Community//

“Finding the balance between accountability and freedom will bring your team success and you a sense of fulfillment” with Dana Budzyn and Chaya Weiner

Finding the balance between accountability and freedom will bring your team success and you a sense of fulfillment. Trust your hiring process or change it. Give people the freedom to try so they know they are included in creating the future of the company. We all want to make our impact in the world and […]


Finding the balance between accountability and freedom will bring your team success and you a sense of fulfillment. Trust your hiring process or change it. Give people the freedom to try so they know they are included in creating the future of the company. We all want to make our impact in the world and so, as a leader, remember that your employees want to know their ideas are being listened to and that they have the creative freedom to explore paths you may not have otherwise taken.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dana Budzyn, co-founder and CEO of UBDI, short for Universal Basic Data Income, a platform that enables secure and ethical data exchange and monetization. UBDI is working to disrupt the $76 billion market research industry by offering companies accurate insights into consumer behavior. Dana began her career as an intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2015. Her research on space technology was later published by SPIE, the International Society for Optics and Photonics Technology. A year later, Dana returned to NASA to investigate advanced UV imaging for astrophysics, planetary, and biomedical applications. In 2016, she won first place at the University of Sydney’s MedTech Innovation Competition for designing a tunable mass damping system for tremors of varying frequencies. Dana is a thought leader on data privacy and data empowerment. In 2018, she gave a TEDx talk on the importance of data from the perspective of a young millennial female in a male-dominated field. Through her leadership at UBDI, Dana has been featured in MarketWatch, Slate, and American Inno. Dana graduated from Lehigh University in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering and biomedical engineering. She grew up in Los Angeles and now lives in Washington, DC. Follow her on Twitter at @danabudzyn.


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

When I was 18 years old and had just started my freshman year of college at Lehigh University I went into septic shock and cardiac arrest and was put into a medically induced coma for about a month. This was followed by a handful of emergency surgeries on both the east and west coast. When I returned home, my uncle gave me a beautiful gift. He had gone through my friends’ and family social media and put together a book of all the posts, comments, texts and tweets that had taken place while I was sick. It was a digital timeline of a period of my life I had no memory of and, in a way, restored some of the physically lost days of my life. Data was a concept I was used to seeing in labs and science experiments, and now it had more memory than me. That was really the first time I started thinking about data differently and the power it has, not only in the stories it can tell for us, but also in the knowledge it has about us. And this idea that data is valuable and powerful became even more obvious when I started trying to gather all of my health data. I would be seeing different doctors and no one would have all of my information, and it became very apparent even in 2013 that the best way to make sure your health records were always available to whomever needed them, including you, was to keep them all in a binder… yes, you heard me… a giant binder with paper! I discovered first hand that we need a better way to transport, control, and share data in a secure and private environment. For me, this would have meant being able to securely share my health data with researchers who could be more informed about my case, and therefore more apt to be able to help me, by aggregating my data with others who’ve had septic shock. Sometimes great things can take more data not less. Sharing it in the right way is the key because data can create wonderful and powerful things when in the right hands.

So, I figured if someone or something is going to own your data, it should be the person producing it, and you should be able to choose where and with whom it’s shared and to enjoy the economic value generated from such a transaction. And thus, UBDI was born.

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

While this may not be incredibly interesting, I think it’s relevant to some of the challenges women face when starting a company and seeking funding. While speaking about UBDI, I once had a man interrupt me and say, “Oh, now I’ve got it. You look like Elizabeth Holmes, ya know the Theranos girl.” Of course I had heard of and read about the Theranos founder charged with massive fraud in the biotech space, but the distinction between “I look like her” versus “I remind him of her” made no difference to how I felt in that moment. This was the first time I felt the only thing this guy saw was a white, blonde girl who he related to the one other white blonde girl he could think of with a big idea; and of course, she was not in any way someone I would want to be compared to from a business or personal perspective! I wish I had some key take away or life lesson to give after this, but ultimately there are going to be some terrible people you meet — far worse than this — and keep your head up because, despite this man’s lack of references to any other successful female CEOs, people have been where you’ve been and you are going to get through it.

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, I thought it would be best to have my dog in the same room on important calls because when I put him outside he barked incessantly at the squirrels. What did I learn? Dogs bark inside too.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

UBDI is in the business of ethical data monetization and with that comes the critical importance of how we structure our data architecture to preserve privacy and security.

There was a team meeting about privacy/security as we set to build our research portal. What started as a friendly discussion started to escalate into a West Side Story Musical with far less tap dancing because each “side” was convinced that their architectural structure would keep people and their data safer.

A few days after this, Facebook got caught storing hundreds of millions of user passwords in plain text which is.,. well.. classic Facebook. In our follow-up meeting, everyone was still a bit tense from the fierce discussion, but as we all gathered around the zoom chat, I felt privileged to have a team who fights to do right by people when they aren’t watching. We chose, and we still choose to think.. and to argue.. and to listen to each other because we knew/know that our choices affect people. So, while that may not be a story that will make us stand out externally, it highlights how lucky I am to be a part of this mission with the ethical team I have.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are working on being the first company to create a food label for data within our application so you clearly understand what data you are sharing with different paying companies and what the price is for that specific data. While my Co-founder, Shane Green, has been helping advise privacy efforts in Washington, DC, around the DASHBOARD ACT with Senator Hawley and Senator Warner, we want to make sure even if the legislation doesn’t get passed, we show the world what consent and transparency really mean when it comes to data. Demonstrating a clear and tangible method for data transparency and privacy and to involve people in their data decision making can shift our data economy culture from website buzzwords and PR to sustainable business models and ethical data practices.

To create change in a culture, it’s important to show, not tell, how things can be done differently so people can grasp what you want to change. Food labels with calorie counts and the banners you see on restaurant or fast food menus and walls were step one into consumers understanding their consumption habits and calorie intake for healthier eating. In this same way, our consent forms can lead by example into a culture of transparency and partnership with users setting the standard for what data is being sent, who it is being sent to, its price, etc.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Leading differently doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong. Take risks as a leader and as a team, listen to people, communicate, ask questions, be collaborative and trust the people around you and let them know you trust them. Let people know they are part of a team accountable for both success and failure. Lastly, create an environment where people feel comfortable being themselves because someone can only ever be 60% of your version of perfect, but when they can be 100% themselves, you will find how to draw them out and utilize their strengths for the team’s benefit and their happiness.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Finding the balance between accountability and freedom will bring your team success and you a sense of fulfillment. Trust your hiring process or change it. Give people the freedom to try so they know they are included in creating the future of the company. We all want to make our impact in the world and so, as a leader, remember that your employees want to know their ideas are being listened to and that they have the creative freedom to explore paths you may not have otherwise taken.

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 about that?

My co-founder, Shane Green, is a mentor, a business partner, and a friend. He has helped me with not only directional and strategic elements of this company, but has also helped prepare me for the mental roller coaster that startups always are. When I was deciding if I wanted to start this company, I naturally had some fear and self-doubt. He told me to grab a glass of wine and think hard about my next 5 years. He gave me the assurance that I didn’t need to know everything, but that, I, wholeheartedly, needed to have confidence in myself to succeed as he thought I could. Here we are.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

While UBDI is still a startup, my goal is to change how we look at privacy and data. Startups like ours bring recognition to the surveillance capitalism system we currently live in and get conversations started around the ethics and philosophy of data and the future of work, which governments have ignored for far too long. I hope UBDI’s model proves we can distribute ethical, verified insights from data with permission, and reshape how the world views data.

From a personal perspective, I support a charity that helps re-mission veterans into community leaders and teaches civilians about the strengths that come from military experience. When we reach a larger size, I am excited to create initiatives within our company to help support veterans get back on their feet and into company like ours.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. I wish someone told me dogs cannot be trusted in important meetings.
  2. It’s not just about how good your idea or your deck is, your presentation skills do matter. I’m used to conversational talking and I thought that would transfer well into pitches. The problem is pitches can be 1, 5, 10, 30 min or even 1 hr… it all depends. Having your core points for each length of time won’t always come intuitively if you are someone like me who gets excited by everything in your company. Take a step back and take the time to tailor your key points for each amount of time. It’ll help you in every meeting.
  3. I wish someone would’ve told me how important networks are for fundraising. I had the naive assumption that it was hard to raise money, but you’d be able to tell your story and get hundreds of “No’s”. I didn’t properly factor in the fact that being 23 and not running in certain circles was going to greatly hinder my ability to even get in the door.
  4. Take a walk to think. Sometimes it feels there is so much on your plate that you have no time to leave the computer screen behind. Walk and talk or walk and think. A little activity can help you achieve those tasks at a much faster pace.
  5. I wish someone would’ve told me the names of 5 people who would’ve given me money on the spot. 😉

You are a person of great 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. 🙂

Universal Basic Data Income

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

“Be dumb enough totry, and too smart to fail.”

When asking my mom about starting Big Sisters of Los Angeles when she was 25, she told me that she was naive enough to think she could do it, and so she did. Whether it was sports tryouts, college applications, or applying for internships, always be too naive to think something is impossible. Being “dumb” led me to apply for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for an internship and lucky enough they let me come back the next year too.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Andrew Yang. He has created one of the most impressive grassroots movements around Universal Basic Income and I find his run for office in 2020 genuine and refreshing. He gives me hope for a united country and real change with his data-driven policies.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

— –

About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

sHeroes: How Charlena Smith of Optio Is Empowering Women to Live Their Best Lives

by Alexandra Spirer
Community//

Lift Your Legacy: How business leaders find balance in the work and lives with Kean Graham and Jacob Rupp

by Jacob Rupp
Community//

“Being a good parent means teaching your children all about your successes, and more importantly, about your mistakes” with Denise Gosnell and Dr. Ely Weinschneider

by Dr. Ely Weinschneider, Psy.D.

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.