Susan Sly is a tech investor, best-selling author, keynote speaker, trainer, and entrepreneur. She has appeared on CNN, CNBC, Fox, Lifetime Television, The CBN, The Morning Show in Australia and been quoted in MarketWatch, Yahoo Finance, Forbes, and more. She holds a Certificate in Management and Leadership with a focus in AI and Certificate in Strategy and Innovation from MIT and is the author of 7 books. Her book project with NY Times Best Selling Author, Jack Canfield, made six Amazon Best Selling lists. Susan has built channel sales teams that have produced over $2 billion in sales.
She is the Co-CEO, and cofounder, of RadiusAI – a Phoenix and Bellevue-based AI company focusing on visual intelligence. Susan is also the founder of Crimson Phoenix Marketing which provides resources to support new entrepreneurs. In March, she is launching the Fem Boss Incubator for women who want to start technology companies
Susan has completed the Boston Marathon 6X and placed Top 10 in the Pro Division of the Ironman Triathlon in Malaysia. Susan is passionate about philanthropy and has dedicated a significant amount of time and money working to liberate girls from trafficking and invest in education to support women and girls who have survived trauma and abuse both domestically and overseas.
Susan is the mother of five children and resides with her husband in Scottsdale, Arizona. Susan truly believes we can have it all.
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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.
Susan Sly: Thank you for having me. Valiant CEO is such a prestigious publication.
I am one of the 2%. Only 2% of US-based tech companies have at least one woman as a founder. I am the Co-CEO, cofounder, and an investor in RadiusAI (RAI). RAI is an edge-based artificial intelligence company that provides in-depth analytics in the retail and health care sectors. We are based in Phoenix, Arizona and Bellevue, Washington.
If you had told me in 2017, that I would be at the helm of an AI company, I would have been both intrigued and shocked given that I haven’t written a line of code since 1992. My zone of genius comes from guiding and building large sales teams. After becoming sick with a life-threatening illness following a trip to Africa in 2016, as I recovered, I sat back and took a good look at my life. As incredible as so much of my career had been – growing people, speaking on stages with Tony Robbins and Jack Canfield, I felt that there was something missing. At the nudging of a mentor, I started to explore areas that I felt were unfinished. Technology was that area.
In 2018, I became a co-founder of RAI. I had fallen in love with what we could do with human-centric AI and immediately threw myself into helping raise money and find customers. Today, we are covering our burn, working with incredible enterprise-level clients, growing our team, and getting ready for a large growth round in Q4 of this year or Q1 of next year. We have a solid product roadmap that is tied directly to our vision of using AI to help people have better experiences in their workplace and to enhance how they serve the people who rely on them.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Susan Sly: All businesses have to be agile. The fallout from 2020 and 2021 has forced innovation and also redefined how we work. As entrepreneurs, we must be innovating how we work with our teams in the same way we innovate how we work with product development. The biggest lesson for me has been to pause and really listen at a new level to what our team and our customers are saying. At the end of the day, we are all in this together. We became homeschool teachers, worked longer hours, dealt with supply chain issues that affected our homes, and our businesses. Together, we shared pain and uncertainty.
In addition to shared challenges, we all had to learn how to become more flexible. Before the pandemic, I would let my kids know if I was in a Zoom meeting. During the pandemic, I told them, ‘if you need me, then no meeting is too important.’ My youngest daughter came into my office just for a hug during a Forbes interview. I didn’t apologize and regardless of whether or not it was a staff member or a colleague, I asked people to stop apologizing. As an aside, I am originally from Canada so that was a big one for me.
My best advice for fellow CEOs is to figure out how to incorporate a culture of listening. Pause more. Ask people if they are okay. In 2022, my vanguard opinion is that one of the reasons that the great resignation exists is because employees do not feel that their employers care. That is not going to change. We will never go back to the way it was so as leaders, we must dedicate greater resources to employee wellbeing if we are going to thrive.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Susan Sly: In technology, we are experiencing significant supply chain issues. Naturally, this means that product deployment is taking longer. One of the fundamental pieces of advice is to dedicate time to revisiting contracts with customers and employees. Are you trying to fit old expectations into a new world?
As an example, how we pay salespeople has shifted. The salesperson might bring on a new enterprise client however, due to supply chain disruption, not be able to deploy for almost a year. We had to rework our commission agreements so that the salesperson was rewarded at the time of sale and not at the time of delivery.
We are also educating our customers’ expectations. As a startup, we would generally commit to a pilot and be ready to start within 30 days. We have now had to extend that timeline to almost 6 months. My advice goes back to the old premise of not overpromising and under-delivering. Instead, be honest and set solid expectations. As Harvey Mackay says, ‘good agreements prevent disagreements.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Susan Sly: In health care, the evolution is obvious though what might not be as apparent is that the focus on long-term care from home is surfacing. It was becoming a priority prior to 2020 and we were working with a major hospital group on using vision-based AI for patient monitoring. Now that hospitals are better able to deal with the pandemic, we are seeing a return to previous areas of focus.
During the pandemic, we used our technology to help front-line workers conduct screening without exposing themselves to undue risk. That helped to enhance our product and allow us to deploy in the retail sector with greater capability. In other words, although we were working to serve in health care, our product became more powerful which benefited our retail customers.
AI has a multitude of use cases and the pandemic forced all companies in the sector to accelerate the deployment of products that would help people navigate the crisis.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Susan Sly: Great question. In January of 2020, I looked at the r-Nought of the virus and when I realized that it was double that of Saars, I told my husband, ‘this is going to be really bad.’ I shared that sentiment with several individuals who were part of our supply chain but not in our company; candidly, some were quite patronizing. Generally, when I believe in something, I take a stand however I allowed myself to soften my message. Looking back, I would say that I wish someone would have said, ‘trust your gut Susan.’
Our core leadership team trusts one another. When one of us has a ‘gut instinct’ about something, we listen. Going into 2022, we will be trusting our instincts more.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Susan Sly: Legacy companies like Revlon and Ralph Lauren are investing heavily into metaverse technologies. We are going to see more digital twins of existing products that will create brand loyalty in new and innovative ways. Retailers that decide to figure out how to enter this space will set themselves apart while continuing to grow their consumer base.
Retail itself will continue to evolve. I predict that there will be more emphasis on data and innovation around the current labor shortage. At RAI, we are at the forefront of those two issues with an emphasis on serving the employees who want to be there while adding value to their customers. Businesses that value data and continue to innovate the employee and customer experience will be the brands we are all still talking about in five years. Those that do not, sadly, will likely struggle.
Regardless of sentiment, what Meta is building with an emphasis on how we work is intriguing, We will very likely be meeting in VR and going from a 2D to a 3D remote work experience. I also feel that employees will continue to demand hybrid options. With the cost of fuel, childcare, and other essentials rising, it is costing employees more money to work. Employers will have to be flexible to hire and retain top talent.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Susan Sly: That depends on the day. I like to frontend load my week so on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, it is possibly up to 12 hours. At RAI, we do not do internal meetings on Thursday afternoons or Fridays so those days are much less. My husband and I try not to be on screens whatsoever on Sundays. We use that as a time to reset with our family. This year, I am also pursuing my Advanced Certificate for Executives from MIT so I have even more time in front of screens.
As an aside, I am that woman on the airplane reading a paper version of the Wall Street Journal because I just do not want to look at a screen. It is a great conversation starter.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Susan Sly: It is important to give employees options. They might not feel comfortable sharing certain things with their direct supervisor and we want to ensure that they know that there are other people they can go to. We also want our team to talk about things other than work. We encourage them to share family photos in Slack, celebrate wins, and host virtual Wellness Wednesdays with topics that encourage discussion. Like everyone else, we are learning how to create better communication and enhance our culture when we are working with people in a variety of states and countries.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Susan Sly: I believe that the real challenge is that people do not feel heard and therefore, they do not feel valued. Companies often put their employees in a box where they can only communicate their ideas within the same small group they work with. Some of the greatest innovation comes from outside opinions and often, those outside opinions are within the company.
If people truly felt valued would 74.3 percent of Americans have a strong desire to leave their job? We are in a labor shortage and I do not believe it is because people do not want to work. Sure, there is a small group who may not, however, I truly believe that the vast majority of people do want to have a fulfilling career. As employers, we need to figure out how to make our employees feel more valued because they are taking care of the people who are purchasing our products and services.
I think that Sumit Singh, at Chewy, and Brian Cornell at Target, are making massive efforts to improve the experience employees are having and their results show.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Susan Sly: I am constantly learning. MIT executive education has provided a great platform to learn about a variety of topics. Currently, I am studying blockchain implications for business. I am fascinated by NFTs and recently minted three of my son’s pieces of art and put them on OpenSea. I am also fascinated by metaverse technologies. One startup that I am mentoring is building a metaverse of good where people are rewarded virtually for doing good in reality. It is a huge project and very exciting.
This year, I am launching an incubator for women who want to start tech companies. I have a huge vision to inspire 1,000 women, despite their technological background, to launch the technology companies that solve our current and future problems.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Susan Sly: Going back to my earlier comment, this data is compelling and we all need to own our actions. The bottom line is that we all have employees that do not feel heard and whom we have somehow caused to feel undervalued. We can all improve.
My friend, Mitchell Modell, was on Undercover Boss and it changed his life. He discovered that one of his employees was homeless and he had no idea. By spending time as an employee of his own company, he realized how focused he had been on top-line growth and not on the people who contributed to the wellbeing of the company.
Senior leaders need to spend more time with entry-level employees and be willing to ask tough questions in an environment where the employees feel safe in giving honest feedback.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Susan Sly: Just one? I am audio listening to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. As challenging as he was, he had the uncanny ability to predict what consumers would want long before they knew they wanted it, inherently solving problems for them that didn’t yet exist. That is a very cool superpower!
It would be great to have the ability to anticipate consumers’ needs and create products today that would solve their problems in the future. I think we are all trying to figure out what the future is going to look like though how many people anticipated our needs in 2020 back in 2017?
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Susan Sly: Success to me in 2022 involves kindness. I am committed to being kind because I feel we could all use more of that.
On a professional level, at RAI we are launching our gen two product in Q3, focused on growing our customer base, and building a solid team where people feel valued. My intention is to be curious and approach challenges as a leader with a student mind. In addition to this, through my podcast – Raw and Real Entrepreneurship and my Fem Boss Incubator, I want to continue to inspire people to take up the mantle of entrepreneurship so we can solve some of the greatest problems the world is facing with the entrepreneurs of the future.
On a personal level, I am turning 50 in September. I am a Boston Bombing Marathon survivor and qualifying for 2023 is personal. I entered a marathon on my 50th and intend to be back in Boston for 2023. After that, I am hosting a dinner to celebrate this milestone with some of the most incredible women I know. There will be good red wine and some excellent eighties music.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Susan Sly 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 Susan Sly or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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