Study. Look at the data, and make sure you are looking at things others don’t. Look at historical data, how is or isn’t history repeating itself. Why? Asking questions is really important.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Seiman. Mike is the CEO & Chairman of Digital Remedy, a digital media solutions company leading the tech enabled marketing space he co-founded while still a college student at Hofstra University in the early 2000s. The company has grown quickly and is now a major player within the crowded digital advertising landscape. The rapid growth of Digital Remedy, formerly CPXi led to its inclusion on Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest growing privately held advertising/marketing companies in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2014. Mike was selected as a semi-finalist in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year initiative in 2010 and 2013 and as a finalist in 2009 and 2014. In his free time, Mike serves on the Board of Trustees of his alma mater, Hofstra University. He also focuses on numerous philanthropic initiatives including sitting on the boards of the H.E.S. (Hebrew Educational Society non-profit community center) and Children International, where he spearheaded the development of community centers in both Guayaquil, Ecuador in 2010 and Barranquilla, Colombia in 2014.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I co-founded the predecessor of Digital Remedy, CPXi, as a college student at Hofstra University in the early 2000s. Today, Digital Remedy has been widely recognized as a leader in the tech-enabled digital media execution space. The company has grown quickly and is now a major player within the crowded digital advertising landscape. The rapid growth of Digital Remedy led to its inclusion on Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest-growing privately-held advertising/marketing companies in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2014. I was honored to be selected as a semi-finalist in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year initiative in 2010 and 2013 and as a finalist in 2009 and 2014. In my free time, I serve on the Board of Trustees at my alma mater, Hofstra University. I’m also active in numerous philanthropic initiatives including as a board member of the H.E.S. (Hebrew Educational Society non-profit community center) and Children International, where I spearheaded the development of community centers in both Guayaquil, Ecuador in 2010 and Barranquilla, Colombia in 2014.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
As someone who has been in the digital media space as long as it has existed, I have seen all of the ins and outs and ups and downs along the way. I’ve been operating in the industry since the first ad was created and I have experienced the business from every angle: from a publisher placing ads, an affiliate buying ads and a trader trading ad space for brands and agencies, to an intermediary between publishers and brands — I’ve seen all of it.
Being a thought leader means being an informed source of leadership in your field of expertise. Because I’ve experienced every facet of the digital space over the past 20 years, I have learned a lot. I’d like to share that knowledge so that others in the field can benefit from that experience and history.
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?
It sounds naive now, but the funniest mistake I made was that I assumed people would just give you money when you needed it, just because you were in the early years of running a business. Growing a company during the startup boom, it seemed everyone was able to get investors to give them money. It turns out, it wasn’t quite that simple.
Cash was king but coming to the realization that it didn’t just materialize taught me a hard lesson in inventory management from a cash perspective. Sometimes you have to pay people for the media you buy before you collect anything from the client, but it’s hard to do that when you don’t have the cash. I ended up having to borrow money from my parents until we collected money. It was only for 30 days, but it was a good lesson in budgeting and self-control. It taught us not to put ourselves out there for more than we could handle. A lot of startups get overextended, and that’s where the trouble begins.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
A thought leader is a subject matter expert with significant experience as an operator, not just as an academic or someone who studies it. Thought leaders can use their past and present experience to add color and context to what the future will hold as a business leader. They challenge others to think differently and continue to push their respective industry forward, rather than remaining static, which keeps the industry nurtured and growing.
A thought leader looks at the big picture and understands the larger complexities of an industry, including outside influences, and how they can impact it. A typical leader can direct or motivate someone to do their job, and gain an employee’s respect, but they may not be able to demonstrate or communicate the full context of the situation like a thought leader can.
An influencer isn’t a leader. While there may be some overlap in what an influencer can understand in a vertical, a thought leader has actually done it, worked in the industry on a broader scale. They’ve inspired people to be a part of their vision and execute on it, challenging others to move forward.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
One of the benefits is that people respect you and look to you for answers and input. It’s rewarding to offer value and wisdom, to share it with people who are also looking to move forward. It’s also gratifying to help individuals navigate the spaces you have experience in, to help them grow in their profession.
The downside is that you’re often alone in coming up with the answers that others don’t have or can’t find. Sometimes you don’t have all the answers, but people expect you to have them. That’s when it’s especially important to be willing to listen and accept input and ideas from those around you. Surrounding yourself with a great team is really important, That being said, the reason you invest in being a thought leader is to further your position. Being perceived as an expert in your job yields more success.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
By sharing your knowledge, experience, and vision for the future, other businesses will look to you to gain help and insight. This opens the door to new relationships, engagements, partnerships, and hopefully clients. The act of engaging with the market from a position of authority based on knowledge and expertise attracts people and companies to you and your business.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry? Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
- Read every day. Read your industry rags and leadership books like Jim Collin’s. Psychology books also tend to give me good insight into how people think, and how I can better align things to different psyches for success. Understanding and being able to communicate with people is critical — both your team/employees and your audiences.
- Study. Look at the data, and make sure you are looking at things others don’t. Look at historical data, how is or isn’t history repeating itself. Why? Asking questions is really important.
- Fail. Often and fast. And, tell people about it. Don’t be ashamed of failure; it’s a vital part of learning. I do things even when people tell me it won’t work as an experiment so that I can experience it, dissect it, and understand it.
- Succeed. As many times as you can, and capture that success. Really stop and analyze what worked and what didn’t. Repeat what worked.
- Listen. There is no better source of information than what people tell you. The commonalities and the discrepancies in what people tell you is a fascinating and unique data path in and of itself. Gather as much information and insight as you can, even if you don’t actually use it.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
Richard Branson. The number of businesses he is involved in and embarked upon is impressive. He puts all of his interest into them and works to help them realize their full potential, without always succeeding. He fails often and keeps moving without dwelling on it or becoming afraid. The lesson we can learn from his approach is “go big or go home,” and I love that.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
In some respects, I tend to agree. There’s no official authority on who is and isn’t a thought leader. What exactly are the criteria? Every human being is a thought leader in the topics and truths they understand and spend time with, and everyone has the opportunity to be an expert in something today.
Being acknowledged as a thought leader is actually more the result of the aggregation of the thought leaders I’ve listened to in finance, marketing, sales, HR, etc., allowing me to grow and succeed from their insight. You’re only as good as the information you have and the people with whom you surround yourself. So, surrounding yourself with those who are knowledgeable, experienced and creative thinkers in their respective areas of expertise is critical for everyone in business
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Relax. Depending on how it turns out for you, life’s either going to be way too long, or way too short. If it’s too short, you’re never going to accomplish all you want to, so stop creating unrealistic expectations for yourself. And if it’s too long, you’ve got plenty of time. Relax and take the time to focus and reflect. Do things for yourself, not just your business goals. Very few people make such a big impact in their respective businesses that we remember them as historical figures. But you DO make a huge impact on those around you — your family, your friends, your community. Make sure you’re spending your time and resources where it can have the biggest impact.
You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂
Diversity is key to unlocking the future for any business. Plenty of evidence supports the fact that various perspectives promote innovation, employee retention and growth. Instead of building something on one’s own specific cultural experience, surround yourself with people from varied cultures, backgrounds, and frames of reference, allowing each individual to provide their perspective. This diversity has tremendous value and can drive substantial growth. The future of the universe depends on it
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It is my own quote: “If you dwell, you’re screwed.” What I mean is that you should know the past, understand how it influences the future, and then get away from it. Dwelling is a detriment to your future; it will only hold you back. Dwelling on your past success won’t let you realize future success. And, if you dwell on past failures, you’ll be too busy moping or beating yourself up that you’ll miss the next opportunity. Time waits for no one. Keep moving.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Jay Z, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.