Danny Prussman of Germ Nerds: “It’s so important that you think many steps ahead”

It’s so important that you think many steps ahead. It’s easy to think you can build a solid business by filling a current need, but greater opportunities can be found when you consider the ripple effect on what’s happening today and figure out what the needs might be a year or two from now. As a […]

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It’s so important that you think many steps ahead. It’s easy to think you can build a solid business by filling a current need, but greater opportunities can be found when you consider the ripple effect on what’s happening today and figure out what the needs might be a year or two from now.

As a part of our series about the 5 things you need to know to successfully start a company remotely, I had the pleasure of interviewing Danny Prussman.

Danny Prussman is the Chief Operations Nerd and co-founder of Germ Nerds (www.germnerds.com) , a new company dedicated to creating solutions that enable people to navigate the current changing world with confidence. As Chief Operations Nerd, Prussman is responsible for all facets of business operations, including finance, administrative duties, processes and procedures, sales and technical support. Always one to gravitate towards innovation, creativity and opportunity, Danny has a proven entrepreneurial acumen track record and over 10 years of experience driving sales growth in the consumer/lifestyle and cannabis industries.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

My backstory is extremely diverse. I’m a Marine Corps veteran and served in the first Gulf War. I attended my undergraduate studies at University of Florida with a degree in business and Emerson College for graduate school in film and television production. I got started in the film industry in Los Angeles and quickly realized that being a production assistant wasn’t for me, so I started my first company which was a visual effects and motion graphics studio. Once I got a taste of entrepreneurship, there was no turning back. Germ Nerds is now the seventh company I’ve either founded or co-founded since then in various industries.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Navigating the intricacies and ambiguities of the cannabis industry has been by far the most challenging and in turn, the most interesting journey. Scaling a business is tough when you’re attempting to find a happy medium between what an unclear law requires a label to say and how each individual retailer interprets that same law, or drawing a balance between maintaining enough inventory for growth with the ever-changing legal landscape that can make all your inventory worthless nearly overnight. At one point, we had to destroy hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of finished goods because regulators decided to tighten regulations. That’s painful.

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?

I was working for a large publishing company and one day on the elevator, I mistook the CEO for one of the advertising sales guys (in my defense, they looked like they could have been brothers.) I was giving him props on a presentation the advertising guy had given at a company meeting a week prior. The CEO took the compliment without correcting me, although I did detect some confusion in his eyes. After walking away, I realized what I had done and felt terrible but couldn’t stop laughing at the memory of the look on his face. I learned two valuable lessons that day: First, be sure who you’re talking to before you speak and second, when someone makes a mistake like that to you, be as gracious as this CEO was to me.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders who are interested in starting a company during a ‘down’ economy, whether it be a pandemic or recession?

It’s so important that you think many steps ahead. It’s easy to think you can build a solid business by filling a current need, but greater opportunities can be found when you consider the ripple effect on what’s happening today and figure out what the needs might be a year or two from now.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team, but starting a company from the ground up is a different hurdle, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tell us about your experience with managing remote teams and more details how and why you decided to start a company in the middle of a pandemic.

We all have experience working remotely, but I didn’t have a lot of experience managing a team remotely. It definitely posed some unique challenges. Starting a company in the middle of a pandemic was the last thing any of us wanted to do, but we were compelled to do it. If we could have created our launch product, the nrd., and given it away for free, we probably would have, but the economics did not allow that. Creating a company was really the only way to get the device out to people in a fast and efficient way.

Tell us about your company that was started completely remotely. What does the company do and tell us about your first product launched and what was your motivation for this product?

Germ Nerds is a startup that was born out of necessity and ingenuity sparked during the COVID-19 pandemic. Going to the supermarket, taking the elevator or walking the dog was such a challenge. We needed something that could help us navigate this new virus-filled world more confidently. The first Germ Nerds product is called The nrd. It’s an antimicrobial silicone guard to protect your hands from coming into contact with germs when handling everyday things like doorknobs, elevator buttons or crosswalk signals. It even has a conductive tip for using touchscreens like at self-checkout at the supermarket. When you’re done using it, magnets hold the unit closed to keep the working surface contained until you’re able to disinfect it.

What made things more interesting for me was that when we put our heads together, we found answers to not only our current predicament, but to all kinds of sticky germ filled situations we found ourselves in even before the pandemic. We realized there’s a market out there for people that want to avoid germs in public spaces by using new and innovative solutions.

Starting a team remotely can be very different than when you can come together and brainstorm in person. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding building a new company remotely? Please include an anecdote for each.

The five main challenges to starting a company remotely are: 1) Nuances in communication; 2) project management; 3) design iterations; 4) logistics; and 5) fund raising. These five challenges all pose their own unique challenges when working remotely. With tools like Slack, Gmail, Docusign and Monday.com, Germ Nerds was able to achieve quite a bit without being in close proximity to one another. To this day, a few of our founding team still haven’t met each other in person. Zoom helped to initially build culture, although as time goes on, video becomes less important and, in some ways, less desirable.

Probably the largest hurdle was the extended time it took to get things done due to the quarantine. With everyone working remotely, suddenly something as simple as getting a signed bank letter to open a merchant account became impossible. So, getting creative and finding alternative paths to the desired outcome became imperative. Convincing people to rewrite their rules because of extenuating circumstances became daily occurrences. Product development was quite a challenge as well. Sharing designs between engineers in different countries, getting each version produced and in front of all stakeholders, gathering feedback and moving on the next iteration poses a lot of logistical challenges.

Starting a company, designing and engineering our first product and bringing it to market in 60 days under those constraints is unthinkable, but somehow the team managed to get it done because we were on a mission bigger than us. We were bringing a much-needed product to market that was desperately needed in these uncertain times.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

Have patience, be flexible, get creative, live by your to-do list, be tenacious and celebrate achievements along the way.

Conflict: In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working remotely is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

I completely agree, and it’s one of the most frustrating aspects to working remotely. Nuances are out the door. I’m still trying to figure it out myself. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and say exactly what I think without much filter. Given the current climate and how fragile everyone is, I think we’re all doing our best to work on this and be sensitive to everyone’s individual situation and needs, and provide feedback in the most conducive way possible.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

I’ve found that email is much easier than over the phone. With email, you have time to read and re-write. I find that when you have constructive criticism, it can often be received more effectively when you preface it with what you like about the subject at hand. Also, I find people are open to receiving feedback when presented in a manner of inviting collaboration and showing that you’re open to brainstorming on the subject so that everyone wins.

Some of your establishing team you have worked with previously on location. What have been some of the benefits of working remotely? What digital tools did you use to keep everyone updated and in sync?

For majority of my career, I have not worked on location with anyone on the Germ Nerds team, so we are in a very unique situation. Working remotely allows me to send and receive information quickly and increases my productivity and efficiency. I can have one on one phone or slack conversations with the appropriate stakeholder, exchange information I need quickly and get on with what I was doing. The only problem with this is siloed communication which can result in the need to repeat myself more than I might need to if we were all in one place. Multi-person messages in Slack can help with this. Other tools that are contribute to remote work productivity are Gmail, Docusign, Monday.com and Slack. Shift is another great tool that allows me to keep all my email and productivity aps in one window.

Let’s talk about vendors, as I imagine finding them and then getting a product actually produced during a pandemic was quite challenging. What are you suggestions for finding viable vendors? How was your experience working with third party vendors different from pre-pandemic days? What expectations or processes did you have to adjust or change?

I cannot stress enough how important it is to build a strong team and leverage their strengths and connections. For Germ Nerds specifically, we were very fortunate to have an experienced and knowledgeable team, so we were able to leverage existing relationships with pre-vetted vendors for all but our 3PL partner. Then, for connections you do not have, leverage your extensive network to gain reliable references. For example, we received a highly recommended 3PL partner from our trusted sources.

How did you create your company culture remotely? What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

The Germ Nerds culture is super important to us. In the beginning, it was easy to align on the values of the company over Zoom. We were also able to delineate roles and responsibilities so we could all stay in our respective lanes and empowered each other to do what we each do best. The founding team members all run other businesses and we specifically carved out our free time to build Germ Nerds because we’re all passionate about helping people. That passion is visceral and permeates our culture now.

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. 🙂

If every person out there committed to contributing to a charitable endeavor on a regular basis, the world would be a better place. It doesn’t have to be with money: It could be time, education or resources. Donating is a powerful tool, as it helps others and it helps you. Teaching our kids to do the same would perpetuate the good in the world. We’re all very busy helping ourselves, but if we committed a percentage of our time and/or money to a charitable endeavor, the world would be so much better for it.

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

My favorite quote is “You are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time, so choose your friends wisely.” At the point when I heard that quote, I was spending time with people that were hindering my potential, but I didn’t see it. The person that told me the quote became my mentor, and this quote changed my perspective on everything.

Thank you for these great insights!

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