Sharing with Strangers

I’ve been working people several people in our #DoTheThing group lately who are starting their side hustle. Many of them have this fear that their idea is stupid and is not really a “thing”.

One quick hack we’ve found to test this idea is to share with people who are NOT your close friends.

We have a very filtered view of ourselves and our abilities. Our closest family and friends often have a filtered view as well. They are often the ones to start asking questions like, “how are you going to do that?” or “have you thought about the issues you’ll run into around A, B, C…”

When I have an idea, I NEVER share with anyone related to me. I share with my #DoTheThing group, get some feedback, refine and THEN share with family once I have at least 5 people who think my latest scheme is legit and something that would benefit them.

At this early stage, this seed of an idea does not need to be squashed. It needs the room to grow and evolve into something that makes sense. Once you say something out loud to someone else, it becomes real. Once you hear from someone that it makes sense to them and is something they would use, that feeling is incredible.

My friend Raji got out of her comfort zone and announced her fledgling idea to a roomful of 75 strangers also looking to start businesses a few Saturdays ago.

To her surprise, 5 people raised their hands to help. This gave her the validation that yes, her idea actually had some merit AND she was not alone! She walked away with validation of her idea AND a few friends to help make it a reality.

Sharing with NOT close friends is a good test of whether your idea is crazy or not. And if people volunteer to help, please keep in mind that people don’t generally volunteer to help for things that are bad ideas.

Happy brainstorming — and if you have an idea you want to test out, I’m always here!

//The #DoTheThing group stemmed from a community of people who I co-created a book on this topic with to help people just like all of us get out of the comfort zone!

This Personal Growth Thing, Yo

I’m always on the quest for Personal Growth, reading and listening THE HECK out of people like Ben Hardy and friends and always doing mini-experiments.  Today though, I’ve been thinking a LOT about what Personal Growth actually means.


It’s different for everyone!


For some, it’s becoming a more reliable person. For some, it’s being more kind. For some, it’s raising their hand more to volunteer for something.

For some, it’s being able to get themselves out of their own bad mood more often.


And millions of others.


But it’s different for all of us.  WHICH IS NORMAL.  The only thing being in common is that there should be a change, a delta, progress in some way to signify “growth”.


For me, recently, Personal Growth is being kind when I think someone is behaving in (what I perceive to be) in a ludicrous way. I have to remember one important thing: they are the hero of their own story. They are doing the best they can. It may not match my expectations, but many things I do are likely not going to match theirs.


So I need to treat my Personal Growth as if I would a project.


Measure where I am honestly [Current status: VERY low patience and tolerance. Rating: 1 out of 5]

  • Benchmark where I want to be in 3 months [4 out of 5]
  • Observe people that I think do exhibit this behavior
  • Admit when I am not behaving as I should to be reach that goal
  • Figure out what I SHOULD have done differently
  • Course correct to get there.

No shame in failing once, twice, a hundred times as long as I KNOW I am making progress. Sometimes backward, but usually forward.


A good story

I had a rough evening one day this week. I’m doing something way out of my comfort zone and going to Meisner acting class (good!), but I had a pretty terrible experience with my acting partner (bad!), but having had a day to reflect, I remember one super important thing: This is going to be a *good story*–far better than if I stayed home, cozy and warm drinking hot chocolate and reading by the fire.

What makes “a good story”?

It’s when something different happens other than the daily.

When something bad happens — it’s a good story.

When something good happens — it’s a good story.

If your life is boring, go do something different than the norm. Go to a different coffee place and people watch. Walk through a different neighborhood. Take a weird class. Attend a talk on something you know nothing about.

Put down the technology.  Observe and interact.

Go create the good story.

The one thing I’d tell my 20 year old self…still applies

The old lesson still applies.

I’m going in for my third acting class tonight.  I have no ambitions to be a stage actor, but rather to learn to read people better. What better way than stage?

Unfortunately, I’m quite terrible at emoting or reading others’ emotions so far.  No one else seems to be having trouble with this.  I think I’m actually getting *worse*. is there any point to this?

On days like this, I need to re-read the letter I wrote my 20 year old self on the ONE LESSON I wish I’d learned earlier.

Still applies.


Hey there champ:

This is you from the future paying you a little visit from 2018. Slightly creepy but you’ll want to hear this.

Okay, so you’re plagued with doubt that you can do this whole software engineer thing. You’re barely graduating after that spectacular C- in Operating Systems,your LAST CompSci class at UMich, “Who needs Operating Systems anyway, I’ll never work on one.”

Done laughing now. You’ll see why later.

You have a vague-sounding job offer from the Goodyear tire factory in Akron, Ohio that you’re seriously considering because it’s close to home and you think you can probably do it. The other option is a highly paid job at Siebel Systems in Seattle, Washington that you’re afraid of since you don’t know anyone there. Also what is CRM anyway? Whoever needed software to track their customers? Why did they offer you a job again?

Your family’s slightly petrified of letting their little girl move to the mysterious west coast. What if you decide to give up software engineering after 6 months and have to return home, a laughingstock and embarrassment?

You also have a million words in your head that you’re thinking you should write into a book someday.

You’re looking for a role model, a mentor, a guide to share with you some words of wisdom.

You found none. BUT get this: in a decade, you’ll BE that role model, mentor, guide for many people just like you today. This is not because you had it easy or always made good choices or were super-good at everything. In fact, it’s because you were SUPER TERRIBLE at pretty much everything you did the first time.

That first software engineering job? Failed. Did not love. In fact, you started studying for the LSATs because you were going to be a lawyer after that first year. You. A lawyer. Reading long texts and memorizing them isn’t your core strength there, champ.

Everyday you were afraid of and hopeful that you were going to be laid off. You watched your mentor, your co-workers and your boss get laid off and then a few weeks later, find jobs where they truly seemed happy. You learned that the end of something means the beginning of something else. You got your second software engineering job at Microsoft on the Windows team—you know, the operating system. Definitely worked out better. You discovered a love of creating products for billions of people with passionate, close-knit mission driven teams. You learned that failure in class does not actually mean failure at life.

I would tell you what else you work on, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise. You’ll love it, trust me. It’ll take many years to get there, but it will so be worth it.

First novel you wrote (yes, you finally wrote it)? No plot, but pretty fun characters. You wrote a second book and got an agent. You wrote a third and got glimmer of interest from the publishing industry. You wrote a fourth and got a LOT of interest from the industry…but no book contract. You cringed when everyone asked where they could find your book. In my head, mostly was an answer you were tired of giving.

You wrote a fifth and FINALLY got published.

Many years later, your most successful book was the one you published yourself–about honest career and life advice from your journey for young people.

Remember that Poetry class in college where you had to read something out loud in front of 20 people and you were hyperventilating with nervousness? Well, many years later, you realized you needed to get over your fear of public speaking and decided to spent the year accepting every speaking gig that came your way.

One day someone in college recruiting at Microsoft put out a call for someone to travel to University of Iowa to do a talk to college students on working at Microsoft. You raised your trembling hand for that. Beforehand, you spent one hour lecturing at the cornfields to practice. Unfortunately, when you stood on stage staring at the audience…you froze and stumbled through words that made no sense.

You got feedback that you’re not very good and maybe you should stop. Happily you decided to give yourself another shot. If you listened to that kind of advice you’d still be contemplating life in the now-closed Goodyear tire factory.

The second time you spoke at a university, you did not freeze, but stumbled through the words. The third time you said the words without stumbling, but shook violently the whole time. The fourth time, you said the words decently, the shaking definitely less. The fifth time you started to enjoy it and realized your nervousness was coming off as energy.

At the end of that year, people were hitting you up for advice on how to speak in public. Now you speak to the public for a living and are able to say words to 5,000 people with only excitement and the desire to share stories.

For all of these things, you followed one simple formula:

1. Do the thing. Don’t overthink it, just go for it.

2. If that didn’t work (and 99% of the time, it did not) you did the thing AGAIN. That led to actual progress.

It’ll take a few tries. Sometimes two, three, four tries, but usually five. Five seems to be your magic number for when you really “get” something. Took you five software jobs to find the one where you’re most “you”. Took you five books to get published. Five speeches to stop stammering. Oh yeah, and you went to fashion school (I know, I know, YOU REALLY?) and it took making five garments to create something wearable in public.

No matter what, though, you never sat around waiting for the hero to show up. You always picked up the damn sword and went for it, even when you had zero clue as to what you were doing.

In fact you have no idea what you’re doing RIGHT NOW in 2018 even though you just wrote a book to help people do the thing.

You need to get over finding your calling tomorrow. It’s not going to happen. It’ll take an decade for you to even have a clue. It’s also an ongoing process. That’s cool though. Who let a 21 year old decide what they should do for the next 80 years anyway?

If you listen to one thing, let it be this: people are not going to like you because you’re great at things. People are going to like you because you’re TERRIBLE, then bad, then decent, then good…and you’re willing to share how you did it. Be open, be honest, be vulnerable. No one is going to like you because you’re perfect. People will like you because you are relatable.

Every chance you get to make someone do the thing they’re scared of, make them do it. They’ll be mad at you at first, but it’ll be something they’ll be happy they did.

Also, for the love of god, stop plucking your eyebrows and SMILE more!

Do the thing. We got this.


Do things happen to you…or do you “happen to things”?

I was in a HORRIBLE mood on Saturday. I didn’t understand why. I had just finished putting the finishing touches on the cover of #DoTheThing, my latest book to help push people out of their comfort zones.  I was all caught up on work. I had planned a Christmas vacation to see my family. Why was I so irritable, short and crabby?

I had options. I could be a horrible brat to my husband…or I could do what always works.

I grabbed my journal and wrote 3 things I was grateful for:

  1. Getting my book done
  2. Able to have an upcoming holiday break with my husband, parents and sister/bro-in-law in Minneapolis
  3. Helping get someone hired onto my team who REALLY deserves it and will be amazing


I wrote down 3 things I was proud of myself for that week:

  1. Pulling myself out of my bad moods with no external intervention
  2. Dealing with other people’s needs 16 hours of the day, usually with gratitude rather than resentment
  3. Throwing down some law and order to make sure my humans are taken care of

Then I wrote down what I was worried about. Immediately the reason for my foul mood came to me.

With my latest creative side-hustle done, I was worried about not having a next “thing”. I always have one thing in my life that I’m working on that’s 100% MINE. No dependencies on products, timing or other people. Some sort of creative project that’s fairly ambiguous that I am completely autonomous in.

So I looked in my “in the future I will write these books” OneNote and grabbed the next one in line. I’m a fiction writer. I create products and run businesses. The Fiction Writers Guide to Business Storytelling will be an insanely fun book to write based on my experiences and the stories of other business storytellers. I started jotting down notes and within 5 minutes, my mood was gone and I was my usual excitable self.

Lesson learned: humans crave control over at least one part of their life in this world where we are SO dependent on others for everything.

Have one thing in your life that YOU control end-to-end (that is healthy, not destructive).

  1. Identify what that is
  2. Spend time on it often, before you tend to others. Pay yourself first and you’ll be in a fine mood to tending to the rest of your life–often where you do not have end-to-end control.

Turns out that in a world where things are constantly happening to us, there has to be at least some times when we happen to things.

<3 Dona

9 Business Lessons Learned at 10K feet

I don’t have a TV. I don’t have Netflix. I don’t watch movies. I always say I’d rather do interesting things rather than watch others do interesting things.

However yesterday, I was on a 13 hour flight back home to Seattle after an incredibly relaxing vacation with my family, not quite ready to whip out the laptop and catch up on email yet. After I bothered everyone sitting around me to inquire what they were reading, I took to spying on my neighbor who was transfixed by a movie called The Founder on the in-flight entertainment system. I remembered that many of our Windows Insiders entrepreneurs had recommended this as an excellent movie for any business person so I broke my rule and plugged in headphones.

Our Insiders were absolutely right (they’re right a lot!).

The struggle. Toil. Hardship. Success. Drama. Intrigue. The entire entrepreneur’s journey was told through the origins story of the McDonalds franchise. This journey is one we have seen over and over during the course of the past year that we have been mentoring and coaching the 45 entrepreneurs who are turning their ideas into viable businesses as part of the #Insiders4Good Fellowship in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

The gist of the movie (apparently based on a true story) is about two brothers, Mac and Dick McDonald who create a hamburger stand that has automated systems to serve up burgers in 30 seconds. Milkshake maker salesman Ray Kroc is fascinated by this model and hustles himself into becoming their business partner. After this, chaos ensues.

Apart from the crazy backstabbing and personal drama of the movie, some of the lessons that we have learned first-hand from working with our Insiders this year really resonated with me in the movie. Here were some questions that came to mind while I was above 10K feet:

  1. What business are you really in? It might not be the thing you are creating. You need to get ultra-clear your company’s vison and product mission and make sure all of the stakeholders agree. This was definitely NOT the case of the McDonalds situation. The founder brothers, Mac and Dick wanted to make a white-glove small business that sold time back to families. Salesman Ray on the other hand was far more ambitious and over the course of the movie, convinced the brothers to franchise and then turn the mission into something far more grandiose. In his eyes, McDonalds was not in the burger business, McDonalds was in the real-estate business.
  2. Where is the market abundant? The initial audience that you might be familiar with, the one your competition is playing in might not be the right space for you. For the McDonalds brothers, they initially started their hamburger stand in a small town. They had a few loyal customers, but still very few. They realized they needed a bigger market if their business was to be successful. They physically sawed the stand in half and drove it to San Bernardino. Then when Ray started franchising, he took the business to 50 states…the ONLY burger establishment in that many states.
  3. What do you do well? Figure out what are the three things you do very well and do them EXTRA good. Create the brand of excellence. It doesn’t matter what your competition is doing. What is YOUR differentiator for your customers and how can you be the best in the world at it. The McDonalds brothers made three things: burgers, soft-drinks and fries. They did them to perfection. And had these things ready in 30 seconds. Despite customers wanting beef ribs and fried chicken, they didn’t expand to those things until they knew they were really nailing their basics.
  4. What is your lowest cost MVP? Before you go committing to creating an actual product your life should be MVP creation and testing.  My favorite scene in the movie is when the McDonalds brothers test their vision of a highly automated McDonald’s kitchen by drawing out each station in an empty tennis court and having their staff pretend to make burgers, drinks and fries in a careful orchestra–with zero food and only choreography. Once they understood exactly what the kitchen layout needed to be for max speed, they sent the specs to a custom kitchen just for them.
  5. What does your visual brand say to your customer? Think about your name and your logo from your customer’s point-of-view, not your own biased view. Have a few rounds of testing with your potential customers rather than making the decision in isolation. A word that means something to you may not mean that to other people without your history and experience. The reason that Ray decided to franchise “McDonalds” rather than just stealing the idea and creating his own automated kitchen was for the name To him, it symbolized America. He couldn’t imagine anyone eating in a restaurant called Kroc’s Burgers. In the movie, he insisted on using the golden arches because they were spotable miles away and were as easily seen as crosses on top of churches and flags on top of city hall.
  6. What is your quality control at scale plan? Once you get beyond providing excellent customer service to the initial set of customers, trying to serve people at scale is going to get hard. What is the feedback loop model you have in place to make sure you catch problems early? In the movie, Ray found the first set of restaurants he franchised to be challenging since the people who ran those franchises did not subscribe to the same meticulous quality. To prevent this from happening again, he stopped letting retired wealthy people franchise McDonalds since he felt they did not care enough or want it bad enough.
  7. Who should be your partners and employees? You want to build a team with people who have different skills than you that you can learn from AND who will call you out when you’re doing dumb things. You also want to find those who are hustling rather than those who are waiting for things to happen to them. In the movie, Ray hires an eavesdropping lawyer who points out where he was losing money in his restaurants (refrigeration) and what he could do about it (buy the most expensive real-estate and lease to the franchisers). To choose the franchisers, instead of going with wealthy people, Ray started attending community pot-lucks and empowering blue-collar workers to “put food on the table” by franchising their own McDonalds restaurants because they simply had more hustle.
  8. Do the numbers work? The numbers. Oh those numbers. Revenue streams. Costs. Cash reserves. You must test your product at a small scale to test your assumptions before trying to scale too fast. Ray did not do this and realized that he was losing money in every restaurant due to the high cost of refrigeration. Instead of trying to scale too fast to too many cities, he should have made sure his financial plan worked, not just in theory, but in execution.
  9. Are you persistent and gritty? Persistence is what sets apart an entrepreneur from the “every body”. More than smarts or experience. They are not afraid to look dumb. Entrepreneurs are crazy. No one understands why they’d rather obsess over their business rather than take vacations in Spain. Ray’s wife and friends didn’t understand his obsession. Other entrepreneurs though, they got it right away. They do this because they can’t not.

As far as a movie about the good, bad and seriously ugly side of business goes, I found this one to be pretty relatable. Definitely check it out if you get a chance! If there are hard lessons you have learned in your life as an entrepreneur, I’d love to hear your stories as well!

<3 Dona

Arrive as Strangers; Leave as Friends

Community is an overloaded term.

Every business talks about “building a community” of customers. Every technical platform talks about its vibrant “community of developers.” But what does this even mean? Often “building community” means the company takes time to engage with users in 1:1 or 1: many kind of way (green sticky note)


But when you think of other “communities” you belong to: neighborhoods, religious affiliations, school, work, volunteer groups, etc, you’re not just there because of your relationship to one person or individual. Rather you’re there because of the relationships between all of the people. A community is that feeling of having a common thing with everyone in that circle. That feeling of they’ve got my back and I belong here.

I am on a mission to redefine this idea of community in the tech world. I want to close the triangle and make it much more about the relationships between the members of the community (pink sticky note)IMG_3151

I experienced the magic of this first-hand during my work on the Microsoft HoloLens team. On May 20, 2016, the Seattle VR meetup group and the WinHUGR meetup group teamed up with the HoloLens team at Microsoft to organize the world’s first hackathon to build holographic apps: #HoloHacks.

We invited 100 people in the Seattle area (and some who insisted on coming in from Atlanta, NY and California!) to come together and spend 48 hours building holographic apps. We chose a wide variety of AR/VR/MR experts developers, designers, artists, 3D experts, architects, sound designers and storytellers. 75 of the people identified themselves as being an independent and not having a pre-built team for the event.

One of the big narratives for the event was “arrive as strangers; leave as friends”.

The first evening we introduced everyone to the basics of building for HoloLens and we did a team formation exercise where people pitched ideas and built teams to make the dream a reality.  Over the course of the next 40 hours, these newly formed teams got to know each other and their skill-sets, came up with storyboards for their ideas and built apps. At the end of the weekend, we had 17 new apps that a hundred plus new friends.

The video is a 360 one so rotate it to get the full effect!

100 people arrived, mostly as strangers. 100 people left as friends and colleagues. Lots of laughter and memories.  We all learned from each other. There was no one who only talked to just one individual. It was truly a “community” event.  And we consider every person who attended to now be a part of the HoloLens family.

So here’s my goal going forward: no matter what kind of event I’m hosting, I don’t want it to be a 1:1 or 1:many conversation between me and the audience. I want to take advantage of this gathering of people to use two things: relationships and knowledge.  I want to make sure to connect people who should know each other so they can become friends and I want to make sure people are able to teach each other things that will benefit everyone.  It’s time to stop talking “to” an audience and expecting to build community, but rather let people get to know and learn from.

I’ve learned in this way the community feels much more like a team, or even better, a family.

Tech <3 Business

Software engineers and business people have a long history of eyeing each other suspiciously.

“Those engineers are going to check in some weird feature and then insist we figure out how to sell it,” say marketing teams.

“I have no idea what those business people do, other than say ‘no’!” insist software engineers.

Sound familiar?

Both of these camps of people have the same goal: to innovate, to make the world more progressive…and to make money.  We are also very similar in our mindset: highly logical people who use creativity to solve problems for people.

It’s time to start working together, more equally to make this happen.

During a two week speaking tour of MBA schools across Europe, I guest-lectured at IE in Madrid, IESE and ESADE in Barcelona, INSEAD in Fontainebleau, London Business School, LSE and Oxford in London. At each school I spoke about tech, business, brand and how it all ties together as well as spent some time with the students to understand what key questions they had about tech. It was one of the most eye-opening trips I’ve taken. So much so, that I plan to do the same tour again…with some new learnings and ideas.

This past trip though, I learned some very important things:

It is not an accident that CEOs of both Microsoft, Satya Nadella, and Google, Sundar Pinchai, are hardcore engineers—who have excellent business acumen. They went as far as to get MBAs at top universities. They were aware that without having a full understanding of every aspect of their companies: from engineering, to organizational development, to P&L, to supply chain, to market analysis, they would not be effective leaders. They are aware that tech products are just like any other products. Sometimes the cost of producing them and keeping them updated are lower if it’s a software-only product.  Therefore, just like any other product, it’s important for leaders to understand and potentially have experience around the whole product lifecycle:

Market research

Customer segmentation

Financial investment

Product planning including marketing messaging

Product delivery scheduling

Product development

Customer testing


Measuring impact on the market

Many engineers who have have taken on responsibilities in more product or business development roles say that they finally “get” why their companies insist on data before making an investment, build certain products that seem to make no sense, continue to invest in areas no one can see the benefit in, or where the money to keep the lights on comes from.  A basic understanding of finance, marketing, organizational change and operations are important for any tech leader to have.

Business students are quite interested in working in tech, though the barrier to entry seems high as so many tech innovators claim to have been coding since they were ten. It is not a requirement to be a coding expert to work in tech. In fact, someone coming from an end user point of view will have a better idea of what the market needs—since 99% of the world has not been coding since before they could drive.

The tech industry is quite United States-centric currently. In fact, there are around 5 billion underserved people in the world looking for tech innovation. There is nothing but room for other companies to tap into these markets. Business students, especially ones that have global experience like the ones I met have quite a bit to offer, especially around working with people from other cultures and breaking into developing markets. The tech industry needs to start listening to business people who come with this cultural understanding if they want to break into new markets. What’s worked in the big cities of the United States will not work in Brazil, Nigeria or Russia.

As a whole, culture around business and tech need to change to be more inclusive. We need to make some basic business classes mandatory for software engineer. These should be as required as linear algebra. It’s incredibly important for a software engineer who wants to build products to understand the whole picture of how a product is conceptualized and taken to market. Otherwise, the tech industry falls into this category of making a product and not thinking about monetization or the customer base till later when the random “spaghetti at the wall” exercise happens to see what will make money (put ads on it!)

For business schools, make the introductory to programming that is often optional be required.   These students don’t need to become expert coders, but they do need to understand what’s hard to make and what’s not and to understand the logical process of software development.  It’s been refreshing to see non-coding hack-a-thons like ProtoHack become a thing lately. Everyone should have the opportunity to fearlessly create…coders or not!

For both business and tech folks, basic data collection and analysis should be a core competency. Without collecting customer data or being able to use it to make decisions, we are not using one of the most valuable assets we have. I know this was one of the biggest things that I had to learn to do in the past few years. InnovationSummit

At ESADE’s Innovation Summit, companies such as Amazon and Santander (the biggest bank in Europe) laid down a challen
ge for student groups to innovate their business. Every student group who presented a new product or an evolution to a product showed innovation in both tech and business models.  It’s obvious that tech is becoming integrated into every industry, as business already has. It’s time for tech and business people to speak the same language, sit at the same table and work together to build the most impactful products for the next generation.

We owe it to ourselves and our customers.

Engineer + Author + Fashion Designer + more!