Who are you, and what do you do at YML?

Hello! I’m Sunil, Director of Engineering at YML, and I can't deny that I am a geek at heart.  My role demands that I drive the best engineering solutions for our customers and the best support for our top-notch engineering teams.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever built?

The entrepreneurial spirit in me is always active and I’m always tinkering and building things. From a novel pet-store to an IoT child tracker to building a mobile app that takes a picture of a car's damage, I’ve tried it all. I want to keep the programmer in me active. 

Before I got my hand on a computer, I also used to build model airplanes.

SE5A - The Vintage Model Company

Where are you from and where do you live now?

I was born and brought up in the Silicon Valley of India, Bengaluru. While a large part of my career was spent working (and lots of travel!) in the US, I now live in Bengaluru. There’s so much happening on the tech front here that it’s infectious. Bengaluru brings out that innate entrepreneurial and innovation spirit in anyone that lives here.

Apart from being the tech capital of India, it’s also is the brewery capital of India! Who wouldn’t want to live here?

Tell us a little about your background.

I was born a computer engineer! My first tryst with programming was with BASIC back when most of my peers hadn’t seen a computer. I was hooked on programming and it’s still the thing I do to clear out my mind. A large part of my early career was devoted to building solutions in the Biometrics space. I’ve also spent the recent years building products and solutions in the Fintech and InsureTech space.

Outside of work, I have a knack for finding great places to travel to and great places to stay. I’d say travel has played a large part in shaping my personality.

Why did you choose to come to YML?

I am excited to be part of YML for the sheer promise it holds of a great career for anyone who’s part of its journey. I am amazed at the incredible work we do and I’m super excited to be part of it. We don’t just talk design and technology here, we go ahead and build it!

What about this industry are you most passionate about?

I feel it’s the people and minds that are shaping our lives with technology and the privilege to be part of that. To be able to create something that alters and changes people’s lives is just unbelievable and I feel lucky to be doing what I’m doing. I’m a Sci-Fi geek and to be able to experience mind-bending stuff that are coming into our lives is just fascinating.

What are some other companies you admire?

Marvel Studios.. period! Black Panther is definitely my favorite.

The Passionate Politics of “Black Panther” | The New Yorker

I also admire any company that stretches the imagination and are disruptors. I admire anything from Apple to SpaceX to Reliance Jio, who are making tech accessible, as well as pushing the boundaries of what humans can do and achieve.

How do you spend your spare time?

While we're not working (or not binge watching on Netflix), my wife, Ranjitha, and I are mostly traveling. We love seeing new places.  If we’re not traveling, we’re likely pondering over our next destination. We always have a travel bag ready to go! I also love playing racket sports and running.

June 1, 2020

We stand with the black community and against the many faces of systemic racism.

For anyone that is terrorized by this abuse of power and gross injustice, we hear you and we are here for you. 

At its core, we are looking at our country’s most important design challenge.

The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor and countless others are incredibly painful signs of an unjust system. We feel the weight and responsibility of how much work we have to do to fight institutionalized racism to build a stronger, safer society for everyone.

And we won’t relent. We know we may not get it right the first time. But we know how to design, iterate, experiment, strategize, and ultimately how to introduce change that makes a lasting impact.

YML's mission for the last 11 years has been to build experiences that make a lasting impact for people everywhere. But 'to make a lasting impact' reads differently now — it makes us feel different than ever before. We must rethink how we make that impact going forward for our team, our clients, and for the communities we serve.

Here's how we're responding:

  • Donating to Black Girls Code and Color of Change’s campaigns for recent injustices
  • Supporting our team's education on racial justice. 
  • Ensuring that we continue to hire with diversity and inclusion in mind.
  • Establishing a set of guidelines to pursue client partnerships with active diversity, inclusion, social justice and environmental sustainability efforts.

We know our response is one of many and may not solve everything. But that is what design is about — using the tools we have to solve a problem. 

Never take yourself too seriously, build awesome products and enjoy the moment. 

by Pablo Arce, former Senior Director of Project and Program Management, YML

Periods of change are certainly interesting.  They provide an opportunity to reflect on the past as one inevitably builds a mental image of what the impending future may look like.  A very significant change is about to happen in my life: after more than six years with YML, I'm moving on join my new team at Google (Google Cloud AI & Industry Solutions).

I'm saddened to leave the place that has been a home for so long.  Six years in the very fast-moving field of technology (a field I feel lucky to be a part of) feels like a very long time. I am certainly proud of what I have been able to help YML achieve during my tenure here and, as I announced my move to my coworkers, reports, and management, it felt good to have a consistent feedback of appreciation for my contributions.

I have deeply cared about YML, and will continue to do so for a very long time – even if not from within the building that now proudly displays the company name on its exterior. The combination of the impending change, the conversations with my soon-to-be ex-colleagues, and the many feelings surrounding this moment in life drove me to put some thought into what it is that I appreciated so much about my time at YML, and what lessons and new tools I will bring with me into my new position.  Let me try to summarize some of the conclusions running through my COVID-haired head.  

Focus on the user, but tune your brain to IMPACT

User-centric design has almost become a table-stakes approach to designing applications and user interfaces. However, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy thing to do – particularly when the team needs to implement, maintain, and update said application for years.

The idea of placing the user at the center of all work while keeping the future of the application in mind has become something every team member at YML keeps at the forefront in everything we do. An even more defining characteristic of our approach is balancing this user-centricity with the business impact that any decision related to the application should address. If I walk away with anything from YML, it's that features and applications should be created to solve a business problem, a need that matters to the user and to the company (our client). YML has learned to maximize impact to both the end user and client.

Further proof of our conviction is the fact that we often “put our money where our mouth is” – by offering our clients an impact-based compensation option so that when our work proves successful — we all win. Of course, this requires understanding the tracking and measurement post-release – which is another important skill that I was able to hone at YML. I firmly believe that this combination of looking at impacting both the user and the business will be present in my approach to any future project. 

Diversity of Work

Through strong work, YML forged a strong name, which in turn attracted more and bigger clients, from diverse backgrounds and verticals. In any given week I could be working on designing a user interface for a multi-screen robotic surgery platform (mind-boggling technology and opportunity coming in 2021!), developing a banking application that needed top-notch security measures, thinking about how to minimize friction for professionals buying the tools of their trade online while minimizing disruption to their operation, or how to introduce the quickest possible way to order a pizza for dinner.

Over my tenure at YML, I have been involved with over 55 different projects, and each one of them has been unique and different.  This diversity, and the frequently compressed timeframe of the projects, has allowed me to strengthen my “adaptation” brain muscle – allowing me to very quickly build a deep understanding of our clients’ businesses, come up to speed with the problem they are trying to address, and think about how to solve it. This skill and training will undoubtedly continue to be an invaluable asset in my professional life. I love learning, and YML has provided me with continuous learning through project diversity. 

Cross-discipline Collaboration

During my time at YML, we matured in our approach to creating solutions from a “design then build” linear pattern, to a research/design/develop cycle — with iteration built in throughout. That fostered efficient collaboration and communication between Product, Design, Engineering, and Strategy – all driven by Project Management, which I feel strongly is the critical pillar of all YML work.

Collaboration through effective and timely communication is, I believe, the key to project success. At YML we’ve been able to build effective interdisciplinary bridges that help ensure that real collaboration happens – and more importantly I have understood how to help ensure this works in a repeatable way through different projects with different clients – even when we’ve had to adapt slightly to satisfy the client’s specific needs.

Furthermore, this collaboration has often spanned the world, sometimes leveraging a team located in three or four of our global locations – thousands of miles away, with up to 13 hour time-differences, and with significant cultural contrasts. None of these factors have been an impediment to great output and full dedication from the teams. Solving problems by leveraging a global workforce is exactly where I think YML shines – and the way 21st century business will be increasingly required to operate. This ability to collaborate remotely was put to the test as the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic hit and we were required to put it to practice to the extreme – with every single team member working remotely.  YML didn’t miss a beat, because the systems and processes were already in place. 

Team Leadership

I entered YML as a Sr. Project Manager, and I am leaving as Sr. Director of Project & Program Management (say that title 5 times fast!). During that time, my leadership skills were developed much further than they previously had, and I was happy to meet every challenge I encountered, which lead to my continuous growth and learning.

My experience also allowed me to influence and grow the Project Management department, developing a hiring process that has resulted in a great team of committed professionals: hungry for growth and learning, providing results and ensuring the work moves ahead efficiently, and a team that gets along fantastically well, helping one-another and providing support when needed. I looked forward to 1 on 1s with my reports each week because I sincerely enjoy conversations with them: whether we are trying to solve a problem together, or talking about life outside the office walls, there is always a lens of learning and mutual respect that I sincerely appreciate.

Being able to provide leadership to this team has honestly been an honor and a learning experience that I will always cherish and continue to build on.  

Understanding the Management POV

Over the last 3+ years, I’ve had the privilege to be part of the YML leadership and management team. This opportunity has given me a new lens through which to look at how a company operates and the frequently tough choices management needs to make.  I have huge trust in the rest of the YML leadership team and firmly believe that they have the best intentions and abilities to continue to make YML grow and thrive.

I expect management to look very different at a very large company like Google, however, having this additional experience of how a company operates from the top will definitely help me better understand how certain decisions are reached and how the pieces fit together.

The People

I am definitely someone who cares and appreciates personal relationships. Maybe it’s my Spanish Mediterranean blood and upbringing, maybe it’s being the youngest of four siblings and growing up looking at so many people around me, understanding how things worked from each of their angles, trying to outwit my older brothers…

Whatever the cause, the consequence is I care about people – and YML definitely has a strong cast of characters. A talented and diverse team that deeply cares about what they do, and continuously wants to push for better. The people were definitely my #1 reason to stay at YML all these years.

I will confess that I am very excited to join Google.  It has been the company at the top of my list for over 15 years, and I am really happy they consider me a good match.  But I also know that a big part of why they do think I will be valuable to their team comes from everything I have learned at YML, for which I will forever be thankful for.  

It’s been a sincerely great experience to be part of this company.  Leaving it is like moving away from your hometown, leaving friends and familiar places behind. You physically change locations, but a significant part of what is past will always be a part of you, and in this case, YML will always have a place in my heart.  

Thank you YML.  I can’t wait to see where you go from here.

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am a Program Manager with a passion for delivery excellence.  

Day to day I work to ensure our clients experience the same amount of surprise and delight in their account management as they do in our work. Outside of looking at overall strategic portfolio opportunities, you’ll find me in the trenches with the project teams making sure that they not only feel supported, but that they feel I continue to give my all to set them up for success. 

Since joining YML, I ran the State Farm portfolio for most of 2018-19, launched dosist in fall '19, and since then have been devoted to working alongside a major healthcare provider. 

See the dosist work here.

Outside of work I am a wife, dog mom, travel enthusiast, painter, lover of all things related to water, and an avid concert goer.

Where are you from?

Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, I spent my childhood at our family lakehouse. (We take fishing very seriously!) 

While I spent my younger days traveling the US national parks with my father, and my 20’s backpacking the world and living with a family in Ecuador, this January I made the leap with my husband and packed up for our big move to Silicon Valley to be here at YML HQ.   

Tell us a little about your background.

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion to help businesses grow to the next level. I worked a series of service based jobs to get through college, but couldn’t wait for more. 

In my early 20’s I spent time in the education industry while I worked on websites on the side. After college I joined a consulting firm which continued to grow my skills in the technology space. 

I left consulting to focus on driving forward technical portfolios & strategic projects for product based companies which was fun and exciting. Each time feeling rewarded seeing the success of new features and products being launched. When I decided to return to client work, I knew I’d be able to bring that knowledge with me. 

Why did you choose to come to YML?

I loved the passion that came from the leadership team and knew this was an agency where the motto “Make a lasting impact” truly resonated with what I wanted to bring to the table. 

What about this industry are you most passionate about?

I am passionate about artificial intelligence. I love exploring the endless possibilities of its application and believe that it will shape the future of how we interact in almost every capacity of our lives. 

What are some other companies you admire?

As a hometown girl, I’ve always been impressed by the customer experience at Delta. They not only make it a point to give back to the community, but are known worldwide for their amazing experience. Naturally, American Express comes to mind as well. 

However, I am most impressed with many of today's startups because in a world where it “seems like all of the new business ideas are exhausted”, many are still bringing groundbreaking ideas to the table through technology. Robinhood and Truebill are a few examples I love. 

What are you favorite spots to eat in San Francisco?

Kitchen Story Tells a Familiar Yet Refreshing Tale | East Bay Express
Kitchen Story's 'Millionaire's Bacon' is no joke!'

I’ve just moved here so I still have a list of places to try, but I cannot stop myself from visiting “Kitchen Story.” It’s an amazing brunch spot with mouthwatering “Millionaire’s Bacon.” 

How do you spend your spare time?

When I’m not fiddling with side projects in technology, you can find me on the water in a kayak or boat, watching live music (I’ve seen some bands an embarrassingly high number of times) or packing my backpack to explore a new country. 

Women In Leadership Share Insights About Mentorship, Advocating for Equality, and The Future of Female Led Organizations

Nothing is more important right now than staying safe, following social distancing guidelines, and acknowledging the need to hunker down at our homes for as long as it takes for the coronavirus to pass. We're grateful to all of those folks in the healthcare industry who are putting in the work every day to keep us all safe and healthy.

The impact of the coronavirus has been surreal, permeating nearly every aspect of our lives, not just in the U.S., but around the world. Just two weeks ago, YML was immersed in a variety of plans to celebrate Women's History Month, highlighted by a thought leadership panel event we had planned in Atlanta. However, as soon as the pandemic began rapidly spreading, we postponed our event, eager to protect our community, panelists, and team.

We will host the event down the road when things settle, but in the meantime, the outstanding and diverse women panelists who would've been featured in our event have shared a few cogent, compelling thoughts for our community. The panelists featured below are:

Vijay Yerraguntla, Enterprise Technology Executive – Digital Experience at State Farm

Sherry Graziano, SVP, Mortgage Omni Experience | SunTrust now Truist

Anne Billmeyer, Director of Product Insights for Warner Media News and Sports

Umama Kibria, CEO and Founder of SweatPack.

Marcela Lay, VP of Client Strategy and Head of Atlanta Studio

We're grateful to each of these women for their insights, and their leadership.

Question #1: It's more widely accepted in society than ever before that women are impactful assets to their organizations, however, there's still very few women leading organizations. How do we ensure more women have opportunities to reach the top?

Vijay, State Farm:

  • To ensure women reach the top, we cannot start at the top. We need stronger representation in the pipeline early on. We must institute intentionality to make sure that company standards and processes are free of unconscious bias. We need more role models and in-house champions for women that can pave the path for other women and bring them along. I had numerous mentors in my career that have supported me. These people gave not only encouragement but also brutally honest feedback that was necessary for growth. It was painful at times, but it undoubtedly made me a better person and leader. So it’s extremely important to have a mentor that not only supports you, but also stretches you out of your comfort zone. They are bending you without breaking you. 

Sherry, SunTrust

  • Pay it forward. It starts with the leaders who are genuinely committed to driving inclusion. We must be willing to harness a top-down and bottom-up approach to foster inclusion with an intentional focus on personal and professional development for women. Women’s networks are a starting point, but we must also encourage mentorships, sponsorships and 1:1 coaching to continue to move the needle. And let’s not forget that men committed to changing the landscape are incredibly powerful allies.

Anne, WarnerMedia

  • Ensuring women have access to career-expanding projects, workstreams, and roles gives women opportunities to reach the top.  In a nutshell, access matters in a corporate environment. A proactive, open-minded approach to selecting talent ensures women build the skills and have the opportunities needed to reach the top.

Umama, SweatPack

  • This starts with women taking responsibility for our confidence and presenting ourselves. Then we have to create the opportunities we want as entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs. This also takes organizations hiring senior leadership that believes in innovation. This happens through more empathetic adaptability, measured check-ins, internal innovation competitions, and mentorship. That’s how inclusion works.

Marcela, YML

  • First, we create more opportunities for women to join organizations by balancing the candidate pools. Second, we create work environments that support working moms with flexible work hours, and where social events take place during working hours so they can also build rapport with their co-workers and leaders. Third, we create women empowerment initiatives and gender partnership initiatives to develop a gender-neutral work environment. Finally, we bring more opportunities to women for middle management levels. As that number increases, it will create more candidate opportunities for the top. It will also create a multiplier effect where more women will become mentors, leaders, and positive role models for other women in their organization. 

Question #2: How do you feel your brand has moved the needle towards gender equality? 

Vijay, State Farm

  • I’m proud to work for an organization where our Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Admin Officer, Chief Risk Officer, and Chief Data & Analytics Officer are all women.  At State Farm, gender equality is not just our commitment. We make sure our actions actually reflect this promise. Over 30% of our leadership employees are women. We’ve been among the Top Companies for Executive Women and recognized as one of the Best Companies for Multicultural Women. AnitaB.org has also named us as a Top 5 Company for Women Technologists. It’s just incredibly rewarding to be a part of an organization that upholds inclusivity and continually empowers invaluable talent. 

Sherry, SunTrust

  • Having achieved success in numerous roles throughout my career, I have noticed one significant trend - diversity is strength. Diversity and inclusion in the workforce is the secret weapon that inspires new creative ideas, fresh thinking and a better workplace culture. I personally spend countless hours mentoring teammates and developing the next generation of leaders, which I have no doubt will continue to move the needle on equality.

Anne, WarnerMedia

  • There are several explicit programs designed to support women at WarnerMedia News and Sports. We are lucky enough to work for a leader who has publicly gone on the record espousing the benefits of a diverse workforce. Support from high-level allies (both male and female) is still critical to moving the needle for women.

Umama, SweatPack

  • I teach women every day through my personal brand, @smallandstrong.fit, that fitness can be a tool for empowering our confidence, work ethic, and student mentality. Through my own journey of creating opportunities for myself within the fitness and tech industry, they’ve taken that playbook and applied it to the momentum in their careers. I’ve been honored to hire many of these strong-willed women and hire a male Chief Operating Officer that has had a legacy for empowering women’s careers.

Marcela, YML

  • At YML, we have successfully: Closed the pay gap, balanced candidate pools, broken up gender silos, created a harassment-free environment, and created a work/life balance environment for all employees - including parents. I couldn't be more grateful and proud.

Question #3: Have you had a female mentor in your career, and if so, how did she impact your personal and professional development? What's the value of mentorship?

Vijay, State Farm

  • During my early days, there were many times when I had to choose between my career or my young daughters. I used to let go of opportunities or not raise my hand for something because I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to have it all. I used to tell myself, “Not now. Maybe once my kids grow up a bit.” Thankfully, I had a female mentor who was a powerful force of change in my life and transformed my approach completely. One day, my mentor sat me down and shared that there is never a better time to balance life first and then focus on a career. Instead, she told me that I should actually focus on building a support system that would help me to manage both. She gently reminded me not to feel guilty when the equation goes unbalanced (as it’s bound to do sometimes) and that it’s completely okay not to be perfect. I used to be the woman who would wait—for permission to take on more or for someone else to tell me that I belonged at the table. But if it wasn’t for these incredible mentors that believed in me and told me to stop holding myself to impossible standards I have created for myself, I truly wouldn’t be here today.

Sherry, SunTrust

  • I have had the honor of having multiple mentors during my career, both male and female. I will never forget one who pushed me hard to stretch my thinking to grow and develop my skills in an area that didn’t come naturally to me. She quoted Ben Franklin — "opportunity is often missed because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.” She went on to remind me that you must be willing to walk through an open door and make sacrifices and be flexible to make an impact. Mentors provide an unbiased view and can often challenge you to grow and develop in new ways such as influencing new ideas, help build resiliency during change, focus on reflection, remind you of personal health, the list goes on and on.

Anne, WarnerMedia

  • Mentors are invaluable and critical to navigating the work world. My mentors have been great at helping me put things in perspective while learning to think more like a leader. I also believe that less formal relationships are great for filling in the gaps needed to navigate the daily challenges of the workplace while stitching together a path forward. Everyone has something to offer!

Umama, SweatPack

  • My mentor, Ena Harrison, was my first boss out of college. She’s grown with me through my career transitions while tackling personal growth, personal relationships, finances, and lifestyle changes. From the beginning, she groomed me as a professional with our tough leadership conversations but always added in the empathetic leadership that reminded she wanted me to succeed. My leadership is forever influenced by her. Overall, I believe in mentoring moments from new uncomfortable challenges and environments. That's why it's important for everyone to have mentors above us (that guide us), mentors beside us (that share the journey with us at the same stage in our professional growth), and mentors below us (people we can teach + train).

Marcela, YML

  • Mentorship is extremely valuable. Mentors teach from real-life experiences on how to succeed, how to navigate challenges, and evaluate opportunities; Mentors help you think differently. Once a mentee experiences growth from that mentor-mentee relationship, there is a paying-it-forward mindset that creates a multiplier effect. Today, I'm able to mentor women in my organization, and I've already seen how these strong and confident women are becoming mentors to others. I had female role models I've admired in my life, but I didn't have any female mentors. While I regret not reaching out to women for mentorship, I did have some influential male mentors in my career who have been very supportive of women in the workplace. It is because of these male mentors that I see gender equality initiatives as an inclusive endeavor where men want to be part of the solution. 

We're humbled by this thoughtful, strong group of women. YML plans to host our event celebrating and recognizing women in leadership as soon as there's renewed safety within our communities. We hope that day will be soon!

Reach out to YML with any questions or feedback.

More background on the panelists:

Vijayasri (Vijay) Yerraguntla is an Enterprise Technology Executive for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Companies. Her executive role includes leading strategic direction for all of State Farm Digital experience products, including statefarm.com, State Farm Mobile app, emerging digital capabilities  and user experience center of excellence. She collaborates closely with the business unit leaders to evolve their strategies through digital competencies. Vijay serves as a customer advocate, partnering with other leaders across the enterprise to transform the customer experience and promote a consistent experience for customers.

Sherry Graziano leads Truist Mortgage Omni Experience and Relationship Deepening. She will be responsible for driving client-centric strategy, client experience, and client deepening initiatives. Sherry joined SunTrust in 2011, and brings a unique combination of sales, operations, and technology experience to help us deliver a differentiated and exemplary mortgage client experience.

Anne Billmeyer is a Director of Product Insights for Warner Media News and Sports. She leads the NBA Digital insights team on their quest to explore how the suite of NBA digital products are used and how those experiences impact the business. She has spent a fair amount of her career in traditionally male lead fields (sports and production homebuilding)  where the power of representation really matters.

Umama Kibria is passionate about connecting people through fitness. She's been recognized on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List and fitness influencer of the year after working out at over 400 gyms and connecting with over 100k people on social media. Now she's leveraging technology to help people be active and stay accountable.

Marcela Lay is the co-head of YML's Atlanta office, and she shoulders leadership roles across account management, strategy, and people operations. As a strategic customer experience executive with over 18 years of experience, Marcela has worked with Fortune 500 clients like Lowe’s, Delta Air Lines, The Coca-Cola Company, State Farm, and Fresenius Medical Care. Marcela’s experience allows her to bring a holistic understanding of all aspects of digital, including marketing strategy, experience design, and platform development. Throughout her career as a trusted advisor to her clients, combined with a solid background in customer experience strategy and process optimization, Marcela has led cross-disciplinary teams to deliver a range of transformational customer experience solutions. 

For Women's History Month, YML is shining a light on the powerlessness far too many women feel, and how to be proactive about changing the status quo to drive impact.

by Marcela Lay | March 16, 2020

I was recently at a Together Digital meetup —a networking event where women help women succeed in digital - and in life — where a colleague shared something powerful and unfortunately disheartening with me:

“I feel about changing the status quo, the same way I feel about global warming – overwhelmed. I don’t even know where to start.” 

It was not the first time I heard this powerlessness sentiment when a gender equality topic has been brought up. So, it got me thinking about the state of women today, how our company perceives of and hires women in tech, and about where all of this fits in Women's History Month in 2020. 

What has created this analysis paralysis? 

On the one hand, we bring awareness to gender inequality issues through stats that, well, let’s face it, are overwhelming. 

I have used many of those data points during presentations to our staff and in public events alike, and I found it critical to create a sense of urgency. So, to be blunt — there's nothing we can do in the immediate that will change the fact that this issue is overwhelming, massive and institutionally bound to the culture we live in.

On the other hand, we read articles like the one published in December by Forbes, “The World’s Most Powerful Women: Newcomers To The 2019 List” that puts the spotlight on powerful women who are using their power to create change.  Or we participate in women marches that make us believe a massive movement is required to influence change.

Image result for women's march 2019
Source: WTOP.com

While the efforts from powerful women and women's movements have been necessary and the catalyst to influence change today, there is very little visibility into the small improvements that regular women are leading today. And if we don't have visibility into those more modest efforts done by regular women out there to drive impact, then that feeling of being overwhelmed and stuck will only persist.

Under our current climate, and when it feels like the world is finally listening, we can’t afford feeling powerlessness. If a window for change has finally opened, then it's our responsibility to take action. We owe it to ourselves, to our friends, to our daughters, and the generations behind us. We all have the opportunity to become agents of change today. If not today, then when?

So, what do we do?

We can start by bringing attention to our day-to-day and by embracing a steady disruptor mindset in our organizations.

Step 1: Identify the issue and label it.

In order to become a steady disruptor, first, we must become hyper-aware of the issues around us. And I know what you might be thinking, "We are already aware."

Yes, to a certain degree. 

But remember that for centuries, women have been trained to dismiss or justify the warning signs. A constant example I've encountered involves blaming ourselves for our co-workers’ inappropriate behaviors – maybe I smiled too much?

Becoming a Steady Disruptor requires an awakening.

Only then will we be able to recognize the warning signs at our organizations. As we start paying attention to that tension inside of us when something is not the way it is supposed to be, we will allow ourselves to admit the tangible problems of equality our team or organizations are facing. Once you identify a particular issue, go ahead and label it (harassment, bro-culture, mansplaining, etc.)  because unless you can accurately identify the problem, you won't be able to identify a potential solution. 

Image result for bro culture
Source: MindTools

For instance, our tech industry is dominated by men (80%), but at YML Atlanta, we ended 2019 with 57% women. How did we achieve this result? By identifying the right issue.

The issue I came across took place during hiring periods.  Our recruiting team would share a wide variety of candidates' resumes, but they were resumes of mostly men. So, I asked, where are the resumes of women? And they would answer, women didn't apply. 

The label I gave to this issue was: "Unbalanced pool of candidates." Then I moved to step #2.

Step 2: Assess opportunities for small and impactful change

Now, because of the countless years women have been socialized to dismiss the tension inside of us, as we try to identify opportunities for change, we will find many reasons that will stop us from doing anything about it. But now that you are not ignoring the tension anymore, fight those mental blocks.  

Here are some example of mental block:

  • Am I qualified to help? — This is the self-doubt mental block. 
  • I'm not sure if I have the right answer. — The uncertainty mental block.
  • What if I fail? — The indecision mental block.
Image result for small and incremental change

Get rid of those mental blocks, whatever those might be. That takes practice, and intentionality. But once you overcome them, you will allow yourself to move into a more creative space where anything could be possible.  It is at this stage that you will start asking yourself a different series of questions: 

  • How can I make this situation better?
  • How can I create an opportunity for change?
  • Who can I invite to help? What role could I play?
  • What type of small improvements could we implement?

The key here is to consider small improvements. Remember — we are not trying to boil the ocean.

Small and incremental improvements are the key to steady disruption. 

On our ‘unbalanced pool of candidates” issue example, I assessed three opportunities for small and impactful change:

  1. Educate our recruiting team on the fact that women only apply to jobs when they match 100% of requirements and that men often apply to jobs when they believe they match about 60% of those requirements. 
  2. Proactively reach out to female candidates to balance the candidate pool.  
  3. I needed to work on a women's empowerment initiative at YML to ensure our women developed a strong sense of confidence.

Step 3: Commitment to translate the opportunity into action

Once you have one small opportunity for change, all that is left is to commit to translating that opportunity into action. This is a critical step to ensure change. Unless we act on our ideas, the attention is not going to translate into meaningful results. 

Here is how I translated into action the three opportunities I assessed in step 2:

  1. I added to our ATL leadership scorecard a metric to ensure our team was requesting and only interviewing a balanced pool of candidates.
  2. I know our Atlanta talent better than my California recruiting team, so I needed to lean into a recruitment role.  I vetted local talent by reaching out on LinkedIn to potential female candidates and inviting them to connect over coffee. 
  3. I spearheaded our Women Initiative (WIN) at YML. Every month, we present content related to personal development, career development, and women empowerment across our US offices.

The first two small actions resulted in a more balanced pool of candidates and how we were able to reach 57% women by the end of 2019. While our efforts ensure more women participate in the interview cycles, we only hired the best candidate for the role regardless of gender.

Yes, small changes can have significant impact at your organization.

Women are poised today with the most power we've ever had to initiate change. The question is, what are you going to do with this power? 

Pay attention to the tension and translate that insight into action.  It is the ripple effects of our combined small actions that will redefine the status quo for this and the next generations. 

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About the Author

Marcela Lay is the co-head of YML's Atlanta office, and she shoulders leadership roles across account management, strategy, and people operations. As a strategic customer experience executive with over 18 years of experience, Marcela has worked with Fortune 500 clients like Lowe’s, Delta Air Lines, The Coca-Cola Company, State Farm, and Fresenius Medical Care. Marcela’s experience allows her to bring a holistic understanding of all aspects of digital, including marketing strategy, experience design, and platform development. Throughout her career as a trusted advisor to her clients, combined with a solid background in customer experience strategy and process optimization, Marcela has led cross-disciplinary teams to deliver a range of transformational customer experience solutions. 

January 29, 2020

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hello! I am Debasish, an ardent technophile and one among the passionate ‘Dreamers and Doers’ of YML 💪

As a program manager, I lead and drive program objectives, determine deliverables, make milestones, and pursue the critical path to help achieve strategic and business goals of YML and it’s clientele. 

Fresenius Medical Care, ADAA, Orig3n, FS and EMC are a few of my most recent completed programs at YML. 

Where are you from?

I was born and grew up in the suburb city of Joy, Kolkata, India. 

Coming from a city with a soul which carries 330+ years of rich culture, as a kid I was curious to explore creative, abstract art, sports, technology, and education. The pursuit of knowledge and the warmth of being together with family helped me to build my 'never back down' attitude towards life. 

I moved to Bangalore, India, to study information science and engineering. With ample freedom to flourish and nurture my passion that converge — skills, value, quality, and yes, the cult of the great minds around — I’ve discovered what it takes to deliver a lasting impact on everything I do. 

Tell us a little about your background.

I have had a strong passion for technology since my childhood. It fascinates and pushes me to find a simple tech solution for a complex problem. 

When I received my first computer, I was dazzled to experience the symphony of MS-DOS, Windows 95, CPU system and a printer orchestrating together. I was happy to be hooked to the computer all day long.

Fast forward 15 years, I carry the identical enthusiasm every moment with strong tech management in mobile platform, AI/ML, data science, enterprise and human aspects of software engineering. 

I joined the Vimeo Livestream team as a fresh grad and over the years contributed significantly to deliver world class quality products and projects across multiple Fortune 500 clients later on including Facebook, Dell, HP, and Disney before joining YML.

Why did you choose to come to Y Media Labs?

I believe in the vision and mission of YML's founders and leadership team.

We have some of the brilliant people in the industry working here. 'Work hard, play hard' is our culture. YML means business and value with a lasting impact.  

Apart from work, I love the engaging events of YML. YML hack day is organized for 'YML'ers who want to showcase their unique ideas and coding skills. We regularly participate in corporate sports events such as marathons, duathlon, and corporate relay races. 

Above all, I love the energy, the vibe, and passion of YML. Thats why I choose to come to this world-class mobile development studio. 

What about this industry are you most passionate about?

Technology, software, people, innovation and value converges to motivate me. Faster access to internet enables ubiquitous access to new innovation and new opportunities at our finger tips. Clearly, the world is evolving at a rapid speed.

My conscious involvement with the rapid transformation in the tech industry helps me with effective visualization and successful execution. It feels great to be a part of this industry! And, It's a feeling that will never go away. 

What are some other companies you admire?

Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon, and Samsung need no introduction and I admire them for the contributions they have made so far to the technology industry.  Lesser known start-ups and good business models I admire are:

  • CureFit - A digital and offline platform offers a healthy lifestyle and holistic cure across fitness, food, and mental well-being through its three products: cult.fit, eat.fit and mind.fit. 
  • Byju’s - Ed-tech startup that offers highly-adaptive, engaging and effective learning programs for students from classes 4-12 and competitive exams.
  • Practo - Digital healthcare platform that enables users to find medical services & solutions. 

What are your favorite spots to eat?

My favorite spot is my residence because I am in control of taste, portion and quality of the food. We like to experiment with fresh quality ingredients and we absolutely love what we cook! Here is a list of nearby favorite places in Bangalore, India, we enjoy dining out:

My favorite spot to eat outside of India is Epicure - Le Bristol Paris and Hibou Deli in Chamonix, France because of their heavenly dishes and flavors of the world they offer. 

How do you spend your spare time?

My family is surrounded with strength of love and with every union in my spare time, our bond grows stronger.

I enjoy reading, boxing, football, yoga, and activities for physical & mental fitness. I also love adventure sports and building prototypes. Expressing myself through fine art painting is another treasured passion of mine. I feel accomplished and get the sense of fulfillment when I create a wonderful masterpiece because art works as a springboard for exploration of my inner self and peace ✌🏼.

August 8, 2019

YML's team is diverse, insightful and bound together by a dedication to the agency's mission — make a lasting impact. The "Getting to Know" series shines a light on various members of the YML team.

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Adam Talcott, and I’m a software engineering manager at YML.

I’ve been at YML for four years, and during that time I’ve had the pleasure of leading a number of different technology projects. I usually get involved in the early stages of an engagement, even before a client has committed to partnering with us, to bring an engineering perspective to the table. I then get to see that project through strategy, design, development and deployment.

Where are you from?

I was born in Chicago, but I grew up in California, splitting my time between the San Fernando Valley in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area.

I went to college and grad school in southern California, and, after a brief stint in Austin, Texas, I returned to the Silicon Valley about 20 years ago.

Tell us a little about your background.

After completing my Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering, I worked as a computer architect designing microprocessors for IBM, Sun Microsystems and Cisco. In 2008, I started developing iOS (then just “iPhone”!) apps in my spare time.

I started my own consulting company in 2009 working on iPhone apps for a wide variety of customers. I worked at a startup in the machine learning and video space prior to joining YML.

Why did you choose to come to Y Media Labs?

At YML I saw a great opportunity to work with a great team and to partner with amazing clients. I also really love the variety of projects I get to work on and the variety of technologies I get to learn about and use here.

What about this industry are you most passionate about?

I love to bring great designs and user experiences to life. It doesn’t matter what the technology may be, but nothing gives me more pleasure than having something I’ve helped build improve people’s lives in some way.

What are some other companies you admire?

Apple is definitely one. I was an Apple fanboy since I first started programming on my parents' Apple II Plus computer. That’s long before it was normal to see everyone in a meeting, classroom or airport with Apple computers or using an iPhone.

It’s been amazing to watch the growth of that company, and I still get inspired by the story of how the first Macintosh computer was developed.

What are your favorite spots to eat in San Francisco?

I live in Los Altos, so when I eat in San Francisco, it tends to be for a special event. As a result, my favorite restaurant in the city is Gary Danko, which I’ve been fortunate enough to visit on a few occasions.

Closer to home, and more affordable: I love eating at Patxi’s Pizza in Palo Alto or Estrellita Restaurant in Los Altos.

How do you spend your spare time?

With my family, usually in the car shuttling the kids between activities. My wife and I have a ten-year-old daughter and and an eight-year-old son, and I always look forward to weekends or traveling with them.

And when I do have a moment to myself, I also love reading history books or getting some video game time in playing Rocket League or a hockey game in NHL 19.

July 18, 2019

YML's team is diverse, insightful and bound together by a dedication to the agency's mission — make a lasting impact. The "Getting to Know" series shines a light on various members of the YML team.

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Hamish, which is a Scottish name pronounced “Hey-mish”, but in the US by necessity I will respond to Hammish, Hameesh, Amish, Shamus and occasionally Angus.   

I’m a UK qualified Chartered Accountant, and I’ve been working as a CFO / COO for professional services agencies for most of my career.

Where are you from?

Despite the extremely Scottish name, I was born and raised in South East England and spent the first two decades of my career in London.  When the agency I was the CFO for in London expanded into the US in 2003, I took the opportunity to move with it to the San Francisco Bay Area where I’ve been living and working since 2006.

Tell us a little about your background.

My time at school and university was dominated by mathematics – almost all of my high school qualifications are mathematics subjects, and my bachelor’s degree is in mathematics.  So after graduating, becoming a Chartered Accountant was a natural route into the business world for me.  

Why did you choose to come to Y Media Labs?

From the start, I’ve wanted to work with business leaders to help them build and grow their organizations.  Fast-growing businesses are the most fun and challenging to work for, and I’m a professional services agency specialist and a technology enthusiast – so Y Media Labs checked every single box for me. I couldn’t have been more excited when Ashish and Sumit asked me to join.

What about this industry are you most passionate about?

I’ve always been a tech geek – before computers I was a gadget guy, in the early 80’s I was programming an 8-bit computer with machine code, and I love the things that technology enables.  I keep in touch with friends and family all over the world using social media. I listen to just about any book in the world or any music I want to during my commute using a wireless super-computer that fits in my pocket. I can deal with my anxieties by checking my garage door is closed from anywhere in the world – all these things I love with a passion and muse on with awe on a daily basis, and I’m excited for the things to come too.

What are some other companies you admire?

I admire people more than companies, and it’s the people behind them that drive inspirational companies.  Coming from the UK I grew up being inspired by Richard Branson, and his values of fairness, inclusion and humility, which infuse the Virgin brand.  And people like Roger Federer, who despite his phenomenal success and domination of his sport for years, maintains a humility and kindness to all which is an example for everyone.

What are your favorite spots to eat in San Francisco?

I worked for several years on the Embarcadero, in what is now Google’s San Francisco office.  Favorite places around there are Ozumo for sushi, and Boulevard for a splurge.  Where I live in Marin, I have to give a big shout out to Insalata’s.

How do you spend your spare time?

Living in Marin, our family does a lot of outdoors stuff – tennis, hiking with our dogs, swimming, and mountain biking which was invented in Fairfax the town next door to us.  We love movies too, and being able to stream HD movies on demand onto a projection screen in our living room is amazing – just another reason I love technology!

Follow Hamish on Linkedin!

By Shayna Stewart / July 17, 2019

A people-first approach is neither easy to create or quick to implement. But it is the secret sauce at the core of the biggest and best brands in the world today.

Customer experience is a strategy that all digital insiders know has to be a focus if they want to have a lasting impact in their industry. However, the execution of customer experience isn’t as easy as just coming up with a plan to leverage emerging technology and building digital products. It’s as much about igniting cultural change within a company as it is about planning for the evolution of the experience.

At YML, we’ve designed a dynamic and thorough people-first strategy built to cultivate cultural change.

That people-first approach is what is missing from the majority of CX initiatives — and it shows. 

  • Executives who have made a push for a CX strategy have not seen a tangible business improvement.  20% of companies scored 9-10 for seeing a Return on Investment, with 14% of companies scoring 0-2 (Confirmit, 2018). 
  • The public doesn’t believe they have reaped much benefit from CX initiatives. 
    • 54% of U.S. consumers say customer experience at most companies needs improvement (PWC, 2018).  
  • Culture and legacy technology systems have been major reasons for people not seeing the consumer benefit of CX initiatives.
    • 54% of organizations cite culture as the primary challenge to becoming more agile, followed by the inflexibility of legacy technologies (Confirmit, 2018).
  • The companies who are reaping the rewards of CX initiatives, whom are mainly located in Silicon Valley, are the ones who have unequivocally added benefit to people’s lives.  
    • The S&P Index is largely a Technology Index as of 2018, including companies such as Alphabet/Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon (Seeking Alpha, 2018).

What differentiates the Silicon Valley behemoths and startups is the people-first approach. 

Source: Conformit, 2018

A people-first approach comes with a shift in mindset that is drastically different from the historical business executive mindset. You suddenly are talking about the broad spectrum of all people, internally and externally,  instead of just customers, and ultimately revenue. You are talking about emotions as opposed to products. Instead of technology solutions, you are building conversational tools. Lastly, whereas a business-centric mindset is one that optimizes based on minimizing risk and maximizing revenues, a people-first mindset is one that optimizes for transparency and intrinsic value.

In the short term, when first making this cultural shift, these optimization goals can constrain each other. In the long run, a people-first approach will maximize revenue, reduce risk, build loyalty with your team, and, quite frankly, keep your business relevant. 

But this is a very difficult story to tell when in a boardroom meeting. Often times a savvy executive can make the initial case for investing in CX, but isn’t able to clarify the full scope of that CX investment, which includes a gradual and tangible, cultural change to people-first. What ends up happening is that the first part of the project may go well and the customer may come first, but then the returns on revenue and reduced risk are not immediately recognized and therefore the mindset shifts back to business as usual.  

The trick is to trust the strategy. Trust consistency of message and approach. 

Here are some examples of companies optimizing for people-first.

  • Netflix created an easy to cancel monthly subscription experience along with reminders to cancel after the trial period so that customers never felt like they were overcharged or cheated in someway. However, this people-first change, optimizing towards transparency, had an estimated loss of $50M in subscription revenue. At the time, that was still a small percentage of overall revenue and in making the change towards transparency it built long term trust. As a result of improved brand perception, they continue to increase their monthly subscription base, hitting their highest level of subscribers in Q1 2019. 
  • In 2016 McDonald’s invested in elevating the interior environment of their stores to feel more premium, along with adding in self-ordering digital kiosks and table service. Investing in improved interiors is a table stakes strategy. Let’s face it — they needed to make this people-first investment just to stay relevant. It is table stakes because the outcome will get you to a net-neutral spot; it’s not going to increase customer base, it’s just going to make sure you don’t lose customers at a faster rate than if you did not implement that update. A clean, premium eating environment is the expectation. But the digital kiosk paired with the improved interior is what took the strategy to a level that would actually increase sales.
Image result for mcdonalds self service

  • The digital kiosk solved a customer pain point of waiting in lines in a way that was hard for competitors to copy right away.  Their strategy was to ensure their experience met standards and then improved the standards of the industry. This investment didn’t start to see a return until 2018 for stores within the test. McDonald’s has many other competitive pressures, such as new restaurants with the perception of better quality food and convenience offered through delivery overriding in-store speediness. But refreshed strategy may not be enough to overcome these new customer expectations. Changing expectations raises the importance of adopting a people-centric approach that will allow you to rethink the entirety of the business and how it can pivot from an existing model to a new one.

In both of these instances with Netflix and McDonalds, the immediate impact on the business metrics (revenue, profit) went down. In the long run, these CX strategies resulted in heightened retention over time. Brand perception and revenue drastically improved. They illustrated how creating a people-first culture will help mitigate the initial shock of investment and reduce risk over the long run because the investments made are directly informed by people’s emotions. 

Image result for netflix
According to Forrester, a one point gain in CX index results in a $5M-$185 million return on the business (depending on industry). Netflix has been ahead of the curve when it comes to CX and a people-first approach.

At YML we have created a step by step hierarchy to help you understand what actually goes into creating a people-first cultural mindset. Breaking it down into steps can help your teams understand where they are in maturity. The plan is also a tool to understand what steps were missed in the past. The key to this model is that it implies a high level of collaboration from stakeholders from historically siloed teams at every step.   

Levels to Creating a People-First Culture: 

  1. Feel What People Feel 
    • Extensive marketing research that looks beyond your customers, your competitors’ customers and the points of interaction with you and your competitors
    • Employees from each team pretending to be your own customer
    • Employees from each team pretending to be a service rep that interacts with the customer
  2. Empathize to Solve Problems
    • Build your strategy around the crucial moments of emotions in step 1
    • Identify what part of the strategy is table stakes vs. what will move customer expectations
    • Projects that only have table stakes will fail because that only postpones the inevitable of customers churning, it will not promote long term engagement
    • Ideas that will move customer expectations should be prioritized despite being harder to develop (See how to prioritize innovation with Innovation Index
  3. Igniting Cultural Change
    • All team members should be aware of the new people-first research and strategy 
    • The people-first strategy should be outlined in terms of how every person and team can help implement this new strategy and what is expected of them
    • New rules of engagement defined, highlighted by a culture of not being afraid to fail, must be adopted.  This about making a transition from fear of change to perceiving of smart risk-taking as admired 
  4. Talk the Way People Talk
    • Your backend systems and content need to reflect the nomenclature of the way people talk, as opposed to the way an industry insider speaks.
    • The backend systems must be able to support people’s desired navigation 
    • This sometimes can be a significant change to legacy data architecture. 
  5. Build The Experience
    • Design, develop and deploy
  6. Continuous Optimizing of The Experience
    • Must have the ability to move quickly and make quick decisions.
    • Much of this is about empowering mid-level employees with the ability to have more decision making power.  
  7. Creating New Customer Expectations 
    • Continuous pulse on changing expectations and creating new solutions to meet those new expectations
    • Creating new technology
    • Taking a new technology to solve an unsolved problem 

Each step is crucial, and completion of a step without completing the one before it will invalidate all steps. In addition, the investment in each level is additive and represents a cost that is continuously incurred. This means the investment does not go away once a team has leveled up. The result for each step will be unique to every brand and even the approach to all steps is not a one-size fits all. Even if you meet the requirements in each step there are still some cultural habits that will undermine this entire investment. 

Habits to Avoid in Order to Preserve a People-First Mindset

  • Don’t forget to create advocates across all teams. Be sure to allow lines of communication for input and collaboration from all teams. This is a high-collaboration sport. 
  • Don’t say the investment will end with a specific project. Your teams should be continuously optimizing the project and there is no end to the investment. Remember, the CX leaders are actively investing billions every year in creating new expectations (i.e., Steps #1-#7 never go away).  
  • Don’t a business case around just Step #5. Steps #1-#4 are crucial to making sure the investment incurred in Step #5 is not wasted. 
  • Leveraging emerging technology without contextualizing why and how people would use it creates costly mistakes. That can only come once you have hit step #7 and shouldn’t come sooner. 
  • Not investing in robust people-first research. This seems simple enough, but most companies think they have the right research based on satisfaction scores from customers. This is too narrowly focused for a people-first approach.  
  • Not properly communicating the people-first research and initiatives built from it to all teams in the entire company. Teams need to understand what this shift means for them and how they can support it. 
  • Not allowing for employees to feel comfortable about outcomes that weren’t positive. Not everyone will get it right the first time, but they should learn from why it didn’t work. That insight will get teams to the next big thing.  
  • Not expecting team structure shifts in order to become more agile. 
  • Not expecting major changes to database warehousing teams. Usually CX initiatives are considering just what it takes to build a website or app, but fail to consider that the systems that they may read from are not set up to comply with the new people-first strategy.  

A people-first mindset should permeate the underlying thinking of all teams. It should be an iterative process that produces long term business results.

It should unite and empower all employees to stand up for what’s right for the customer.

Employee thinking should be able to shift seamlessly between their executive persona and people persona. And most importantly, it should allow employees to feel like people feel because, at the end of the day, all of us are just people.

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