We live in an agile world and we need to be agile if we are to thrive in it. Whether you’re applying it to your business, marketing or any other endeavor, agility allows you to be scientific and methodical about upping your game and achieving strategic pivots in a shorter amount of time. This is a very timely conversation to make as we make our way through this terrible social experiment that is COVID-19. Join Melanie Parish and Greg Kihlstrom as they talk about this in this interview. Greg is the founder of CareerGig which is, in itself, an agile freelancing platform that uniquely eliminates the traditional tradeoff between career flexibility and employment benefits that freelancers traditionally have to make – something that many potential freelancers and companies can benefit from as we all go through a radical shift in the way we hire employees. Greg is also a bestselling author and host of The Agile World Podcast.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Agile Philosophy, CareerGig And The Agile World With Greg Kihlstrom
I’m here with Greg Kihlstrom. He is a bestselling author, speaker and entrepreneur. He’s the CEO and Cofounder of CareerGig after selling his digital experience agency in 2017. He has worked with some of the world’s top brands including AOL, Choice Hotels, Coca-Cola, Dell, FedEx, GEICO, Marriott International, MTV, Starbucks, Toyota and VMware. He serves on the University of Richmond’s Customer Experience Advisory Board. He was the Founding Chair of the American Advertising Federation’s National Innovation Committee and served on the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Marketing Mentorship Advisory Board. Greg’s newest book, The Center of Experience, talks about how customer and employee experience can be operationalized into a cohesive brand experience. His podcast, The Agile World, launched in early 2019 and discusses brand strategy, marketing and customer experience. He is a regular contributing writer to Forbes, and has been featured in publications such as SmartCEO, The Washington Post and Advertising Age.
Greg, I'm excited to have you on my show.
Thanks for having me.
I have many questions. You're up to all sorts of interesting things. Tell me a little bit about what you are up to in your work.
I am the CEO of CareerGig. It is a platform that connects freelancers with companies who hire them as well as with benefits like health and retirement. We launched CareerGig and we are in active growth mode and we have all kinds of fun stuff going on. I published my book called The Center of Experience, that deals with topics of customer experience and employee experience. I've got a podcast of my own called The Agile World. I've been working on that as well.
In my book, I put the Agile Manifesto in because I think it's relevant to my book. I'm curious about what agile has to do with the work you do. What's important about that?
As you well know, I think agile can be interpreted very strictly. You can be a Certified ScrumMaster and adheres to the Agile Methodology and all that. I think that's a great process and yields great results. I'm not a ScrumMaster. I would say I apply agile in a broader sense of the term, but I think it's an important one. The first book that I wrote on the topic was talking about web design and development and applying more agile principles to it. I also wrote a book about branding, applying more agile principles to branding and marketing. Then I wrote one called The Agile Consumer, which takes that branding and communications aspect a little bit further.
There are some misconceptions about it too. A lot of people hear the term agile and they think reactive or we're changing things too often. To me, the reason why there's an Agile Methodology is that people take the time. It's on a shorter increment, you're taking whether it's two weeks sprints or something like that. You're taking time, you're building something, you're measuring, you're evaluating it, and then you're iterating and optimizing. Agility is not simply being reactive to, “The numbers are bad from yesterday. Let's scrap everything and start over.” It's forcing you to be methodical on a shorter timeframe than some may have been used to, but it's forcing you to be scientific and methodical about how you make improvements whether it's your company, your marketing, software, whatever you might apply to it.
I'm creating online courses, so I'm launching my first funnels. Agile has never been more alive in my coaching practice than it is now, so it's quite topical that we're chatting. Let's go back to CareerGig. There's some gap in the marketplace that you thought CareerGig would fill. Tell me about that. This seems like a grand experiment in and of itself.
There's a niche that we fill that's interesting. We're a marketplace that connects freelancers and companies. We have two sets of customers. I will say as a marketer, that's more challenging than having one set of customers, but it also brings opportunity with it. On the freelancer side, what we offer that other platforms don't is not only we offer great opportunities, project work, hourly work, but we also offer health, retirement and other benefits to freelancers that work on the platform. If you've worked a salary job your whole life, you don't have a full appreciation for the fact that we offer guaranteed issue insurance, not only health insurance, but life disability and other things like that.
If you try to get those as an individual and you have pre-existing conditions or other mitigating factors, it’s hard not only get them at all, but it's hard to get a good rate on them. The Affordable Care Act or otherwise known as Obamacare helps in the health insurance space. Depending on where you live and some other factors, that can be a bit of a challenge as well. We saw a need not just mechanically getting people insurance and benefits, but how do we take care of a freelancer so that they can have the flexibility of being independent, being able to work when they want as much or as little as they want? Have the flexibility to work remotely if they want for whatever reasons, whether it's taking care of children, spouse or partner that either doesn't work or can't work, parents or just wants the freedom to be able to work when and where they want. Making sure that those people also have access to that safety net, the benefits that a lot of people take full-time jobs just to get those things that keep them able to weather any storm.
On the company side of things, we see a big niche where there are low-cost platforms where you can hire somebody to design a logo for $50. The quality is necessary but it doesn't matter who's doing it, why they're doing it, so on and so forth. On the other end of the spectrum, there are staffing companies that are good at what they do, but they're slow. They charge 30% of placement salary and all that. They're not geared towards high-end professionals that want to be freelance and independent, who want to get that safety net but also looking for interesting work and highly-skilled work. That's where we've net it out.
Six weeks in and you're probably collecting some interesting data about what's working and what's not. What are you learning?
Given the economic climate that we're in, I think that we're seeing if we can provide great work opportunities, then freelancers are more than willing to sign up. It's free to sign up on our platform. We don't even charge subscription fees. We charge a cut of transactions. The more you use our platform, the less those transaction fees become. We reward people that use it frequently. We're trying to focus on bringing the best possible opportunities from great companies. That's going to drive the growth with freelancers. We are seeing that companies are struggling now with what to do. Do they hire W-2, full-time salaried employees back only to potentially have to lay them off or furlough them again? Are they going to build a more flexible and stable workforce that happens to be hourly or freelance workers? More and more are opting for the latter because it gives them the flexibility to be able to face whatever might be coming down the road.
What's your dream for this company?
I would love to be the premier provider of freelance opportunities for a skilled workplace. That's the go-to choice for enterprises and large companies to be able to hire from. All the while doing something good in the sense of not just providing money for the freelancers, but providing for the rest of their life the stability and security that they wouldn't get otherwise. Many times, they're selling themselves short to get this full-time job so they can get them. If we can do that, we improve people's quality of life and that's important.
It sounds like you're pretty clear on the value of providing stability in people's work lives.
It's important. It's something that is often overlooked. The cost of living is expensive and people are taking on jobs on top of a job. Thirty-six percent of the US workforce engaged in some freelance or gig work. That could be some people who were also at a full-time job, but that was already projected to be 50% of the workforce by 2027. The numbers that we're seeing, already the IRS is expecting way more people to be filing their 1099 in 2020 than they ever were expecting. I would imagine this has only accelerated that. Having lived through the 2009 financial crisis, I had my marketing agency back then and we were fortunate enough to grow that year, but we saw a lot of competition fall by the wayside. I believe that crisis is what created the gig economy as we know it. Uber, Lyft, all of those companies, they got started either around that time or within a year or two of 2009. This idea of a stable full-time job, I don't know that it has existed during my career, but it sure doesn't exist now.
I've been working at home self-employed for many years, so I'm with you on all of these things. I am diversified with great health insurance and things only because of my spouse. I hear the need for what you're talking about. Let’s shift gears a little bit. You write books, you have a podcast, you are by all measures, probably a very busy person. What do you do to care for yourself?
There are a lot of things that I'm interested in. One of the reasons I write so much is it helps me to learn about either new things or dive deeper on things that I may only have scratched the surface on. In a way, that's caring for my desire to learn. From looking at it in a different way, I have a routine in the morning to take care of myself. When I wake up, I do not reach for my phone and check my email. I'm the CEO of a company. If somebody needs to get ahold of me, I told them, “Just send me a text and we'll deal with an emergency.” Otherwise, I go for a walk every morning. I exercise. I take care of myself. I have time to think about what's the priority for the day. Oftentimes, what's sitting at the top of your inbox is not the biggest priority, it's just what happens to be sitting up at the top of your inbox. By taking an hour or two in the morning to get up early just to account for it, the rest of my day, I can be focused and I can devote it to work. I can be there when I need to be because I've taken that bit of time for myself.
I love that you're talking about the structures that you use to do it on a regular basis. What keeps you up at night?
It depends on the different areas of my career. My marketing agency, I sold it years ago. The thing that I’m always pushing myself is, “Can we be doing something either better? Are we still differentiated from those that we're competing against?” We don't have direct competitors in everything that we do. There's plenty of competition in our general area and certainly owning a marketing agency, it’s the same thing. I thought we did great work, but there are a million marketing agencies in the world. What I'm always struggling with is can we do something better and more efficiently so that either the people doing the work are happier and able to focus more on what they value more, or are we staying at a step ahead of the competition? To add a third thing there, is what we're doing the right thing? I don't even know who said this, but a quote that I often go to is, “Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.” That's gotten me out of a lot of trouble in my life. I have many talented people on my team. I've been surrounded by talented people my entire career. Having good ideas isn't enough. Are we solving the right problems? That's the biggest thing that I think about.
Thanks for that. I know that's a deep dive into what's going on inside your mind. I've also been thinking about imposter syndrome a fair bit lately. It doesn't have to be super personal. I'm not asking you to tell us all your secrets, but I am curious. I know people grapple with imposter syndrome. I know it comes up for me sometimes, but I'm curious what you could say about it, when it might come up for you and what you do about it.
Being in startup world as I am and having started a company before a couple of other companies in my career, we hear, “Fake it until you make it.” Therefore, that entire premise is based on essentially, you're an imposter and pretending to be something that you're not. That's the right approach. I've been guilty of this in sales meetings of selling things that I didn't quite know how we're going to be delivered. There's got to be some authenticity and some validity to what you're doing.
I might categorize myself as an overachiever. Sometimes, people that do a lot and are very driving of themselves have a lot of self-motivation, often sell themselves short on what they have done. Sometimes I'm reminded by others that, “This and this are not true but look at all these other things.” I'm like, “That was yesterday. What have I done today?” I don't know if that answers your question, but it is something we've all got to live with. We see this played out on TV and social media. It's a problem that probably is going to get worse with younger generations even.
I think it's pretty ubiquitous among leaders that we all suffer from it occasionally. I find it often when I'm trying to stretch a little bigger than I was before, do something I haven't done before. I think you're right that as entrepreneurs, we learn how to fake it until we make it. I think it's fascinating to hear how people think about it. Thanks for your thoughts on that. Tell me a little bit about your podcast. Who should listen to your podcast?
It’s called The Agile World. What I've talked about in my books is thinking about agile in a broader sense of the term. I had some real strict agile people on it that have applied agile anything from Fortune 100 companies to small organizations or consultants. The lens that I look at everything through is agility. I've had a doctor that started a telemedicine practice because, with Coronavirus, just the mechanics of getting to a doctor's office was impossible for his patients. I've had a global CHRO of a Fortune 50 company talking about how organizational culture is impacted an international organization. Everybody is looking at that. The common thread is being adaptable to change. We're living in a great and terrible social experiment now with Coronavirus, but the world is always changing. It will continue to change even if some things settle down. What I like to look at is how do people find ways to adapt and thrive in whatever their industry might be.
That's near and dear to my heart with The Experimental Leader and all that I love to talk about how people do that. It’s very aligned. Where can people find you?
I have to plug CareerGig. You can sign up for free at CareerGig.com. If you want to connect with me personally, I'm very active on LinkedIn. Let me know that you know me on this show. I'd be more than happy to connect with you, message and all that kind of stuff. I’m always looking for great connections.
Thank you so much for being on the show. It's been such a pleasure to have you.
Thanks so much for having me.
I’ve been talking to Greg Kihlstrom about his company, CareerGig. I am fascinated by his entrepreneurial spirit. I love how he’s looking for how to provide value in the marketplace, and how he refers to having two clients. It’s clear that his mission is aligned with having a vision for people feeling secure in their work and having people have stability. It’s interesting how he weaves the idea of agile throughout his brand, and everything ties back to the concept of agile and how we can be more flexible, and more intentional about short sprints and how we do things differently based on that principle. It’s been a pleasure speaking with Greg. Go experiment.
About Greg Kihlstrom
Greg is a best selling author, speaker, and entrepreneur. He is currently CEO and Co-Founder at CareerGig, after selling his digital experience agency, Carousel30, in 2017. He has worked with some of the world’s top brands, including AOL, Choice Hotels, Coca-Cola, Dell, FedEx, GEICO, Marriott International, MTV, Starbucks, Toyota and VMware. He currently serves on the University of Richmond’s Customer Experience Advisory Board, was the founding Chair of the American Advertising Federation’s National Innovation Committee, and served on the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Marketing Mentorship Advisory Board. Greg’s newest book, The Center of Experience (2020) talks about how customer and employee experience can be operationalized into a cohesive brand experience.
He wrote another book on customer and employee experience called Digital Delight (2019), that focuses on designing, implementing, and measuring CX and EX. Greg’s previous book, The Agile Consumer (2019) explores the most recent shifts in the brand-consumer relationship and how companies must become more agile across their entire operation to remain successful. The Agile Brand (2018), follows the evolution of branding from its beginnings to the authentic relationship with brands that modern consumers want, and gives practical examples of what you can do to create a more modern, agile brand while staying true to your core values. His first book, The Agile Web (2016), discusses the changing landscape of digital marketing and customer experience. His podcast, The Agile World, launched in early 2019 and discusses brand strategy, marketing, and customer experience.
Greg was named a 2018 50 on Fire winner from DC Inno as one of DC’s trendsetters in Marketing. He is a regular contributing writer to Forbes, and has been featured in publications such as Advertising Age, SmartCEO, Website Magazine, and The Washington Post. He’s participated as a keynote speaker, panelist and moderator at industry events around the world including Internet Week New York, Internet Summit, EventTech, SMX Social Media, Social Media Week, Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit, ABA Bank Marketing Summit, and VMworld. He has guest lectured at several schools including VCU Brandcenter, Georgetown University, Duke University, American University, University of Maryland, Howard University and Virginia Tech.
A public speaker, consultant, workshop leader, author, and Master Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation, from whom she received the Prism Award, Melanie is an expert in problem-solving, constraints management, operations, strategic hiring, and brand development.