As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Abby Schneiderman and Adam Seifer are the Co-Founders and Co-CEOs of Everplans, and the Co-Authors of “In Case You Get Hit By a Bus: How to Organize Your Life Now For When You’re Not Around Later.” (Workman, 2020)
Abby Schneiderman is an entrepreneur, innovator and visionary leader with a passion for finding ways to use technology to make people’s lives better. She is currently the co-founder and co-CEO of Everplans.com, a company dedicated to transforming the way people organize for their lives.
Prior to founding Everplans, Abby was instrumental in launching several businesses, including co-founding one of the first music social networks, Haystack.
As an industry expert in the areas of digital estate planning, technology, and consumerism, Abby has been featured in numerous publications including the NYT, WSJ, Bloomberg, CNBC, and the Huffington Post. Abby was recently named to Fast Company’s list of the most creative people in business in 2016.
Abby lives with her husband and daughters in NYC, and is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.
Adam Seifer is a repeat entrepreneur with a proven track record of creating successful online enterprises. Prior to Everplans, Adam co-founded and served as Chief Executive Officer, Chief Product Officer and a board member of Fotolog, a pioneering international photo-sharing community that encouraged people to share updates on their lives via images. In the pre-Facebook and pre-Twitter landscape, Fotolog became one of the earliest successful social micro-publishing environments. By 2007, Fotolog was the 15th most visited website and had over 20 million members sharing over a billion photos across the world.
Previously, Adam was also a part of the team that launched Sixdegrees.com, the first major online social network, where he worked in a number of roles, including Chief Operating Officer, Chief Product Officer and as a member of the Board of Directors. Additionally, Adam is an inventor on US patent 6175831 (“the social networking patent”) currently owned by LinkedIn.
Adam lives with his wife and two children in NYC and is a graduate of Brown University.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Adam and I met in a funny way. We’re both repeat entrepreneurs and at the time had just finished working on our last social networking ventures — Adam had just sold Fotolog, and I was working at a startup incubator helping other entrepreneurs build their businesses — when we both ended up working together to help a struggling startup. Adam had been brought in by the management team and I had been brought in as part of the team selected by the board of directors for a potential turnaround. What could have been a total disaster and super contentious ended up with us working so well together, which was around the same time the idea for Everplans was born. It was 2010 and I was planning my wedding, using these really helpful and popular online sites like TheKnot.com to keep everything in order when my brain switched from marriage to death for some reason. I wondered: “What’s next? What other big life stages are there, and what other resources are there to guide people through them?” I began researching and found plenty of resources to help people plan for the birth of a child, buy a home, send kids to school, and plan their finances and retirement. But after retirement planning, that was it. It didn’t seem right that the only unavoidable life stage, and the most scary and overwhelming one, didn’t have any helpful resources or tools to guide people.
I mentioned the idea to Adam, and together we got to work. We started by creating content, and once that started gaining traction we created the Everplans platform where subscribers could create, store, and safely share their important information with the people in their lives who would need it. Over the years we’ve expanded our offerings, including Everplans Professional, which allows financial advisors, insurance agents, and employee benefits administrators to provide Everplans to their clients. We recently wrote the book “In Case You Get Hit By Bus,” which is the culmination of all our planning knowledge and was published by Workman Publishing in January, 2021.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Make sure any furniture you buy for your first office can fit in the elevator. One of the first major purchases was a conference table we found on Etsy, which we loved so much. It was custom made and rustic and beautiful and looked exactly like how we envisioned our office looking. When it was delivered to our office in the Flatiron District of New York we couldn’t fit it in the regular or service elevator. We were determined to make getting this table into the office happen. Since carrying it up 10 flights was out of the question we had our whole team come up with creative ideas and we ultimately had to cut it in half, which always made for a fun story when anyone asked “is this beautiful conference table really being held together with duct tape?” But what was amazing was how our team came together (around something as minor as getting a table into a room) and how we didn’t give up.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
A few years ago we were lucky enough to be introduced to Knut Olson, the visionary CEO of National Guardian Life Insurance. We instantly connected and within the first 45 minutes of meeting one morning in NYC realized we were so totally aligned on the fact that we wanted to fundamentally transform the way people organize and prepare for unexpected moments in life. Knut and NGL ended up investing in our business a few months after our first meeting and ultimately acquired Everplans in January 2021.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
From day one Everplans has been a purpose driven business. We realized immediately that one of the most terrifying and overwhelming life stages was the one that had absolutely no modern resources associated with it. We set out to change that by building the first modern consumer company helping people deal with what we call Life and Legacy Planning. Our entire company is on this mission and wakes up every single day trying to think of ways to make peoples’ lives easier and less complex so that their families aren’t left in the dark if or when emergencies strike. It’s this sense of purpose and mission that drives the people on our team — and it also helped the company get through the really tough times we’ve been through together.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Hah! Apologies for laughing but as a venture backed startup, things frequently seem uncertain and challenging. In particular, leading our company through this past pandemic year was a massive challenge for us. Like every company, we didn’t know where this was all going to go, and so we had to be extraordinarily careful with our budgeting and figure out how to do a lot with a little. Like so many companies across the planet, we experienced plenty of moments where things seemed really uncertain and where we had to make extremely difficult decisions — and deal with all the consequences remotely. We have always been extremely honest and straightforward with our team at every step along the way — and included them in a lot of the big decisions. This challenged all of us to take incredibly good care of each other. This allowed us to keep the team together and become even closer during a time when we were, and still are, physically far apart.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
There have definitely been many sleepless nights. And moments where we truly didn’t know what the next day would bring. But we never considered giving up because what we are doing is too important. Between Adam, who is the pragmatist, and me being the eternal optimist, we truly believe there’s no problem that cannot be solved. We may not always know exactly how we’re going to solve it at that particular moment but we work together, we get creative, we talk to the team, and we take whatever time we have to sort through things and find a solution.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Being open, transparent, and unafraid to show our team what’s really going on behind the scenes and involving them in the process. It’s sometimes like a rollercoaster and if we’re having trouble seeing the tracks up ahead it’s best for everyone to understand the situation and brace themselves for uncertainty, rather than wait and see what happens and betray the trust we spent so much time building.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
When things get tough it’s always helpful to return to the mission and remind everyone of the common objective we’re trying to achieve. It’s easy to forget the purpose when everyone is bogged down in the details every day. We also never let go of our big ideas, even if there’s no obvious path to achieve them, and acknowledge that the uncertainty we encounter along the way is part of the process.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
To quote Mark Twain, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” And in this case, don’t delay difficult news, be open and direct, and try to find something positive to highlight to show a way forward.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Our whole business is built on the premise that life is unexpected. You never know what’s going to happen. For that reason you need to be prepared and make some plans based on the information you have and where you think things are going. If that direction changes, and it almost certainly will, you have to be able to make swift adjustments to keep up with whatever might come your way.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I like to say “stop saying no and start saying yes.” Let’s not talk about the one million things that could possibly go wrong; let’s think about how we can make our vision for the future happen.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
For us it’s all about our people. Our team is incredible. Develop real, deep relationships with all of your constituents. Customers, investors, partners, and other people in your network. It might seem like a person might not be an obvious choice to contact for guidance or assistance, but that’s sometimes how things actually get done. The most important thing is to always make sure your employees are the top priority. A strong team can make anything possible. Listen to them, pay attention to their needs, and work together to figure out your way to navigate through the hard times.
- Some companies feel that team culture is simply a reflection of the personality of the founder(s). But that’s not the case. A good culture is something you have to actively hone, invest in, and constantly evolve. It’s not just a byproduct of being nice.
- Some companies feel that the senior leadership determines the company direction and then delivers it to the rest of the team to achieve. We think your employees are the ones who know the business the best and it’s critically important to involve them from the beginning of strategy development. They’re often bursting with great ideas and it allows them to feel so much more vested in pursuing the collaborative roadmap.
- Some companies work too long to make an initial investment pay off. We think it’s better to work fast and test your way into a better solution.
- Skimping on snacks. In all seriousness, it can be the little things that end up going such a long way. Our team loves food — cooking, eating together, and snacks. We used to pride ourselves on having amazing snacks at the office. When we went virtual, we started a program that we lovingly call “Snack it Forward” where each month employees are given a stipend to send another employee a surprise “snack.” We have a drawing for names at the beginning of the month and a reveal where everyone has to guess their snacker at the end of the month. It’s turned into such a fun thing where we’ve all learned about each other in different ways. We’ve also gotten extremely creative to find ways to surprise your “snackee” since most deliveries have the sender’s name all over it.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Our entire business is built on the premise that you need to make sure you’re organized for any possible situation. We’re all about the contingency plan. Prior to Covid people would have thought of what we do as something that’s nice to have but not completely necessary; now people know it’s a need to have. During difficult times you have to make difficult decisions though and be willing to adapt.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
It all comes down to keeping your team on your side. Be open, honest, and clear and constantly in communication. For example, during the early days of Covid we had almost daily status update meetings with our team to let them know how we were navigating the situation. Quarantine was just starting and everyone was on edge and this helped us all push forward and remain calm during a time of panic.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
We have so many it’s hard to pick!
“Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.” — Jake the Dog from Adventure Time
“It’s easy to sit there and say you’d like to have more money. And I guess that’s what I like about it. It’s easy. Just sitting there, rocking back and forth, wanting that money.” — Deep Thoughts, Jack Handy
“If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail.” — Mark Spitz
“A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” — paraphrased General Patton
How can our readers further follow your work?
Buy a copy of our book “In Case You Get Hit By a Bus,” which is available anywhere books are sold (or go to the link incasethebook.com) and make sure to sign up for Everplans.com. Plus, we have a special deal now: if you buy the book and provide proof of purchase on our site you’ll get a free year of our service.
Facebook and LinkedIn: Everplans
Adam Seifer, Co-Founder and Co-CEO