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Powerful Women in Business – TiECON Panelists Dr. Felicia Phillips & Dani Cushion

If you haven’t heard about the upcoming TiECON Conference, you must be living under a rock. TiECON Atlanta is one of the most comprehensive conferences for entrepreneurs and small business owners. It takes place on September 28th at the Hotel at Avalon in Alpharetta. They’ll be a number of keynote and guest speakers and other entrepreneurs to network with. Today on the Atlanta Small Business Show we’re joined by two of those speakers, Dr. Felicia Phillips, CEO of PPICW and Dani Cushion, CMO of Cardlytics who are scheduled to speak on a panel titled The Impact of Women – Power Panel at TiECON.

For more information or to register for TiECON Atlanta, please visit Use the promo code: ASBN to save $20 on your registration.


Jim Fitzpatrick: Ladies, welcome into the Atlanta Small Business Show, so glad that you took the time out of your day to join us here.

Dr. Felicia P.: Thank you.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, sure. Dani, can you share with us what the advantage really are to building a small business from scratch?

Dani Cushion: Yeah, sure. I think from building a small business from scratch actually meets the needs and fills some of the gaps that large businesses cannot. Large businesses being very big ships to move. Small businesses are able to actually capitalize on what the market actually needs in a way that is much more agile. I’m a CMO at a company, Cardlytics, which started 10 years ago here in Atlanta, and was able to solve some really big problems for banks and marketers. Just had our IPO in February.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Congratulations.

Dani Cushion: Thank you.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, that’s great.

Dani Cushion: I think Felicia has built a number of businesses here in Atlanta too.

Dr. Felicia P.: Yes.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure.

Dani Cushion: It fills a real need. Doesn’t it?

Dr. Felicia P.: It is a need. Here’s the thing. Entrepreneurs have a very unique skillset in taking challenges and turning them into opportunities. We live in a world today where technology is everything. You have everything at the access of your fingertips. Right? You can get right to it.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.

Dr. Felicia P.: What big companies are looking for are companies that can take those challenges, bring them to them, and help them save money at the end of the day. They’re looking for that cost savings.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, and as you pointed out, they can be very nimble.

Dr. Felicia P.: Yes.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Many companies would … When we talked to some big company people, and we’ll often have them on the show. Not maybe often enough, but say, “Well, I go tot go through my PR department. We go to go through our legal department and then we got to run it up the board of directors, and we want to make sure that …” with an entrepreneur, they’re like, “Sure, let’s go. Let’s talk about it.” To your point, what’s the problem? Let’s find a solution for it. Right?

Dr. Felicia P.: That’s right.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Which is so much more refreshing.

Dr. Felicia P.: Absolutely.

Dani Cushion: There has been a big boom here in Atlanta with, and we’re sort of in the Thin Tech market space, but with Thin Tech in particular, because these big banks just cannot be nimble enough to move and not be depositioned by other major platforms out there like Google and Facebook, so they’re leaning on small businesses to help them innovate.

Dr. Felicia P.: Yes.

Jim Fitzpatrick: By the time that big business makes the decision, there’s been three other people that have already beat them to the … Right?

Dani Cushion: Yes.

Dr. Felicia P.: That’s right.

Jim Fitzpatrick: They go, “Okay, we’re ready to launch.” Well, that’s great, but the market’s already eaten up with all of these other people that were able to work from their home in some cases and get the job done. That’s pretty interesting. What are some of the traits that you think … Obviously all of these businesses we’re talking about, it takes a good leader to get you across the finish line. What are some of the traits that you see as a good leader that they need to have in business today?

Dr. Felicia P.: One is they have to have a clear vision, because if the leader cannot articulate their culture, and ever company has a particular culture, whether that’s merit-based culture, a diversity inclusion culture, whatever it may be. They have to be able to let their leaders and then their employees see what that is so that they can buy in to it. If you don’t have a clear road map to that, you’re going to operate in a culture of chaos. As a leader, you have to be really clear. You have to empower your people, and your people will empower your business first.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right. Yeah. For sure, sure.

Dani Cushion: Yeah. I think from my perspective, I don’t mean to overuse the word agility, but really truly as a leader, especially in a small business. Being able to run up against a problem and fail and not stop is really something. Truly, teaching your teams that you’ve got to keep trying and problem solving and trying and problem solving.

Jim Fitzpatrick: So true.

Dani Cushion: The one path in is not the correct path in, doesn’t mean that there’s not a path in.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.

Dani Cushion: It’s continuing to actually push and encourage innovation and failing fast and failing fast and failing forward really does help small businesses find their niche. It might not end where you start, but being able to be open with falling on your face.

Dr. Felicia P.: Giving them the freedom to do that.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure.

Dani Cushion: That’s right.

Dr. Felicia P.: People have to feel that they can do it, because so many times people are being reprimanded in the workplace, and so they don’t feel so comfortable about being able to be innovative and come up with great ideas because in a business, we tend to keep people in a box.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right, we do.

Dr. Felicia P.: You have to let them feel comfortable that they can step outside of that box and be creative, and bring those solutions back to the company.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. Some of these small business that are watching us today say, “Man, I wish I had an opportunity to bring a coach in. Somebody that could just look at my business and say coach me in these different areas because I might be great at building the widgets that I designed and built and sell, but I don’t know anything about culture. I don’t know anything about bringing all of these people together and diversity and things like that.” A, are those people out there that can coach small business, and B, when is the best time to bring a small business coach in?

Dr. Felicia P.: A, yes. Those people are out there. You have business strategists and business coaches who are out there. The reason you want to do that is because they’re going to reduce your learning curve. They’re going to help you save money. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s exactly right.

Dr. Felicia P.: Until you get into the mix. Right?

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.

Dr. Felicia P.: The other thing though is you as a CEO, you have to be coachable. If you already feel that you know everything, the coach can only do so much.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.

Dr. Felicia P.: Right?

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.

Dr. Felicia P.: They don’t do the work for you. What they do is guide you. It goes back to your why. Why are doing this? Why is it important? Why do you need the employees that you have, and how are you empowering them? If you can really truly speak from your heart and tell people what your why is, they can buy into that. If you look Google, Google has a culture. When you go into their offices, they have everything to make their employees feel safe and at home, and they empower them through their environment. I think we miss that. You know, environment is a big part of that culture of a company.

Jim Fitzpatrick: What I think is interesting is that as we interview, we’re growing our business, we interview new associates that will join the force. It’s interesting. My wife is my partner here, and we sit in the conference room, and we’ll bring them in, and no longer is it a tell us about yourself and then answer our questions. They put you on the hot seat, and they say, “What is your culture here? Share with me before I come to work for your company. Share with me what your culture is.”

Dr. Felicia P.: That’s exactly right.

Jim Fitzpatrick: “What do you believe in, and what’s the vision?” I’m thinking to myself, wow, who’s interviewing who here? Really the ship has changed and has shifted in direction. Especially with a low, tight job market right now where there’s very, very low employment. New recruits can come in and really pick and choose the right company that fits their beliefs.

Dr. Felicia P.: I think we’ve seen our parents work 50 year and get the gold watch.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.

Dr. Felicia P.: They lost time with their family.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.

Dr. Felicia P.: They didn’t enjoy their lives.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s why they gave them a watch.

Dr. Felicia P.: Yeah, right, their time.

Jim Fitzpatrick: You’ve lost so much time, here’s your watch. That’s right.

Dr. Felicia P.: You look back and you say, “What was all this for?”

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.

Dr. Felicia P.: That’s what Millennials are looking at. I want to live my best life now.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.

Dr. Felicia P.: Even though I’m supporting you. Yes, I’m coming to working. I’m doing the job, but I want to live. I want to have a life, and I want to enjoy it, and not be here 80 hours a week.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. For small entrepreneurs, small business owners and entrepreneurs out there that think, why do I have to get a paddle ball table, and why do I have to give free snacks and free sodas and all of these things? That does go in to starting to build the culture and the family environment in your company. Those things do matter. Don’t they?

Dani Cushion: They do. I’ve got a word to the wise though, because I’ve seen it done the wrong way. Not at my current company, but in the past if you go too fast to the free food and to the ping pong and to the paddle ball, without first shoring up, why does this company exist and how is the work that I do matter. You got to do both. You can’t go right to that top of the golden pyramid without shoring up the foundation. It can’t be one without the other. It is important.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I agree.

Dani Cushion: We all spend a ton of time working. You do want to feel good about what you’re building, but it cannot be surface level.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, I totally agree. There’s so many big companies headquartered here in Atlanta, as we know Home Depot and Coca-Cola and power companies, and there’s just so much going on. They’ve got to in turn depend on vendors and other types of companies for them to be successful right here in Atlanta. Which is a huge opportunity for small business owners. Talk to us about what big companies here in Atlanta are looking for in their vendor partners.

Dr. Felicia P.: They’re looking to see, are you corporate ready? Can you help them mitigate risk, and can you add profit to their bottom line? Those are the top three things, because if you’ve noticed over the last few years, you hear the term supplier diversity a lot. All of your major companies that have some initiative to do business with small business, but they want to know that you’re ready, that you’re corporate ready. That you can come in and that you can really implement and come into their supply chain and be successful. If you look at Coca-Cola, they have the 5by20. That is to empower 5 million women by the year 2020-

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow. That’s phenomenal.

Dr. Felicia P.: … in business. Right? That is huge.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s great. Yeah.

Dr. Felicia P.: Delta Airlines has an initiative to spend $1 billion by the year 2021. They’re working and investing in their supply chain through small business. That’s really huge here in Atlanta. That’s happening right here in our city.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. When you say corporate ready, drill down a little bit further on that.

Dr. Felicia P.: Absolutely.

Jim Fitzpatrick: What do you mean by that?

Dr. Felicia P.: You got to do your research as a company. If I know I want to work with Delta Airlines, I need to know their culture. I need to know what their pain points are, and then I need to know that I’m ready. Do I have all of my assurances in place? Am I able to implement strategy right away? Because what happens a lot of time, there’s no redundancy built in the business. A lot of small businesses only have one or two people. What happens if something happens to you? Does the business continue? What’s happens? Because now you’re putting Delta or Coke or Home Depot supply chain in jeopardy. They want to know that you’re corporate ready, that you have all your ducks in a row, and that you’re ready to do business with them.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Where do you see Atlanta with regard to becoming an entrepreneur and building a business over the course of the next five years?

Dr. Felicia P.: This is the golden age.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, I know.

Dr. Felicia P.: This is the golden age.

Jim Fitzpatrick: This is the good stuff. Right?

Dr. Felicia P.: Because everybody has some imitative to do business with small business. You see small business exploding. We’re getting into different industries. There used to be a time where you would see small businesses doing the same business. Right? I call them me too companies. Not anymore. With innovation, small businesses are doing just about everything.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, that’s for sure. That’s for sure. Can you give us a little bit of a sneak peak as what we can expect on the upcoming Tie Conference?

Dr. Felicia P.: Yes, that’s exciting. We’re be at a hotel at the Avalon-

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right, that’s right.

Dr. Felicia P.: … which is new. That whole area is exploding. We’re on Women of Impact Panel, and we have so much to share. This is a great time for women. I always say you have veteran and then women on business that companies look to. We’re going to be sharing a lot of insight and valuable information for the audience.

Jim Fitzpatrick: There’s not enough women owned businesses out there. Are there?

Dani Cushion: It’s getting better.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Is it? Okay. It’s grown?

Dr. Felicia P.: Oh, yeah. [crosstalk 00:11:19] and tremendous.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s great.

Dani Cushion: You look back, five, 10 years ago, and I was probably the only woman in the boardroom. Now there are a couple, and it’s growing and growing.

Dr. Felicia P.: Yes, they’re growing.

Dani Cushion: I think Tiecon is going to be a good conference for those that just need some idea and need some networking, and there’s going to be a lot of positive energy there that you can get.

Dr. Felicia P.: Absolutely.

Dani Cushion: It is sort your personal board of directors, and it is how do you make connections to people to help you grow your own business.

Jim Fitzpatrick: It’s so important to network for young entrepreneurs and old entrepreneurs [crosstalk 00:11:50].

Dr. Felicia P.: Network with a purpose. [crosstalk 00:11:50]. Network with a purpose. Right?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yes, exactly.

Dr. Felicia P.: Don’t just go and collect business cards.

Jim Fitzpatrick: It’s a very good point.

Dr. Felicia P.: Right? Make a relationship.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. I agree.

Dr. Felicia P.: It’s about relationship building.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yup. LinkedIn can help with that-

Dr. Felicia P.: Absolutely.

Jim Fitzpatrick: … and even Facebook and others where after the conference is over to just be to your point, network with a purpose, but it’s so important to be able to call on those other people that have either been there and can consult you in that area, or are also going through that now and maybe have some resources that they can share with you. Ladies, I want to thank you so much for joining us on the Atlanta Small Business Show. Hopefully we can have you back maybe after the conference.

Dr. Felicia P.: We’d love that. [crosstalk 00:12:22].

Jim Fitzpatrick: We’ll talk about some of the successes.

Dani Cushion: Thanks, Jim.

Dr. Felicia P.: That would be awesome.

Jim Fitzpatrick: All right. Thank you so much.

Dani Cushion: Good to be here.

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