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Mo Cheema: “Don’t burn the candle from both sides”

I believe having an address is a basic human right because it allows us to gain access to all types of services. It would allow anyone to order food online while quarantining at home in their pajamas, but more importantly, an address infrastructure would allow first responders to arrive at the correct patient’s door to […]

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I believe having an address is a basic human right because it allows us to gain access to all types of services. It would allow anyone to order food online while quarantining at home in their pajamas, but more importantly, an address infrastructure would allow first responders to arrive at the correct patient’s door to render emergency services. There are dozens of stories of first responders not being able to find the right address in time, which could have saved someone’s life. Sometimes seconds can make a difference between life and death. On a brighter note, an address infrastructure has a tremendous social and economic value as well. According to a Forbes article in 2016, more than 75% of the world does not have a reliable address. This means billions of people play a much smaller part in our global economy currently than they would if they had a reliable address. Imagine what this could mean for our global GDP.


As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mo Cheema, Vice President of Marketing Operations at Strategic Innovations, LLC. Mo had a highly influential career at UPS, where he spearheaded several new product and business concepts, developed a strategically aligned product road-map to streamline the global last mile delivery for drivers, as well as routinely engaged with senior level executives to influence investment decisions.


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

What brought me to this career path was someone taking a chance on me. When I was enrolled at Montclair State University as an MBA student, I attended a career fair where I met the man who would go on to become my very first manager at United Parcel Service (UPS). It was totally by chance that I stopped by the UPS desk at the career fair and sparked up a conversation with him. We chatted about Business Analysis and Business Analytics; and he asked me which one I was more interested in. If I had responded with Business Analytics, I probably wouldn’t have been where I am today. You see, he was the Group Manager of a Business Analysis team and that’s what he was there to recruit for. One wrong answer and my life would have been very different. I had taken a Business Analysis course, so we sort of got into an on-the-spot interview and he told me later that he knew right away he wanted to bring me on board as an intern. So about six months later, I kicked off my internship with UPS and the rest is history.

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

After I was able to successfully get my foot in the door with UPS, I wanted to achieve more. I kept asking for roles and projects that would challenge me and help me learn more. I continued to outgrow my roles, but I still wanted more. I wanted to be at the forefront of innovation and new product development, so I started doing the job I wanted. I participated in internal hackathons, designed new prototypes, and assembled likeminded teams to pitch new business concepts to the management committee at UPS. It wasn’t long before I was noticed. It was after a Shark Tank like internal pitch competition that I was offered a position to analyze new product concepts. It was the job I had always wanted to do, and I ended up being in that role because I didn’t let my job title hold me back. This story should offer a perspective to those that are perhaps unhappy in their current roles. I’m not telling them not to do their jobs, but rather, find time to do what doesn’t feel like work to you.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

I’m a strong believer in the fact that everything happens for a reason. It is the sum of the individual experiences that make us who we are, and we shouldn’t try to change anything about that. If I want something, I work hard at it, but if I’m still not able to achieve it, I try not to stress over it. I do, however, mindfully take the time to process it and learn from it. Once I’ve extracted the lessons to be learned, I move on. What comes naturally has its own way of fitting into our life.

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

My big idea that might change the world is to build an address infrastructure that’s reliable, scalable, and shareable. An address should bring you to a precise and accurate location, it should be available for anyone living anywhere across the globe, and it should be easy enough to provide to anyone. We associate our address with our identity, our memories, and it is how we become part of a community. Think about all the spontaneous conversations you have had with people after you found out they were from the same hometown as you, which allowed you two to bond. You were both part of the same community. It enabled you two to connect and chat and make a meaningful connection, which as social animals, is a necessity for all of us.

How do you think this will change the world?

I believe having an address is a basic human right because it allows us to gain access to all types of services. It would allow anyone to order food online while quarantining at home in their pajamas, but more importantly, an address infrastructure would allow first responders to arrive at the correct patient’s door to render emergency services. There are dozens of stories of first responders not being able to find the right address in time, which could have saved someone’s life. Sometimes seconds can make a difference between life and death. On a brighter note, an address infrastructure has a tremendous social and economic value as well. According to a Forbes article in 2016, more than 75% of the world does not have a reliable address. This means billions of people play a much smaller part in our global economy currently than they would if they had a reliable address. Imagine what this could mean for our global GDP.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

Earlier I said that an address should be shareable, but I know that this could have unforeseen consequences because scammers are always trying to steal Personally Identifiable Information (PII) for nefarious purposes. What people should think about is, how can we tokenize every address so that we can share it with anyone, without letting them see or read it? So, although sharing an address but also keeping it confidential may sound contradictory, it is not. Token based address authentication could allow a user to request someone’s address (i.e. to render a service), receive verification from the owner of the address, and proceed to gaining time-based access to the address, which would expire after the service has been rendered. This technique works very well in access control technologies where someone only has access to a door for certain period and then that access expires after they are done. I think this technique could be adopted in the address field as well.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

There’s a tradition at UPS that every holiday season, corporate employees volunteer to go out and help deliver packages during crunch time. I went on a similar ride-along, as a driver helper, during the busy holiday season to get a taste for the kinds of situations drivers deal with on their routes. What stood out to me more than anything else was how much confusion was caused by barely visible or missing addresses. They were faded, obscured, too small, missing or otherwise not visible at night. It was the winter solstice, the sun had set at 4 p.m., and we were only halfway finished with our route. We were going to have to deliver the rest of the packages in the dark. When drivers are not able to find the correct address, they must take the package back to the hub. This causes a package to be delayed. A customer can either go pick it up themselves or have the driver attempt to deliver it again on another day. That’s when I thought there had to be a better way to mark addresses but as I started doing my research, I learned that the opportunity was much bigger than I had imagined. So, I started working with Strategic Innovations to bring eLiT to the market. It is essentially a back-lit LED address light box with large, digitally printed house numbers that can be easily seen and read. It has a dusk to dawn timer, so it automatically turns on at night, and when the driver comes to make a delivery, it begins to flash on and off to grab their attention. It even helps the delivery drivers to find an address by routing them to the precise location of the device.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

I think devices like the eLiT need to become part of the Zoning Ordinance. An address that’s visible day or night allows local governments to serve their residents better. Since 75% of the emergency calls take place at night, it is imperative that first responders be able to find addresses at night. As a safety precaution, homeowners must be required to install a device like eLiT that makes it easy for addresses to be seen at night and also allows appropriate parties to be routed to the address efficiently.

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

  1. Don’t burn the candle from both sides. You may get extra light, but the candle will burn out a lot faster. I have a bad habit of overworking myself after I find something exciting. I work on projects overnight and I forget to eat or exercise. I am still working to put a lid on it, but I wish someone had told me right from the start that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
  2. Take care of your mental health. Your mental health is the most important part because a sound mind can accomplish a lot more.
  3. Touch it once. Any task you touch, make sure you only touch it once and get it done. It’s okay if you get it done in small chunks over time, but the quality of the end product will be so much better because, regardless of what some people might say, the brain is not meant to multitask.
  4. When you speak truth to power, make sure you have a plan. Nobody likes to hear the truth especially when they’re in a position of power, so if you’re going to tell someone higher up they’re not doing a good job, make sure you do it very strategically.
  5. Bring your whole self to everything you do. I used to compartmentalize my personal and business life, but I learned over time that’s pointless. In today’s digital world when everyone’s working from home, the two are more intertwined than ever.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

The key to success is comfort with boredom. I know it sounds strange but to be the best you must practice the same task again and again, and that’s boring. Once you get comfortable with the boredom of repetition, you become the master at that specific task over time. If you want to be successful then get comfortable with executing boring tasks again and again, but every so often bring your head up and make sure you’re navigating in the right direction. Be sure you’re still working towards the goal you had set in mind when you started.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Think about the world’s largest enterprise company that comes to mind for you and imagine if you had the opportunity to be the very first investor in that company knowing that it would one day take off like a rocket ship. Would you not invest with everything you had? Now, think about the eLiT device which is on a mission to revolutionize the address infrastructure for the world, knowing that it is going to enable 75% of the world to receive access to services easily. How much are you willing to invest now that the opportunity is right in front of you?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Anyone is welcome to follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mocheema4/

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