Tag Archives: berlin school

Forbes Interview about Greatest Good


I recently launched a non-profit called Greatest Good. In a nutshell, it attempts to reinvent the way people raise money for the causes they care about. David Slocum of the Berlin School of Creative Leadership was kind enough to interview me for Forbes, the transcript of which can be found below. The original article is here.

I had a chance to speak recently with Saneel Radia, a 2009 EMBA graduate of The Berlin School of Creative Leadership, who has created “Greatest Good,” a non-profit platform where people donate their time to raise money for charitable causes. Based in New York, Saneel is the Founder of Finch15, a VivaKi-incubated innovation boutique that helps mature brands to concept, prototype and launch revenue-producing digital businesses. Prior to launching Finch15, Saneel ran the North American division of BBH Labs, the innovation unit of BBH, and, during his Berlin School days, was MD and “Alchemist” at Denuo, a Publicis Groupe Company focused on innovating digital services, media and technology.
David Slocum: Let’s start by asking you to explain Greatest Good.

Saneel Radia: Greatest Good is a digital platform for people to donate their time to support the causes they care about. The intention is for thought leaders across industries to make themselves accessible to individuals and companies that could benefit from their perspective in a one-on-one discussion. The money from selling their time goes to the charity of their choice.

Slocum: What was the insight that led you to develop Greatest Good?

Radia: Working in the marketing and tech areas, in particular, I was repeatedly struck by issues that swirled around the value of time and the transfer of knowledge – you might say, around reconciling financial metrics and depth of expertise. When volunteering, there’s always a tension between donating time and money; contributors want to give their time, charities tend to prefer to receive money. This is because a professional’s time is often worth so much less outside of their native industry. This inefficient conversion of the volunteerism economy is what we’re trying to solve.

Greatest Good emerged as a way for experts to donate something more closely approximating the market value of their time. In turn, businesses could benefit from using the platform to find thought leaders, be inspired, get unstuck, and access new and sophisticated ideas.

Slocum: Can you say more about the model?

Radia: We’re starting with an invitation-only launch featuring 30 advisers whose expertise people can access and roughly 25 charitable organizations that will benefit. Each of the advisers has committed to monthly “office hours” to video chat with users at a rate of $250 per half hour. The users request a video chat with a specific adviser and submit their payment information. After a meeting has occurred, Greatest Good releases the money to the adviser’s selected charity. Overall, Greatest Good is not a cause in itself: it’s a tool for others to make connections while supporting charitable causes they care about.

Slocum: It’s such an exciting project. What’s your timeline beyond the April 2014 launch and the major challenges you see for growth?

Radia: Our plan is for each of the inaugural 30 advisers to invite other advisers of comparable stature in their respective industries. The goal is 40-60 more advisers to join the platform within around three months and for us to continue that cycle into the future until the process becomes self-operating. Our target is for the platform to be fully developed, self-propagating, and with a working pricing strategy, in 18 months. We realize such a process has to be monitored to sustain the quality, diversity and even the consistent pricing of the experience. Accordingly, an instructive parallel for us as we grow is the relationship between TED and TEDx; in the future, we need to ensure that what might be called “Greatest Good ‘X’” continues to deliver the high-level of expertise and full access to charitable organizations that we’re launching with.

Slocum: So diversity is important?

Radia: Diversity is at the core of the concept: diversity in terms of the businesses interested in accessing us, the backgrounds and experiences of the thought leaders and advisers who participate, and the charitable organizations that are on board. Initially, there’s an emphasis on marketing and technology because those are the areas of my own experience and the reach of my network, but we’re very mindful of that. We’re curious following our launch to learn more about the demand for different kinds of experience and expertise and plan to use that as the basis for our future diversification rather than any set plan.

Slocum: The team you’ve assembled is impressive. What else can you tell us about them?

Radia: It’s a group of incredibly talented and committed people. What’s most remarkable is that while they’re all super busy, whether as sought-after freelancers or full-timers at top agencies like BBH and TBWA Chiat Day, they all said ‘yes’ immediately when I approached them about participating. Working together now, with no profit motivation and few resources, has been inspiring. Their willingness to experiment and creatively build something together with little precedent to draw from is amazing to experience first-hand.

Slocum : How does Greatest Good fit into your own future plans?

Radia: I’ve never had a master plan for my future and typically don’t make plans for more than one year out from where I am. My ongoing aspiration is always “to put a dent in the universe” and the stones have just varied over time. As a result my career has touched media, games, creativity, and innovation. Now, Greatest Good provides a marvelous opportunity to build a platform, and a brand, for such positive change. It serves as a great balance to my “day job” running and growing Finch15.

Professor David Slocum is the Faculty Director of Executive MBA Program at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership and is on twitter @DavidSlocum.


NYU Stern Presentation: Impact of Digital Revolution on Ad Agencies

Doug Guthrie (Dean of George Washington University and Dean of the Berlin School of Creative Leadership) asked me to present to a class of Executive MBA students at NYU’s Stern Business School (where he was a professor at the time). The requested subject was how the tremendous shift toward digital media consumption has impacted ad agencies. He specifically asked I include themes from my Berlin School thesis on Media Design.

This is what I presented:

Perpetual Beta


 [originally posted here at denuology.com]

denuo beta

I’m in the 5th of 6 modules of the Berlin School of Creative Leadership. As you can imagine, we spend lots of time on management processes and models in tumultuous environments. My friend and classmate Rikke Grundtvig (Communications Director, Omnicom, Copenhagen) regularly makes demands for guidelines and recently asked for a set any business can apply to ensure they’re perpetually in beta. She did so a couple times yesterday, so I thought I’d get the ball rolling on her behalf. I do so knowing full well there isn’t an answer, but some trends do emerge when you start looking at the most flexible of companies.

The executive summary:

[1] Listen.
[2] Know your company’s purpose and don’t change it.
[3] Empower employees to co-pilot the mother ship.
[4] Assume everyone is a potential collaborator.
[5] Place lots of bets and be ready to double down.



This is an obvious place to start, but an embarrassing number of brands are guilty of not doing. Ironically, the worst offenders were forced to adapt and now lead the pack. For example, Comcast and Dell made the right enemies and do an amazing job of listening to large numbers of consumers… one at a time. If your company is in an industry in which it’s possible for someone to have a complaint or make a recommendation (email me if not and I’ll start on Monday), there’s no excuse not to listen to your current, former, or potential customer base. All the tools to do so are free and those customers are talking about you anyway, and they just assume you’re in beta.

Know your company’s purpose and don’t change it.

This sounds almost counterintuitive in a recommendation about flexibility, but without an overarching outcome-centric purpose, any company is lost. The key is to avoid a business tactic- or service-centric purpose. Probably the best example I’ve seen is Xerox, who sees itself in “the document business” and deftly avoided the pitfall of being in the “copier business.” The former drives their decisions in a digital future (scanning, security, sharing), while the latter clearly would result in a slow and steady decline in fits. Just ask Kodak, who seemed to think they were in the film business, not the images business.

Empower your employees to co-pilot (or at least inspire) the mother ship.

The most famous institutionalized example of this is Google, who grants employees 20% of their time to work on personal projects. The case study benefit of this for Google was the creation of GMail. The benefit is straightforward; it lets you allocate your most precious resource (according to all those memos you keep putting out saying you’re all about the people) to experiment on your behalf across all levels of the organization. Oh, and employees see it as a perk. Win-win.

Who knows. The sideshow might just become the main attraction, as it did with Twitter.

This principle, held strongly by our very own Rishad Tobaccowala, explains how we function with no president or COO.

Assume everyone is a potential collaborator, not a competitor.

Collaboration isn’t just fun web 2.0 jargon. Companies that collaborate mitigate risk and tend to find at least something in their partner worth aspiring to. The best example I’ve seen is Netflix. Netflix could have seen any distributor of video content as a competitor and instead managed to successfully (and surprisingly) move into VOD (see their ability to define themselves as a home viewership company not a DVD rental service in point #2 above). Their partnership with Microsoft to deliver content via Xbox Live has been a huge success, has delivered over 1MM active users, and was worthy of an entire post by Benny.

Exhibit B: Hulu.

Furthermore, collaboration is not limited to other companies. Organizations that listen best also collaborate with their customers, with the benefits magnify in multiples based on the number of collaborations. Here in Chicago, 37Signals has done an incredible job of collaborating with customers while managing their input appropriately to avoid large-scale work for minor improvement.

Place a lot of bets and be ready to double down.

This one, like most of the others, isn’t rocket science. Yet so few companies capitalize on their experiments appropriately. It’s easy enough to invest some marginal dollars to wade into a new space or three, but it’s a lot harder to be prepared to significantly increase investment (across all types of resources) if it’s successful. From an outsider’s perspective, Amazon seems to do this really well. Amazon has not strayed from the core retail business, but their ability to move into other relevant businesses based on early success is praiseworthy (e.g., Amazon Unbox and the Kindle). Lots of companies could learn from a company this large that can still act so nimbly.

One specific note as it relates to this is that once a bet is paying out, it’s not off the table. What works today may stop working tomorrow, so keeping alternatives open and testing is an ongoing process, not a checklist. Managing this with fluidity is why every successful company that appears to be in perpetual beta also has an incredible CFO.

As I said, this list is just a start. I’d love to hear what I left out or examples of other companies embracing any of the above:
saneel@denuology.com [update: I’ve since left Denuo, so tweet me @saneel].

[Special thanks to @shaunabe for sharing his perspective and wisdom]

Written Word 2.0

[originally posted here to denoulogy.com]

This post is still one of my favorites. In fact, since then I’ve become obsessed with the intertwining of digital and analog worlds. The written word just happens to be the purest form of seeing that evolution. Can’t wait to see where it goes….


During my last module of the Berlin School, some classmates and I decided it didn’t make an ounce of sense that as a race, humankind had not upgraded the written word. Words will inevitably be written more often in digital environments than in paper environments, and this is undoubtedly already the case for interpersonal communication. Why wouldn’t we capitalize on these advancements and create Written Word 2.0, specifically intended to improve communication clarity?

We started with a few basic principles….
1. The written word had already evolved to account for technology (t33ns prfr txtn 2 tlkn NEway)

2. We see words as images anyway (eevn yuor mnid wno’t btoehr to raed ecah lteetr)

3. Words can lose their intentions in intimate conversations that are limited to text (how would you respond to an IM that simply says “we should talk?”)

4. Words can lose (or change) meaning across translations (no, the Chevy Nova story we all heard in Marketing 101 isn’t true, but it makes the point)

So, how do we create Written Word 2.0?

We use color to help convey intent. Digital surfaces make adapting color easy, yet we rarely use color in interpersonal communication. All we’d have to do is map colors across emotions. Now, there are certainly conversations to be had to universally agree to which colors and emotions are included, but that’s not that hard. I heard that whole Web 2.0 thing was bringing people together to solve problems like this anyway.

So, here’s what we came up with as a first draft.


Here’s the project as presented: