Lee Daley of Hello Genius: “Find a way to keep going”

“Find a way to keep going.” — Jack Lee. My business partner and I were in a grim, rundown hotel in Hong Kong after three weeks in the UAE and across Asia pitching for capital. It was a fruitless trip and we were exhausted, beaten up and out of money. Neither of us had taken a salary […]

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“Find a way to keep going.” — Jack Lee. My business partner and I were in a grim, rundown hotel in Hong Kong after three weeks in the UAE and across Asia pitching for capital. It was a fruitless trip and we were exhausted, beaten up and out of money. Neither of us had taken a salary for two years. The lesson? Do not give up. Starting a tech company is going to test you beyond measure. Keep fighting every step of the way to keep your idea alive. The only time to quit is when you stop believing in the strength of your idea.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lee Daley, the co-founder and chief strategy and marketing officer of Hello Genius. After a 25-year career in global advertising, Lee made a career pivot to pursue his love of learning and pioneer a new paradigm in AI-based learning alongside his business partner Jack Lee. Together, they founded Hello Genius, a global learning platform designed to enhance child development through personalized learning and empower closer parental connectivity. Inspired by his own parenting experiences, Lee is dedicated to fostering a life of learning and creating a world of real equal opportunity for all children to learn, excel and uncover their passions.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory?” What led you to this particular career path?

I had a long career in international advertising. I was the global CEO of Red Cell Network for WPP, Chairman and CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi UK, Global Head of Strategy for McCann-Erickson and a co-founder of a boutique agency in New York City in the 1990s. I served on the worldwide boards of three major networks and was entrusted with the strategic direction, development and financial performance of several agencies for over 20 years. Yet, I came to see that the industry I loved for its ideas, insight and strategy was trapped in a very narrow domain. It was missing the real business opportunities of the digital revolution.

What was happening in the technology space increasingly sparked my interest. As late as 2010, I felt we were only on the cusp of the digital revolution, and that the greatest social and business challenges the world faced would be solved by entrepreneurs and startups, and not by the incumbents. The world needed more great ideas that would impact everyone’s lives for the better. For me, that meant starting over as a technology novice, but bringing with me an understanding of business, brands, creativity and consumer psychology. It meant exploring the world of business anew until some magic might happen.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

We have built a learning platform for the future, one that anticipates the changing dynamics of education and the need for lifelong learning. We designed Hello Genius in accordance with the principles of exploration, discovery, revelation and connection. We help children reveal their individuality, interests and natural talents as they explore through safe learning pathways across the web. At the same time, Hello Genius empowers parents and guardians with profound insights into what captures their child’s imagination to foster a deeper bond and understanding of who their child really is.

Hello Genius is a dynamically adaptive learning platform that uses advanced machine learning and AI to personalize and expand a child’s learning opportunities within any area of knowledge. The software platform is predicated on children revealing their unique interests and passions as they explore a world of knowledge on their own terms. Hello Genius adapts to each child to deliver a uniquely tailored learning experience. All children are unique and learn differently. We respect and celebrate these differences and support each child’s growth and individuality in a way that looks at learning as a natural process.

At Hello Genius, we believe the parental bond is crucial. We enhance connection and understanding through a dual-app system that allows for parents to become partners in their children’s everyday learning. Parents can track their children’s activities in a live feed and enjoy detailed, data-rich insights into their child’s interests. Hello Genius also provides parents with recommendations for offline experiences that will enrich their children’s learning and family bonding. Moreover, our community features add value to the lives of both parents and children.

The Hello Genius product meets a very real need in the market and can help children and their parents globally. Our platform can be used by anyone with access to a Wi-Fi signal and any iOS or Android device. In many parts of the world, education struggles with a shortage of funding and resources, whether it’s books, teachers or adequate classroom facilities for children to advance and grow with the right supports in place. Ubiquitous technology and digital evolution facilitate a learning revolution where children and people who suffer from a deficit of educational opportunity can now gain access to knowledge, as well as a connection to others who can understand and support them in wholly new ways. Our hope is to use Hello Genius to equalize access to learning and growth for those whose opportunities are scarce, and to create positive social change globally.

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?

Not checking out the real credentials of people posing as Silicon Valley experts on startups. Thankfully, we now have a remarkable and qualified board and group of advisors.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Number one, my mother. She was my friend and a font of wisdom, and instilled values that I have carried with me all my life. Her world view was so egalitarian, humanistic, brave, creatively expansive, feminist, and kind. Her influence on my thinking and decision making has been profound.

The late Sir Ken Robinson was a person I loved dearly. He was the only person in my life who understood that the key to a better future lies in allowing children’s creativity and individuality to flourish. As a founding board director of Hello Genius, Sir Ken guided our product’s development and inspired its philosophy and design features that allow a child to be understood on their own terms.

Jack Lee, my business partner in Hello Genius, is the gutsiest manager and most committed operator I have ever met. He is a singularly wonderful person. Sir Martin Sorrell’s exacting attention to detail and the very definition of competitive. Sir Alex Ferguson, proof that genius and a fantastic sense of humor go hand in hand.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the inverse, that a system or structure has “withstood the test of time?” Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is “not so positive?” Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disruption is not always good. Throughout history, natural and cultural systems have been disrupted violently. The question is whether we accept these scenarios as a state of permanence or whether we choose to change them.

For the positive disruption of an industry, I look at Tesla. It is a wake-up call to the automotive manufacturing behemoths, who must move toward the future of mobility with clean technologies, and a portent of doom for big oil. Then there is Apple, which saw the future of technology as a force of liberation and empowerment of the individual, not simply a means of increasing corporate efficiency. Apple celebrated creativity, not just engineering and coding skills.

Regarding negative disruption? Sky Sports and its impact on soccer. The consolidation of wealth in the hands of a few elite clubs has led to a boring predictability of outcomes in every major soccer league in Europe, especially in England. There is now an aristocracy of clubs. The quality of the players has improved over the years and the game has become more global and glamorous, but the romance of the sport and the ordinary person’s ability to participate has become more challenged. Money rules in business, but it has taken over in sports to such an extent that there are rarely ever any surprising results.

Can you share three of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“Find a way to keep going.” — Jack Lee. My business partner and I were in a grim, rundown hotel in Hong Kong after three weeks in the UAE and across Asia pitching for capital. It was a fruitless trip and we were exhausted, beaten up and out of money. Neither of us had taken a salary for two years. The lesson? Do not give up. Starting a tech company is going to test you beyond measure. Keep fighting every step of the way to keep your idea alive. The only time to quit is when you stop believing in the strength of your idea.

“Don’t worry if you have to change from the original plan to get where you want to go and don’t worry if timelines change.” — A colleague with experience in global venture capital investing shared this advice when we had to make a significant sacrifice in terms of our original go-to-market vision. It was emotionally painful, but a pivot that made sense in terms of our operations, finances and ability to scale.

“No matter what, get to market. You will never be happy with your initial product, but if it meets a real market need you will survive and improve, so focus on your minimum viable product (MVP).” — A global tech company CEO, who is also an investor and advisor in Hello Genius.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

Not relevant to us right now.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I am interested in radical innovation in the areas of greatest need. Developing new products, systems and solutions to help facilitate a cleaner, fairer and more optimistic future for the generations that will be here in 20, 50 and 100 years is what really interests me. That includes a future where animals, oceans and land-based ecosystems are protected and valued. It means cleaning up the planet and disrupting old industries that profit today at the expense of our children. There is no individual, institution or company that cannot be challenged by a better idea and a super-empowered group of people. The motivating force in history must now be about saving our planet.

I am interested in setting up a covert group of radical creative minds across the arts, sciences and business to challenge the status quo. The role of AI in creating positive social and scientific change is also fascinating. I am now in my fifties, but I feel like the real work I have to do is only just beginning, since my focus is so different from when I was young. I have greater power to help others because of my life experience.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

In 2000, I put on a conference in Berlin for 200 people. The theme was focused on creativity, technology, and the future. I invited some remarkable speakers to address these themes, one of whom was Professor Sir Ken Robinson. He was the only person I had ever heard speak about creativity in a way I actually understood it, as a life force that lives within all of us. I sat and cried when I heard him talk about children and education and human potential, and how so many children never find their true voice in this world. We became friends thereafter.

Six years later, Sir Ken took to the TED stage and entranced the world. If you have not seen it, watch his landmark speech that has become the most-watched TED talk in history, titled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” There are no words to describe what a remarkable and beautiful person Sir Ken was. His untimely passing this year is a great loss to his wonderful family and to the whole world.

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

My mother would sometimes say to me in times of stress, “Look up at the sky and observe the infinite universe. None of it matters in the end. We are all just specks of dust on grains of sand.”

Similarly, she introduced me to Lao Tzu. I left home at 17 and she dropped a copy of the Tao Te Ching into my bag with the inscription “Drink This.” I did and this line stuck with me: “The world is won by those who let it go.” It is important to embrace humility. It is also important to remain fragile and human.

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. 🙂

I am a firm believer in the power of art and culture and their ability to create transcendent shared experiences that bring humanity together. We have to create new approaches to cross cultural understanding. Art, music, film, architecture and shared experiences are critical to this. Combine this with the power of digital technologies and community networks and we have the tools to change the world, to build a more peaceful future while we are building a cleaner, more sustainable and inclusive economy. There is so much we can share and do together.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me at or on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube at @HelloGeniusOfficial.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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