As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Moodi Mahmoud.
Moodi is Founder and CEO of NEXT, Business Design software trusted by high performing organizations. Rooted in design thinking and lean methods, NEXT let’s clients spot opportunities in unmet customer needs, invent breakthrough concepts that everyone loves. Clients include Takeda, BNP Paribas, Otis Elevators, and Deloitte.
Prior to NEXT, Moodi was Vice President for Optimal, a private equity-backed SAP solutions provider, where he was part of the management team that raised $100 million to accelerate Optimal’s growth and international expansion resulting in the company’s acquisition by NTT Data Corporation. Moodi joined Optimal after the successful acquisition in 2008 of KBMS, a leading provider of SAP-based solutions he founded in 2005. Moodi started his first technology success in his McGill dorm room in 1999 building Canada’s #1 online classified ads company, Uswap.com. Moodi studied for his undergraduate at MIT and McGill University. He holds an MBA from INSEAD.
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 started my first venture, Uswap.com, from my McGill dorm room during the internet boom in 1999. Uswap was a class project turned startup that we grew from a hack to the #1 online classifieds company in Canada. Students and then young adults used our platform to buy and sell used goods.
When I signed up for the Entrepreneurship 101 class in my last year at McGill, I had no idea I would be coming out the other end with everything to write an amazing chapter of my life: a cofounder, a product idea, and the funding required to go for it — we raised funding for the company from the people our professor had invited to ‘judge’ our final presentation!
We successfully exited Uswap in 2003 and without a doubt that experience has shaped me as a person and the follow-up ventures I’ve done to date.
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?
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
“Questions Are the Answer” by Hal Gregersen.
I was a very curious child. I was always pointing at stuff and asking questions. My parents were always eager to answer and encourage my sense of discovery. As I grew up, I came to see myself as a bit of a misfit in a world designed to standardization and repetition.
My curiosity wasn’t always welcome in school where you have to fit into the curriculum. The same was true for my summer jobs and internship experiences.
Starting Uswap really changed my life trajectory — but it wasn’t until a much more recent experience that I gained consciousness of this trajectory. While studying for my MBA at INSEAD, I met Hal Gregersen — now Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center. He was researching the power of questions and had started a 4/24 project aimed at creating awareness of the power of taking 4 minutes per 24 hours to write down some question — kind of a question storming exercise.
Hal’s research resulted in a recently-published book titled “Questions Are the Answer”. In the book, he puts forth the power of asking good questions and the value of curiosity and a beginners’ mindset — especially in a world of change and transformation.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Our purpose has always been to unleash the creativity that lives in us all — the world needs it.
When we started NEXT, an increasing number of organizations were wanting to innovate and transform, but somehow innovation was limited to a very small group of people — the ones in the Innovation Lab who wore jeans and sneakers to the office. If you were a relationship manager at a bank, then innovation just wasn’t something for you.
The result was lots of innovation theater — that is, workshops, hackathons, and idea jams, but not much progress in creating frictionless and delightful experiences.
Innovation isn’t something one is born with. Innovation is a science rooted in the best practices of design thinking and lean methodology — this stuff has been around since 1969. That’s why @OccupyInnovation emerged. We started NEXT to codify these practices and principles of innovation via a digitally-guided application that enables anyone to identify unmet needs in the world and create breakthrough concepts that others will love.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
My #1 principle is to nurture my inner child and stay curious.
Other principles all very much flowing from this sense of curiosity are:
- Embrace the blankness: I love to create from scratch.
- Be optimistic: tomorrow can be better than yesterday
- Love teamwork: make others successful
You won’t be surprised to know that the above are also very much the core value of NEXT.
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?
Social distancing, keeping away from our parents, and not seeing friends and loved ones has been a real challenge for me and my wife. Even if digital communication technologies have been in my work life for a long time, it felt pretty weird Zooming with our parents. It took us a while to adjust but Zoom drinks with friends and endless FaceTime video calls with parents has proven good enough — for now.
The other challenge has been maintaining physical health and energy levels. My morning routines included an outdoor run or exercise before heading to the office. It gave me the boost of energy I had grown accustomed to to have productive days. Working from home broke that pattern. After two weeks of messy morning routines, we decided to clean up our roof terrace… and, hello Nike Training!
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?
Working from home and remotely has been in the DNA of NEXT since it was founded. As the world went remote, we realized that while remote work was second nature to us, our partners or clients weren’t as comfortable. We took it upon us to develop routines to frame all interactions — that is, better online meeting preparation and follow-up.
I must admit that in the process, we realized that we should apply the same discipline to our previously-thought-to-be-great internal meetings — and productivity increased dramatically.
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?
Love overcomes anything. My wife and I have made time to be there for our friends, family, and loved ones and to make sure they know we love them, are thinking of them, and are there for them — even if we’re unable to get together physically.
We’ve also joined a number of grassroots initiatives that distribute and serve home cooked meals to frontline healthcare professionals and elderly. Love will prevail.
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?
At NEXT, we’re in the business of helping organizations address change. I’ve spent the past weeks speaking with many clients and there is a common thread emerging:
- Everything is digital
In a few weeks, digital went mainstream in ways never seen before. We fast-forwarded decades of adoption and propagation of digital technologies to overcome the physical distancing required of us. Grandparents now have Zoom accounts that they use to speak to their grandkids worldwide. Getting into a room became getting into a Zoom. Under this folklore, there is a profound change as organizations go digital to enable their functions and processes, schools go digital to enable remote education, and healthcare professionals adopt digital technologies to enable remote care provision. I can’t think of a single industry that hasn’t embraced the digital wave.
- Refocus on what matters
Sectors like education and healthcare will come out of Covid-19 with a renewed sense of focus and attention. These sectors are the fundamental pillars of humanity and had taken the backseat to some other industries as we lost our focus. Now, however, they are being re-prioritized and appreciated.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
As the no-contact, low-touch, 6-feet-distance economy emerges — and sticks — we will have to reinvent most, if not all, of our everyday experiences. It may be shopping, work, or vacationing, but nothing will be like before. This doesn’t mean the ‘new normal’ has to be inferior to the previous one. Innovation can provide a path for us to create a #betternormal, in which I aspire to see us design out some of the friction of our pre-Covid world.
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?
First and foremost, I aim to establish the Covid-19 outbreak as a collective reminder for us to maintain a sense of humility, readiness, and service. Constant is never. And we must never forget that everything, literally everything, can change from one day to the next.
As a provider of digital technologies to support innovation and transformation, we’ve experienced tremendous growth as a result of the outbreak. We’ve responded to increased demand from our existing clients wanting to keep projects going and teams productive. We’ve also onboarded new organizations seeking to establish a future-proof approach to their innovation and business transformation ambitions.
While we go through hypergrowth in this remote-only environment, we’re also planning for a post-Covid world in which hybrid work patterns (combination of remote and collocated) will require us to further bake our digital capabilities into the fabric of our clients’ everyday lives.
In the same way that Covid has pushed the physical to embrace the digital, a post-Covid world will require the digital to embrace the physical.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Stay curious and ready. Covid is a boomerang — that is, it has forced you to act in response to its arrival and it will require you to react as the post-Covid lands. And if the “hammer and the dance” projections become reality, we’ll have to do this all over again in the fall, in the winter, and in the spring, until we have a vaccine.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
To keep with the times, I recently heard this from Arianna Huffington and felt inspired:
Every day I get out of bed to rise up and do better.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I often publish articles on LinkedIn. Follow me here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/moodimahmoudi/