PP 204: Being Authentic to Your Purpose with Melinda Wittstock

The best answer is to know who you are, know your true purpose in life, and really be authentic and in line with that.” ~ Melinda Wittstock

Melinda Wittstock shares how she transitioned from being a journalist to founding Verifeed, a social intelligence platform. She and Kim also chat about ROA – Return on Authenticity, the importance of knowing who our clients and customers are, what their desires are, where they hang out and how we can best connect with them on a personal level.

.@MelindaWings and @thekimsutton chat about ROA - Return on Authenticity, the importance of knowing who our clients and customers are and how to connect with them and more: https://thekimsutton.com/pp204 #positiveproductivity #podcast #authenticityClick To Tweet

Connect with Melinda

* Note: Verifeed has pivoted to Podopolo since Kim and Melinda last spoke. Congrats to Melinda! And, for those who may be interested in contacting her and checking out her new company, that’s your link!

Episode Transcription – Being Authentic to Your Purpose with Melinda Wittstock

(Transcription not yet cleaned up but thanks for checking it out!)

Well welcome back to another episode of positive productivity. This is your host Kim Sutton. I’m so thrilled that you’re here to join us today. I’m also thrilled to introduce our guest, Melinda Wittstock. When does the CEO and founder of Verifeed, a social intelligence platform and the host of wings have inspired business? Melinda, I’m so thrilled do well, number one. Finally chat because it seems like forever since we’ve actually caught up and to have you on the podcast.

Melinda Wittstock: Oh, it’s great to be here. Kim. I’m excited.

Melinda, can you share a little bit about your background with listeners and tell them where you’ve come from and your journey?

Melinda Wittstock: Well, it’s been a long one, and it’s had all kinds of ups and downs like most entrepreneurs, I think I first got the entrepreneurial bug, and I don’t know exactly how, but I remember I was almost six years old. And I went door to door in my neighborhood with my black lab to ask all the neighbors to prepay for my show. And I wouldn’t take no for an answer. Like I I stood there until I think I was charging $1 which given my age was, you know, a lot of money back then.

And everybody paid. And people showed up. And I did this whole kind of routine to music. Those big on like ballad figure skating when I was a little kid. So I think I always had that sort of entrepreneurial gene, I guess.

Melinda Wittstock: And so I’m one of those folks called a serial entrepreneur, and I’ve done all sorts of different types of businesses. I balanced that or attempt to with two kids, I’m a single mom. And I’m really excited about what I’m doing right now. Because about a year ago, given my journey as a female entrepreneur in the tech space, where it’s really very difficult to raise money for VC money we still get such as female founders, we’ve still got such a tiny proportion of the available money. out there. But I decided my moonshot was changing slightly, I really wanted to create the ecosystem whereby women would really step up and support each other. I mean, send each other’s business write each other checks really kind of changed the game of business and the way it’s played. And that’s why I launched my podcast, Wings of inspired business, which I’m so excited about. It only launched, like in November, and already tons of downloads and all kinds of cool stuff. And you know what, I love it. I love talking to all these amazing female founders and hearing their stories. And every day I’m learning from them. And our listeners are too and it’s so much fun.

Oh, absolutely. I have found that the podcasting track. I don’t know if check is the word I’m looking for. But it has introduced me to so many incredible people. I never expected the room. Words to be so high. And when I was the guest room, yeah. When I was the host, positive productivity podcast where it’s full of bloopers.

Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, well, you know, it makes it real. You know, they say there’s a real well actually, I say, from our software that there’s a return on authenticity. So when you’re just being yourself bloopers, and all people love that, so don’t worry about

it. Oh, absolutely. And listeners, there will be a new blooper episode coming out soon, which will be hilarious. I mean, I already know what’s going into it. I just need the time to pull it together. I would love Melinda if you would share about your software because I am so immensely curious about it. And I’m sure the listeners are too.

Melinda Wittstock: Well, it’s interesting. So we I started a what we call a social intelligence platform a few years back, and what that means in reality and like, real English is that we were on Using algorithms to analyze and listen to millions of social media conversations, so like on Twitter and Facebook and that sort of thing, because people when they’re just talking amongst their friends are revealing a lot of things about themselves, like their habits, their hobbies, their preferences, needs, desires, tastes, you know what products they buy that kind of thing. And they’re also revealing just by their activity, how influential they are, like an influencing the purchase purchasing decisions, and whatnot of other people. And so we set out to monitor that and understand it. And the practical application is we can help businesses find their customers. And also find the customers that are the most influential, that if you engaged those people, they would bring many more like them, to the party, to your business, you know, your product or service and so we understood more and more and more to that the brands and businesses that were really crushing it on social media and leveraging it best. were speaking authentically. Because you know what people follow leaders, they don’t follow logos or faceless brands. And we discovered that selling is becoming much more about enrollment rather than pursuit. And social media was a great place to be able to really connect with customers in a way that made those customers feel special. And so authenticity was a big part of it. So we then created an algorithm called return on authenticity or your ROI, a score, which can kind of, you know, not only do you get a measurable return from your activity on social media, but it’s also a protocol because we’ve learned so much from the data. I’m a big data geek. We learned a lot from the data about what works and what doesn’t. And so I mean, I guess my mantra is kind of why guess when you can No.

Oh, I love that. Even I have to share when I started my companies five years ago, I had some creative studios, which I’m transitioning out of right now. And I had a Twitter account, and it had the company logo on it. And you’re so right, people just were not connecting. And I was tweeting all the time, or I think I was I don’t really remember five years is a long time. Yeah. Yeah. But I just wasn’t getting growth. But in mid 2015, when I started my personal brand, and was tweeting, the growth was so much faster just because people were connecting with a face instead of a logo.

Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. And I think when we talk about our just personal experiences are our day are we kind of lift the veil a little bit on our businesses. On our cultures, and you know what we’re doing our challenges, and we actually engage with customers or would be customers, you know, like ask them questions, make them feel special, do all of those things. It’s miraculous the difference that makes. And of course, the challenge is, how do you do that with hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands and millions of people, it’s very difficult to scale, that real personal connection. And so that’s what we’re working on right now. How to create what we’re sort of nicknaming as social media, Alexa in your pocket. So say for instance, if you had on your iPhone or your Android, the background running technology that’s telling you who your prospective customers actually are and telling you about them, but also crafting the messages that are really authentic in your voice and telling you Which person gets what message when when they’re most likely to respond? It’s a very ambitious project. But it’s also really sorely needed because consumers expect really personalized treatment. But it’s really hard for most business owners and entrepreneurs to be able to scale that personalization. So that’s something that we’re working on solving.

Wow. Just in the past month, I actually installed a it’s called intercom on my website and it pops up like a chat. We’ve all seen him before. I’m sure you’ve seen him before. Melinda. And oh, yeah. And I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say, because I didn’t want to be too pushy. So finally, I settled on asking site visitors. What’s your biggest win so far this week? In I can’t believe the engagement that I’m getting off of that. And secondly, not that I said Firstly, but secondly, people are surprised when I actually respond. No, I mean, it wouldn’t have to be. It wouldn’t have to be me, but they’re not expecting number one response or number two, like a non salesy message in there.

Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. Well, that’s the key also to social media. The best people at this really do respond, you know, I think the, the, the, the poster. I was gonna say, poster child, but you know, that is Gary Vaynerchuk, who, who started doing this years and years ago, when he was first building Wine Library, and he responded to every single person. And it worked because those individuals feel so special that they tell all their friends. And so we say like, say if you personalize to 10 that’s leverage because those 10 assuming that they’re influential, and you can kind of figure out how influential they are. are, are going to spread that goodness to all of their friends. And so it’s a different way of doing it. People are so used to kind of just one on one conversations. And like all entrepreneurs, I always look for leverage points, you know, how can you take one action and have multiple impacts from that one? action. But you’re so right, asking a big open ended question like that. I love that question. Because it’s so positive to say, What’s your biggest win this week? Or like or something like, like, what are you grateful for something like that, because it gets people really in the moment. And it shows that you actually care about them. And then it especially shows that it’s not just lip service, that you’re actually there to get into a conversation with them and they feel special and they care. And they share.

Definitely, and that’s been a huge transition for me in its own bit listeners. I apologize in Melinda to the dog won’t stop barking I think she’s barking it

you know what that happened on my podcast I should I you know you’ve given me a really good idea for a blooper blooper reel. Because I’ve had like dogs bark ups guys kind of like all sorts of stuff happen

as a mom of five like there was a time where I was waking up at in. I think it was Tim stars episode listeners he brought up PTSD, perpetual tangent story disorder, so forgive me for a moment. But I would wake up at five or 530 and try to squeeze in an episode really fast in the morning one of my solo episodes, but my kids started to catch on. So it would be in the middle of recording and my daughter Nova would come into the room and just start talking to me. So in the first blooper reel, which is Episode 57, there will be a link in the show notes like you can hear a whole conversation of me with her. Oh, and by the way The show notes can be found at KIM SUTTON comm forward slash pp. 204. But Melinda, I realized that for the longest time, I was asking questions that could be answered with yes or no. And not only. It’s so easy to get into that pattern. And now not only have I started changing it in my business, but also with my kids, and I’m sure you can understand this. I don’t want to just ask them. Did you have a good day at school? I want to, I want to ask a little bit more than that. What was the most interesting thing that you did at school today? Or what to do eat for lunch? I mean, I know that’s still a one word answer, potentially, or my toddlers will tell me nothing.

Because I know nothing is the classic answer, you know, or Yeah, I mean, if you ask a is are you or that kind of question with my kids, when they get in the car, if I pick them up, you know, when I pick them up after school,

and they’re like, good.

Melinda Wittstock: So Like the open ended question is really great, especially if you’re growing a business and you really want to understand your customers. So a what or why or how. And this is something that I learned back in my journalism days. I know you asked me to say about myself, but one of my things is that I was an award winning journalist on the Times of London and then went into television, news anchoring, and radio broadcasting. Before I became a tech entrepreneur, and in all that time, I learned that those open ended questions were everything, and then being really kind of quick and actually listening to the answer and picking up, you know, from what they’re saying and listening to all those clues. And it’s, it’s true in journalism, and it’s true and serving your customers.

How did the transition from your journalism career to being a tech entrepreneur happen? What project?

Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, it’s a good question. I’m sort of alone. evolution in a way. I mean, I was asked this question a couple years back. And I found myself saying the best way I could is, I used to run around as a journalist trying to be first, right and predictive, I wanted to know where the story was going next. And so all the algorithms were in between my ears, right? They were in my head because I was looking for patterns. Because patterns could tell me a lot about just like patterns and knowledge or whatever, like, where the story was going, that kind of thing. And all these years later, just to make the story super short. I started to do with algorithms where that whole approach with Vera feed and news it before was very much around. The same approach I used as a journalist and I think that’s what makes Vera feed quite unique in the social intelligence and social media space because most of our competitors are founded by very linear thinking tech phonologists under my, my brain is a little different, I think for that cross disciplinary aspect in it. It’s it’s really what makes us unique is really understanding context, which is important for a very good journalist, as opposed to someone who’s just reporting, hey, this just happened. But if you want to be able to understand what it means, and where the story is going next, you really need to understand context. And and so that’s one answer. And then the other one is my first businesses as an entrepreneur, we’re content businesses, capital news connection I founded just after 911 because everybody was talking about our democracy and how important it was to defend and of course, that’s true. But I looked around at the political reporting at the time and even now, all these years later, and it wasn’t relevant to people’s daily lives. And so I like a lot of great companies are usually Formed because the entrepreneur sees a problem that really needs to be solved. And it’s a personal problem that they really care about. So they set out to do it. So in the classic sort of way of thinking, you know, it’s so typical of me to say, oh, how hard could that be? Right? So I kind of left journalism, I had this idea for this, this startup capital news connection. The idea being that all politics is local, if it was made relevant to people, they would be much more engaged in the process and like, vote a lot more and you know, that kind of thing and launched covering Capitol Hill, initially for a handful of public radio stations, but grew it to an audience of 3 million on radio, many more on television, local stations all across the country. And then newspapers started hiring us as well as they started outsourcing content. And then I got absolutely enamored of the idea of crowdsourcing because as a journalist, I thought, wow, okay. I mean, you know, I need two sources. Well, wow, what if I had hundred Hundred sources or 1000 sources or 10,000? sources? Would that make my reporting a lot more accurate? You know, would I be able to actually understand what was going on better? Would I be able to serve the audience that was consuming my content better? And of course, the answer is yes. And so that’s when I really the technology bug bit. And this is pre Facebook, when I started getting into crowdsourcing is pre social networking event. And the ultimate result was an app called Ask your lawmaker, which let anybody ask any question they wanted of their Congress, man or woman or senator at on Capitol Hill, and our journalists would go and get those questions answered. And we had this functionality where you could like vote the questions of the order. So people were really aggregating their voices around specific questions. And we would get those questions answered and uploaded for people to listen to watch, read comments, share. And the fascinating thing about it was that the citizen questions were more Interesting, and we’re better at getting politicians off their prepared scripts than the journalist questions. And so there were a whole series of things. But really, it’s just evolution. You know, you go from one thing to another, with each startup and each activity in your life really informing the next,

would you say that your y has had a great transition along this route as well?

Melinda Wittstock: I don’t know. You know, because there there are themes that remain consistent. Like the trust and accuracy and authenticity that I find myself talking all about. It’s even inherent in the name of the company, their feed, as well have remained consistent, you know, through my life in terms of whatever I’m doing. Also the social aspect, you know, catalyzing bringing people together, who wouldn’t otherwise be together really understanding patterns in in kind of group activities. That’s also been a big theme both in my journalism And my entrepreneurship.

Sometimes my husband gets frustrated with pixels on the internet, like when he shopping, especially around Christmas time. Thankfully, we don’t

track you around everywhere. You can’t get rid of it. Yes.

Can I laugh because I’m helping my clients set them up all the time installing them on sites, but I remember a few years ago, he bought me a pair of Ugg boots for Christmas. And he was on his computer, but for weeks afterwards, every time he would go on Facebook, he would see all get ads, he was convinced that I would know what he bought me for Christmas. If I look, computer, I know that some people may think that it’s a little big brother ish, which it is, but personally, I love it. And I would rather how do you view that?

Melinda Wittstock: Well, it’s interesting. It’s like so many things. There are two sides of every coin it and it’s a great debate to have and it’s very top of mind. Particularly as we start to leverage and get deeper and deeper into artificial intelligence, you know, is it possibly our very last inventions the human race? Or? Or is it just making everyone’s lives better? And of course, it could go both directions. And and this is true. So so what I find interesting about this debate is that people get very upset about privacy and Big Brother, he sort of issues when the company gets it wrong. Like you notice, for instance, if they get it partially right, but partially wrong, and it’s kind of irritating and suddenly, man, I’m really scared about not having privacy or, or, or this big brother thing, but when they get it, right, like absolutely right, it’s seamless, and it solves you all kinds of time, makes your life easier. So the more data that’s out there about you The better companies can serve you. And it’s a very competitive world. So the best ones, of course, want to do it well. So it is complicated. Like, we’ve been so well trained by everyone from Spotify, and Uber, and Amazon, to expect this kind of concierge service online. We expect people to know everything about us when we get pissed when they don’t. And on the other hand, we’re like, well, I don’t know I feel kind of weird about the little bit icky. I think we feel icky when they get it wrong.

I noticed at the bottom of my grocery store receipt last week, that so far this year, I have saved over 1500 dollars by using my shopping cart. And I was blown away. I was like, that’s a lot of money. That’s awesome. And I, I remember a while back, somebody said to me that well, they didn’t use a shopping cart because they didn’t want the store knowing what they bought. But I received in the mail this weekend. I think stack of coupons from a grocery. And it was totally on target. Like what you were just saying. It was totally on target with the shopping habits of my family. And they were $1 to $4 off the items that we most frequently bought. It was like that’s genius in Yeah, I know. Some people would be like, oh, but I’m like, thank you. Oh my gosh, now I can hear my why. Yeah,

exactly. Well, not only. Yeah, not only. That’s funny. I’m glad I’m contributing to your blooper reel. I’m sure my dog I know a minute.

Sorry. I should give reference all the parents who may have young kids like mine. I am. We watch Moana repeatedly in my house. And there’s a song that that’s actually called You’re welcome. And so every time I say thank you now, I get Disney references and songs in my head. Totally off topic again. I’m sorry.

Melinda Wittstock: Oh, man, I’ve moved off that stage. My daughter when she was, like younger was obsessed with Cinderella and probably watched Cinderella. Without it felt like thousands of times. And she, I could never get her out of her blue princess dress. I mean, that’s all she wore for a long time. So it’s really funny to see her now at 14 and a half and she has like sort of black heavy boots and she likes to wear a lot of black and she’s right, like, wait a minute, little fairy princess.

If they change, they change pretty fast. That would be a fun game to play with a shoppers card, right? They’ve been tracking that and it’s tracking Disney costumes and all of a sudden it goes a little dark and emo and all of that.

Fun. Yeah, well, it’s interesting too, because she’s all you know, female empowerment and you know, really very animal. litical about our society and you know, and it’s funny too, because those original Disney movies, you know, we’re all sort of Oh, the man is gonna come and rescue me and Sydney finds that, like, ludicrous.

It’s like I’m gonna do it all for myself. And so it’s interesting where that change happened. I don’t know but it’s it’s fun to watch. Where do you see your business going in the next one to three years, both very feed and your podcast like what is your biggest goal and and milestone know your next goal and milestone that you really want to hit?

Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, so for verifeed I mean, what’s really, you know, near term and Top of Mind is to really leverage like, well not only get this app out there, we’ve been really busy with the customer interviews and all prototyping sort of take verified to the next level and have this social media Alexa in your pocket to just take the personalization, pain out of social media and give people a really very fireable measurable and growing return on their investment in social media through the return on authenticity. But we decided really that where we wanted to aim it is that people who need to be thought leaders or really grow their personal brand. And I began, I began to understand that that’s a pretty big addressable market. Now, some of the stats show that 40% of American Americans will be gig workers by 2020. That’s only two years from now. And by gig workers, I mean, people who go literally from gig freelance gig to gig to gig and they have side hustles, and freelance rules and all of that, and really, to be hired in that context, you need a good personal brand. And so we’re really aiming it in that way. So of course, you know, you know, in my, I want to get lots of traction and lots of users really kind of grow that business. us and and and like everything I do really I like big moonshots, you know, like changing the way businesses is played really creating tremendous value and empowering people. And, and that really lines up very well and a nice segue into wings of inspired business because I’ve started as a podcast, but my moonshot is to be able to invest in women founded and led businesses. And so I set this crazy goal because I love moonshots. I love thinking big. Can I invest in 100 companies in the next 10 years that really make a big impact in our society. And I’m particularly interested in emerging growth technology companies where there’s an evolved enterprise or a kind of, some people call it conscious capitalism, but where entrepreneurs are going out and they’re actually using their entrepreneurial skills to solve big intractable challenges in the world, whether it’s climate change You know, where our healthcare system is broken or all of these things education system could be wildly improved. And so I am excited about catalyzing the ecosystem where women really show up and help each other where women are really empowered to manifest the confidence, connections and capital they need to really make that that the you know, really, really make a difference. And also encouraging women to not think small but think big actually go for moonshots. I have JJ virgin on my podcast this week, and she talks about how it’s actually easier to play really big than to play small. Because she put it there’s more competition with all the people playing small. And that is such an interesting thought. I never, never even thought about it that way. And thank you for introducing me to moonshot. I’ve never heard that expression before, but I absolutely love it.

Yeah, like I like

it comes up a lot on my podcast because we have some women on here like building, you know, I want to build a billion dollar unicorn like that’s what I’m doing. And it’s awesome. And then we have others that really would, you know, are really doing great businesses. I mean, they’re small business or they may be coaching practices or consultancies are just, but not likely to ever scale to that kind of billion dollar level. And, and it really, everyone’s different, right? The the critical there’s not one answer that’s, that’s right for everybody. The best answer is to know who you are, know your true purpose in life. And really be authentic and be in alignment with that. As you go through your day as you build your business as you help other people or do all the things that you’re going to do as as a leader and as a parent. I love that

really What’s the most inspiring podcast book, or movie that you’ve watched recently or read? The most inspiring, let’s see,

is a couple of books that I have really influenced me, actually a lot this year. One of them is called radical acceptance. I was written by Tara Brock. And it really is about learning how to be mindful and present in the present, like in the present moment, and getting into alignment with who you are. And it’s also about literally, radical accept accepting yourself as you are. And game changing. For me, there was another one called the values factor, which was also very inspiring. And the one that I’m working on right now, it’s actually written by Marc Andreessen, the VC and it’s called the hard thing. About hard things. And it’s interesting when you read the stories of entrepreneurs, when they’re being really truthful, and really authentic within an hour, you can go from elation to despondence and back. And that’s normal. And when we look around the room, we always think I think most people are like this. I know I am I just assume that everyone’s more successful than I am, or they all have it figured out and I’m the only one that doesn’t. And then to realize that other people are looking at me that way. And we all look at each other because we know all our own crap. But we see everybody else’s highlight reel, oh my gosh, yes. And so to understand. It is so true. And so to realize as entrepreneurs that we’re it’s a journey, there’s no destination. It’s the journey. It’s being in the moment and enjoying that ride. Well, often a roller coaster ride sometimes it’s a little smoother, but really just enjoying it and accepting ourselves and getting in alignment with who we are. So that’s really been my theme of the year and I’ve been very much reading books like that. And I’m sad to say that the only movie that I really got to see this year was Wonder Woman that I thought was amazing. really inspired me. And maybe that’s why the podcast is called wings because I got all into like, super superheroes.

Oh my gosh, this just shows you how much I’m around my kids. But the most inspirational movie for me this year was actually Disney’s Princess and the Frog. Big, which may sound totally random. However, it’s a very empowered woman who wants to open up her own restaurant and just the music got me so inspired because it’s all about fulfilling your dreams and pushing forward and making great things happen. So I’m always amazed by how Disney movies have stories for, you know, adults and entrepreneurs. than them to the underlying themes.

Melinda Wittstock: Oh, it is so true. Actually, while we’re on the theme of Disney, if you ever get a chance to look at this look at the original business plan of Walt Disney, and it literally looks like this crazy thing like it’s this mind it’s a mind map where he could see the whole vision of everything that Disney would be as like in like startup phase, you know, pre revenue, pre anything phase, and he got turned down like all the times people thought he was nuts like there’s no way you can do all of this, but he could see it real systems thinker. It’s fascinating to look at, to really visualize where you’re going right and have that big view but at the same time, be able to bring it down to one foot in front of the other and doing the thing that is the most important right now. And this is something I know that I advise this I know that I also struggle with such a big, a big visionary, you know, right like the big thing and, and you know, you want to kind of do it all like because you can see it and feel it, touch it, taste it, you’re like there. But knowing, you know what is the most important way or thing that I can do today that will enable tomorrow and the next day and one foot in front of the other. And be kind to yourself as you do that because nobody can do it all. All at once. Absolutely more. Do it all. Honestly not.

listeners. I’m going to put a link to that business plan in the show notes which you can find KIM SUTTON comm forward slash pp 204 Melinda, this has been absolutely fantastic. Thank you so much for joining me today. Where can listeners find you online and connect our pleasure?

Melinda Wittstock: Well, a couple things. I would love it if you guys kind of listen to my podcast. Cast two so it’s where all podcasts are available wherever you get your podcast. It’s called Wings of Inspired Business. Wings podcast.com. You can connect with me on twitter at Melinda Melinda wings, Melinda wings on Twitter, Melinda wittstock. On Facebook. There’s also wings podcast on Facebook, very feed on Facebook. I mean, there’s so many different places to track me down. And I’m also in the process of building a personal brand website called Melinda wittstock calm so the first iteration of that is up and running so you can catch me there as

well. Awesome. I think you and I both have chronic idea disorder to a little bit.

I’m sure that’s

well it’s certainly true me. I have more ideas that are good for me.

Melinda, do you have a parting piece of advice or Golden Nugget that you can share with listeners?

Melinda Wittstock: Oh goodness, I have Quite a few, but if I could narrow it down, I would say if I had to pick one, I would say be grateful. When you’re grateful… When you really understand all that you have and you and you can really genuinely appreciate it. It’s miraculous. It’s very difficult to feel angry or frustrated or it’s often anything. When you’re actively practicing gratitude. It also really brings you into the moment and keeps you grounded in what’s actually important in your life.