As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan to Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Luis J. Salazar | Co-Founder and CEO — Giving Tech Labs.
Luis is the co-founder and CEO of Giving Tech Labs. They focus on creating Technology for the Public Interest — Tech4PI. He is a serial entrepreneur and Fortune 500 tech executive. He has led over 50 global tech products and startups.
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?
I got my first personal computer and created my first software venture during my senior year at college. I did not realize that would lead me to become a global executive at Xerox, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Today, I am a Tech entrepreneur and advocate of Technology for the public interest, creating Technology that solves complex societal problems.
Co-founding Giving Tech Labs with Shelly Kurtz, in partnership with Jeff and Tricia Raikes, has been the most meaningful venture ever. In the past three years, we have created seven social tech enterprises. Over sixty thousand individuals, every month, address a social issue using Technology created by one of our ventures. This includes over 1,000 agencies using VidaNyx to help child survivors of sexual abuse. We have generated seven patents, research papers, government proclamations, and new pieces of legislation.
It all started with that Personal Computer I bought back in the 80s!
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?
I learned quickly that building tech is an essential but small portion of the puzzle to solve as an entrepreneur. I created a payroll-processing software, placed classified ads (no internet back then), even bought some expensive advertising in newspapers.
Nobody called back!
I learned about Go to Market and the power of diversity by complementing myself with experts who are much better than me in areas that are not my core areas of strength.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I read a lot! Last year my challenge was to read 55 books and beat Bill Gates, who reportedly reads 50 per year. You can see the full list here: 55 Books to Read in one year.
My top 3 are How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky, Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson and Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time, and the Beauty That Causes Havoc by Arthur J. Miller.
For the record, I heard from a reliable source that Bill barely made it to 50 last year!
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
We run our company based on the concept of IKIGAI. It is the Japanese term for something that I like to translate as “your reason for waking up every morning.” There is extensive coverage on the topic by my co-founder Shelly Kurtz if you listen to the Interview in Ikigai Stories Podcast.
Our ikigai is to help address complex problems in society with Technology for the Public Interest, or #tech4pi.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
I live every day by the concept of IKIGAI: Do something that you love, something the world needs, something you can get paid for, and something you are good at.
As long as the answer to those four questions is always the same: your current business or occupation, then all the ups and downs are just a fun ride.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The biggest challenge is facing the unknown, the fear that comes with that. It is fear that manifests itself in multiple layers: are my loved ones going to die? Are we going to have money to survive the storm? Am I going to be able to provide for all? How long will this last? What can I do?
Taking action from a place of fear can result in uninformed decisions that can make a company, a family, or an individual take on a treacherous path.
The first step was to get educated. It became challenging due to the immense void in science-based leadership and the confusion created by social media and the politicization of the pandemic.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
To buy time, we reduced expenses and renegotiated our mortgages to take money out. We bought time to define the right next steps carefully and avoid letting people go.
As a company, we made a bold decision to accelerate the launch of our incubation scheduled for the fall: X4Impact. We realized that the company we envisioned was more relevant than ever in a post-COVID-19 recovery. We also decided to make it free for all.
X4Impact is a free market intelligence platform for social innovation with insights to create and scale Technology for the Public Interest. It is an online hub to find social challenges, existing tech solutions for nonprofits, and funding sources to collaborate in the creation of social innovation.
This online hub was made possible by Giving Tech Labs in partnership with Microsoft, WE Communications, CWI Labs, and other leading organizations. We want to empower all to become change makers and social innovators.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I cannot think of a great answer as I face my demons every single night. This pandemic is a new situation for all of us. I found that active listening, compassion, and inclusion go a long way.
I often tell my team that it is OK to feel anxiety; it is OK to face depression, anger, and frustration. We also discuss the blessing of working on trying to solve significant problems in society. Doing well while doing good is a powerful combination, and it brings some peace of mind.
We also openly discuss the importance of being well informed. To rely on science, and stay as far as possible from Social Media.
Social Media is the greater danger that society faces. It is a Petri dish for misleading information and anxiety-inducing content, created with good intentions, sometimes, by fearful or insecure individuals, and with ill intentions by orchestrated efforts in other cases.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Many large-scale tech companies were born during the 2008 recession, and I firmly believe we will see the birth of great social tech companies that will drive impact at scale post-COVID-19. It is a key reason for us to bring X4Impact as a free market data intelligence tool to spark social innovation.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I do believe we will go through a renaissance. Many economic principles will be shattered and there is a serious, meaningful, and urgent call to real social justice, equity, and equality. I expect us to go through some significant and lasting positive changes as a global society due to this crisis. The change was past due, and the pandemic acted as a catalyst.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We are doubling down on creating sustainable, impactful, and efficient enterprises anchored on Technology for the Public Interest.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Get educated on COVID-19 and the crucial challenges we face related to social justice, inclusion, economic mobility, and a displaced workforce. Embrace a new definition of learning, education, and online collaboration. Get inspired to work with others to address our urgent social issues.
In our case, we will focus on technology as an enabler. Still, we need changes in multiple dimensions, including progressive legislation towards an evolved society that emerges from a pandemic that acted as a catalyst for many social justice changes that are past due.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Fall in love with death, not from a place of darkness, but from a place of living in the moment and always doing your best as life goes by fast, and death is the great equalizer as it is the destination for us all.
How can our readers further follow your work?