Hi legacy-makers, Michelle here! Thank you for tuning in to our first blog post of Summer 2020! The intention behind this series is to continue the conversation surrounding CSR so we can become more informed and intune with what’s around us, and stay curious and inspired. We have a lot of amazing content ready for you and cannot wait to share all of the learnings we have cultivated. In this edition, I had the lovely opportunity to interview Stefan Kollenberg, co-founder of Crescendo, a start-up organization that helps businesses integrate D&I into their workplace culture. Without further ado, put on your thinking caps and let’s dive deeper into social impact entrepreneurship!
Can you start off by telling me a bit about yourself and your work?
Stefan: Absolutely! My name is Stefan Kollenberg and I’m one of the co-founders of Crescendo. Our mission is to help global organizations launch successful diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs. There are so many growing challenges that these workplaces face - ranging from the smaller size of D&I teams, and the ambiguity of D&I itself as it can mean different things depending on culture and geography. Our technology allows these companies to deliver a personalized learning experience to every single employee and leverage advanced analytics so they can better understand their workforce. We enable these organizations with rich data to explore what actually inspires an increase in inclusivity. They then launch targeted campaigns with that data to specific areas of the business.
Michelle: Very cool! What do you love most about your work?
Stefan: I love just being able to talk to amazing people all day! Whether that’s my internal team or our corporate partners, people in the D&I space are open-minded, accepting, and kind. It’s nice that I get to share my full self in everything that I do - so that’s definitely my favourite part.
What was your primary motivation behind founding Crescendo and what was the process like?
Stefan: It all came to be when my other two co-founders and I wanted to make a social impact driven by a sustainable business model that could enable shifts in large-scale companies. When we were talking about this, it really came down to our own shared experiences of having all felt kind of excluded in the past due to an unhealthy workplace culture. Movements like “Black Lives Matter” and “#MeToo” showed us that companies are now willing to listen, and we wanted to be part of the solution. So, the three of us were like hey! Let’s see how we can create more inclusive organizations and support individuals from underrepresented groups to further align business impact and social impact. That’s always been a really big priority for us, and along the way, we’ve been through different start-up programs and really focused on user and market research to further our understanding of who the consumer really is. By diving deeper into what challenges they’re facing and how we can solve them, we kept on slightly pivoting the product until we found the perfect fit. And that’s kind of where we are today!
Michelle: Evidently, in light of COVID-19, we’re starting to see a lot of shifts in the workplace. What are some of the impacts that this may have on businesses and D&I in specifics?
Stefan: There’s a few different impacts that we’ve seen. From a financial standpoint, if a company is cutting their budgets, a lot of the external facing stuff (ie. Talent Acquisition, Sponsorships, etc.) are being cut, whereas the internal stuff becomes a higher priority. Even if they had to lay-off employees, the top priority is to now retain the ones that remain. Evidently, once you lay off a third of a company, you’re likely to see a really tough hit on morale. So now more than ever, companies are trying to make people feel included, accepted, and appreciated. Other companies that are doing well and haven’t had to make cuts are also investing in internal functions as everyone’s so much more anxious with the added exclusion going on in different parts of the world due to xenophobia. COVID has really amplified the inequities of our systems, and workplaces must adjust to ensure that D&I is still embedded in all that we do.
Can you elaborate a bit more on the shift towards remote work?
Stefan: Well, this shift towards working at home is definitely here to stay. Organizations have been forced to set up the infrastructure that enables remote work and are discovering that it’s so much more affordable than having an office. Companies like Twitter and Square have gone fully distributed, and it’s predicted that many other businesses will follow suit. What this does actually from a diversity perspective is open up so many amazing opportunities for people with disabilities and people who don’t live in hot job spots like San Francisco, where for example, all the big tech firms are. Now, we are enabling an increase in geographical and socio-economic diversity by providing opportunities for people who were previously locked out of these high-income jobs. With the shift towards needing a virtual or remote-friendly solution when it comes to D&I, we’ve been able to help a lot of our organizations by allowing each individual employee to go on their own learning journey through our digitally-native tools.
Michelle: I definitely didn’t think of how remote work can produce more opportunities. I feel like we’re stuck in this mindset where working at an office is the norm but now that perspective is definitely changing.
Moreover, do you have any tips for how we can further embed the roots of what D&I stands for into our daily routines?
Stefan: At its core, it’s about understanding other people’s perspectives, being open to those perspectives, and accepting that your point of view maybe isn’t the only point of view that exists. Having the necessary self-awareness to understand what your privileges are, what your identity is, and how you impact those around you, is crucial. This can be developed through therapy or journaling everyday, but all comes down to understanding the benefits we have in life and how they change the way we interact with others. So, a lot of it is that internal self-reflection.
As well, we must constantly educate ourselves! Diversifying your newsfeed and friend group, looking at where you’re spending money, the types of businesses you’re supporting, the areas of the city you’re visiting - all these things are different ways that you can expose yourself to different points of view.
My last tip is to do an audit of the things that you giveaway and the communities that you support. For myself, I love to mentor and give back! However, I don’t mentor people who have already had a lot of privileges and benefits; whether it’s socio-economic or racial - I’m really focused on supporting entrepreneurs who are underrepresented, especially women of colour. When you look at VC funding, it’s so drastic how much less funding women of colour entrepreneurs get versus their white male counterpart and just any other folks in general. My goal is to really explore new methods in opening my network to share the learnings that I’ve had with individuals who haven’t had access to those same things.
You’ve talked a bit about how you’ve acted as a mentor for aspiring entrepreneurs, so I would love to hear any advice you may have for hopefuls in the social impact space who want to make a change but are unsure of where to start.
Stefan: The biggest thing that I always recommend is to be very focused on solving a problem, rather than creating a solution. What I mean by that is to not go into it being like “I wanna build this!” or “I wanna create this thing!” because what that’s gonna do is pigeon hole you into a very specific way that you think is best for solving the problem. The best way will be found if you start talking to people who have experienced that problem, and deconstructing the why.
Like: why do you have that problem, what are the challenges that you’ve faced along the way, what did you do to try and solve those challenges, and finally, what were the solutions?
Using this methodology, you’ll find a better solution that’s crafted to meet someone’s actual needs and their behaviour, rather than an idea that you think is cool. It’s also gonna help you avoid getting false validation, because a lot of times, especially in social impact, people are gonna be like yes, I love the mission that you’re on - absolutely this is great and I’m gonna support you! They’re not gonna give you the cold hard feedback that really helps you validate the product that you’re creating and the problem that you’re solving. And again, don’t build anything until you’ve gotten validation that you’re gonna be able to sell it.
Keep testing, doing user reviews, gathering feedback, and building out a list of people who might want to use your product in the future. Only sell it once you’ve got strong enough validation across enough user interviews that prove that this is the right approach. Then, it’s all about opening up the beta, garnering feedback, and constantly reiterating and changing overtime.
Michelle: That’s some awesome advice, thank you!
Onto some rapid fire questions! Favourite TV show?
Stefan: Hmm, right now it’s gotta be Kim’s Convenience, it’s super funny! But I also love Working Moms and Money Heist.
Michelle: Favourite podcast?
Stefan: Very random, but it’s called “The Spitballers” podcast. It’s a comedy podcast where I get to just disconnect and laugh.
Michelle: A go-to takeout place?
Stefan: Kupfert & Kim! So good - it’s a vegan and gluten-free place that I love.
Michelle: Awesome! Thank you so much for your time and insights, I've certainly learned a lot from your experiences.
If you would like to journey alongside Stefan and continue the conversations surrounding D&I, please check out his website here!