Nick Stanitz-Harper, CRO & Co-Founder Edison Interactive With Cohost Jaime Zawmon, Founder & President Titan CEO
Joining Bob Roark is his cohost Jamie Zawmon, the Founder and President of Titan CEO. Together, they talk to Nick Stanitz-Harper as he discusses the story of co-founding Edison Interactive as well as his leadership experiences as its current Chief Revenue Officer. Nick provides a peek at how he manages his team, from the importance of instilling positivity to everyone to how they manage partnerships. He also shares his personal secrets in maintaining a healthy leader mindset, detailing his daily mantra centered on high gratitude and efficient visualization.
Watch the episode here:
Nick Stanitz-Harper, CRO & Co-Founder Edison Interactive With Cohost Jaime Zawmon, Founder & President Titan CEO
Thank you, guys, for having me.
Before we get started, congrats on being selected as a Titan 100. Great honor. Well done.
Thank you very much.
If you would, Nick, tell us a little bit about your business and who you serve.
Edison Interactive is a VC-backed tech company that builds interactive customer experience solutions primarily for complex environments. Our platform was originally designed to allow companies of all shapes and sizes to design, build, deploy and then manage large-scale screen networks globally. We focus on building enterprise-level IOT and digital out of home solutions that personalize and enhance the customer experience. Our solutions currently span across multiple industries ranging from golf carts, rental cars, ride shares, fan engagement, sports betting platforms and more. We're currently one of the fastest-growing digital out-of-home screen networks in North America. We've got about 40,000 screens on our network right now.
Folks go, “IOT?” For the folks that are reading that aren't aware of what IOT is, could you expand on that just a little?
IOT is Internet of Things. It's being able to control different devices in the wild and do creative, cool things. For us, an example of IOT would be one of our platforms is Shark Experience presented by Verizon, which is a partnership between Verizon and Greg Norman Media and Club Car. We do stuff through our technology that controls the devices and controls the golf carts and allows us to do creative, unique things with our solutions.
Congratulations on your recognition as a Titan 100. For those of you that are reading, we recognized the Titan 100, 100 CEOs and C-level executives in Colorado, 100 Titans of industry. I always like to kick things off and ask our Titans what characteristics they believe it takes to be considered a Titan 100 or a Titan of Industry.
[caption id="attachment_5606" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Edison Interactive: If your vision isn't massive, you're going to have a hard time getting your investors, partners, and employees attached to the mission of the company.[/caption]
First of all, thank you very much, Jaime. You've been phenomenal to work with and I’m impressed by what you've done through such a crazy time. Thank you. I'm going to break this down into three main characteristics for the sake of time. The first one for me is vision. A Titan needs to think globally, not locally. From my experience, it takes as much time to build partnerships on a global scale as it does on a local scale. With one of my previous startups, our mission was focused on simply dominating the Colorado market. As a tech company, that was a very important lesson that I learned back in the day. If your vision isn't massive, it's going to have a hard time getting your investors, your partners, your employees attached to the mission of the company. Number one for me is always vision.
The second for me is having great communication skills. What good is having a massive vision if you can't communicate it properly? Leading a successful organization, in my opinion, comes down to one thing and that's your people. The ability to properly communicate your mission will allow you to grow a loyal base of customers, of partners, of employees. Being able to communicate with them in brutal honesty and transparent fashion allows them to trust you implicitly, which for me is the Holy Grail. That's what it's all about. The third thing would be having the ability to execute. Do what you say you're going to do at all times. Build the right teams, pay attention, do the right things and execute no matter what because people need to know they can rely on you.
I especially love execution. It's putting your mouth where your money is or your vision is. Far too often, there are a lot of visionaries out there, but they can fail to execute. I love the fact that you included that
Under promise, over-deliver.
What's that old thing? A vision is a dream without execution. A lot of those die on the kitchen table, for sure. Speaking of which, you didn't jump out and start this particular company. Give us a little flavor of your journey to this point. The folks love to know how'd you get from there to here.
Somehow, I got connected to this connected device space very early on. I was involved in a company that was doing subscriptions for magazines and major daily newspapers and stuff like that. I had this idea to try and increase digital circulation for our partners. At the time, you're paying for your print and you got the digital for free. To me, I thought that was a little bit backwards because you're getting a lot more freely trading content and stuff like that. I created a company called All Digital Circulation in 2007, 2008 which was very early for this. It was you buy a twelve-month subscription to the Chicago Tribune. You get a Chicago Tribune branded tablet with a marketplace for advertisers and all that good stuff.
We built the company. We did fairly well with it, and we built it to about 65 people over about a 5 or 6-year period. People stopped buying news. It was one of those things, “That was a bad day. That was a bad week. That was a bad quarter.” From there, I was spending a lot of time with my clients in major metropolitan cities in New York and Las Vegas and all over the place. I didn't understand why nobody was focusing on getting connected screens in the backs of transportation vehicles. There was no Uber back then, but it was taxis. We pivoted away from all digital circulation. I had thousands of these devices that were in our storage units.
I hired an engineering firm to help me figure out how to plug it into a vehicle switch and put it in the backseat of a car. I went to all the taxi companies here in Denver, Union and Metro and Yellow Taxi and installed the tablets. From there, we take the technology and we put it into sports bars and medical facilities and doctor's offices. We built a fairly nice screen network here in Colorado and a nice little advertising business. My cofounder is a guy named Jeremy Ostermiller and Jeremy founded a company in 2009 called Altitude Digital. In their heyday, they were serving nine billion video ads a day. They were one of the largest video advertisers in the world. When he left Altitude Digital, him and I grew up together and we always tried to find a way to work together and advertising at that scale was something that I didn't have the expertise and the vision for. We rolled my former company, Sticky Media, into Edison and joined forces in 2016. The rest is history.
[caption id="attachment_5607" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Edison Interactive: Find that one trouble point your partners need help with and then expand from there.[/caption]
It's so cool that you continue to adapt and take your strengths and continue to pivot and add to them. Being in the publishing world myself for many years, I saw the waves. We were in magazine publishing, so a little bit different than news, but definitely the evolution of change of how people choose to continue to receive information has been mind-boggling at some point. Here you are fast forward now and it's you and Jeremy running this company. I have to ask you as you continue to grow, and you've talked a little bit about your vision, globally thinking, what's the best allocation of either time or initiatives that you believe has helped the company most?
The best allocation of time and initiative that has helped our company has to be focusing on building great partnerships. At Edison, we always say that our superpower is partnerships. When we launched Shark Experience presented by Verizon and we became their platform and their advertising partner, we put all of our focus as a company into that product and ended that partnership. We did everything in our power to make that product as successful as possible. We completely immersed ourselves in it. We built technology specific to their needs. We built operational processes to allow us to manage the screens. The list goes on and on.
As the product and as our company scaled, we then built an A-team around it. We could focus on expanding to our other verticals with Avis and so on and so forth. In hindsight, the technology and the processes that we built for Shark Experience in the early days gave us the ability to scale a lot of our other customer experience platforms very rapidly. The same goes for all of our partnerships. Avis Budget Group, Captivate, Verizon, Better View. Now some people probably wouldn't agree with that strategy of going all-in with partners, but it paid off for us. In four years, we've lost one product from our portfolio. I truly believe it's because of our intense focus on each partner.
Is there any secret sauce to building a strong partnership?
Transparency and execution. It's our partners. People need to know they can rely on you and they can trust you. For us, it's been a land and expand strategy. Get in with a partner, find that one trouble point that they need help with on the technology side and then expand from there. Go from that point.
[caption id="attachment_5608" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Edison Interactive: Creating a morning and nightly routine around gratitude and visualization can bring a significant change to your life.[/caption]
Fixing the problem.
Fixing the problem and then find more problems to fix.
For you, you're the CRO for the company. On a day-to-day basis, in the back of your mind, you go, “What are we doing? How do we go?” For you, what's the mental dialogue that goes on for you on a day-to-day basis that keeps you focused on that particular function?
This is an easy one for me. It's gratitude. I’ll say it's a mixture of gratitude and visualization. I wrote an article about this that was published for The Denver Business Journal because this is a subject that's very near and dear to me. I believe that creating a morning and nightly routine around gratitude and visualization has changed my life more than anything else. I start every morning the same way. I wake up, do a quick exercise, sometimes quicker than others, and then I go through a list of my personal mission statements, my mantras. I go through a pretty rigorous gratitude meditation. I think about all the things in my life that I'm grateful for.
My wife, my family, my friends, company, business partners, relationships, weather, literally anything that comes to my mind. I think about everything that I want out of life. I convince myself that I already have them when I go through visualization on it. I go through the same process. I'm grateful for the things that I already have in the future. That helps me focus my mind around what I wanted in life. The last thing is that I have a simple meditation that I go through at night, right before I go to bed. That is around thinking about everything that I'm grateful for that happened that day.
That's trained my mind to look for, “I'm going to be grateful for this and that.” It focuses your mind to look for the good thing. As an entrepreneur and as a business leader, you're met with so many things that are out of your control on a daily basis. You get hit with semi-trucks all the time. Being able to control how you start your day and how you end your day has been a game-changer for me. What's cool is now we're seeing a lot of our team members at Edison that are going through the same type of rituals and it's cool to see them develop and grow.
I had to follow up with one question. Do you remember the point in your journey when you started practicing those gratitude mantras in the morning, in the evening and then when you noticed the change from that effort?
I do. It was nothing professional. I went through a couple of big tragedies. I lost both my brothers and it caused me to start evaluating some things and focused me into you either go one way. You go a very negative way or you force yourself to go a positive direction. Thankfully, I was able to do that. When I started waking up in the morning and starting having those negative thoughts, grab your phone, look at your email, look at your branding, social media posts, whatever it may be, you go one way or the other. Going through those tragedies at a younger age forced me to take control of my mind and it's changed my entire life.
It's so important to have an attitude of gratitude. I know there are a lot of CEOs that practice it. A lot of executives that build that as part of their daily mantra, it's incredibly powerful, the mind. What we can conceive and believe, we can achieve. It's no surprise that based off of your mindset, you've been able to accomplish the type of success that you have, Nick. When you think about the business side of things, do you have a belief or protocol that you've established in the company that's impacted the company in such a positive way?
There's a lot of them. One of the big things for us is we try to establish a belief that anything and everything is possible. We're pushing the envelope with regards to the technology in our industry. Our team spends a tremendous amount of time trying to solve incredibly difficult and incredibly complex technical issues. We constantly have to push them to think outside the box. I’ll go back to when we first launched the company, we were forced to try and figure out how to deliver content and media and functional feature sets to golf carts, rental cars, ride shares and so on. There are real issues with providing a high profile solution in that environment. You have connectivity issues, environmental issues, electrical issues, hardware issues, stability. The list goes on and on.
Now we're delivering live PGA tour events to 25,000 golf carts all over the country, but you didn't get there overnight. We had to push our team to think outside the box, come up with creative solutions and then break those complex tasks into simple manageable tasks and then get started, which is a lot of times the hardest thing to do, to get started on that first task. If you do that and you have some discipline around it, eventually you're going to build momentum and you're going to break through the other side. I would say the biggest belief is think outside the box and try to create solutions that allow you to think that anything's possible.
It takes strong leadership to continue to inspire innovation in an organization to think differently. Do you have any advice around people that might get stuck and how to continue to inspire the innovation so that they can continue to press forward?
Number one, you got to have the right team around you. You have to be surrounded by people that are way better and way smarter than you and you've got to commit to learning on it. The biggest thing for us has been being able to remove ourselves from the solutions. We look always at a partner versus build. Partner, build, buy. That's the strategy that a lot of companies follow. We try to research what competitors are doing. We try to research what partners are doing. We try to research as much as we can around specific issues. When we decide to build, which more times than not, we do build our own tech, it's chopping those massive elephants into individual bites and then controlling that the process for the team to be able to start tackling them day after day.
I'm thinking of the challenge of innovation in a problem environment, for lack of a better term. Let's say you had a problem. I don't care whatever it is. You had a problem. When you put together your team members to try to address a particular problem, who typically do you invite? Is there a specific process that you frame that meeting together so you start trying to produce some outcome?
We're a heavy technology-focused company. I’ll go with the technical here. Who do we invite? We invite all of our top leaders. We invite our CTO. We invite our director of invasion. We have a lot of people, our product team, as well as our heads of engineering. It's a brainstorm statute and we all get along great. We have a massive whiteboard here at our offices in Cherry Creek and we start spouting things off. Sometimes it looks like the beautiful mind on our board. Sometimes it looks like a complete scribble zone.
After every single one of those meetings, we leave with action items. You're going to go take a look at this company and this company and come back with ideas about how we could potentially incorporate something similar. You're going to go have a conversation with the stakeholders of our clients here to dig in and figure out what we're trying to accomplish for them. It's meeting after meeting with it. At the end of it, you come up with an actionable, manageable game plan to attack that issue, whether it's integrating a partner, building the technology and it goes piece by piece. 3, 6, 9, 12 months later, you have the basis for the solving of your problem.
In many cases, I’ll hear somebody say, “You should have good financials.” You go, “Thanks for that. I should be taller too.” “What does that mean? How do you apply it?” For you, as you're going through and working with the company and so on, we all often find inspiration from a quote. Is there a quote that you find meaningful or close to your heart that you like?
My quote that I always run with is, “Think big, start small, scale fast.” One of my early mentors instilled this in me. Now it has become the basis for how I look at every product or business that I launch. Have massive vision...