomes evidence that drives executive decisions, is high-impact, and truly makes a difference.


I had the pleasure to interview Ania Rodriguez. Ania is a self-made Latina who is an engineer by training (CMU+UM) but an entrepreneur by passion. In 2009, Ania started Key Lime Interactive, a Customer Experience Consultancy, with 5,000 dollars, and today that investment has an ROI of over 80%. Over the past year, Ania has expanded her focus to include creating applications to accelerate enterprise research while keeping diversity and inclusion front and center in the application development.

Ania is married to Alex Rodriguez (not the baseball player), and they have 3 children, Vanessa, Max, and Joshua. She also serves on the board of Kristi House, Miami-Dade’s child advocacy center for abused children. She is an inspiration to women with dreams to pursue their own business while juggling a family life.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

If you can believe it, my path to becoming an expert in dissecting Customer Experience and Emerging Technology started when I was just a child. I have clear memories of helping my parents set the clock on their digital radios as it was not easy to use and thinking of ways that it could be easier for them; they often counted on me to solve such issues as I loved to explore exactly how things worked. This continued as I grew older. In high school, for example, my AP Psychology teacher introduced me to the field of human Factors well before it was offered as a discipline of study at many universities. Eventually, I managed to convince my first manager at Pratt & Whitney to build a Virtual Reality Lab so we could test the human factors of maintainability. Twenty-two years later, my company focuses on helping Fortune 500 companies understand Customer Experience and we are working every day on ways to introduce Voice, AI, Virtual reality, and other emerging technologies to their customer base.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

At KLI, we have always made diversity and inclusivity a top priority. With this at our core we have had the privilege to work with some of the largest brands to help them understand how to better serve underrepresented users. The most pivotal moment happened when a large enterprise asked us to be a partner in conducting a multi-year research initiative related to a Virtual Reality solution that focused on racial awareness training. This work was particularly rewarding as our team was able to make important recommendations that shifted mindsets.

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?

When I was first starting out, I took on research projects with any company to fill in the gaps rather than focusing attention on my target customer and core competencies. One of the funniest moments was when I was asked to run a focus group for a company that makes epilators (hair removal machines that yank hairs out from their roots). One day, as I sat moderating focus group sessions with three different groups, I was trying really hard to wrap my head around why someone would choose to use an epilator as participants said it was painful but at the same time many said they loved it. The client who was behind the glass had a few extra epilators, so she offered for me to take one. Needless to say, my whole family laughed at me when I tried to use it that evening. Punchline of the story: Ouch.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Our organization is making a difference by ensuring that each of our customers are mindful of the biases they may have when designing products. We have an “Anti-Bias Rating” that is part of our Proven Process, which brings front and center a client’s effort to design for inclusion. We are currently in Beta for a product that helps enterprise customers look at the customer journey through different lenses (e.g. race, age, gender, education, etc.).

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

One of the most rewarding parts of taking part in strategic customer experience research for the Fortune 500 is that the conversations we have with our client’s customers, the stories and struggles, become part of our deliverables via video to our clients. As we thread together the realities of what people do, think, and feel we are able to highlight opportunities for our clients. For example, one of the largest retailers asked us to conduct in-home ethnographies last year to understand the Black, Hispanic and Asian perspective and their head of AI shared with us that the things learned from our research fundamentally redirected their strategy. Similarly, we conducted high-impact research for one of the largest telecommunications companies that resulted in creation of a product for the underserved and underbanked community. This is why I love the work we do. Our research becomes evidence that drives executive decisions, is high-impact, and truly makes a difference.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Let’s first identify the problem I’m trying to solve. At KLI we define our passion, the reason we get up in the morning, like this: “To make life easier. To optimize experiences. To make the world a better place.”

So, I ask that:

  1. Product designers, of all sorts and backgrounds, should become well versed in design for inclusion. They should train themselves to widen their purview to consider experiences that are atypical and outside of their own.
  2. Policymakers need to live up to this nation’s promise — ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’. Politicians also need to make sure they design systems that are free of biases and always have inclusion in mind.
  3. Community members need to care for members of their community — pay attention to those around you and speak up for those who cannot. Notice who isn’t in the room or included in conversations and pay attention to it. Make sure the community is actually a community.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is being brave. It’s about knowing when to go fast and when to slow down. It’s when you know you don’t have all the answers, but people trust you to know you will find the way, or better yet, it’s when your team will light the way for you. It’s about picking up the phone or meeting with someone when something isn’t going right, rather than hide behind an email. It’s about being open and honest. It’s about listening. It’s about trusting. During COVID-19, we’ve been focused on “Doing the Right Thing” as there are so many uncertainties and unknowns.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Bravery: You need to be brave. There will be times when you’ll feel uncomfortable stepping on toes. You’ll have naysayers that will try to push you down. Keep your head up and keep pushing along.
  2. Team: Find a team you can count on to support you as you grow. Know when to cut ties when you get someone who disturbs your culture.
  3. Traction: Read the book Traction by Gino Wickman. I wish I would have read this book before I started. Since we read it and implemented, our team is clear on vision, mission, and rocks (priorities).
  4. Margins: Watch margins like a hawk. I know that many of the awards (e.g. Inc5000, Emerging Women, etc.) out there are focused on revenue, but it’s more important to know how to sustain good margins than having a high revenue year.
  5. Call people: Don’t hide behind your email. Call people and connect with them. That’s the best way to build relationships.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

Today, it’s easy to say that we live in a nation that is divided, but there’s also the perspective that we are unified as individuals when you dig down to our human core values.

We’re all well versed in foreign exchange programs designed to foster cultural understanding and foreign language development between students and the host nation. What if our University students were encouraged to have a similar experience here inside the US? I believe that this would help individuals develop a better sense of understanding and empathy for one another, allow us to respect alternative circumstances, and lead to better relations among Americans. Starting with this open-mindedness as young adults would surely impact future generations in a positive way emotionally, at work, politically, and beyond.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A quote I’m particularly fond of is by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who said, “So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.” In business, as in life, you encounter people or situations that are blocking your ability to grow. Shortly after giving birth to my oldest child at the height of the Great Recession, I was laid off from my employer. My situation looked bleak, especially since my husband had to close his business due to the economic downturn around that same time as well. I was determined to get through this situation: two months later I started Key Lime Interactive and landed my first client just four weeks later. Nearly twelve years later, I employ more than 25 talented individuals, work with some of the largest companies in America, and am involved in research on cutting edge technology. Justice Ginsburg’s statement held true; I needed the shake up to change my path.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Stacey Abrams is someone I would love to have breakfast with. I admire how she took a political defeat, the narrow loss of the governor’s race in Georgia, and turned it into a political movement registering more than 800,000 first time voters in that state. The grit and determination she exhibited, her unrelenting drive to make significant political and social change, and her vision of a more positive future is something I admire.

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