Optimize your operational processes and reduce the lag time in bringing solutions or offerings to market. This could mean streamlining your internal communications and file sharing with your employees, this could also be leveraging the cloud for data hosting to reduce your costs on physical serves, this could also mean integrating with apps or API’s to provide a more robust product offering to your customer. Additionally, protecting your customers data & credentials and being transparent about how you are safeguarding that information will absolutely position your business as one worth doing business with. Preventing data breaches should always be top of mind and there are various cloud solution companies such as Box.com for example that have simple solutions to have security controls in place to ensure you minimize digital threats to your business.
As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Santos.
Vanessa Santos is a social entrepreneur, startup advisor for women-founded businesses, speaker, and a brand strategy and product executive supporting entrepreneurs to build purposeful & memorable brands.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’m a Latina, born & raised in NYC to a hardworking, musical father and a creative, passionate and energetic mother. Growing up as a first-gen to non-English speaking parents meant that I was held to societal constructed standards as to what careers or opportunities are available to me. This has been a driver behind my motivation to shatter stereotypes of what children of immigrants should look like, behave like and the types of careers they can have. I believe it’s the reason why I don’t take no for an answer and create spaces for myself when I’ve felt like I don’t “fit in”. My career path has not been linear, and that has been by choice. Since my childhood, I loved telling stories, writing plays, creating new businesses as a way to help my family with bills & even dreamt of directing my own tv series. Back then I wasn’t confident enough to pursue those dreams and went to school for journalism and business instead. I channeled that creative & entrepreneurial energy into the business world where I’ve developed & launched award-winning strategies to amplify the presence of startups and corporate brands. Today, I help women-owned small businesses build powerful and memorable brands through my startup advisory. I also have a knack for uncovering strengths in people & support them in leveraging their newfound superpowers through public speaking, mentorship and my brand strategy services. I leverage those strengths in the music business as well, as co-founder of Bodega Records, where I have the privilege of working alongside my husband, recording artist Derik Fein, on changing the way labels partner with artists. I strongly believe my humble beginnings supported my multi-passionate endeavors and I work tirelessly to create spaces for women’s voices to be heard.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
There have been quite a few lessons early on in my corporate and entrepreneurial career. I began a TikTok series called, “Mistakes I Made in My 20’s”, because there were so many things I wish I’d done differently and while mistakes are the best form of education, there are some avoidable ones that I enjoy to share… and it seems to have been resonating with people!
One mistake that got me fired from I job I quite enjoyed taught me a great lesson. Being a new employee with any company, you immediately want to fit in. You want to find colleagues that you can relate to. At this company, I was lucky to already have a friend on the inside but being the people pleaser that I was in my early 20’s, I wanted to be liked by everyone. I knew one woman who liked to gossip and I thought that was the way in with her. I’d let her gossip about anything and anyone, and I’d join in just to have something to talk about. I took it too far when were on a chat and I was messaging various people that I accidentally sent a gossip about my boss that was intended for my coworker to my boss! Needless to say, he wasn’t pleased. Somehow that wasn’t what got me fired but I do advise people to just mind their business. Your work and ethical behavior will attract the right kind of friendships.
To add to that already mortifying experience, was that any time I didn’t feel like going to work, I would call out. I was unreliable and, on a day, where I was actually sick (but who can blame my boss), he called and said “this is not working out”. I can’t say that I was surprised as I knew I was pushing my luck but it taught me 3 keys lessons:
1. Build a reputation you can be proud of
2. Reliability and consistency are important in every aspect in life
3. Stop gossiping and mind your business
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?
For the longest time I saw success as something I needed to achieve on my own. It wasn’t until I had some sense that I realized that anyone who has “made it” had some help and also welcomed the help along the way. My mother and family have always been incredibly supportive of my many dreams and pursuits and never made me feel like I need to do just one thing. The mentors in my life have been instrumental in my professional success. Kevin Ryan, a friend, mentor and someone I look up to because he takes things and makes them better through clever innovation. He creates thriving businesses but does so with integrity and has imparted so much wisdom as I navigated the corporate and startup world. Betty DeVita, (also a former boss of mine), has always been unapologetically her, which kind of rubbed off on me. She doesn’t allow herself to be put in a box and has a great skill for commercializing later-stage companies. She consistently says to me “Vanessa you are a badass, and don’t forget it.” That kind of motivating support can empower you to conquer anything! Finally, my husband Derik Fein. Since we met, Derik has always pushed me to be better. He has supported all of my ideas and more importantly pushes me to continuously challenge myself. He is the reason why I took the leap into my second go at entrepreneurship, advising startups and public speaking. Seeing his bravery as an independent artist and how he continues to create music that impacts people’s lives is inspiring. He always encourages my storytelling and through the incredible love and support I get from him, I am my most authentic self.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Yes to all 3! A book that has made a significant impact in my life has been the 12-Week Year. The book has forced me to take stock of how I spend my time and what I’m prioritizing as it related to my future vision and goals. I have accomplished about 3 months’ worth of projects in 3 weeks since putting the 12-Week Year framework into practice. A podcast that has had a significant impact on my world and societal view was the Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations when she interviewed the author, Eckhart Tolle, the episode is titled, “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.” That podcast subsequently led me to reading the book, A New Earth, and it completely changed my self-consciousness. It has taught me to quiet my mind, keep my ego in check to live a present and purposeful life. Finally, Brene Brown’s Netflix special, ‘the Call to Courage’, pushed me to stop self-sabotaging and to choose courage over comfort. It motivated me to create my startup advisory despite having a full-time corporate job and with the 12-Week Year in practice, I’m so excited about my future and the future of my advisory work and Bodega Records.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I love this question. As part of my startup advisory work, I have the founders undergo an exercise I call Brand Heart. The Brand Heart of your organization is your ‘why’ and it delivers an honest and conscious expression of your brand. Brand Heart entails understanding and articulating: Mission, Vision, Purpose, and Values. I believe that companies who are authentic and purpose driven are most successful. All of the frameworks I develop for my clients are ones that I’ve stress tested and put into practice myself. Since starting my advisory, I have listed my Mission, Vision, Purpose and Values as follows.
My mission is to Uncover strengths in visionary women & support them in leveraging their newfound superpowers to create a thriving business.
My Vision is to be a catalyst and thought leader in creating the future of game changing women entrepreneurs to position them as leaders in the global economy.
My Purpose is to help women-owned small businesses get off the ground to create purposeful & memorable brands. Brands that engage with intent and deliver greater meaning behind the goods and services they sell.
My values are rooted in honesty, learning, consciousness, innovation, and integrity. Those extensions of my being have led me to embed them as part of my company culture.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m working on the scariest project of my life. I’ve not yet announced this but I’m focusing most my efforts on growing my motivational speaking and startup advisory business. I am creating content for an E-Course that will soon launch on Teachable, and I’m co-writing new material with Derik to release this year. I’m also going to be teaching a Masterclass, From Concept to Launch for the We All Grow AMIGAS platform. I’m excited to have the opportunity to have more bandwidth and take on more clients and guide them to create thriving businesses. I’ve done a lot of self-reflection in 2020 and coming into 2021 about what can I offer that could be beneficial to people. What talents do I have that can be monetized? How can I help? What is my purpose? My advice to people who are seeking clarity on what to do with their life is reflect on their passions. When you uncover your passion, you discover your purpose. When you’ve found your purpose, go out and live it. My passion projects are now my focus.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?
During the height of the pandemic in 2020 almost all businesses were closed to the public, this included pharmacies. I have family that lives in Ecuador where a great deal of business is conducted the “old fashion” way. Cash is highly prevalent and locals enjoy that in-person customer service for their day to day errands. My uncle needed to get his medication refilled and had a really hard time getting through to the pharmacy whose only phone was ringing every second. People were scared, they needed their medications. The pharmacy who has been in operation for decades belonged to an older couple who also enjoyed the personal touch they could offer their customers. However, they faced a real dilemma. Not only did they worry about staying afloat with their business being closed and not being to manage going house to house to deliver the medications to the people who needed it most. They also worried about not getting the medications in time to those people who were in dire need. The pandemic forced many businesses who were mainly brick and mortar to adopt digital solutions to replace the manual process of filling and delivering prescriptions.
Digital transformation is the adoption of digital technology to aid and even replace manual processes with digital technology. In the case of this pharmacy, they were able to adopt the Uber Eats like model to enable their customers to order via a QR code or an SMS link to fill out their prescriptions and then use a 3rd party service to get their medications delivered. This ensured that their business continued to meet the needs of their customers and because they didn’t have loss of revenues, they were able to stay on top of their household bills. Digital adoption exponentially increased especially across more traditional markets like Latin America where cash and in-person transactions are very much part of the socioeconomic culture.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
Digitization has made way for disruption across all industries, allowing companies to expand their reach specifically in tech. Digitization has also created an explosion of new business models and companies that are focused on servicing segments that were traditionally brick and mortar. There is no time like the present to get yourself and your idea out there. Competition is everywhere. Competition is not new. What is new is your idea. Digital Transformation has enabled anyone with a mobile phone to be an entrepreneur. Companies across the food service, pharma, retail, and anyone in the business of customer service can benefit from Digital Transformation. The transformation exists in optimizing the customer experience to create stickiness with your loyal customers, gain new customers and in turn make customers happy and increase revenues.
We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.
As a startup advisor and also as a digital strategy executive for a global company, my career would not be possible had it not been for digital transformation. Every company is looking for a way to stand out, be seen, grow their customer base and make sales. Digitization of your assets and processes can support the growth of your business to retain and attract new customers. I’m advising two entrepreneurs in the wellness space, Brittani Feinberg and Natalia Maldonado of Warrior Life Code. Before the pandemic, their largest revenue driver was live events (coaching, yoga and meditation classes). The pandemic has since forced for them to adapt and craft their narrative in the digital space. Anxieties are at an all-time high and for many people meditation is a strong cure for calming one’s mind and these two women had a growing community that they could not let down. I worked with them to build an online presence where they could stream and host their classes, share transformational stories, and engage consistently through email in addition to their social media channels. As part of my work with them we also crafted their digital persona, to ensure that the vibrancy of their personalities and their brand doesn’t get lost. By creating this online community and infusing their stories in the digital narrative they are now able to deliver their meaningful content and continue to impact the lives of their customers in a positive way. You can now visit them at warriorlifecode.com
Leaning on my corporate expertise, my team and I were working with a global brand who wanted to enhance the customer experience with their line of refrigerators. You are probably thinking, how on earth can one use digital technology to enhance my experience with a fridge? Through testing and analysis, we found that a fridge purchase is a big one, an emotional one, and also one that happens maybe every 10 years for some people. So, we knew we had to think outside of the box to create stickiness between the consumer and an appliance that stores your food at a perfect 37 degrees. Through our field research, we uncovered that other than putting something in the fridge and taking it out when you needed it was as deep as that relationship got. We also uncovered that many folks use the fridge as a way to communicate with those they share the home (sticky notes to let them know they were going out for example). Finally, we also uncovered that some people hated the chore of the unexpected trip to the grocery store when they realized they were out of milk, eggs, etc.
Leveraging this data, we thought of creating a digital hub on the fridge door which consists of a tablet within the door that allows you to communicate with your loved ones, order groceries right from your refrigerator and through a companion app and some cameras inside the fridge have the ability to know what you need to pick up from the grocery store without having to go home to find out. This is another instance of digital transformation, leveraging existing technology and replacing it with much newer technology.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
I think the pandemic forced the hand of many companies who were hesitant to adopt newer technologies for fear that it would interrupt their business operations or make their operations costlier which in turn they would have to pass on to the customer. What they have come to realize is that digital technology has improved their operations, reduced costs due to manual processes, ensured that they are able to be where their customers are and be more accessible which has increased profitability for many of these companies. Digital transformation is essential for the continuous growth of any business, empowering them to adapt and provide faster response times with their solutions. For companies who are hesitant to adopt technology to digitize or improve aspects of their business, who are hesitant on adopting digital solutions to secure their business from cyber threats and attacks, I would remind them that they are in the business of offering the best and most secure service to their customer. Besides being in the business of making sales, they are in the business of building trust. Digital transformation has created higher expectations from consumers. Consumers even in developing countries are more tech savvy than ever before. Your customers expect a certain caliber of service, they expect to be able to connect with a customer service rep at any time when they have a problem with your product or service. They also expect for their card credentials to be securely stored and not have their data exposed to fraudsters. Without adopting these digital tools, you are hurting your business from capturing share, market value and trust from consumers. Especially for small businesses, in order to compete with the global giants, digital transformation needs a place in your P&L.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.
5 Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation to Take It to the Next Level:
- Use analyzation tools such as HotJar to best understand your customer and their behaviors. Companies who are UX (User Experience) focused will consistently outperform those organizations who are not continuously thinking about enhancing the customer experience. A company whose UX and CX is phenomenal is Ellevest. There are quite a few Robo Financial advisory services out there and one of the reasons I believe Ellevest is performing well and attracting more customers is due to the experience one has with onboarding and the consistent care on delivering meaningful content related to the things that matter most to us. Most robo advisory services just feel like a smarter bank who holds your money and you aren’t quite sure what’s happening. Ellevest is clear on who their consumer is, and are consistently educating the consumer on what’s happening with their money on top of rolling out features and experiences to continue to provide a best in class service in the financial services space.
- Leverage digital channels and be where your customers are. I often see businesses who don’t consider social media as part of their digital strategy. Today’s consumer expects to learn about your brand on social media, and yes that also includes TikTok. If you can be creative and leverage this technology, you could enjoy the benefits of incremental revenue growth and a more engaged audience. There are brands that are incredibly creative about their b2b service offerings on TikTok. A brand that has been able to bring FinTech to the TikTok space is @Investmentjoy — they break down investment materials to bite size content for Gen-Z’s and Millennials who are looking to build wealth. Sometimes digital transformation doesn’t mean overhauling your backend systems, it could mean improving the way you use existing technologies.
- Be available to your customers when they need you. This means having multiple ways for them to reach you. A company that does this well for me is Squarespace. They have chat, phone, email, and community forum support. They have employed dynamic chat features on their site that allows the representative to check out your website and provide real-time advice based on your query. With so many companies offering virtual assistants and AI powered chat bots, you have plenty of options and pricing models to choose from that works best for the size of your business.
- Employ an agile mindset and hire individuals who come from diverse backgrounds. Many companies that plateau or are experiencing stale growths are those who have a team of people who all went to the same schools, studied the same major, and are not encouraged to think independently or encouraged to act and solve quickly. Various layers of approval processes in the digital world cripple’s creativity and digital acceleration. With an agile mindset and contributors who are encouraged to think of solutions that can evolve and grow with the needs of your consumer instead of Band-Aid solutions for the problem of today will edge out the competition.
- Optimize your operational processes and reduce the lag time in bringing solutions or offerings to market. This could mean streamlining your internal communications and file sharing with your employees, this could also be leveraging the cloud for data hosting to reduce your costs on physical serves, this could also mean integrating with apps or API’s to provide a more robust product offering to your customer. Additionally, protecting your customers data & credentials and being transparent about how you are safeguarding that information will absolutely position your business as one worth doing business with. Preventing data breaches should always be top of mind and there are various cloud solution companies such as Box.com for example that have simple solutions to have security controls in place to ensure you minimize digital threats to your business.
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
Companies who have a “culture of innovation” rooted in their mission statement are the organizations that will experience growth and adjust to the ever-evolving digital landscape. Companies should encourage failures and learn from them. Test and try new things with your most engaged segments and see what new revenue opportunities you are able to extract. Encourage product managers to have P&L responsibility so that they are empowered to collaboratively across functional departments and have a better sense on the impact of their work. A culture of innovation is also supporting employees own innovations through idea-box style competitions to promote employees to think across their own department on how to best solve existing problems and even be part of future-proofing the business. An organization that does this well is Mastercard. They host IdeaBox challenges focusing on key initiatives and invite employees to pitch their best idea. The winning team then gets some additional resources to further evaluate and test that idea. A culture of innovation is focused on the marriage between employee engagement and supporting creative thinking to accelerate and improve a process, product and the business overall.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This year’s life lesson quote is “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” -Brene Brown
In my personal life as a multi-passionate, in my corporate career, as an advocate for gender equality & women in STEM, and as an entrepreneur, authenticity and being my true self is the reason why I can engage in a way to bring out the best in people or get a point across. I’m not out here trying to use the latest jargon in corporate America, I’m simply choosing to be myself, be honest if I don’t understand or know something, be unafraid to ask questions, and by choosing to be authentic, I am choosing to keep my ego in check.
How can our readers further follow your work? You can connect & work with Vanessa Santos by visiting: www.lavidaglamour.com or through social, @lavidaglamour
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!