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CJ Isakow: “All in the same storm, but riding in different boats.”

Covid-19 has shown how we are “all in the same storm, but riding in different boats.” I’d like to see a world where everyone has their basic needs met: food, home, healthcare and access to education. Once these are met it’s unbelievable what humans are capable of, and globally we have enough resources to make […]

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Covid-19 has shown how we are “all in the same storm, but riding in different boats.” I’d like to see a world where everyone has their basic needs met: food, home, healthcare and access to education. Once these are met it’s unbelievable what humans are capable of, and globally we have enough resources to make this happen but our systems don’t enable it.


As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing CJ Isakow.

CJ Isakow is a serial entrepreneur and experienced executive who launched Eyebloc on ABC’s Shark Tank. Past experiences include key roles across operations, finance and business development including launching Shift.com from an idea to hundreds of millions of dollars in sales and funding, FP&A at Airbnb, and consulting for fortune 500 companies with McKinsey and Company. CJ holds an MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and Engineering and Economics degrees from the University of Michigan. Currently CJ lives in Oakland, California where he enjoys time with his wife and two young sons, as well as serves on Children’s Fairyland non-profit board of directors.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

One day I woke up and my side hustle had turned into my main hustle. We founded Eyebloc in 2013 right as Snowden first brought attention to being spied on through your webcam cover. It was a nights and weekend project that quickly exploded when I had the chance to appear on Season 5 of ABCs Shark Tank. We were too early in our journey, our product wasn’t good enough and the market was unproven. Fast forward to 2018 and I had an opportunity to purchase a competitor SpiShutter with a patented webcam cover for macbooks. Together with a friend we refined and expanded the product line, brought it to market, and recently launched a global partnership with Kensington.

In addition to my work leading Eyebloc I continue to work with innovative teams to connect ideas, people and capital.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?

Getting roasted on Shark Tank was one of the hardest professional experiences of my life, but not for the reasons you might think. It’s so unlike any other professional experience I have ever had: I’m standing there pitching a product to 5 brilliant business people who I’ve never met, never built a rapport with, and in an artificial environment with studio lights and crew glaring down on me.

After you leave the tank a psychologist visits you in the trailer. It’s an amazing gift, because whether you just sold 20% of your company or were just told your idea is “crap on a stick” as Mr. Wonderful said to me, it’s an intense experience. The Dr said to me “I know you are disappointed. You are going to replay every second of the 45 minutes in your mind over and over again. The way to move forward is to ask yourself could you really have changed the outcome if you said or did something different.” She helped me realize that I really could not have, and the best thing is to move forward and not dwell on the past. It’s an important lesson I’ve carried with me to this day.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

Recently I watched a Ted Talk from Tim Ferris Why You Should Define Your Fears Instead of Your Goals that really resonated with me. He said often people assume he and other entrepreneurs have an abnormally high amount of risk tolerance. In fact it’s the opposite, they are constantly taking calculated risks. He sets out a framework on how to evaluate the downside of trying something new and compare that to the upside. Often the downside is temporary but the upside could be permanent. Approaching opportunities in this way plus a lot of luck has led to my success.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.

  • Raising money isn’t the same thing as profit, it’s actually the opposite: At Shift.com we raised $20M less than a year into starting the business. I printed out the bank statement, shared it with the small team, and we had a celebratory drink. It was exciting, but I also realized at that moment we had sold a big portion of the company, that for my shares to be worth anything we would have to grow exponentially bigger, and we were setting ourselves on a trajectory that many venture backed companies set out on where we have to keep raising money and selling more of the company to get big enough for everyone to make money (Shift.com recently announced plans to go public). In contrast when my Shopify app buzzes and we’ve sold an Eyebloc Webcam Cover for $20 I look at my son and say “we just had a sale, we can take that money and go buy an ice cream.” There is something really satisfying about that and it doesn’t come with any new obligations to an investor.
  • Scrappy is good, stable is better: It’s fun to start things. Thanks to technology like Shopify, Mailchimp, Alibaba, Xero, Amazon.com and others we launched Eyebloc ourselves with the help of a few contractors. But you know what’s more fun? Having a business that is stable enough that you can build processes and hire people with specific skills to run the day to day even better than you can so you can get scrappy on the next project or idea.
  • Your network is your net worth: Jonathan our VP of Product Development and product visionary said this to me and it sounds a little cheesy, but having a large network has proven invaluable. At Eyebloc I reached out through LinkedIn to a senior member of PCNA, the largest promotional products company in the world, who had also graduated from Wharton business sschool. He took the meeting and eventually that led to a growing partnership for custom webcam covers.
  • Be nice to people on the way up because you will need them on the way down: OK you should be nice for the sake of being nice, but my boss told me this when I worked on the 2004 Presidential campaign trail. Its proven true time and again that having good relationships with your team pays off over time, whether they are in a new role at a company you are trying to sell into, at a company you want a job at, or you want to go work for them directly because you hired exceptional people who go on to do impactful things.
  • “Success is never final, failure is never fatal.” Managing the emotional highs and lows is extremely difficult. For me the emotional highs often are short lived, but I can beat myself up on the failures for years. Finding a way to enjoy the successes and learn from the failures helps me enjoy the journey.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

This is really different by person, and even within a person it varies throughout life. I’ve seen folks I really respect be super energized by working 18 hours a day and others who passionately protect their personal time. Understanding what gives you your energy and finding ways to build that into your life helps us thrive.

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?

My parents play a hugely important role in who I am and hope to become. On the surface I’ve really rebelled against my father who is a successful entrepreneur himself. His style and dress are formal, I pride myself on a casual approach. He works 80 hours a week and never changed a dirty diaper, I pick my kid up from school everyday and put my 1 year old down with a bottle at night. But zooming out so much of how I think about business, from seeking out opportunities, a willingness to try something even if it might fail, and creating value by connecting ideas, people and capital come from him. My mom has given me the gift of self-confidence (I could do no wrong in her eyes) and empathy for those around me.

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

Luckily I’ve achieved a primary goal of creating a life with flexibility to work on the projects and ideas I choose to as well as spend time with my wife and young kids. The goal I’m still working towards is how to become an impactful leader in my community. A few years ago I had the opportunity to join the board of a wonderful Oakland non-profit called Children’s Fairyland, an 8 acre children’s park I enjoyed as a child and now enjoy as a father with my two sons. It’s a step in the right direction I hope to build on.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

Today I hope that I can be remembered for being kind, creative, a good father and husband, and playing a role in moving us forward as an inclusive society.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

Covid-19 has shown how we are “all in the same storm, but riding in different boats.” I’d like to see a world where everyone has their basic needs met: food, home, healthcare and access to education. Once these are met it’s unbelievable what humans are capable of, and globally we have enough resources to make this happen but our systems don’t enable it.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow or connect with me on LinkedIn and Eyebloc on Facebook

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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