Leaders as Humble as They are Successful

Refreshingly candid conversations with some of today's most humble leaders. Adam Kaufman dives into topics often left unexplored. His guests’ challenges, fears, and motivations show what it takes to become a humble leader.

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Ted Souder: 20 Years at Google and Looking Ahead

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Ted Souder: 20 Years at Google and Looking Ahead

Ted Souder has spent his career on the leading edge of information technology. His ability to understand the importance that tech plays in the lives of individuals and businesses has led him to work at some of the most well known companies in the world, including America Online and Google for the past 20 years. Listen in to discover what Ted sees next on the tech horizon.

Dave Douglas: Welcome to another episode of Up2. Eight years ago, Up2 started as a live event series showcasing leaders who are as humble as they are successful. The humility piece is extremely important as we identify leaders who can inspire others. We try to focus our interviews on the non-business aspects of their lives and in doing so have found there is a real thirst to explore their hearts and minds in atypical ways. Our host, as always, is Adam Kaufman, and our guest today is Ted Souder. Right now, you're listening to the Up2 Podcast. We'll be right back.

Adam Kaufman: Hello. My name is Adam Kaufman, and I'm thankful you're joining us today on the Up2 Podcast. I want to tell you about a group that I'm grateful for, and that is TownHall, Cleveland's most popular restaurant and one that I can say is the only place my wife tells me she can eat every meal, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. TownHall was the first all-non-GMO restaurant in the US a few years ago, and they're now expanding into Columbus, Ohio soon. I'm also very selective about who we choose to partner with for this podcast, and it was with open arms that I embraced the idea of partnering with Bobby George and TownHall. To learn more about what they're up to, you can visit townhallohiocity.com.

Dave Douglas: Welcome back. You're listening to the Up2 Podcast. Here's your host, Adam Kaufman.

Adam Kaufman: Our guest today is Ted Souder, a nearly 20-year veteran of Google, one of the world's largest and well known companies. Ted's the head of Google's retail industry business, leading the search engine's relationships with all of the big-box retailers like Home Depot and Costco and places we all shop, and he helps these consumer companies leverage technology. Beyond Google, Ted's also personally involved in technology as an advisor, as an investor, and he's on the board of 1871, the highly regarded startup incubator recently ranked number one in the world. He's also a partner with the Summit of Minds, an annual ideas conference in Chamonix, France, bringing together policy makers and thought leaders each September, which is incidentally where we first met.

Adam Kaufman: He and his wife live in Chicago. They have two teenage children. Ted's truly a global citizen, which is one of the reasons I really enjoy hearing his perspective on trends in business and behavior and all things tech. I actually consider Ted a futurist. Now, he doesn't put that anywhere in his bio that I could find, but every time I've seen one of his talks or when I speak with him personally, I'm learning about something that is just around the corner, and he seems to always be right, and that's why I'm so pleased that he's agreed to spend some of his valuable time with us today.

Adam Kaufman: Ted Souder, welcome to the Up2 Podcast. What have you been up to?

Ted Souder: Well, first off, Adam, thank you so much for having me. It's a real honor to be here. I know that you're such a pro in the podcasting space, so to be invited to spend a little bit of time with you is a real joy for me.

Ted Souder: With regards to what I've been up to, it's kind of a strange question in today's environment, and you know what I've been up to? I've been helping my kids and my family kind of settle into this interesting new normal that we're finding ourselves in, whether it's distance learning, which our kids are engaged in today, or figuring out how we're going to spend the summer now that summer camp has been canceled, and also trying to explain to the kids why it's important to listen to the data, listen to the scientists, and to take these sorts of episodes seriously, because it really matters. Our kids are 14 and 12, and they've been really mature. They've been great troopers, and it's been a really interesting learning experience for all.

Adam Kaufman: Now, we are recording this conversation after 12 weeks of various levels of stay at home, and it was during the wrap up of the school year. We have a couple teenage kids at home, but already their homework is beyond my ability to help them very much. Have you spent much time on that? Or is it more Mrs. Souder's role?

Ted Souder: So let me take that a step further. Our kids actually attend the French school here in town, and so their capabilities with linguistics is way beyond our ability to help. So we grew out of helping on homework a number of years ago.

Adam Kaufman: Well, you must have our mutual friend Philippe Bourguignon on speed dial then, because I'm sure he's a great tutor for your children.

Ted Souder: Absolutely.

Adam Kaufman: He's an Up2 alumnus as well. We had him on last season.

Ted Souder: His was a great episode, and interestingly enough, I was actually on a webinar that Philippe put on with the former president of Costa Rica about an hour and a half ago. So fun that you brought his name up. He's a great friend and mentor to us both.

Adam Kaufman: Awesome. Well, let's start off with the business side of things. You have been at Google. We're now getting into our 20th year, I believe, and can you explain ... What are you responsible for at Google?

Ted Souder: Our role is to help the biggest retailers in the US right now make sense of what it means to become more digital. How do we help them with some of the more long-term products such as Google Search? So if you do a search for men's shoes, you'll see a number of different ads on the search results page.

Adam Kaufman: I've done that before.

Ted Souder: Yes. Yeah, and we're thankful of that. What are you doing about your mobile strategy? How are you showing up on things like Waze and Google Maps? What are you doing about video content on YouTube? Advertisers today realize that there has been a huge change in how people start to consume content, and there's been a big shift over to video, which has been really interesting.

Ted Souder: But then we actually take it a step further, and if we need to help you with understanding artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, we can bring in our cloud team or some of our data scientists helping you better understand insights and help you do analysis. So really it's helping these large, often more traditional companies make that transition to become more digital, because at the end of the day, they're all a technology company.

Adam Kaufman: So like Home Depot. That was the company I mentioned at the beginning, and I've been going there recently because we're actually moving as we speak. We're literally moving our homes, and I was thinking about this conversation with you today in the context of being in Home Depot. Is that an example of somebody you're trying to help to get more digital?

Ted Souder: Yeah. So Home Depot, Kohl's, Sears. If it's a large retailer, you name it, that's what our group helps out of marketplace. You mentioned Home Depot, who has been a real beneficiary of people working from home, people spending more time at home. So people want some of the items that will help make their extended at-home experience a little brighter.

Ted Souder: Interestingly enough too is that all of these companies have recognized the opportunity around enhancing their digital exposure, driving people to things like curbside pickup, and as these stores start to reopen, you will find that, generally speaking, the in-store experience is going to be very different, whether there's from a safety protection cleanliness standpoint or maybe one-way aisles. We see that at a lot of stores today. The things like curbside pickup will continue on into the future because it makes for a more convenient shopping experience.

Adam Kaufman: And safer.

Ted Souder: So how are we ... Yeah, and it's safer, and it's easier, and it's quicker. So we help our customers understand some of the data and insights around consumer behavior. What are people looking for when they go to the store? What's their basket size, et cetera? We're going to find that retail is going to fundamentally change, and I'm not sure we're going back to the way that it used to be. What that future change ultimately ends up looking like, not entirely sure, but we are evolving literally on a daily basis.

Adam Kaufman: But you are a futurist in my mind, so I'm going to rely on you to help me and help our listeners figure out what that looks like. But first, let's go back a couple years. I remember one time you told me, and it was so surprising to me, that you were still amazed that so many companies you were working with were still slow to pivot to going online or reluctant to make some of these marketing technology changes in their strategy. Are you still seeing that? Or is it now a rush because of COVID to make these changes?

Ted Souder: So that change actually happened on and about March 13th. That's kind of like this stake-in-the-ground day of when the world changes.

Adam Kaufman: That's interesting. Okay.

Ted Souder: My good friend Anne-Marie Slaughter from New America had a great op-ed in New York Times a few weeks ago where she said, and I'm grossly paraphrasing here, "The coronavirus has proven to be a time machine to the future." Pre-March-13th, businesses has some aspect of a pivot to be more digital on their long-term roadmap. Schools had it, businesses had it, athletic groups had it, et cetera.

Ted Souder: All of a sudden when the world changed, digital all of a sudden moved up to be number one on everybody's list of priorities, list of investments, list of how to develop their infrastructure, because that was going to be the only way for them to connect with their customers or their community or their members. So all of a sudden, everyone realized that we've got to make a huge investment in digital. Now, for a lot of companies, that means ramping up their marketing spend online.

Adam Kaufman: That's good for your business pursuits. Unfortunately it's a silver lining, but are we now having shorter sales cycles, so to speak, for your particular work?

Ted Souder: So it really varies on an industry-by-industry basis, and what we're finding is that because the Google ecosystem is so vast and we're able to reach so many consumers-

Adam Kaufman: Yeah. Google's kind of big. I've heard of it.

Ted Souder: We're out there on the web. You can find us. Type in google.com. So because they need to connect with their consumers or community in some fashion or another, digital is just the way to do that, and the entire digital ecosystem is seeing that impact for sure. But on the flip side, when you have certain industries that are having a more difficult time, like travel for example, all of a sudden now what people are doing online with regards to the travel industry is changing. So consumers were looking online at things that maybe they hadn't considered so much in the past. A great example of that is now Americans are seeing an opportunity to maybe rediscover America, so searches on things like the national parks or RV rentals, et cetera, all of a sudden is this hot online topic.

Adam Kaufman: So those have increased? I didn't realize that. So searching on parks in the US, a domestic focus for vacations. That's pretty cool.

Ted Souder: Yeah. Once all the parks are fully opened, you're going to see a real interest by travelers and consumers to go spend time in America, whether that's going to the national parks or going to small towns or renting RVs to drive cross country. There's going to be a huge move towards that, and we ... I was talking to my wife, who's in the travel business, and we were talking about how glamping is going to be this hot trend for the summer. So maybe keep an eye out for that.

Adam Kaufman: Well, actually, now that you're saying this, I am visualizing ... We have a rather large park within walking distance from my house, and now that the weather's warmer, it has been so crowded. So if that's a tiny illustration of what the national parks will be like, I can see how that would be true.

Ted Souder: Of course, being six feet away from each other or wearing a mask [inaudible 00:12:16].

Adam Kaufman: I know. It's like we have to reserve a seat at a picnic table almost. It gets so crowded. But I've noticed in your career path it seems like you're always an early adopter or you're willing to take a risk with something new, getting involved with AOL early on to help America literally go online, getting involved with Google really early on, [email protected], some other things. Where do you think that risk tolerance comes from in you? Is that something you were born with? Or where do you think this early-adopter character trait of yours comes from?

Ted Souder: So I was born in Toledo, so not too far from you there in Cleveland, and grew up in a very close-knit, socially minded, business-focused family, and I've had great experiences not only with having family members who have been entrepreneurs and investors and risk takers ... My dad was that. My mom was that as well.

Adam Kaufman: Your dad was risk taker?

Ted Souder: Yeah. He was first and foremost a family man, but he was someone who loved being outdoors with his family. He was a big skier. He always used to tell me that the best day ever is a day skiing with your family, so we were lucky to be able to do that, and-

Adam Kaufman: A thrill seeker.

Ted Souder: ... he was a stock broker, and-

Adam Kaufman: Oh, a stock broker? See, this helps me understand your DNA a little bit, learning these things.

Ted Souder: So it was really nice for us to be able to grow up in this wonderful, close-knit family to have great experiences around the world. As I went off onto my own after college when I was living in Denver after I graduated from The University of Denver, I was at the Denver Business Journal, a print publication, and I was selling advertisements, doing a little bit of what I'm doing today.

Ted Souder: But that was 1993, '94, and that was when America Online really started to gain traction when people really started to go online commercially for the first time. Going online, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It said this makes so much sense to me that I can connect with people or a news story or sporting event or whatever the case may be in realtime in this digital environment. I don't have to wait for the newspaper to print and come out a day later or a magazine weeks or a month later. It just made so much sense, so I left a great job at the Denver Business Journal to go to AOL so that I could be a part of this movement to bring America online.

Adam Kaufman: Was that a big move? Or was that an obvious choice to make? Did your friends think you were crazy?

Ted Souder: My mom thought I was crazy. She's like, "What's this internet thing?" That was kind of a constant theme that went on throughout my career. But it was hard because I had a great role, I had great friends, it was a well respected print publication in the front range of Colorado, and then to go to this unknown online environment was risky. But the nice thing is that I was young and I didn't have a ton holding me down. I had a higher threshold for risk. I could do things that seemed a little bit [crosstalk 00:15:27].

Adam Kaufman: You didn't have a big family obligation in terms of wife, kids.

Ted Souder: Didn't have a mortgage.

Adam Kaufman: Right.

Ted Souder: Didn't have a family at the time. I just had a lot of good friends, and they were like, "Go for it." I was shown this incredible world of opportunity that was online, and I said, "This is my career," and that is where I've spent all of it since then, and I've been really, really lucky to be able to do the things that I love with companies that have generally done well. Not everyone has survived, of course. That's entrepreneurship. But the online digital world is so expansive.

Ted Souder: There's so much opportunity, and we saw a interesting bubble with the internet companies in '99, 2000, 2001. That bubble burst, which we all know about, but then that spawned a whole other group of great internet companies. Then we had the housing crisis in 2008 and 2009. That kind of weeded some companies out, but then that created a whole new age of digital opportunity, and I believe that right now we're going through that next 10-or-so-year cycle where-

Adam Kaufman: I think you're right.

Ted Souder: ... there's going to be challenging times ahead for many for sure. Can't set that aside, whether that's from a health perspective or financial perspective with job loss, et cetera. But I do believe that on the back end of this, whether that's nine, 12, 18 months, 24 months, whatever it will be, that there is going to be a new golden age of opportunity that every business now is going to have digital leading the conversation with their customers.

Ted Souder: I think, for new grads coming into the workplace over the coming years ... I spoke to a group of high-school students from Toledo a couple weeks ago, and I said, "Listen. You guys are perfectly positioned, because when you graduate in college in four years, you're going to be in a marketplace that I believe will be up and running again. There will be all sorts of new digital opportunities, and I think that after every storm, there is calm, and I think we're going to get there."

Dave Douglas: You're listening to the Up2 Podcast. We'll be right back.

Adam Kaufman: One of the aspects of podcasting I enjoy the most is the ability to delve into long-form discussions without any interruption other than a periodic commentary about one of our partners. I'm grateful that Calfee, Ohio-based law firm, has agreed to partner with us. They have offices throughout Ohio and also in Washington DC, in New York, and Indianapolis too. They are a full-service firm, every type of legal need.

Adam Kaufman: One example I'll share right now because so many of our listeners are entrepreneurs is, not too long ago a friend of mine sold his company to a public corporation, and with that came some restrictions and ramifications on his future employment. To navigate through that properly, he asked my advice, and without hesitation I recommended Calfee because I knew they'd have the right type of specialist to help him with his particular needs. My friend continues to rave about that experience, and I'm very grateful that Calfee has agreed to partner with Up2.

Adam Kaufman: So whether it's selling your own business or the more routine needs of creating your first will or anything in between, this firm can really do it all in terms of legal needs. Once again, the firm is Calfee. You can find them at C-A-L-F-E-E dot com or on the Up2 foundation website.

Adam Kaufman: During the first season of the Up2 Podcast, I had several companies and entrepreneurs approach me about potential partnerships, but I'm really selective before choosing to do something like that. One choice we did make happily is to partner with VividFront, a full-service digital marketing and website design agency based in Cleveland that works with both local and national brands.

Adam Kaufman: They've built their entire client base on referrals, and they've won a lot of awards including the 2019 Inc. Magazine top 5,000 fastest-growing companies, NorthCoast's top places to work, and several others. They're known for their talent. They're known for their creativity. They're known for their culture, a firm I liked before we agreed to partner together for the show. Check out vividfront.com. Or you can email me, and I'll introduce you to their dynamic leader, Andrew Spott.

Dave Douglas: Welcome back. You're listening to the Up2 Podcast with Adam Kaufman. Today's guest, Ted Souder.

Adam Kaufman: Well, I think these major economic, tumultuous times like the housing crisis and the '99 internet bust ... They do absolutely create new thinking and therefor new companies. Airbnb is a great example I like to share coming out of the housing bubble. But I also know that the risk that you find so natural isn't inside everybody, and one of the things, Ted, I've been surprised about ... My biggest surprise of the podcast is Up2 listeners are a lot younger than I would have predicted, and they often tell me they love these life lessons that our guests like you share, because they want to think about it at the beginning of their career.

Adam Kaufman: So if you could think about maybe folks a little bit older than that recent classroom you spoke with, the 20-year-olds, even early-30-year-olds, how can you help them think about whether or not to take the risk into the earlier-stage business versus the more stayed stable company? I know I'm getting older because I have a lot of my friends having me talk to their kids about, "Should I go work for Google, big, stable company, or a startup?" and there are pros and cons to both. So what would you tell those, or what did you tell maybe that classroom? Because I'm finding those conversations to be interesting but challenging. I'm not sure I know how to advise them.

Ted Souder: So I think it's a really, really personal question because some people have a really high tolerance for risk. The idea of going into the unknown or something that is potentially less stable is what motivates them. It's their energy. Other people really like the idea of comfort and stability, predictability, and that's okay too. There's no right answer. People have to do what is best for them.

Ted Souder: But on the flip side, you run into a situation often where what people deem is risky, i.e. maybe moving towards being more digital or investing in technology or changing the way your business is structured, getting rid of silos, changing compensation structures, that sort of thing ... Often that's seen as a risk, but actually it's riskier by not making those types of changes.

Ted Souder: So let me give you an example. Today we find that many businesses ... This is across industry in that historically businesses are organized in silo, and let's look at it from a marketing perspective. You have your-

Adam Kaufman: What do you mean by silo?

Ted Souder: So you have a team that's just focused on, say, digital marketing.

Adam Kaufman: Their specific responsibility?

Ted Souder: Yeah, specific responsibility. You have a team that's just focused on public relations and a team that's just focused on offline marketing and so on and so forth. We find so often that it's not common for these groups to talk to one another. If these groups aren't talking to each other, then how are they going to move the company down the field? Well, we find that digital is now impacting what's happening offline. It's how people hear about you from a PR perspective. It's how the conversation happens on social channels. It's how people are reviewing your products that you sell on YouTube, for example.

Ted Souder: Digital touches every single aspect of the business, so if they're not all talking with one digital voice, then the company is not going to be as fluid and be able to react to things as quickly as they need to, and so what you're finding is a lot of pure-play companies that are born of the web. So the companies that didn't have any physical locations ... They were digital natives to begin with, and they're able to move fluidly down the path. Offline companies have a little harder time doing that.

Ted Souder: So we can sit with our customers and talk to them about ... It's not a risk to rethink your structure internally. It's not a risk to change how you allocate budgets. It's not a risk to think about how you might change compensation structures, et cetera.

Adam Kaufman: So you're saying the potential new hire that we're trying to advise right now, if we could be so bold ... It's a risk to consider working in companies that aren't thinking about these things?

Ted Souder: I think that's something to take into account. How forward thinking are they? And-

Adam Kaufman: It's risky of Twitter to announce that all their employees can forever, not just right now, work from home. That's a risk, but they're being innovative.

Ted Souder: I think that's a really interesting announcement that we saw them make a week or two ago, and-

Adam Kaufman: Do you think others will follow? I mean, there hasn't been a tidal wave of follow-on announcements like that, maybe one or two. But do you think that'll really impact what others decide to do?

Ted Souder: I do, actually. I know some other tech companies have shown a willingness to do that to varying degrees. But again, it's a risk because we've never done this on a full-scale basis before. So what does it mean to not have everybody in an office together collaborating, whiteboarding, having a meal together, celebrating someone's life moment after work?

Adam Kaufman: There's pluses and minuses I can imagine on culture creation. I don't know. I feel like a lot of young people tell me they love working at home. I'm 49. I'm talking about people who are like 25, 28, half my age or close to it. They seem to like being mobile, and not just working from home, but work anywhere.

Ted Souder: That's for sure a trend that we have seen grow over the years, and again, it's a very personal type of decision. Some people thrive in groups settings. Some people thrive being alone with headphones on.

Adam Kaufman: Right.

Ted Souder: It'll be interesting once things start to normalize, whatever that means, to see the decisions that companies make and to see the response from not only existing workers, but also future workers who are entering the work force, because they are going to be joining a work world that is very, very different than what we experienced last year, what their parents experienced, and others. I think that's exciting. It's that kind of change and it's that kind of move forward that excites me. I think change is good.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah. I think that it's all still yet to be determined, but I know in my own life I'm thinking about the return to normalcy. My normalcy was traveling half the time, and I enjoyed that. I thrive traveling, and you're quite the traveler as well. I know you're asked to speak or attend events all over the world, and your business also has you traveling a lot. Your wife has a company that does touring in Africa, if I'm not mistaken.

Ted Souder: Yep.

Adam Kaufman: So have you thought how any of the temporary mode we're in now might become permanent? Or is there any changes in your life right now that you think will have some staying power for the better or for worse?

Ted Souder: Well, I sure miss being with people.

Adam Kaufman: I know.

Ted Souder: I sure miss traveling. But on the back end, we will pivot, and industries will figure out new ways to bring people together. I personally don't believe that conferences go away.

Adam Kaufman: I don't either.

Ted Souder: I think it might be a little bit of time until people are excited about being with 300 people again in any setting, but I think that 2021 you will start to see that start to come back together again as long as organizers can find a way for people to be healthy, to be comfortable. There's a lot of people who are just not going to be okay with being in a group setting like that, and that's okay too, so how can we mix up this world? This is why I think it's been so interesting as to how so many entities have made this pivot to be able to keep these kind of conversations alive.

Ted Souder: So for example, I'm on the board of Economic Club of Chicago, and our business is built on convening small groups and convening 2,000 people in a ballroom to hear someone like Bono or Barack Obama speak. That's what the business is built on, and all of a sudden, for the rest of the year at least, there is no convening in person, so the club, an almost hundred-year-old organization, had to make an immediate pivot to offering online content so that we could retain interest in being a member, so that we could also continue to find new ways for young new members to join, to find ways to remain relevant out in the broader business community and political world and all of that. So we weren't necessarily set up to do that.

Adam Kaufman: Right. You're pursuing stickiness. You want to keep your arms tightly around the stakeholders, whether they're members or donors. Is that working, that particular initiative, going online at the Economic Club of Chicago? Are you getting interest?

Ted Souder: Oh, yeah. It's been very successful, and we're really encouraged by our ability to bring in our members and engage with us. It's also proving to be somewhat easier to get speakers to engage with us, because they don't have to travel. Now they can spend 45 minutes with us over whatever video platform that we're using, and that's a good experience too.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah. I've seen the positives of that. In my own household, my wife teaches yoga. She would normally go to a studio and teach her sanctified yoga, and there might be between 15 and 25 attendees on a given evening. But now because of the virtual opportunity and it's national with, in her case, Facebook Live, she'll have 30 or 40 attending and practicing yoga with her. So I can only imagine the potential scale when we're talking about large organizations.

Ted Souder: But, Adam, you bring up such a great example. So all of a sudden your wife could have said, "Well, that's the end of my business," and to put the yoga mat in the closet and to think of something else to do, but no. She took what many would perceive as being a risk and saying, "You know what? We're going to offer this content and this experience online," and there's a lot of people in your wife's situation doing the same thing, and they're even charging for it.

Ted Souder: Who would have thought that you could charge for an online yoga classroom, online core workout program, or whatever the case may be? Those are the types of risks that people need to think about. It's not a risk. It's an actual opportunity. I think the biggest risk is not thinking this through or not asking yourself, "What if?" What if people are willing to put their phone in a corner and film themselves while working out? I mean, come on.

Adam Kaufman: [crosstalk 00:31:46] amazing.

Ted Souder: It's so great.

Adam Kaufman: I know. I mean, I feel bad for our friends who run health clubs, but that's the balance we'll figure out, what the new normal looks like.

Adam Kaufman: Let's move ahead. Think forward. Let's be optimistic. You're always optimistic whenever I talk to you, by the way. But optimistically, let's go back into the future, so to speak, and we're post-COVID worries. It's medium and long term. Are there new industries that you're thinking about or new trends that are captivating you right now that you want to start to watch closer? To maybe help you think about it, for me it was the whole idea of ghost kitchens which Uber founder Travis Kalanick got into before the pandemic, but now it's really growing, that subset of the food delivery business. So is there anything that's really interesting you right now as we think about medium and long term?

Ted Souder: Yeah. So the idea of sheltering in place, being at home, whatever that looks like for you, has, I believe, had material impact not only on our physical well being, but our mental well being. I think there is a huge focus on how can people help themselves during a challenging time like this. I look back, when I was living in San Francisco many, many years ago, and I was living in a tiny, tiny, tiny little studio apartment and thinking about what it would be like to be sheltering in place working from home in this tiny, tiny, tiny little studio apartment that many people are living in today. That's really, really hard, so how do you attend to yourself? How do you think about your mental well being?

Ted Souder: The thing that I love is that the digital platforms that are out there are the perfect conduit and platform for people to take better care of themselves, and I think you're going to see a real focus on businesses not only changing their overall structure, but offering well-being services to their employees, to customers, et cetera. As human beings, we need to be more proactive in taking care of ourselves, and you see it from the number of great mindfulness apps that are out there, like Headspace and whatnot. You've got the huge explosion of growth with Peloton, people understanding that if I'm going to be at home, I've got to figure out exercise one way or another just to help keep myself healthy.

Ted Souder: So any kind of company that is focusing on health, wellness, mindfulness, et cetera I think is going to be a real opportunity moving forward. I think there's going to be an interesting focus on companies like Airbnb, companies that offer a more personal customized experience when traveling as opposed to being in a large hotel.

Adam Kaufman: Hotel rooms, yeah.

Ted Souder: I think there's something really interesting there. I think there's going to be a lot of focus on apps for the phone that reduce touchpoints in a lot of respects, so whether it is growth in online currencies, growth in the ability to have touchless shopping. Stores where there's touchless checkout I think will be a real opportunity moving forward.

Adam Kaufman: So when you say touchpoints, not just engagement in workflow, but literally touchpoints, the phone user touching less things because of some app enabling them to shop without going through the checkout line?

Ted Souder: Yep.

Adam Kaufman: Okay. That's interesting.

Ted Souder: We're seeing a lot of interest in reducing friction. Before, friction meant time, friction meant-

Adam Kaufman: Right. That's what I was saying, that workflow friction.

Ted Souder: But now touching is a big topic of conversation as well, and that will, in my mind, help many businesses become more comfortable with bringing consumers, and I think customers will be appreciative of that. I think we'll get to a certain norm in the future where ... Do checkout lines go away?

Adam Kaufman: And cashiers?

Ted Souder: Maybe. Maybe that's a role change, and so instead of cashiers doing what they classically have been doing today, maybe there's a new role and a new opportunity for them in the future.

Adam Kaufman: A minute ago you mentioned mindfulness a couple of times, and I planned on asking you today, how have you been doing? I know you've been busy at home helping the family adapt to stay at home, but how have you done with the inevitable alone time which is probably greater? Some folks struggle with, some enjoy solitude. How have you been doing with that during this unusual time?

Ted Souder: So I like often to just be alone, to have my own time to think or to work or to read. I tend to get up very early in the morning, well before everyone else in the house, and-

Adam Kaufman: Me too. I love that. It's my favorite time of the day.

Ted Souder: You don't have any meetings, the phone's not ringing, you're not distracted, and that is usually my time to have a cup of coffee or two. I make celery juices in the morning and green juices, and I'll do a workout in the morning. I'll read news articles. I'll catch up on things, and that is this opportunity for me to just kind of center around myself, to be quiet, to think, to not necessarily plan my day. I don't sit there with a calendar saying, "From 1:00 to 2:00 I'm going to do this," but it's just an opportunity, I think, to have that time, because then 7:20 is kind of my time. My wife will come down, and that's time to get the kids up and get them ready for school, and I'll make them a smoothie. Then you're off and running with your work and doing all-

Adam Kaufman: Right. The rat race begins.

Ted Souder: The rat race begins. So I do think it's important to take a little bit of time. The other fun thing that I've been doing a little bit of, and I'm looking forward to more of this, is on the Peloton app there's meditation sessions, and that's been really fun to explore meditation, just sit there five, 10, 15 minutes and to listen to the process of thinking through whatever the topic is, and maybe there's some interesting music in the background, and it's been really calming. It's actually-

Adam Kaufman: That's not while you're riding though, right? Is it after you're riding?

Ted Souder: Before or after, yeah.

Adam Kaufman: Okay. Yeah. I need every stimuli possible when I'm running, listen to hard, pounding music to keep me going on the streets. But it sounds like you're handling the solitude well. You already were before the pandemic. Well, authentically speaking, have there been any worrisome times though or darker times or any moments when you were kind of doubting our ability to come back from this? Has there been any of that with you?

Ted Souder: So it's a really great question because there is layers of uncertainty that we come across every day, and whether it is in the work environment, or it is, "How am I going to deal with this at home?" or perhaps there's something negative that happened to you financially, or the news cycle is just so focused on, I feel like, so much negativity, which is really sad. I think, when you take in too much of this type of content, it really can start to weigh on you.

Adam Kaufman: Definitely. You're one of the most optimistic guys I know, and people say I'm definitely a glass-half-full person, but it can devour your spirit if you read the statistics, the trends, the forecasts on the negative side of the pandemic and then the economic. I became more concerned about the economic, and I'll leave other experts of this, but I'm just saying for me and my emotions, I became more worried about the economic future than the health future about a month ago, and so that, for me, became the dark space I wanted to stay out of, mentally speaking, if that makes any sense.

Ted Souder: Yeah. It's one of those situations where there's not a ton you can do about it.

Adam Kaufman: Right.

Ted Souder: It's this giant storm cloud that seems to gather steam, and you're just like, "Is my umbrella big enough?"

Adam Kaufman: Right. There's nothing we can do about it. Yeah. I was recently interviewed on someone else's program, and I was referring to Richard Rohr. Have you ever heard of this Franciscan monk Richard Rohr?

Ted Souder: I'm not familiar with Richard Rohr.

Adam Kaufman: Well, I attended this conference with our mutual friend Doug Holladay in Albuquerque, and he was speaking to those of us in business. He's a monk. He's a Catholic priest, but he enjoys talking to leaders, and so he was saying to us, and I think about it every single day, Ted, and it applied to this pandemic environment now ... He said, "The sooner you realize we're not doers, that we're actually done unto, the more relief you can get in knowing you can't control everything."

Adam Kaufman: For me and a lot of us guys, we think we can affect everything. We try to run our teams. We try to run our households. We fail at varying levels of both of those things, but we try to write memos or send texts and everyone listens to what we do. But I've realized that we're being done unto now, and so I can only do my best in the spaces where I have any ability to pursue any sort of action, and the rest is beyond me. So I don't know how I got to this point in our conversation, but Richard Rohr's comments really helped me think about how to stay positive, I guess.

Ted Souder: So you know how you arrived at that, Adam? It's because that is at the core of who you are. The one thing you can control is to be nice, to be a good person, to help lift others. That is free, it takes little effort, and it's something that has the best ROI of anything else that you can do, and that, Adam, is one of the things I love about you. You are one of just the nicest most genuine, helpful, uplifting people I know.

Adam Kaufman: Well, thanks.

Ted Souder: I think it's a great lesson for all of us.

Adam Kaufman: Thank you, Ted.

Ted Souder: Whether you go to the supermarket and you're irritated because you have to wear a mask for the 20 minutes that you're there, think about the checkout people who are working there and they are wearing a mask all day. Worse, like me, if they're wearing glasses, you're dealing with fogging glasses all day. So the best thing we can do, because that's probably not a ton of fun, is you can walk up and you can say, "Hi. How are you? Hope you're having a great day." It's that sort of thing that, if we had more of that, if we had more people lifting people up online, we had more people lifting people up in person, it would make all of this bizarreness that we're living in so much more tolerable, and it's so easy to do.

Adam Kaufman: Your kind and inspiring comments there perfectly lead into the next question I've prepared for you. Do you ever think about who's watching you? Do you ever think about who you're role modeling for in addition to your children? Have you begun to think about legacy at all? This is, I know, not a common topic among people our age. We're only at maybe halftime of our careers, but what do you think about legacy or who's watching you?

Ted Souder: I had the most wonderful father, and he passed away about 11 years ago. I've really tried to lead my life living up to his ideals and his vision, and he was just a nice, loving person. So when I think about my legacy, if I could just make it over the line having been a good dad and raised two healthy, happy, successful kids, then to me I'm winning. For me, I'm not thinking about legacy from a name on a building or that sort of thing. It's more about, "Am I raising a good family? Am I doing things to help others? Am I providing opportunity for people and maybe providing a good nugget of wisdom here and there?"

Adam Kaufman: How do you think you're doing at that? I've met your wife, but I've never met your kids. For instance, if I was able to ask one of your children, "What do you think is most important to your father?" how do you think they'd answer that?

Ted Souder: I think, without a doubt, they would both say family and spending time with the family.

Adam Kaufman: Awesome. Then mission accomplished.

Ted Souder: We're getting there. We're really lucky in that our kids actually like to hang out with us.

Adam Kaufman: What's your secret to that?

Ted Souder: I don't know if I have a secret. I grew up that way, and so I think that that might be part of it, and I think too is just engaging with them and telling them that you love them, that you see them, and that they're part of the conversation, that just because we're adults, we know everything and we're going to do everything right ... It's like, no. They're living their life, and they know different things and experience things in a different way.

Adam Kaufman: Sure. What are you most excited about beyond, again, this pandemic, which I believe will be temporary?

Ted Souder: I'm excited about the next generation of entrepreneurs who are going to come up with solutions for some of the world's biggest problems, and there's no way that that doesn't happen. I think it's going to happen in a more accelerated manner now that we have gone through this period in time where, again, every business has now pivoted to be a digital business.

Ted Souder: So the amount of money, I think, you're going to see flowing into smart, substantial startups and ideas will be, I think, greater than it's ever been. The type of money being put into research and development around things like vaccines, I think, will accelerate by a huge rate. I think you're going to see a lot of, hopefully, countries and businesses understanding that things like climate change are real.

Ted Souder: So there's going to be so many great ideas hatched in garages and classrooms around the world and young people coming into the market today saying, "I am going to be the one to solve whatever needs solving." I think, to me, that's super, super exciting. Adam, I'm 49 as well. You and I both lived through incredibly exciting times, and I think we ain't seen nothing yet.

Adam Kaufman: Well, that is a terrific note to end on. I share that enthusiasm for the future and the hopes we all have in the next level of entrepreneurship. I think this pandemic has accelerated change, as you've said quite articulately today, and whether it's accelerating change on the positive side or even on the negative side ... I mean, Hertz declaring bankruptcy ... I mean, to me that was like a brand as big as ... I know it wasn't, but like Coca-Cola or Disney. To think that that company that survived World War II is now having to make significant changes. The mirror image of that or the inverse of that is the new opportunities in fintech or, like you said, wellness. So it's very exciting to be in the global room, so to speak, during this time.

Ted Souder: Yeah. There's a lot going on, and it'll be fun to play a role in it some way or another.

Adam Kaufman: Well, we're so glad you played a role in the Up2 Podcast, Ted. We're grateful for your time. I'm grateful for our relationship, and we hope that before too long we can get together in person. But until then, thank you so much for giving us some of your wisdom today.

Ted Souder: It's an honor. It's great to catch up, and I look forward to doing it again in the future.

Adam Kaufman: Awesome, Ted. Thank you.

Adam Kaufman: I mentioned during our conversation with Ted that I consider him to be a tech futurist. That was my label, not his, and here are some of the trends that stood out to me in our conversation. One of them, taking risk with opportunities in tech, are fantastic and necessary. Ted emphasized that it's actually riskier to not take risks in technology. I thought that was interesting. Also, his forecast that companies which can deliver on personal experiences will thrive in the future. Ted also said that apps that remove touchpoints, literal touchpoints, like touchless store checkouts, will continue to disrupt and grow, and the digital platforms that he talked about focusing on mental health and well being, that those will become even more important and relevant with some staying power in the future for all of us.

Dave Douglas: Adam, if I can chime in for a moment-

Adam Kaufman: Yeah.

Dave Douglas: It's not specific to Ted, but he, like so many leaders we've interviewed, talked about getting up early, starting the day strong, centering themselves.

Adam Kaufman: My favorite time of day.

Dave Douglas: Yeah. You too.

Adam Kaufman: Thanks, Dave.

Adam Kaufman: I'd love to hear from you. Please email me at [email protected] Suggest guests, tell me what resonated with you, even critique our producer Dave Douglas. Whatever you want to tell us, let us know.

Adam Kaufman: Up2 is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to our producer and audio engineer, Dave Douglas. I'm your host, Adam Kaufman, and thank you so much for listening to the Up2 Podcast.

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