Welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview with the exceptional Lacey Hunter founder of TechAid! We are thrilled to have the opportunity to delve into the extraordinary journey of this visionary entrepreneur who is reshaping the landscape of tech entrepreneurship and social impact.
Lacey Hunter’s story is one of inspiration and empowerment. With a strong background in corporate finance and a deep passion for making a positive difference, Lacey’s path has led her to forge her own entrepreneurial path, driven by a desire to create lasting change in underserved communities.
As we dive into this interview, we will explore Lacey’s transformative career trajectory, from her early days as a commercial lender to her pivotal roles at renowned institutions such as Wells Fargo and Amazon.
We will uncover the pivotal moments and lessons learned that propelled Lacey to embrace the world of entrepreneurship, ultimately co-founding TechAid—a venture focused on revolutionizing aid and government services through cutting-edge technology.
Join us on this captivating journey as we learn from Lacey Hunter’s insights, resilience, and unwavering commitment to driving innovation, social impact, and positive change in the world.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Lacey Hunter: Many thanks for having me – I appreciate the opportunity!
I am, first and foremost, a mama – my son is turning three next month, and I’m expecting a baby girl this September! I mention this first because I’ve only recently come to realise how conditioned I’d been by the corporate world to hide this aspect of my life.
I’ve had the opportunity to have two reasonably distinct careers in the corporate world before embarking on a sort of ‘third act’ in entrepreneurship that combines expertise from the first two and enables me to control my schedule.
I’ve always been handy with numbers and interested in business, and I spent the first eight years of my career as a commercial lender for Wells Fargo. The sheer size of the institution made it possible for me to learn various disciplines, spanning from restaurants and hospitality to media, gaming, healthcare and commercial real estate.
This chunk of my career allowed me to solidify and expand my skillset in finance and accounting and to see the real-world implications of interest rate variability, leverage and economic cycles through my clients’ experiences.
That phase began in June of 2008, just as the economy was tipping into a global recession – as history tends to repeat itself, many of those lessons are once again incredibly relevant as the broader economy fluctuates!
Though I loved working with clients and understanding what made their businesses successful, I was tired of the heavy travel involved and the constantly changing regulatory environment – so I decided partway through business school to make a change.
I had the opportunity to work in Retail Finance for Starbucks, covering the Espresso and Brewed categories for North America. I saw the implications of unexpected weather events, supply chain challenges and the importance of well-coordinated and well-communicated marketing efforts in real-time.
As I was finishing business school (I completed an evening MBA program, which I cannot recommend highly enough for learning life skills like prioritisation and time management!) I was recruited to the Hardlines Finance organisation at Amazon, supporting the Home team.
This was the first time I had the chance to really own the entire P&L from revenue down to operating profit and understand from a financial perspective the implications of supply chain snarls, holding costs, foreign currency fluctuations and the very real consequences of stockouts or excess inventory.
My Amazon career ultimately spanned five years and included rotations in FP&A for WW Prime, when the program encompassed 16 countries, before working in Customer Loyalty, where I had the chance to use Net Promoter Score and statistical analysis to deeply understand the drivers of what made customers happy (or furious!).
My last Amazon rotation was in WW Operations – I had the rare opportunity to start a new team from scratch with an incredible senior leader (who, luckily for me, agreed to join the advisory board of my current venture!) Together we architected strategic pillars, a roadmap and an implementation plan to govern the incentives strategy for all of Amazon’s retail operations while hiring a team and defining our role with many stakeholders.
This experience, more than anything else, gave me the confidence to say, “Yep! I’m in” when a friend of mine from business school asked if I’d consider joining her interactive mapping software startup in 2022 – instead of thinking “Yikes – how on earth are we going to figure out the right path there?” I thought, “well, I’ve figured out how to operationalise new things before and build a team from scratch…” so lets do it!
My early stage work with that startup led me directly, and entirely accidentally, to the venture I’m currently working on (TechAid) – essentially, to build and scale a new approach for the solicitation and distribution of aid and government services to the folks that generally aren’t viewed as valued customers and don’t have technology designed for them.
I was fortunate – there really is no other word – to be happenstance introduced to my now business partner James who ideated, built and deployed the exact functionality I’d envisioned, but a more secure and more sophisticated version of it that is objectively better than anything I would have come up with on my own.
We’ve since joined forces and are in the progress of combining our companies to effect the most significant potential positive impact with what he and his team have built.
In the past year, what is the greatest business achievement you’d like to celebrate with your team? Please share the details of that success.
Lacey Hunter: It may seem counterintuitive, but my greatest business achievement is adherence to measuring success against the quality of my processes – and not falling into the trap of “outcoming” (measuring success against outcomes generated – credit to the great Annie Duke for writing about this trap in her instructive book, “Thinking in Bets,” that gave me complete confidence in the best way to approach decision making and evaluation!).
By continually revisiting my assumptions and objectively assessing how I know what I know (or if I even know!), and asking for objective feedback, I’ve pivoted nearly everything about the business and positioned it for success across multiple potential paths.
At multiple junctures, I could have thrown in the proverbial towel and moved on to other work. Still, I’m continually energised by the nature of the work itself and my incredible business partners, Rhett Power and James Hodson. Our combined skill sets and life experiences are exactly what we need to test, learn and keep learning.
We also have the considerable advantage of a multidisciplinary, multinational advisory board that’s offered invaluable feedback and introductions and helped us consider things in a new light as we continue to test and learn.
We’ve lived to fight another day and have learned so much about what doesn’t work (and why!), so we are well-placed to hone and focus our approach as we look towards 2024.
What advice do you wish you had received when you started your business journey and what do you intend on improving in the next quarter?
Lacey Hunter: Advice that I’ve learned the hard way is to question the motives of others constantly. One thing that does not translate from a corporate setting to entrepreneurship is the alignment of incentives to do what’s suitable for the company/brand (in fact, that doesn’t always apply in the corporate setting either).
Still, the reality of working with new partners always entails a requisite level of understanding of who and what they are, why they are doing what they’re doing, and if they’re being honest with you.
Discovering ulterior motives upfront would have saved me a reasonable amount of time and resources. Still, ultimately it’s a lesson I was happy to learn and incorporate into my playbook as an entrepreneur.
Here is a two-fold question: What is the book that influenced you the most and how? Please share some life lessons you learned. Now what book have you gifted the most and why?
Lacey Hunter: I am an avid reader, usually rotating between five or six books at once – I deleted social media (except LinkedIn) in 2019. I replaced that time with reading, and it has been transformational.
If asked this question in a year, perhaps the answer would change – but the book that’s influenced me the most is undoubtedly The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. It prompts you to consider who you truly are vs who you might think you are based on external factors (your name, profession, age or the like).
Sure, I might be called a certain name that my parents gave me and have lived a particular set of experiences, but at my core, am I still not the same person I was when I was born? When I was 12 years old? When I was 32 years old?
Though it’s a relatively short read, this book has completely changed how I think about myself and others and enabled me to connect with myself and others in a deep way that I wasn’t in tune with before.
Others that I revisit often are As a Man Thinketh by James Allen and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl – these, in addition to The Untethered Soul, have helped me realise that the best I can do is focus on what’s within my control—namely, my attitude and my effort every day.
I know and accept in advance that things aren’t going to work out exactly as I’d planned, and any semblance of control I might have believed that I have in fact, is nothing more than a guise. All I have is today, and all I can choose is my attitude and my effort – an incredibly freeing realization!
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as THE real challenge right now?
Lacey Hunter: The number one challenge I’m confronted with regularly is attention and focus. Another great book I enjoyed is Cal Newport’s Deep Work which outlines the difference between focused, dedicated effort and outcomes vs half measures and distracted effort.
The difference is monumental, and for a new venture can be the marker between success and failure.
I don’t pretend to have this quite figured out yet. Still, I know it’s vital to maintain a healthy tension between information gathering, testing/learning and taking a step back to evaluate progress and learnings in light of the ultimate goal.
Early on, you may find (as I did) that even though I was pursuing the right goal, I was going about it the wrong way, with the wrong partners and technology.
Remembering to take a step back and think deeply and critically about where your business is concerning where you’d like it to be (and whether you’re where you thought you would be!) feels less satisfying in the short run as it doesn’t feel like “action”, but is critically important in the long run.
You aren’t going to make any key realisations about your business’s strategy while replying to emails or updating the colour scheme on your website!
2020, 2021, and 2022 threw a lot of curve balls into businesses on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past years, how can businesses thrive in 2023? What lessons have you learned and what advice would you share?
Lacey Hunter: Plan for the downside and “fix” as many variables as you can! If you have debt, opt for a fixed rate if at all possible versus taking the risk of floating – or if you must, you can hedge this risk with something like an interest rate swap so that even if you’re paying a little more in the short run, you have the certainty of knowing how much your payments are going to be in the long run.
By articulating and planning for downside risk, whether that be a change in interest rates, a drop in demand, a natural disaster, or a global pandemic (though… not sure anyone saw that coming or even had an inkling of how to plan for it!) you’ve put yourself in a much better, proactive mindset and at least come to terms with how things may turn out vs how you hope that they will.
This isn’t to say that a five-page contingency plan is needed for every potential downside – of course not – but it’s essential to identify and think through perhaps the top five risks you believe your business will face in the coming year, how you’d approach solving them, and who you would call for help.
A ‘head in the sand’ or ‘eternally optimistic’ approach is quite dangerous when running a business. You risk being caught off guard and forced into a reactive mode for making important decisions that could have been much better planned for if thought through in advance.
Thinking through your list of “this is definitely who I’d call for advice if X happened” is also a great proactive measure to take, and get in touch with those people now, before a crisis comes calling!
Keeping your network fresh and letting people know that you appreciate them when they’re not expecting it and don’t have an “ask” is a powerful way to earn trust and build allies. As the saying goes – “make friends now, so when you need them, you have them!”
What does “success” in 2023 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Lacey Hunter: Success in 2023 means adding a healthy baby to our family and aligning a healthy, forward-looking path for our business. Even though many curveballs may (and probably will!) present themselves in both of these areas of life, the key is focusing on “health” and not a particular or overly specific outcome.
One of the other lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way is the danger of setting overly specific or ambitious goals. Goal setting is excellent, but the downside is boxing yourself into a very small set of potential outcomes which, if they don’t transpire, can feel like a failure (even if your process and level of effort were commendable and even if you learned a ton and grew as an individual or business person!)
Remembering to measure progress made since inception vs achieving a specific outcome by a particular time has helped me stay positive even when times get tough.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Lacey Hunter for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Lacey Hunter or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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