Ep 6- Keith Thode- Mission Critical: Using Cutting Edge Technologies to Feed, Educate and Empower the Vulnerable

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Keith Thode is CEO and Chief Scientist of AdvanceNet Labs.  Keith, a self-proclaimed nerd, makes use of for-profit technologies to help empower vulnerable populations to transform their lives.  

I started my business because . . . It was a moral imperative… and my wife believed in me.

The thing I enjoy most about my business is . . . We have an incredible community of staff, clients and supporters. Together, we make a difference every day.

The biggest surprise for me as a business owner is . . . how much relationships matter, and, how little most entrepreneurs talk about money.

My desire to help the vulnerable comes from . . . my faith… God has provided me an innate joy from doing what He requires,  which is to “Love God, Love Others”.

One thing I wish I knew when I was younger is . . . how fast it all goes by… Carpe Diem!

Hear Keith share more of his rich wisdom and insight on today’s LIFT Speaks.

Introduction

Female Speaker: Hi guys! I’m glad that you are all here today for lunch at LIFT. We have Tom Miller and –  he’s going to be interviewing Keith Thode. And so, I’ll let you to take it from there. Welcome.

Tom Miller: Perfect. Perfect. Yeah.

Keith Thode: Thank you.

Tom Miller: And thank you LIFT Office and Facebook people out there. So Keith, Chief – CEO and Chief Scientist at AdvanceNet Labs.

Keith Thode: That’s right.

Tom Miller: That’s a mouthful. So I want to understand a little bit more about the CEO and Chief Scientist thing. But first, thanks for coming on. So, Vanderbilt undergraduate degree, Texas A&M Masters. How did you go from Tennessee to Texas, which is by the way is a great progression from state to state.

Keith Thode: That’s right. And it’s happened a lot, all the time.

Tom Miller: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Keith Thode: It’s David Brackett so – right.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: Yeah, right. So I actually grew up in the Northeastern Boston and Upstate New York. And I was actually at a management camp. I was a local scholarship kid in a kind of a rural community that – for management camp and my cabin mate – you may have heard Dollar General Stores?

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: Well, it’s Cal Turner, III. So his dad is Cal Turner, Jr., who will flew in on his helicopter to come lecture us on management principles. And he said, “So you should really look at Nashville at Vanderbilt.” And I grew up in the North like couple of our Colorado friends here and went down to visit Vanderbilt around this time of year and barely got out of New York because of the snow storm and could play golf in my T-shirt and shorts. And I said “I don’t have to be cold anymore.”

Tom Miller:  And the South look pretty good.

Keith Thode: The South looks pretty good. So I went to school in Nashville, Tennessee.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: And then family things. Eventually, after some stents in Chicago, and Hong Kong, and Korea, ended up here because of family business.

Tom Miller: Oh cool! OK. So, I know you as the cool guy that I met through Chuck Finney and you know, you’re personable and engaging and you have good conversations. And we all got this perception, those kind of the scientist types as not that.

Keith Thode: Uh-huh.

Tom Miller: But now I hear that you went to a management camp like in high school.

Keith Thode: Uh-huh.

Tom Miller: So there is really like a real inner geek that you got it on up there. Huh?

Keith Thode:  Definitely the inner geeks for a long time. Right, that’s right.

Tom Miller: OK. So now, fast-forward. You know you got a career in consulting and hop around the world a little bit. CEO and Chief Scientist of AdvanceNet Labs. Talk about your current role and what you’re doing.

Keith Thode: Sure. Sure. So AdvanceNet Labs, we – basically, our premises that the for-profit world has develop these technologies and ways to doing business that have really been beneficial for most to society. And it’s raised the standard of living of everybody in this room. So how do you take those same capabilities and apply them to people for whom the economy hasn’t quite work for yet?

Tom Miller: Mmm. Mmm.

Keith Thode: Right. Basically, our premises that the for-profit world has develop these technologies and ways to doing business that have really been beneficial for most to society. And it’s raised the standard of living of everybody in this room. So how do you take those same capabilities and apply them to people for whom the economy hasn’t quite work for yet?

Tom Miller: When did that start to hit your radar? When do this switch flip for-profit world to business in a nonprofit benefitting populations that are struggling?

Keith Thode: Yeah. So the – from pretty early age, actually, from a personal concept. So – and my – when I was in high school, I was a musician. And actually – and my high school plan was – well, I was a good musician but not a great musician. But I’ve always been good at organizing things. And so my original goal was to be the business manager of a symphony. And that –

Tom Miller: Boston Pops or?

Keith Thode: Well, probably second tier like Philadelphia or something, right?

Tom Miller: OK. Right. Yeah.

Keith Thode: Where they would let you play. I’m going to have to play like third chair but then I would run the books and the business…

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: …so that’s – that was – so I always thought I would be in the place to organize – those organizational concepts.

Tom Miller: Mmm. Mmm.

Keith Thode: I went to my first job at a consultancy called Accenture. And basically went there because part of the promise was you’d learn so much in a very short amount of time.

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: And my goal was always to kind of from a pretty young age to go learn enough and earn enough at the same time. Not that necessarily I could retire…

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: …well actually, a little later than now, five years from now. But that my kid’s college will be paid for and things like that and I could work for not very much doing, at the time, I thought we finance some business administration type work.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: So, yeah. And then I was working for a software company and doing logistics work. So the movement of goods, of raw materials to making products and then getting them out to the store.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: I was working for a company doing that. And one of the other employees said, “Boy, I really wish I had this technology in my last role with the DOD doing relief work in Kosovo. We should really donate this software in the nonprofit world.”

Tom Miller: Wow.

Keith Thode: Yeah. And it was just – I wish I was brilliant – the brilliant guy who came up with it, I wasn’t. But I just thought that was amazing. I was a volunteer in the company foundation at that time.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: So I helped start this Concord’s project to actually make that happen.

Tom Miller: OK.

Keith Thode: And eventually, a lot of that was being funded by the company. I was volunteering my time but we had a paid team working on it.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: Well, if you follow software companies, they often do well and then not so well.

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Humbled Beginnings

Keith Thode: So as that starting to happen, that team had to pull back and the foundation staff said, “Well, what are we going to do?” and the team said, “Well, Keith’s doing it for free, so maybe he’ll do it full time for not very much.”

Keith Thode: And, my wife is very generous and believes in you know, us doing the good work.

Tom Miller: So they doubled your free salary…

Keith Thode: Exactly.  Yes.

Tom Miller: …and off you went to work somewhere.

Keith Thode: Yeah, right. So I got to do it for not very much.

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: Became the CFO of that foundation.

Tom Miller: OK.

Keith Thode: As a vehicle to incubate what became a company called –  nonprofit – called Aidmatrix.

Tom Miller: OK.

Keith Thode: And, over the time of our session today, a million pounds of food is going to get delivered over the systems that our team built.

Tom Miller: Oh, cool. When did that start?

Keith Thode: …ten years ago.

Tom Miller: Wow. That is so cool.

Keith Thode: Yeah.

Tom Miller: Yeah. Well, that’s good.

Keith Thode: Yeah, I feel like just as you think about innovating things you do in your life, I mean from my career perspective, I feel like I’m playing with kind of house money if one thing as it continues to go and do well.

Tom Miller: Yeah. Oh, that’s so cool.

Keith Thode: Yeah

Tom Miller: Yeah. Yeah, kill it. So in AdvanceNet Labs, what are some examples of projects that you’re working on now?

Keith Thode: Yeah, great. So the – so for example – and we have things that have more of commercial application and things that more or just – they’re just going to help people.

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: And we just try again to be just barely financially sustainable. And one that falls into the latter bucket is we have – we’ve developed a set of technologies including an app called SafeNight.  And you know with that, people who downloaded our app help solve a problem that about 40 percent of the time when someone calls a shelter – usually, they are told, “I’m sorry, the shelter is full.” Or “You have a teenage son, the shelter can’t take him in.”

And so now, instead of saying no, the shelter can say “Hold on a minute.” And put an alert out over our app. And if you download the app, the thing will ping you and say, “If you give me $60 I could put somebody in the room tonight instead of leaving them on the street. Will you make the donation?”

Tom Miller: Mmm. That’s cool.

Keith Thode: So, yeah. So that’s an example we do some work there then we do some more sophisticated things around “rare blood matching.” So, and again, there’s big commercial systems for trading generally, kits you know, the B+ blood and giving to someone who needs it. But if you have a very rare condition or you’re highly sensitive to go find a very specific match of blood that’s genotype to be pretty exact match to what you need, there’s not a lot of money you’ve been made in that. And so there wasn’t big – these big commercial systems built.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: So to the leading – they had – medically that the blood centers in New York and Seattle and I got together and built a little system to make that work.

Tom Miller: Wow. Cool.

Keith Thode: And get those units match to people who need it. And now we’ve got picked up by the American Association of Blood Banks and it’s –

Tom Miller: When you say picked up today, are they using it, monetizing it, how does that, how does that perpetuate the work that you do at AdvanceNet Labs?

Keith Thode: Yeah, excellent. So originally, the docs and I – so they were doctors, so we have the – like we built the technology but also, all the business planning and that sort of thing. But then we found – we actually got some pretty good recognition in an industry journal.

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: And then the American Association of Blood Banks called us up and said, “We had some similar operations, we would really love to take this over.” And so now, how this works from an operational arrangement is that they market it, they receive most or some of the moneys and then we get kind of fix them out to continue operating and continuously improving the tech platform.

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: So now, they are running the business side of it.

Tom Miller: So, there’s a question that keeps coming into my mind, so often, I want to generalize a little bit, so often when we – big universal, we think about doing good things, it stopped and to pick up the piece of a litter or it’s donating you know, to do. So it’s saying yes to that $60.79 was that one thing.

Keith Thode: Yeah. Yeah.

Tom Miller: It seems like such a challenge to create scale around that and you’ve done that multiple times. How do you – what are the typical chatter – what goes through your head – what I’m wondering is, how do you think to – I will pick a piece of trash but create an organization that will do good and scale like that, so to say a million pounds of food in the hour we’re going to be doing this?

Keith Thode: Yeah

Tom Miller: That’s huge.

Keith Thode: Right.

Tom Miller: What’s the – how do you think? What goes through your head on that?

Keith Thode: Yeah, you really have to put a couple of different lenses on it. You do have to bring what I will call some traditional business or operational thinking to it because you can’t take every good project that comes down the pike.

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: We do a mix – like I said, we do some things that we know will never be out of financial return.

Tom Miller: Right.

The Science Behind It All

Keith Thode: And we have – so do some things that we think how they – we can maybe get this up and kind of –

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: Technology is expensive to build and to put in, sounds expensive –

Tom Miller: But then once you get it up – yeah, there it goes. Right.

Keith Thode: So a lot of our – how it goes with our thinking is looking at that analysis of how can we build something and you said the word “scale” which is critical, right? How can we build something that we think we can help bring scale to the sector?

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: And then, when it’s at scale to our cost of running it and our revenue that we can generate out of it at least to equal up.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: And then we have some things like in the education and workforce development space where we actually believe there’s a lot of profitability to be had at the same time. And so in that case, we’ve actually started in July a for-profit company and we’ve got – we’re out seeking seed capital and that’s a new world for me. We’ve got some seed funding and we’re talking to venture capital firms and kind of like

Tom Miller: Can you talk about the for-profit step for us so –

Keith Thode: Yeah.

Tom Miller: What is it – what is it – what you’ve done?

Keith Thode: Yeah. So with that, we’re really focused on educating and employing people on the margins. So being back to our premise, you know, how does Bank of America, UPS, Neiman Marcus, how do they educate their employees? They don’t bring them all into a room. And like at the Bank of America or down the street here, they don’t bring the new employee into the room and the manager reads from a PowerPoint the same thing and then – and deals with them all in person and then the next person comes in just to stop what she’s doing. No, but in the nonprofit world, a lot of our training works that way.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: So we brought the tools, in fact, the same exact core system. For example, Bank of America uses to help train people. They are bringing e-mentoring platform. And now just like the Bank of America where 80 percent of their training is online and maybe 15 percent of their training is online but I’m just sitting on my desk and listen while somebody from San Francisco talks to me live kind of like today.

Tom Miller: Right. Right.

Keith Thode: And five percent of it is – there’s the bathroom, there’s Chuck, he gets sleepy after four. Don’t ask him math questions then. And you know, those – that type of stuff.

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: So how do you apply that to vulnerable populations like our returning military vets?

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: We doing something with Easterseals and returning military vets. Or, you know, people have been through some kind of addiction and kind of skilled up and then also get electronic dossier of them of all their work and experiences…

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: …so that employers can go look for them and they can look at somebody they wouldn’t have looked at before.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: But, and there’s two elements to that is A, because they don’t have a Western degree, right? They have – and they came from some other background.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: But, it’s also currently you know, the nonprofit world tries to get the corporate world to hire their people by, “Oh, let me email my resume.”

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: OK, nobody hires that way anymore. Right, I mean corporations log in to systems. They do searches an analysis and pull it right. And so now we’ve got systems that can talk like that…

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: …so that they can look at people at scale.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: We talked about scale. As more – the more little groups we bring on, our community colleges…

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm. Yup.

Keith Thode: …and nonprofit groups, the bigger our database gets.

Tom Miller: Nice.

Keith Thode: And the more valuable that is to the employer is to say it’s worth it.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: So a group we worked with in South Dallas, those tech training. All on their own, they’ve got 15 graduates every 12 weeks. It’s great. But it’s 15 graduates. Does AT&T really going to take their time…

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: …to go look – I mean to look at their email, resume? No.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: Right, but now if I can log in as AT&T and see alike programs at all around the country and do heat mapping between myself, what my needs are and what’s in the database, it becomes good business for me.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: And so it’s another critical point as we look at the sustainability is how can we bring in the corporate sector and not just how do we tell, can we talk them into it, but how do we make it good business for them.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: So on the food bank side those first systems, like it’s now profitable for those food companies to donate their SharePlus food.

Tom Miller: Tax credits or –

Keith Thode: …to a net operating profit after taxes standpoint.

Tom Miller: OK. Right.

Keith Thode: Right? So we’ve optimized the value proposition to one of our bigger ones. You know, had a whole team out converting plans to using our system.

Tom Miller: Huh.

Keith Thode: Because, it was – they got to do good. It was actually profitable for them.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: They can invest their time and money. So, one of the things we kind of bring to philanthropy and – is how do we make it good business for our corporations. When we do that, then you get permanently sustainable things.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: I get to say the system we built 15 years ago is often continuously running, right?

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: Because it’s creating real value for each of the parties.

Tom Miller: I love that thinking. I think – because that is you know, we think –well, you could look at that anyways while you’re giving them a reason to seem to be selfish and that.

Keith Thode: Yeah.

Tom Miller: No, it’s – everybody wins and you’re going to get more…

Keith Thode: Right.

Tom Miller: …money, more funds, more interest. And sometimes, I mean I’m guessing or let you answer. Is it about – is it more about money or is it more about interest? Would you rather have AT&T’s money or would you rather have their focus?

Keith Thode: Yeah, the focus is the long-term.

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: Right, and we need seed money from different places. We can go to a wider variety of sources for – let’s call it seed funding. We get projects off the ground…

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: …private foundations and things like that.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: And – but in general, if we can have a combination ideally from a corporation of their money and their people you know, and some of their core capabilities like their training or their – but we want to get out of the philanthropy department…

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm. Right.

Keith Thode: …and into the business units.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: Right, because that’s where the stuff is permanently sustainable.

Tom Miller: Right. What are the – when you go to a new business, to say, I think we’ve got an idea that we think can help your business and you can feel great about what you’re doing subconscious capitalism that I love to kind of does that. What are the key things they are looking for? What are the first three things that you want to share with them about what you’re doing and how they can respond?

Keith Thode: Mm-hmm. So I would say, you know, the first thing is being pretty clear about your mission and what you’re doing. But pretty quickly after that, they’re showing that you understand their business and how they make money and how they make impact.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: And who’s important to that.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: A lot of times this value change. We’re talking about just AT&T for example. AT&T spends a lot of money with a lot of other companies. Understanding those relationships is going to be very helpful. And – you know, but then you know, the third thing is employee engagement.

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: So I’ll give you the four of it. And as employee engagement…

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: …right, and that happens pretty – how can my employees be involved? Because, well, some of the business case may take time, most organizations have employees that not to do something good.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: Right. But it’s just hard. We talk about the mentoring piece you’re talking. But it’s hard just to drive to South Dallas every Thursday and like…

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: …you know, how can we make it easy for their employees to engage, which is you know, it’s helpful because the corporation has your metrics and such. But also, it helps make that employee sticky to their employer. I mean, employee-employer relationships are so fractured these days. People don’t stay places very long.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: If they believe their employers are some place special, they will stay longer.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: Part of how you do that is showing that real connection with the community.

Tom Miller: Mmm. And giving people choices about…

Keith Thode: Yeah.

Tom Miller: …and if so I want to pick up trash, now I can scale that across the system that you’ve –

Keith Thode: If I want to pick up trash, that’s great. If I want to use my accounting skill or my –

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: Right? Then there’s opportunities that pay as well.

Tom Miller: Cool.

Keith Thode: And so that skills-based volunteering we call that.

Tom Miller: Oh, cool.

Keith Thode: Yeah. And then the fourth thing is how do you make the long – what’s the long-term partnership…

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: …mutual benefit? Yeah, and to the extent that we can – I mean, it’s a real – it’s what makes long-term success. And all – and it’s also a different, honestly, from other people trying to talk to that company, most of them are trying to talk to them and about that final pillar.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm. And what do you share from the AdvanceNet Labs perspective about the benefit of a long-term partnership with you and your company?

Keith Thode: Yeah. I think a lot of it is that is under a general standpoint is that we understand both sides.

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: Right? And so we understand how to create that long-term relationship that has the business rules that works for everybody. And it’s just most people from – and most of the time in the philanthropic sector, they don’t have that deep understanding. And so it’s two different worlds and so you’ll only end up dealing with the – that’s only have to be the part then.

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: So I think when we can have that alignment of vision, and mutual benefit like you called it, right? being pretty clear about your mission and what you’re doing. But pretty quickly after that, the

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm. Mmm.

Keith Thode: Right, then specific projects can fall out. They can involve our tech or not our tech, just our relationships or it have to be, right? But it’s about you know, that strategic relationship of the client.

Tom Miller: Mmm. So as you scan the horizon, the business part of you, you know, you’ve been part of solving for feeding people. You’ve been part of solving for getting people a roof over their heads in a difficult situation. What do you think are the coming challenges that are on your radar you think “Gosh, we’ve got to respond to this issue. you know, this is coming, I need to be developing software systems or something, a tool to go address this?”

Keith Thode: Mm-hmm. That’s – so the biggest piece there is the education piece.

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: Right? So there’s both the economic opportunities there. But it’s also our next great – like why are they hungry in the first place? How can we make systematic change? And you know, our constraints are this whole idea of not working at scale.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: Right? So how do we create those connections? Our labor markets are going to – as we – when we have – you know, we’re at a time where – like in this country, we have very low statistical unemployment. We also have the lowest participation in the workforce in a very long time. And that’s – to me, that’s a problematic.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: Right? It’s a – you know –

Tom Miller: People is giving up. Is that what you see?

Keith Thode: Yeah, people have given up whether from age or their social situation…

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: …and right. And so they’re just not – choosing not to participate.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: And we really lose – not to get on myself actually. But we’re losing our very fabric.

Tom Miller: This is your soapbox, right?

Keith Thode: You know, if we’re not – I mean, there is value in work, right? And there’s dignity in work and you know, we both our friends, you know, our age and slightly older who feel like you can see that that’s happen or they feel like their working role has passed them by.

Tom Miller: Sure. Sure.

Keith Thode: Right? And so it happens to – in all places in the spectrum. You know, but there’s also – it’s also a time of tremendous opportunity because work is becoming more fractioned.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: Right? And so how do we – and we sort of feel like there’s a tipping point. I mean, you’re sitting here and let’s take our city just down the street, your Dallas, Texas, right?

Tom Miller: Right. Right.

Keith Thode: Where you got 40 percent of the population is living within a 150 percent of the poverty line.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: Right, which I tell you is still pretty darn poor.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: I mean it’s just – I mean, you know, and it doesn’t matter your political affiliation. The Republican Mayor of Dallas will tell you – spoke in a poverty conference saying, “This is not sustainable. We cannot have an economy like this and a community like this with so many people disenfranchised.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: Right. So – so that’s the fear and that’s the oppor – and the challenge and the opportunity as work is going to become more and more smaller by connecting the right people at the right time. You know, young people want to have to do more – choose to do more freelancing work.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: Right. So it’s creating – it’s forcing those or demanding labor to actually look at this more creative solution.

Tom Miller: Right. So it’s just sort of that slang term, “The geek economy.”

Keith Thode: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Investing In the Future

Tom Miller: You know, sharing economy. And so you think – that’s what I hear in you saying, fewer people in payrolls perhaps that more job opportunities if you got the skills to meet a specific niche in the marketplace.

Keith Thode: Absolutely. It’s going to be – and so how do we create people that are ready for those niches?

Tom Miller: Right

Keith Thode: Right. And it’s a you know, and – I mean, in a big macro way, no matter what happens with computers and other stuff like where talent constraint.

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: Right? So if we can raise more talent and right size talent…

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: …right, then we can provide economic – economic and dignity opportunities for huge amounts for society. And it’s not just – they are not just about that. It’s about or corporate sectors achieving their potential

Tom Miller: Right. They need – yeah, they need people with this. So this raising the level of talent, that’s where you’re coming in with education, with training, with the system that can intervene and impact.

So what does that look? So we’ve got some guests from Western State Colorado University, some students there at a traditional university getting the kind of education that you and I got in a traditional sense of a way.

Keith Thode: Yeah.

Tom Miller: What is an education look like in your mind in terms of meeting the need in that sector that needs an education that might not be able to go to Western State…

Keith Thode: Right.

Tom Miller: …or wherever?

Keith Thode: Yeah. So the – you know, the principles – so a couple of principles are you know, learning on demand.

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: So as you’re available, as you’re able, and short-time to value, I mean, the idea that tells somebody on the margins, that slipping on the margins, “Hey, if you will just go do get this two-year degree, just do this full time for two years, then your life will be so much better.” It doesn’t work.”

Tom Miller: I got two days.

Keith Thode: Yeah. Right. I kept trying to make it paycheck to paycheck.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: And my car breaks down, my mom gets sick. And now, they’ve invested however many months like money in. I mean, so –

Tom Miller: And we have a loan and now…

Keith Thode: Yeah. Yeah. Right

Tom Miller: Just gets worse. Right.

Keith Thode: Gets worse and worse. So short time, this business term, short-time to value. How can we get somebody equipped for work in this economy that pays a living wage, right, as quickly as possible and then give them opportunities to move up? And by the way, those opportunities aren’t necessarily going to be provided by us all the time.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: So let’s take medial. Somebody wants to be a nurse– you know, I’ve – a young person I’ve had a relationship with growing up want to be a nurse you know. And you – but I know people and she didn’t have a lot of money so she bar-tendered her way through getting her nursing degree. OK.

Tom Miller: Sound familiar?

Keith Thode: Yeah. All right. What if instead, she got it – we quickly got her trained up with a cert and she became a certified MedTech.

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: And she’s probably actually making only the same where’s it’s like less money. But she’s – you know but she’s in the field.

Tom Miller: In the field. Right, being seen by the docs and the hiring people. Yeah. Yeah.

Keith Thode: Absolutely. You know, keep – and then she’s – continues to work on her education. Well, it’s not very wrong if she’s a good worker. These days are such a star for talent that, should lean forward help pay for some of that, flights and directions for that.

Tom Miller: Mmm. Mmm.

Keith Thode: And by the way, you’re figuring out whether you actually like this or not. So those are couple principles. The other one is to really focus on you know, for this type of education, the training that the markets demanding, right? So, I mean, our personal choice on what you choose to do in career spot. So rather than taking – no offense to our professors, but the – hearing from what the professor thinks people ought to be learning.

OK if I want a job, with AT&T’s just like what we’ve talked about,

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: What if I take AT&T’s training? How about the training  AT&T is already giving to their employees?

Tom Miller: Yup.

Keith Thode: So we’re taking, we have the systems to push or receive that from them and push it out.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: And so there are some other great innovations happening outside of what we’re doing.

Tom Miller: Mmm. Right.

Keith Thode: We take the very systems type approach, but even in Dallas school district just to stay with the example, the AT&T, there are AT&T sponsoring 200 seats on a high school…

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: …where kids signed up a s freshmen. And for the four years, they do a very specific curriculum and when they’re done, they get associate’s degree. So when they graduate high school, they have finished also with an associate’s degree and they run this very specific curriculum from AT&T but they are guaranteed an interview with AT&T.

Tom Miller: Nice.

Keith Thode: Yeah. Because they’ve been trained – the industry has dictated.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: But that’s only 200 sites. Right, and there’s maybe 2500 sites right now across DIST, across tens of thousands of students. So how do we –

Tom Miller: Jump. Yeah.

Keith Thode: Jump? Yeah, Technology.

Tom Miller: Cool, very cool.

Keith Thode: Yeah.

Tom Miller: So what’s it like? I – you know, your passion. It was just out of view and that your vision for this. What’s it like to work for AdvanceNet Labs and to work for Keith Thode? What are the kind of people that come to work with you and your organization?

Keith Thode: Yeah. We have – because of what we do, we attract some real unique talent.

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: So a diverse set of talent because as you said in the beginning, you know, the inner nerds kind of look at me, “Oh, that’s pretty cool.”

Keith Thode: “I would like to do some of that.”

Tom Miller: I get this guy.

Keith Thode: I get this guy, right?

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: So that’s really helpful. And I’ll say that people that do well are entrepreneurial.

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: At the phase we’re in, and the size we’re in, we have a lot of – there’s a lot of independence and there’s a lot of dependents on you having an owner mentality. So – and it’s a business cycle phase. Right?

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: We’re two years in to the main operation the company– and the company started in July. So you know, the place we worked before, when we started – I started the first – the Food Banking work…

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: …15, 16 years ago. The joke was, there’s six of us programmers sitting around and the other five looked at me and said, “You’re a pretty bad programmer. Why don’t you go raise some money?”

Keith Thode: And so, that’s how I got to be the boss.

Tom Miller:  They still talk about you behind your back at least they tell you directly, “You go do that, we got this.” Yeah.

Keith Thode: One of them still works for me across four companies 16 years later.

Tom Miller: Right. Right.

Keith Thode: Yeah. Yeah, so – but, and it was very indep – but that grew to be a hundred-person company.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: And that – right, and that became a more diverse workforce.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: So the – and with people who were kind of more like the fact that it was stable and had a stable paycheck and they had good benefits package and all that stuff through them.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: You know, we’re in a more entrepreneurial phase. You have a lot of independence. And we’re starting transitioning because we’re getting larger.

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: It’s actually one of the challenges I guess probably all of the entrepreneurs have is you’re trying to – as you keep looking at hiring. Do I hire somebody that reinforces me and the culture or do I hire somebody that’s complimentary to me?

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: Right, but there’s a little bit of less direct alignment.

Tom Miller: Yeah. Yeah. What have you done to shape culture inside your company? I mean, I hear you, the way that you’re choosing to hire people and kind of people that might compliment or people that might think differently, or do think differently than you.

Keith Thode: Yeah.

Tom Miller: What are some things that you’re doing to engage them as quickly as possible?

Keith Thode: Mm-hmm. So at first, we sell on mission. In terms of selling to get people to come like when we sell on mission. And then, we get a lot of exposure to all of the other employees. They kind of get a feel whether this is going to work. We bring people in and get them. We have an opportunity a lot of times where people will volunteer. We have somebody right now just starting to engage. And most of the people that work for us volunteered in something.

Tom Miller: Huh. Cool.

Keith Thode: So yeah.

Tom Miller: So do you look at that volunteer pool for – you’re scanning for potential hire? OK.

Keith Thode: Absolutely.

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: And we give different tasks to people when we think there’s a track.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: So that’s the – you know, the other piece we try to provide is a lot of honesty and transparency. It doesn’t do any good to bring somebody in and have them flame out.

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: Right, and because of – so if we can be honest – one of the things I try to espouse is transparency as a leader.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: So we try to be pretty self effacing about – you know, there’s things I’m good at and things I’m not.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: Right, and so like, the scientist label, it fits a lot of times.

Tom Miller: Right,

Keith Thode: Where I’m like, “OK, let’s just go do it!”

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: Then there’s the people that actually have to do it.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: I think –

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: Right. And so you know, or kind of more of the like bureaucracy is not all that.

Tom Miller: Mmm?

Keith Thode: Like, the whole management infrastructure we’re at like, I value that tremendously but I’m not as strong at meeting it out. So I hire complimentary people at that. But our delivery systems – so, how we roll out all our technology? So we’ve hired some people. We’ve got some better systems and it’s all organized now as these tasks come in. It’s all organized. There’s staff meeting and there’s a system. I love that. I am terrible about being compliant.

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: I wanted the system. I don’t want to do the system…

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: I am the boss.

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: There you go.

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: But, I need the system up.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: So, yeah.

Tom Miller: Cool. Good, good. So, here we’ve got some students here that are sitting in this room and you know, we’re streaming on Facebook and there are people listening. To the people, so I’m thinking more about students, people getting out of college, for anybody who’s trying to make a change in their career.

Keith Thode: Mm-hmm.

Tom Miller: So when you’re starting, what would you say to the people getting out of school or making a career change that they ought to be investing in or doing now to hit the radar of organizations like yours or like any organizations?

Keith Thode: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So there’s like – so things you can do before you actually have the interaction. Right, are certifications, tactical trainings, like anything that’s like that is more and more. And again this is, I mean I was in a regional chamber – Dallas Regional Chamber meeting last week with some industry leaders including like AT&T and UPS and it’s like–

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: And yeah I mean, the certifications are going to be more and more important. So it’s less and less, “Oh! They went to Western. They must be smart and brilliant. We’ll figure out how to train them and what they need.”

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: Right, especially because [Clears throat] oh, that Western person may not stay more than 18 months.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: So, I’m not going to take them through the 12-month mantra training camp…

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: …like some of us when we started out.

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: So, having those specific certifications, even if it’s not exactly the job you end up applying for, it shows the apability.

Tom Miller: Mmm. Mmm.

Keith Thode: Right, and the ability to learn technically. When you get to have those interactions, I would encourage still the interpersonal networking events.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: I think younger – and the bulky electronic like so when we chat, work with people who are getting ready to sign other workforce, I mean I tell them after I get my – talk like this or something, I’m like, if you haven’t connected with me on LinkedIn after this like it’s a very bad. We don’t have this when we started.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: And it’s a tremendous opportunity. And – but – and then the in-person networking events for people to see you.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: And I would say, when you get the chance to interact like volunteering, participating and even if how can people in the social sector isn’t your thing or like you think I’m nuts, that’s fine. There’s industry sector staff, right?

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: And for every industry, there’s a professional society…

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: …and those meetings, and so go get involved there and help at that. And when you do that, show things like commitment to detail and be humble and teachable. I mean those are real differentiators these days. You know, I thought my last hire, somebody straight out of school who I had some knowledge – I mean I knew him before a little bit. But I mean, he showed – the big things where he showed a real difference in terms of willingness to kind of get down and work and figure it out…

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: …and not say “Not my problem.”

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: Right, or I got – I hit a roadblock, help me.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: Right, but also the willingness to take direction pretty early.

Tom Miller: Yup.

Keith Thode: It’s a real differentiator. So, yeah.

Tom Miller: You know it’s interesting, I heard you say this. It’s so easy to connect electronically now…

Keith Thode: Yeah.

Tom Miller: …and sit behind the keyboard or flash out you know, resumes but the human part, I think it maybe is even more important now because everybody else will take the easy. So if I can get to know you as a human and you can get to know me…

Keith Thode: Yeah.

Tom Miller: …and I can show you my characteristics and show you what I know then I’m so much further ahead than somebody who’s just blasting out resumes.

Keith Thode: Well, and that’s much – and this would be where you have very uniquely qualified to explain this better than me, but the idea of using that, I’m thinking a bit like a funnel.

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: Right, so you’ve got LinkedIn and our networks. And you should be leveraging that to identify who’s my optimal first contacts.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: But then, Professor Tom, I see you know this person over at UPS and that’s really where I’d like to…

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: …go and then go have that meeting, right?

Tom Miller: OK. Right, exactly.

Keith Thode: But it’s a – as you’re looking for jobs, I mean to look at it like a sales process.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: A little bit of scanning the network, having a bigger network as possible, finding the connections. You know, and then you know, moving through and yeah, we are – there’s an unhealthy dynamic I think our society is building and are more and more – it’s easy to stay at home.

Tom Miller: Yeah.

Keith Thode: It’s easy to be insulated.

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: Right, and that happens whether you’re a Western person ready to graduate and it’s just nervous about making me and that person and or…

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: …going and meeting an industry professional in person…

Tom Miller: Mm-hmm.

Keith Thode: …and what does that look like. It’s easy to put that off or choose to do the virtual thing instead of being a person thing.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: When at some time, you got to–

Tom Miller: You got a relationship to…

Keith Thode: You got a relationship, you got to see them face to face.

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: You know, the – and we have that with our people in the margins all the time so we’re working at the community college and you know, the – one of them was – the administration saw me the other day. It’s like you know how many times we have people say I came and drove and sat in a parking lot for a year.

Tom Miller: Mmm. Wow.

Keith Thode: And I finally got the courage to go from the parking lot to show and show up in the office.

Tom Miller: Wow, cool.

Keith Thode: So you’re going to be intentional about…

Tom Miller: Yup,

Keith Thode: …using that electronic – we have opportunity like you’ve never before,

Tom Miller: Right.

Keith Thode: Because – but don’t use it as an artificial crotch to delay.

Tom Miller: That’s just the beginning. The electronic piece is just the beginning and then you got to go get face to face and kind of heart to heart almost. Yeah, cool. Cool.

Final Thoughts

Participant: How do you get that opportunity to the mom who has three kids who’s right there on – all she can do put food in their mouth? How do you reach that person?

Keith Thode: And get them from the education they need? So you’ve probably got a –

Participant: You can help them have a vision that they can get education from you.

Keith Thode: Yeah, I think – you know, again, a lot of hire actually – we worked in the work with people who have that work relationships. We’ll talk about The Salvation Army, uses our systems to end domestic violence by getting them amongst other things, job trainings. But that just one of several things. You know a lot of those relationships have to be very – and personal. And there have to be personal connection or better be a personal connection.

A lot of that we can help do though is lower the barrier of the entry. Right, it’s the idea that, “Oh, it’s two years and I got to go over it

Participant: Right.

Keith Thode: Right. It hits you right where you’re at. And the more that we can connect, we’re working on – it was called the gig economy, the more that we can provide actual employment opportunities, right, that are – and it doesn’t have to be full time, all at once. And we talk about – I talked about crowd working in the crowd.

And – so some of you have probably done some of these, right? I mean, when the crowd doesn’t care that you’re busy during the afternoons that you pick up your kids from school. Right? When you’re free, you’re free. Crowd, a lot of times, we care how good your English is, right? It doesn’t care, “Hey, you know, I’m not – my meds are out of balance, I’m bad for this.” You know, like – it doesn’t care, right?

Or on the car, I’ve returned home from you know, combat something I never had to do, right? And I got PTSD and you know that I got – I got moments that I’m good. Right? So too much of the time, what we’ve done, we try to train and empower people on the margins. I say, is they – we try to turn them into Keith.

Tom Miller: Mmm.

Keith Thode: Right? We try to say “OK. I’m going to train you into somebody that you know, knows how to dress well, speaks perfect English and can show up some place at 8 o’clock every morning and stay until 5:00 every night no matter what. You know, and so it’s how we lower the barrier to entry.

And then the employment pieces being – because you get certain – Right? So how do we make it so it works for them or part of that how we make it work is as swiftly as possible, we put money in their pocket. Right, we give them the ability to earn their own money. Right. That short-term encouragement. Not just the reality of financial piece but the encouragement, “h, I can do this. I’m on a path, it’s taking me somewhere and I’m being with” It sounds like a couple of art all the time.

Tom Miller: Keith, it’s been cool to sit here. But that – we’re friends and I’ve known you – you know, through Chuck’s board and seeing you run stuff. But I’ve learned so much today. And I love the transition you made from even where your head and your heart, there were always in helping people in transitioning to that as a full-time career and building businesses in systems that impact so many. It was really cool. So I love seeing the character that you’ve got impacting communities all over the place, all over the world you know. But actually, as a junior team, we’ve taken. So thank you.

Thanks for sharing that with all the people that are listening today.

Keith Thode: Now, thanks for the time. I really appreciate it.

Tom Miller: Yeah. That was great! Yeah, thanks.

Keith Thode: All right.

Tom Miller: All right. Thanks guys!

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