Conor McCluskey: “People and their perseverance give me hope”

People and their perseverance give me hope! You simply can’t keep good people down, and there will always be those who won’t stop until the world is a better place. Never underestimate the human spirit and what people are driven to do even during the hardest times. People are survivors, and they persevere. Throughout history, […]

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People and their perseverance give me hope! You simply can’t keep good people down, and there will always be those who won’t stop until the world is a better place. Never underestimate the human spirit and what people are driven to do even during the hardest times. People are survivors, and they persevere. Throughout history, when people come together to help others, they’ve built great societies and communities.

As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Conor McCluskey.

Conor McCluskey is the CEO and co-founder of BombBomb, a Colorado-based tech company on a mission to rehumanize communication between individuals and teams. The company’s video messaging tool allows users to quickly record and send video messages through email, text messages, and social media. In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting down schools and universities nationwide, McClusky and his team decided to offer free BombBomb video messaging accounts for teachers in the U.S. and Canada. Their goal — to provide educators transitioning to e-learning with a way to connect one-on-one with their students during this unprecedented time.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

I grew up in Jackson, Michigan, home of the world’s largest walled prison. My father was an entrepreneur, as were my grandfathers on both sides of the family. My dad ran a metal finishing business, which was started by his father in the 1950s. My other grandfather ran various companies, from trucking to warehousing to machining.

Growing up, my father encouraged me to enjoy my childhood and not to work until I had to, even though I really wanted to. I always found ways around that, such as mowing lawns or delivering newspapers. My grandfather on my mother’s side, however, wanted to instill a strong worth ethic in me, so he would always give me odd jobs to do around his business. One time, he showed me a large pile of steel framing he tore down from a warehouse. He gave me a grinder and told me to grind off all of the rust from the beams and prime them. It was tedious work, but he paid me just over 2 dollar an hour to do it. It taught me a great lesson on how to complete a big project, and it’s one I’ll always remember.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

In my 20s, I read The End of Poverty by Jeffery Sachs. It had a profound impact on me about how businesses and people of means could help those living in extreme poverty by providing them the dignity of work and how that, in turn, could help them and their local economy.

The words of that book really hit me when I took my first trip to Kenya in East Africa in 2001. For the first time in my life, I saw what real poverty is — people literally starving and living in plastic huts they built. After witnessing that firsthand, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for what I’ve been given and knew that I needed to do something to help those less fortunate than I am. Sachs’ book helped me to put into words what I instinctively knew after my first trip to Kenya and subsequent trips after that. It also inspired our company, BombBomb, to partner with Children’s HopeChest, a nonprofit that helps children and their families in Kenya with sustainable projects. To date, we’ve given thousands of dollars in contributions, and we are so grateful that we can help to transform the lives of these amazing people.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

A few years ago, I was going through a really tough time financially, and I was very stressed out. At the time, a mentor of mine said to me, “They can’t eat you!” It was such a good reminder that no matter how bad things get or seem to us, it’s not the end of the world, and there are still things to be grateful for.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

At BombBomb, we want to make a difference in our company, community, and world. I originally started the business to ultimately earn enough money to move to Africa to help widows and orphans. But, after my co-founder Darin Dawson and I launched BombBomb, we found out that we could do so much more. Our video messaging tool rehumanizes communication by helping people deliver video messages in-person instead of through faceless digital conversations. How many times have you read an email or a text and wondered what the other person was really trying to say? Were they angry, happy, or just being sarcastic? By sending a BombBomb video message, users can personalize their messages and share real emotions with their audience and connect with them on a more personal, human level.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit and schools were closing all over the county, we saw that teachers were going to need a way to communicate with their students and parents in a whole new way. Darin’s wife is a school counselor, and she suggested that our video messaging tool could be a great resource for educators during this unprecedented time. As a company, we immediately decided to offer free BombBomb accounts to all teachers, professors, counselors, and administrators in the U.S. and Canada. The human connection that’s made when a student receives a BombBomb video message from their teacher is very powerful and helps to normalize this time for kids. When they see their teachers, they feel safe. So far, nearly 5,500 teachers spanning every state and 19 countries have signed up.

We then looked internally to see if we had any employees who had hardships with their families, like a spouse losing their job, and we started “BombBomb Strong,” a fund to help out our employees during this difficult time. We also decided to partner with the local nonprofit organizations that we support by providing them financial and food donations. Our employees have also volunteered their time and talents by volunteering and making masks. It all goes back to our mission to make a difference where we can.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

A hero is someone who is courageous and sticks his or her neck out for someone else. Anyone who sees a need and lends a hand or helps those less fortunate than themself is definitely a hero.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Vulnerability. Our team recently had a Zoom call with panelists made up of people from our company who represented a wide range of minority groups. During it, we asked them to share some stories of how they’ve been discriminated against in their lives, previous workplaces, etc. It was part of a diversity and inclusion discussion we were having. In front of our entire company, they shared some very real and personal stories about how they’ve dealt with racial, gender, and other various forms of bias. I sat there thinking about how courageous they all were to be so vulnerable in front of us. Afterward, I sent them all BombBomb videos thanking them for their courage and for sharing their truths and their stories with us. A hero is someone who is willing to be courageously vulnerable in order to help others.
  2. Conviction. I believe heroes also have conviction. They are passionate about their purpose in life to help others and to seek justice for them.
  3. Empathy. Heroes are naturally empathetic; they’re able to share and understand the same emotions, dreams, and desires of those they’re trying to help. A hero’s empathy drives him or her to make a difference in someone else’s life.
  4. Selflessness. Heroes aren’t focused on themselves but on others. They’re selfless in their pursuits and don’t care about their personal glory. Instead, a selfless hero is one who wants to make others happy and bring joy to their lives, whether it’s through a fun video message, a random act of kindness, or a kind word.
  5. Inspirational. Heroes are also inspirational! They leave the world a better place and inspire us to do good things for others too.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

I think most of it comes from people’s stories and their values. For example, when a hero experiences some kind of injustice and sees it happening to others in the world, it gives them the courage to stand up for those people. Heroes see something they think is wrong and are willing to fight for it.

Two of our main core values at BombBomb are relationships and service. We don’t just put our values on our walls, we actually live them out. Our values are shaped by my story, my co-founder Darin’s story, and the stories of all of our employees. We hold ourselves accountable, and we’re willing to go the extra mile for each other, those in our communities, and those who need our help in the rest of the world.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

At BombBomb, we’ve always given back to our community and supported wonderful organizations that make an impact. We’re fortunate enough to be doing well during this time, so we wanted to do what we can to help those in need. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we stepped up our efforts even more. Since our co-founder’s wife is a school counselor, we immediately decided to help educators across the U.S. and Canada by providing them with free BombBomb accounts during this unprecedented time. Teachers have had to turn their lesson plans upside-down on a dime and embrace remote learning as their “new normal.” Staying connected is more important than ever, and our video messaging tool gives educators and students a chance to see and communicate one-on-one in a more personal and productive way. BombBomb video messages provide educators with an opportunity to connect individually with their students and communicate more effectively with them. We’re proud to say more than 5,000 teachers have signed up so far, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to be able to help our neighbors, our friends, and our community.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

The people who are doing frontline work to help those less fortunate during this time are the real heroes. Organizations like the Springs Rescue Mission, Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado and Mary’s Home, a local shelter for single mothers, are making a big difference in the lives of others. I look at the sacrifices that they make and the care they take, and it is inspiring. Most people would never know that some things are wrong in the world if people and organizations like these weren’t willing to stand for what they believe in and take a stand.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

What concerns me most is how many people are being left behind right now and how hard the pandemic has hit the marginalized. Those who were living on the edge before COVID-19 have been pushed beyond that and are now facing even more difficult and dire circumstances. Whether it’s the lack of food or shelter, many people are vulnerable and in need right now. While those situations can certainly breed hopelessness and loneliness, there are still ways we can connect and support each other.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

People and their perseverance give me hope! You simply can’t keep good people down, and there will always be those who won’t stop until the world is a better place. Never underestimate the human spirit and what people are driven to do even during the hardest times. People are survivors, and they persevere. Throughout history, when people come together to help others, they’ve built great societies and communities.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

I have seen so many people band together to help each other out during this time. From providing financial support to local businesses shuttered by the pandemic to donating toys to children in need, people are stepping up in amazing ways.

And I’ve witnessed their generosity personally. Just as the pandemic was beginning, we discovered mold in our home and had to move into a hotel. It was so bad, we lost our house and had to throw away most of our belongings because they were making my wife sick. The outpouring of support from our family, friends, colleagues and neighbors was so overwhelming and awesome; they dropped off everything from toilet paper to toys to help us all get through it. They prove there are real heroes among us, and they’re willing to help whenever there’s a need.

Meantime, what disappoints me the most is toxicity between some people. It’s important that during times like these, we remember that we truly are in this together.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

Pandemics and depressions have happened before and will happen again. We need to keep our wits about us and persevere as we’ve always done. After 9/11, we saw what it was like to unite as a society, and I believe what’s happening now is an opportunity for us to do that again. Instead of focusing on what divides us, let’s focus on what unites us. Even though we’re social distancing right now and experiencing a national reckoning over systemic racism, I believe we can still come together as a community.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

All of the great things that we have lost, like large community gatherings, have been difficult. Yet, this time has really made us all focus on those close relationships that matter to us most. Spending more quality time with my family has been a positive experience for me during this time, and I hope others will be able to focus and create deeper bonds with those special people in their lives.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I would ask them three questions: where did you come from, where do you go when you die, and how do you reconcile good and evil? When you start contemplating these questions you quickly realize that this life is not just about you. We are stewards and our lives and this world are gifts; we should leave the world a better place than when we received it.

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. 🙂

I would love for people to focus on improving their relationships. It’s why we’re so passionate at BombBomb about rehumanizing communication; a video message personalizes what otherwise would be a faceless email or text message. I believe so strongly in the power of relationships that one of my personal goals is to make a lasting impact on 100 people in the next 20 years. There are so many people who changed the trajectory of my life, and I want to be able to make a positive difference in someone else’s life too — whether that’s financially or relationally. I plan on spending more intentional time with people, getting to know them on a deeper level, and helping them at an inflection point in their lives so I can hopefully help turn the tide for them. For me personally, going deep and narrow is the way you can start a positive movement.

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

I would love to meet violinist Itzhak Perlman. I watched a documentary on him recently and was inspired by the joy he has for life. He knew his purpose from an early age and has been living it fully ever since.

I recently partnered with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, and Mr. Perlman performed with them just before the pandemic struck. I sadly didn’t get a chance to meet him then, but I do hope to one day. His joy is awe-inspiring!

How can our readers follow you online?

Conor McCluskey LinkedIn

BombBomb: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & LinkedIn

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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