Episode 03 of Finding Focus (a podcast from Gated) features CMO Melissa Moody sitting down to talk with Pond CEO and Founder Mitch Stein.
“Most of us that are drawn to found or lead a company have something to prove ... and it can be a slippery slope to get so intertwined with your business that you can’t separate yourself from it.”
In this episode, you'll hear about:
Read on for some of the episode's best takeaways - and a full transcript at the end, if you want it!
Leaders at startups don’t get to jump right into tech and can’t make big investments. When you’re a new startup leader, it’s more about testing rapidly and deciding which tech is truly worth investing in.
"Just because it’s a tech company (especially if it’s an early stage company) does not mean that everything’s tech enabled and super quick. Actually, we’re purposefully NOT doing everything in a tech-driven automated way because we’re trying to decide which process and things are worth automating."
“The ground is moving underneath you constantly and it’s not the goal to solve everything, but to decide what needs to be solved NOW.”
Building content (for Mitch, this is on LinkedIn) to build connections and use that to grow. It’s important to have your own framework to keep you on track, keep the ideas flowing, and build a cohesive brand that other people will understand about you. Establishing a framework is essential to doing this well.
“I’m really intentional about connecting with relevant people - and that comes from being really intentional and specific with how you’re sharing content that is relevant to your personal brand.”
Have a healthy balance and have a conversation with yourself. Your mindset about why you are engaging on social media makes all the difference. Mitch has tried a lot of tricks, but the main idea that keeps him focused is to be observant and kind in his self-talk.
What do you tell yourself throughout the day? Are you telling yourself things that are supportive, things you might say to a friend? Instead of pushing yourself to be the hardest worker, make sure you’re finding the space to be kind to yourself and examining your motivations.
“The podcast and books are helpful, but I would encourage you to look within because you often have the answer in your own experience.”
Welcome everybody today on finding focus, we are excited to host Mitch Stein. He is the co-founder and CEO of pond. And here on finding focus, we have some short, actionable conversations about how people focus in today's increasingly distracted world. So we're going to talk with Mitch about his aha moments, his obstacles, the strategies that he uses to find focus in his day. Thanks for being here, Mitch.
Thanks, Sarah. Thanks so much for having me, Melissa, and I love the focus of your podcasts. Like it's always nice when there's like a really firm point of view and it's not just like random conversation. So I appreciate that.
Well, I'm sure we can make time for random conversations later, but yes, we will stay focused today. We've been having a lot of fun, you know, talking with folks who are not just the focus experts, but people who are out, you know, doing great things, starting really cool companies, achieving really unique things throughout their lives, and then taking that, whatever they do and bringing it back to how did they get there? How did they build that focus? And I'm really excited to have you here today because your company and ours both have kind of a nonprofit focus, but also this getting off the ground stage, you are really taking pond, which is an incredible idea.
So for those of you who haven't thought met pond yet, it's a joined pond.com. They are a marketplace that brings together nonprofits and gets them what they need. Right. They're bringing in the resources and the other, you know, for building websites or structuring their databases or creating content and matching up non-profits with the resources they need, which I think is super cool. And I've probably said it a little bit wrong. Do you want to give us a quick, better spiel on pond?
No, I mean, that was great. It's always fun to hear, hear it through other people's lenses and perspective, but yeah, I mean, that's it, it's, it's really about how do we cut through the chaos that so often happens and making decisions and finding the right vendors, be it technology, software, different kinds of services, consultants, trainings, all the things that we both need in our startups like non-profits or businesses that have all the same kind of business needs and then a lot more given the nuances and complexity of their work. So it's really just our goal to better support nonprofit leaders and connect them and save them time and money when they're finding the right resources that they need to better run their organizations.
So I would just say for folks who aren't familiar with the model that works a lot, like Angie's list where you can create a project, but instead of finding a handyman to Mount your TV, you could be finding that fundraising consultant or a new piece of event fundraising software, or a tool to manage your volunteers. We've got a hundred different categories of vendors on the platform. So everything that nonprofits need to thrive.
Well, I think, I feel like non-profits, to your point are very much like the startup world. There's always something else to be done, right? Like that's where the chaos comes from. There's always something else to be done. And half the time, maybe your team doesn't have the knowledge of how to do it. So pond is such a cool resource to your, to your initial idea, that it actually helps them focus as well. It gives them, they don't have to sort through thousands of vendors and who knows what they do. They can get right to someone who can really help them.
Let's talk about that a little bit in your, in my daily life, the chaos of always having something more to do. I think that's probably one of the more challenging roles for focus, right? When there as a CEO, you've probably got everything coming your way. Tell me a little bit about maybe the chaos before we get into how you focus within it. What are you dealing with on a daily basis?
The chaos? Yeah, it's funny because I think most people experience technology and tech companies as like saving them a bunch of time and providing a bunch of efficiency and might not appreciate that behind the scenes, just because it's a tech company. And especially in early stage tech company does not mean that everything is like tech enabled and super quick. We're actually purposefully not doing thing, everything in a tech enabled way, because we're trying to decide what parts we're operations are worth automating with technology. And that always starts with a more manual test.
I think when you're doing it right, you know, you don't want to make those big investments and while it's becoming easier and easier to spin up code, and there's all these ways to leverage other tools and, and kind of, you know, this increasingly user-friendly dev ops world that we live in of technology, it still is an investment. And so I think that is something I didn't appreciate before I started a company and just sort of like dove in and became a student of all of this. So a really, really steep learning curve over the last two plus years. But, you know, there's the chaos of like the product requirements. Like I'll just walk through a couple of key areas. I think, you know, as a founder of an early company, you are kind of always going to be the product manager to a certain extent when you're first getting started.
So there's sort of this chaos of any product manager's job, where your job is to take in like a ton of inputs and information reactions from people, feedback, data, and decide what is worth paying attention to or not. And I think a lot of jobs out there are well-structured they have a framework, clear objectives, you get things in and you solve them and you move on to the next thing. And that is so far from that, from this job where it's like, the ground is evolving and moving under you constantly. And the goal is not to solve everything. It's to decide what needs to be solved from now and like being okay that there's this long list of other things that you're not solving.
And that is like a big mindset shift that if you can't get there, you're going to be super distracted by this like long list of things that need to get done. If your expectation is I'm getting everything done every day. So I would say that's a big one on the product front and then on marketing, which I think kind of goes hand in hand, like you're building something, how are you taking it to market? And I think just my own skillset and background I do within our team spend a lot more time on that.
I think the focus challenge there, especially when you're working with creative people, or if you are a creative person, is like, I have no end to creative ideas of what we could do on the marketing front and content we can do. And it's a lot more, again, it's about being able to capture that all those great ideas, awesome. Encourage that, bring that out in people and then like decide what to focus on and what's realistic done. So there's like a lot of chaos there of like, it's really good to have this frothy creative environment, but that does translate as chaos do a lot of people.
And then two other things I'll hit on quickly. One is just people management, like that's chaotic. People are unpredictable. Like everyone's life is unpredictable. So you're managing a team. We have, there's eight of us. Full-time including me on the team. Like people get COVID, people have family issues. People gotta take vacation, like things just come up with, you're always trying to manage around and you just like have to be so nimble. And I think that leads to a lot of chaos. If someone needs like predictability and clear structure, when you're leading a team, that is, that's still a pretty small team that is really, really hard.
And the last piece, which is like often so far out of your control is fundraising. Like that is unbelief. It's just like a never ending frustration of like, no one has any urgency to give you money yet. You're having to like continuously put yourself out there. It's just a reality of an early stage startup that is, you know, seeking outside investors. So yeah, those would be my four biggest sources of chaos for you.
You said earlier, I think something to the effect of, there's always more great content to be created. And I agree, and I would love for all of the, you know, folks in any type of marketing role or CEO and co-founder role where they are thinking marketing as well. How within that scope of contents, do you keep yourself focused? And the team focused? I mean, what are some of the determining factors mean? Some are similar to product, but any personal ways that you go forth?
Yes, I am so passionate about this topic so we can talk all day long about it. I'll try to not be too verbose mostly because I, someone intentionally somewhat by accident, it was kind of a result of being starting a company in the pandemic and having like very little access to other people to build a network and make new connections. I just really invested in LinkedIn and like, it doesn't have to be LinkedIn. You should know whatever's most relevant for your business in your sector or whatever. But for me, I had like a relatively sizable network from college and I worked at Goldman Sachs previously.
So it was connected to like a lot of coworkers there who span into a lot of other industries. So had a good starting point, but I never used the platform. I never created content ever before two years ago. And I just found myself using it all the time, seeking out connections to learn about the sector and do people I know, are they connected to nonprofit leaders? I could talk about my idea with I was starting from zero. And what I found, which I think was just a result of following people, seeing it done well, where people share and kind of coming up with my own structure of how I wanted to use the platform in my own framework and just starting to test things. So I started doing, I was like, okay, every Monday, something that's been really important to me in the early days and still on my founder journey was mental health. And I was like, can I talk about mental health, realizations, or learnings I'm having in real time while starting a company for the first time? So every Monday I started this like mental health, Monday posts.
And I did that for like 20 weeks. And I think giving yourself a framework is really good way to focus, give yourself a timeline and also starting off small. So it was like, oh, it was a once a week thing, you know, it's not overwhelming. And, and this is true for like diet and exercise, like learning. I mean, this is why Duolingo is so effective. Like these things that just give you some structure and incrementalize it. Like you can do that for yourself when, so that's on the personal content front, I would say. And then from there, oh, this is working. People are engaging. It's building new connections for me. You know, it's helping get the word out about what we're doing.
Like it was having all these positive externalities. So I was like, this is worth me spending some more time on what more could I talk about, can I give myself some more prompts? Can I try and doesn't need to come across as structured, but behind the scenes it's structured where I'll say like, okay, well, when I look ahead at the week, I'll always have a plan for the week. What am I, I try to post five to six days a week on LinkedIn.
And in the past two years, I've probably grown my connection and follower base from like 1500 people to like over 10,000 when we're recording this. So, and that's really organic. That's not just like, you know, bots from overseas and stuff like I'm really intentional about connecting with relevant people, to what we're doing. And that comes from being really intentional and specific with how you're sharing content and making sure it is, comes back to and is relevant to your personal brand. What are you doing as an individual? So for me, what are the things that I can talk about? Well, I intersect interesting people every single day, you know, and I could write a post about this awesome conversation I had with Melissa Moody.
And earlier I was talking to a nonprofit leader who like shared this amazing experience with me. So I'm in that is interesting to others. It doesn't need to be about me. I'm just sharing like stories of other people. So that's like pillar of content that I'm able to talk about. I can talk about my own founder experience. I can talk about my learnings about the sector and I can talk about what we're trying to do at pond. I can talk about my personal life and how it intersects work. So right there, those are five core category buckets, and I can try to hit on all those one day a week. And so just establishing that kind of framework and building into it is really powerful. And I would say on the company side of like, okay, that's for you as an individual, which for me, everyone's different.
This has been a huge growth lever for our business. So I view it as really hand in hand with business content is how I'm sharing on LinkedIn. But I would say more generally on, on content for the business we try to get, and we've gotten better at this over time. And it's really iterative, but paying attention to what works is that sounds obvious, but like, it's really not for a lot of people in there creating content is like, how do you track things? Like, yeah, you wrote a blog article. What does that, how do you know how many hits did that specific article get? Like how many people shared it? Can you tell if you've gotten any backlinks?
Like what, what works and what's was that the topic was that the author was, you know, was it the medium? So we've just done a lot of that since we put out so much content. And I also think it's about understanding similar to the personal marketing side is like, what do you, what are you, what do you have the authority to talk about? Because that's where you're going to have the best engagement to start off with. So, and I think on the company side too, for us, and when it comes to authority, we get a lot of authority by proxy because of who is in our community and network and making sure we're putting that out there and you're getting all these layers of benefit. Number one, you're putting really helpful, useful content out there for people that's like first and foremost should always be what you're doing. No content should just be like, because it's fun or like, cause you think it's interesting, but number two, you are adding to your brand value by putting a face out there that like someone says, oh, like, wow, that nonprofit ed is talking on pond.
They clearly have a reputation in this space and you're reaching like a little bit, you're extending your network a little bit. You've time to do that.
And then I think at a, at a third level, you are showcasing the types of things that one can expect to learn about and experience on the platform. So it's like usefulness brands, kind of authority value, and just understanding of expectation of the product.
Absolutely so much what you're saying resonates. And I do think this is such a core topic because so many people are talking about let's, let's go back just to the personal brand, really this, this personal brand as literally the way that the company brand grows. So important follow up is you've got, you know, you're finding focus within creating the content itself. You've got frameworks for your posting regularity. You got frameworks around what you talk about, how do you Mitch keep the chaos of social and this I've got a post I got to create. How do you keep that as not dominating the rest of everything you have to do?
Cause you already told us about all that's on your plate, right? Social media, as a platform, natively has the ability to creep, right? To get in there and to be the distraction. I think you and I talked about how the phone and social media can be distractions in themselves. How do you approach not letting that happen in your life? I'd love your own personal take on this. I need to learn because I have mine, my main one, by the way, I'll start out is I like to put the phone down. I put it away, not on my body and my husband hates this because he can't ever get ahold of me then. But I, my big trick is actually literally putting the phone down.
I want to hear how Mitch does it.
Yeah. I mean, to be honest, which I'm not going to act like I am an expert at this because.
Is still something. Yeah. I mean, this is something I battle with every day, which I think a lot of people may, you know, maybe it's my generation, I'm 31. So like, I think it kind of came of age with a phone in hand and maybe it was like one of the first, you know, I think I got my first cell phone and I was like 14 and all of a sudden was like the T nine texting wizard, communicating with friends. So it was just, and just being online. I remember getting like an a M account when I was like eight or something and all the sudden, like in chat rooms constantly. So there is this, this just brain chemistry that, you know, we know we've developed around digital communication and social media that is really, really hard to break out of, especially when so much of your business intersects with a social media platform. So I experienced this every day. I would say, I, I try to be kind to myself.
I think a lot of people are just really harsh and be like, you know, oh, I just, I'm just gonna lock my phone away for 10 hours. And like, do these extreme things. I think founders are really prone to this too. You hear all these stories about like Steve jobs. And he was like, wild diets. He'd go on. And like, you know, these like work binges and stuff. Like I try to have a healthy balance where I'm just like kind to myself and it's like, okay, well, if you need a break and you need to check Instagram for a minute, that's fine. Just don't stay on it too long. You know? And, and just like, if you have that conversation going with yourself, I find it's easier to avoid the like sucked in rabbit hole moments because you're just more aware of like, no, I'm going to use this going. I need a break.
It's not, it's intentional. And it's not like, you know, compulsive. So I think that's one of them is just a mindset around it. I also think what I love about LinkedIn is sure it's social media, but like I'm engaging with people. And so often that's like turning into a new conversation and it might turn into a phone call and it might turn into a partnership like I'm building real connection. It's not just like, you know, like common on Instagram. And I just find it's totally different. And I just find really high ROI on my time spent on the platform, not to mention the content people put out there. I'm really learning from everybody. And that is very different.
I find a lot of people are using other social Facebook, Instagram, Tik, TOK, whatever. So, and yeah, I mean, I've tried other things too. Like someone had me put, suggested I put my phone like on gray scale, like, oh, your.
Should turn, turn the cup because you know, if you've ever seen the social dilemma, I think the documentary on Netflix was called. And, and these people that created these tools telling us, like, we know how powerful things like color and UI and these products are. And just like, so totally gripping you. And one of I had a friend who was like, yeah, I just have grayscale on. And my phone is now a toaster. Like.
Become, it's a tool. I use it to call people. I use it to read an article, whatever, but it's not like something that I just go to without a reason I couldn't do it. I just I'm too creative of a person. I like was, it was depressing to me to look at my phone and gray scale, but that's something that's come up too.
I do think it's fascinating. And that's a lot of what, what, you know, our businesses kind of built in opposition to is the whole technology, literally being crafted to grab more of our engagement. Right. Just to just suck us in. And we don't even know what's happening. It's up there in your brain. And you're like, oh yes, but I agree. I've got to have that color. I agree. Putting the phone into scale feels very depressing. I love that point. I think the point you made is super compelling. I, you know, a lot of people we talk about, I use this technique or I build this habit and you, and I could probably go down the route of like what habits and techniques do you use.
But I think fundamentally your statement of you try to be kind to yourself is a really, really important way of, you know, addressing the emotional component of trying to stay focused. Sometimes we find there's more guilt in trying to stay focused and there isn't actually the things you do. So I love, I love that take, how, how else do you personally kind of be kind to yourself? What do you do to take care of yourself? What are the things that fall into that bucket of, ah, you know, I'm, I'm actually looking out for myself.
Yeah. It's been, it's such an interesting process because I feel like most of us that are called to try to do something new or start a company are probably really type a and have I find, cause especially I've been in an accelerator with some other founders and stuff, so just have a little, have had a lot of these conversations, usually have some kind of chip on their shoulder. There's sort of something they're trying to prove, which is a driver that makes, you know, a lot of things happen, but it also can really it's like, okay, well you're trying to prove that to someone else. Like there's, it's, it is a bit of a slippery slope emotionally to go down for a lot of founders where they personally get so wrapped up and intertwined with the business, they're creating that they struggle to separate themselves from it.
So for me, I really try to be mindful of that. Self-talk like, it might sound corny, but like, what is the relationship that you have with yourself and you know, what do you think when you wake up in the morning, what do you tell yourself? Like what throughout the day, and especially, you know, when we're grabbing for our phone, do you ever stop and think about like, why am I doing this? And, and just like that, I don't think enough people are mindful of like the, having those conversations with themselves. And then once you become mindful that that happens and that you can do that and that you can have a relationship with yourself, then you can start to be like, oh, wow. Like why did I say that? Why, why was I thinking that to myself?
I would never say that to my best friend or family member. Like why can I think thoughts to myself? Like I would, to someone I care about because I have a relationship with myself.
And so I, if there's like a lot of undoing of structures in my brain, which I feel like a lot of us were raised to be like, work hard for everything you get. And like, you know, you have to have discipline and, you know, whatever people call it, like the Protestant work ethic, like I was raised Lutheran like very much in that like cultural vein.
And like my parents, you know, both definitely came from pretty much poverty growing up and, and, you know, worked really hard to succeed professionally. And so I never, when I was growing up, it was, I certainly had people around me that I felt like were kind of blahzay if their family was well off and they like didn't work so hard cause they felt like they didn't need to. I kind of felt like the opposite where I was like, oh my God, like I have to be successful because like, look at what my parents did and came from. And like, I can't let them down and this sort of like inherent guilt growing up. So I feel like I've had to peel back a lot of layers of that to be celebrate that I can work hard and celebrate that, celebrate some and, and congrats, you know, congratulate myself on achieving things and little milestones and, and not being afraid to do that, but not doing it at the expense of like, okay, but you have to do more, like always has to come back to something where you're kind of like grinding yourself, finding the space to be kind has such a big impact.
Yeah. And I love your point about questioning, you know, the self-talk, but specifically around the motivations, the, why am I doing it? And there may be some really positive motivations to why you are doing something and maybe why you're doing it almost because you were raised in a certain way, but then there may also be those hugely negative. You know, why am I doing this? Something I'm doing it for something that I don't value that isn't actually a core value to me. So I'm going to set that one aside that is a deeply resonating with me right now. A lot of what you're getting into is absolutely resonating. Well, let's, I've got kind of one last question before we wrap up, I want to keep you back to your busy day to stay focused. I know, you know, you and I, I asked you a little bit about this earlier, but I often ask, is there like a book you've read or something you follow?
I know you mentioned a lot of your inspiration does actually come from LinkedIn. So maybe talk about, you know, you're, you're already quite good at focusing. I think you've elicited a lot of things that are deeper on the emotional and thoughtful level about how to focus, how if you look forward and you want to get even better at being focused and even more refined in where you spend your busy days, where are you going to get that from? Where are those ideas going to come from in your mind, podcasts, LinkedIn? Where do you think.
I know, and I remember you, you shared this question with me before and I wanted to like have a better answer. And now I'm like, oh, I, I want to give people some specific.
It even, maybe not just a name, but like where do you get inspired? Like where is it really? Maybe I think for you, it's kind of LinkedIn, right? You talk a lot about seeing really thoughtful content on LinkedIn.
Yeah. I mean, that definitely happens a lot. I mean, one thing I just say is like therapy, if you're a founder in particular or, you know, any kind of stressful business job, like talk about being kind to yourself, like get yourself in therapy, it's run, don't walk because to me that's like this whole, how do you talk to yourself a conversation? I mean, I've been in therapy for like nine plus years.
And like that has just been with different levels of regularity, but something that it takes a long time, really long time. And it's a discipline to like get better at being kind to yourself and monitoring your self-talk. So that would be number one.
Another thing that I just heard from people before that I would encourage everyone to think about like the, the, the search for like that self-help book that's going to change your life or the, the podcast that's going to change your life.
Those things are impactful for sure. But I also, I guess I would kind of answer the question in a different way to encourage you to look within that. Like often you have the own answer in your own experience. And something someone said to me early on in the startup journey where I was, you know, you go through these moments when you're like, I just don't even notice this a terrible idea. Like, what should we do next? I don't know how to evolve it. This didn't work. And someone encouraged me to follow my joy and they were like, just pay attention to what you're drawn to because that's ultimately where you're going to succeed both as a person and as a business.
And I think we have in the vein of being hard on ourselves where like, oh, well I'm bad at X. So I need to spend all my time there and get better at it. I would kind of argue that usually people over-rotate in that way. And I think if you get, if you're kind to yourself and like, let you follow your joy, like what is making you happy? And being mindful of that oftentimes, and I've seen that a lot within our own business of like, I just love connecting with people. And like I host a podcast too, and someone super analytical may have been like, well, I don't know if this is driving the most conversion of like the depths that you monitor and stuff. But I was like, but it makes me really happy.
And I would say the same thing about posting on LinkedIn. It was a lot of the reason I started doing it more was because I really enjoyed it as an outlet. I love writing. And so for me, that was really helpful. And look, because I enjoy it and I was eight because I enjoy it was able to invest in it so much on an ongoing bit and stay consistent. It returned huge dividends. So it's kind of a weird answer to your question, but I just think like looking within and thinking about like, what is it that brings you joy because that authenticity is going to come across to people and you're going to connect with them when you're leaning into your own joy.
I love it. I think that's beautiful. I think listening to your own self as is probably the best self-help book, right? That's a really, really way to think about it. Well, before we go, I'd love. Where can people find you? Where, where can people follow, follow Mitch sign? Get the best of you, obviously LinkedIn, anywhere else who you'd want them to read or connect.
Yeah. I'm, I mean, that's pretty much it that's, that would be another piece of advice is like find your channels. You want to invest in and concentrate them. But no, I, I, like I said, I share almost every day and love to connect with people there. So if you search Mitch Sinai, hope I'm one of the first that comes up, but we can probably put the link in the show notes and then, you know, obviously pond on LinkedIn too. And pond is on Instagram, pick talk, Facebook, YouTube, all the rest. So check out, join pond.com to see what we're up to and you know, how we're really trying to drive more impact in the nonprofit space with, with this new platform.
Yeah. And last but not least the podcast where what's the podcast called and where can they catch that if they want to.
Yeah. So we host, we have an original podcast upon that. I host called the kids table.
It's a bit tongue in cheek given so often social impact work, be it at a nonprofit or a company that it serves nonprofits kind of gets put at the kid's table. When in fact, I think the whole world should be paying a lot more attention to what's succeeding in the social impact space. And that is what our society needs more than ever. So we talk with nonprofit and social impact leaders from all across the country, share their stories, really lift up their expertise. And they are just amazing conversations that I enjoy so much the variety of people that we have on. It's just amazing. So I encourage people to check out the kids' table wherever you listen to podcasts.
So great. Well, I truly appreciate you taking a bit of time in what are incredibly busy days for you. I'm sure we'll get together and talk again, but thank you so much for joining us today. It's wonderful to have you.
Of course, like you're proud of me, Melissa. Appreciate it.