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“Why you should be flexible.” With Tyler Gallagher & Author Carol Novello

Remind Staff of the Bigger Picture, Over and Over Again — I had a clear vision of what Mutual Rescue could become in my head but most of my staff just saw the success of our films and didn’t see the bigger brand opportunity. I need to share my vision regularly so that people know where […]

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Remind Staff of the Bigger Picture, Over and Over Again — I had a clear vision of what Mutual Rescue could become in my head but most of my staff just saw the success of our films and didn’t see the bigger brand opportunity. I need to share my vision regularly so that people know where we are headed and the chance we have to truly make a difference in the lives of millions of animals and people.


As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carol Novello.

Carol Novello is the founder of Mutual Rescue™ and author of “Mutual Rescue: How Adopting a Homeless Animal Can Save You, Too” (Grand Central Publishing, April 2019). Mutual Rescue is a national initiative that highlights the connection between people and pets in order to inspire and support life-saving efforts in communities across the nation and world. Mutual Rescue’s first short film, “Eric & Peety,” went viral around the globe and has been viewed more than 100 million times. For more information, visit www.MutualRescue.org.


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

Creating Mutual Rescue really happened by accident! I never dreamed that I would run a non-profit or start a new social enterprise focused on helping animals and people. I was a senior software executive at Intuit for over a decade and decided I needed to take a step back and reassess my life. I thought for sure, though, that I would continue my career in high tech. However, while I was networking to find my next opportunity in high tech, I was introduced to the board chair at Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV). It turns out we shared a mutual love of animals which led to me joining their board of directors. Not long after that, I was asked if I wanted to take over as president. Interestingly enough, I had made a list of ten criteria of what I was looking for in my next role and the opportunity at HSSV met all ten criteria. One of the criteria was “pets allowed at work.” In hindsight, that criteria has been well-exceeded. I’m now in a situation where having pet hair on my clothes actually increases my credibility rather than detracts from it! Mutual Rescue was then born out of the work I was doing at HSSV.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

When Mutual Rescue first launched, we were blessed with a lot of attention with the success of our short films. Collectively, those films have been viewed more than 153 million times on various social media platforms around the globe. Knowing that our stories were resonating so deeply with people was very intoxicating. However, we needed to translate the reaction to our content into something that would compel people to take action and attract funding for the broader mission. That requires day to day blocking and tackling and a willingness to try new things without knowing how they might turn out. The creation of programs to drive local engagement came out of that space. There was a gap between knowing the answer of how to drive local engagement and wondering if we were ever going to find it — which was difficult to live through.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The purpose of our organization is to transform lives — both two-legged and four-legged. That overarching reason for existence is what drives me forward. Knowing that there are literally lives at stake is a powerful motivator to keep going when it seems like things aren’t moving as fast as I would like.

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

We are on the verge of establishing our first major corporate sponsorship which is really exciting and we are continuing to expand programs at the local level to make it possible for more people to easily engage with shelter animals across the country. In addition, spring 2019 saw the publication of my first book, called “Mutual Rescue: How Adopting a Homeless Animal Can Save You, Too.” The book provides a much bigger context for people to understand just how transformative adopting a pet can be. It will be released in paperback in spring 2020 as well as in Germany, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand. We are also working on a series for public television — all of which will help us continue to attract corporate partners and local animal shelters into our network.

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?

Mutual Rescue really came through serendipity. I had no idea how much our films would resonate with the world. When we released our first Mutual Rescue film, “Eric & Peety,” on Valentine’s Day 2016, I had no idea what to expect. When we hit 5,000 views on Facebook, I was ecstatic! I was thrilled that we’d gotten that many views. Little did I know what would happen next. SF Gate posted the film on their Facebook page and that one post alone had 35 million views, generated 200,000 shares and received 50,000 comments!!! That’s when I realized we were really onto something and we needed to do more than just create compelling content. We needed to leverage the energy created by that content for people to take action and ultimately help more shelter animals get adopted and attract more funding into the animal welfare sector. The lesson learned is to never underestimate the power of a compelling and authentic story!

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

Our brand is unique because it creates awareness at the national level while also driving engagement at the local level. I think that is a powerful combination, especially when it comes to helping people understand how people and animals are intertwined. It’s not enough to just understand it intellectually; it really comes alive viscerally when you have the chance to interact with an animal. And our backstory is unique as well. An overview of our brand and how it came about can be seen in this short video.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Making a commitment to self-care needs to be something that happens in the present — not something that happens after you hit a certain milestone. It’s a rather well-known saying at this point but it really is a marathon and not a sprint. Having that mindset upfront makes it easier to prioritize taking care of yourself to avoid long-term burnout.

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?

There are so many people who have come together to make Mutual Rescue possible! Sally Bourgoin, an HSSV board member, introduced me to David Whitman, an executive producer. He coined the term “mutual rescue” and connected us with Tectonic, a brilliant filmmaking team. Timi and John Sobrato invested in this work to get us where we are today and Blythe Jack, also an HSSV board member, is investing in Mutual Rescue now to help us get to the next level. And there are many more people who contributed along the way. I’ve never worked on anything so organic before — where resources have shown up when I needed them and people have stepped up to advance the movement in ways I never dreamed possible!

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

I made the decision in 2010 not to continue my career in high tech and instead became president of Humane Society Silicon Valley, one of the largest privately funded animal welfare organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. That led to the creation of Mutual Rescue in late 2015. The experience I gained as a senior executive at Intuit along with my MBA from Harvard Business School were immensely helpful in creating value through these social enterprises. I feel like I gained a wealth of knowledge, experience, and skills in the for-profit sector that I am now leveraging to help make the world a better place for both animals and people.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Be Flexible — I had no idea our first short film would be so successful. I realized I needed to expand my vision for what was possible when I saw how people were responding.

Prepare for the “Sophomore Slump” — With so much initial success, it was hard to encounter some of the bumps in the road, but any great enterprise encounters bumps. It’s just part of the process and does not mean that you aren’t ultimately going to be successful.

Remind Staff of the Bigger Picture, Over and Over Again — I had a clear vision of what Mutual Rescue could become in my head but most of my staff just saw the success of our films and didn’t see the bigger brand opportunity. I need to share my vision regularly so that people know where we are headed and the chance we have to truly make a difference in the lives of millions of animals and people.

Ask for Help — Mutual Rescue has gotten where it is because so many people have provided input, expertise, resources, and talent — far more than I could ever do on my own. I am surrounded by people who are smarter than me and that’s what makes the organization continue to grow and move forward.

Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable — You won’t know all the answers and if you do, then you probably aren’t being open to possibilities that could transform your business or organization. Our Doggy Day Out engagement model isn’t something I originally envisioned being part of Mutual Rescue and it came out of being willing to not know the answer and see what might arise.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

Mutual Rescue is that movement!! It is about changing the conversation from “people OR animals” to “people AND animals” through authentic storytelling that drives engagement at the local level and attracts corporate sponsors who want to leverage that energy to both build their brand AND make a positive difference in the world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook/Twitter/Instagram: @MutualRescue

Thank you so much for joining us!

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