Category: News

On Writing the TEDx RISE Theme


I got to write the theme for this year’s Pasadena Women TEDx RISE event. For me, this is no small thing. I’ve loved TED Talks since only nerds watched them. I’ve spent entire Friday nights (and into Saturday mornings) binge-watching brilliant minds do their thing. For me, free evenings are often about TEDx and chill—indulgences always involving copious amounts of Peanut M&Ms (more recently, the Mega version—thank you, Mars, Inc.).

Forget the latest lascivious romcom; I’ll take Sir Ken Robinson answering the question, “Do schools kill creativity?” Or observe as Dan Pink puts together “The puzzle of motivation.” Or watch as Tim Urban unfolds what’s “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator” (though I could tell him the real answer to that question is, a lot of TED Talks).

In any case, want to read what I wrote?

Here’s the “medium” version:

Rise to the challenge! Rise up! Rise and shine! Any way you look at it, rise is a little verb packing some serious positivity. And, with today’s global digital culture delivering what can seem like an endless stream of bad news, some serious positivity sounds downright empowering. This year’s event is dedicated to great thinkers who’ve dared to believe we can build a better world by calling on that power. Their ideas have—in some way great or small—suggested it’s possible to trade the heaviness of hopelessness, resentment, and self-preservation for the lightness of anticipation, curiosity and self-sacrifice. Join in for a day dedicated to transcending the past and transforming the future. RISE 2017—get ready to celebrate Ideas that Elevate!

I also wrote a longer version (which is, of course, better, but, as every copywriter knows, medium always wins). To my delight, my favorite phrase made the medium cut:

“…it’s possible to trade the heaviness of hopelessness, resentment, and self-preservation for the lightness of anticipation, curiosity, and self-sacrifice.”

Before I go on, let me explain why I pull-quoted myself (aside from the most obvious contributing fact, which is because I’m a writer). When my boss, Mike Schaffer, CEO of Echo-Factory, asked me to write our internal blog post for the event, I thought, “Hm. The writer of the theme is getting to be the writer of the blog post to announce it… Yes! I shall take this opportunity to pontificate!” (Every writer loves being allowed to pull-quote themselves and pontificate about their own work. Mainly, this is because medium always wins. But let’s not beat a dead horse.)

So, pontificate, I shall!


My assignment was:

Write the theme for an upcoming TEDx conference by expanding on the word “rise.”

Now, for me, there are two components that, if present in a creative assignment, render that assignment utterly terrifying. These are:

  1. The “Blank Page” Component (this is just what it sounds like)
  2. The “I Really Want To Do The Best Job Ever On This” Component

The TEDx RISE assignment had both. So, I wrote while nauseated. Sometimes, I think the nausea helps me write better; other times, I think if I could get past the nausea, my writing would get better. But I digress.

So, I dove into an hours-long session of excessive caffeine consumption, nausea and crappy, trite writing blended, occasionally, with a cool phrase here or there. Once I could read what I wrote with only a slight tinge of shame, I was ready to submit for approval. They really liked it. Just a couple of shameful revisions later, it was good to go, shame and nausea free! (Who needs counseling and Pepto when copy approval is such good medicine?)

But, why did writing this TEDx theme mean so much to me? I mean, it would be on the website and maybe a few printed materials here and there. Not very many people would notice, much less read it…

“But, the Talkers will read it. Those guys would read the theme. And that’s why it matters.”

They’d understand why I’d suggest it was a good idea to trade hopelessness for anticipation. Because Martin Luther King Jr. did with his dream. He anticipated a better future and, as a result, the oppressive cloud of racism is beginning to lift, if only a little, from the surface of the earth. It really is. Don’t believe the news; look to your left and right.

The Talkers would know what I meant when I suggested there’s power in trading resentment for curiosity. Because today, so many grandparents are throwing off their resentment of technology, learning how to use social media and building up the connections between generations. Connections that are growing stronger every day and rebuilding a sense of community that seemed to all but die with the internet.

And the Talkers would get why I’d point out the power of trading self-preservation for self-sacrifice. Because Desmond Doss did many years ago in Okinawa when, as a pacifist, he entered the very heart of the thing he hated most to save the lives of those who’d fallen victim to its power. His strange, almost laughably preposterous perspective saved the lives of dozens of men.

My hope for this year’s TEDx conference is that our speakers will deliver the sort of powerful thoughts that do, indeed, lift the heaviness from our shoulders a bit. And maybe even inspire us to walk away as people who are unafraid to take the laughably preposterous perspective—if it means saving a life or building a bridge. People who really do want to embrace those ideas—and actions—that can elevate us all.


Get Ready to RISE!

September 30 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Huntington Library 1151 Oxford Road San Marino, California

Our 14 outstanding speakers are:

Valerie Alexander, founder and CEO of Goalkeeper Media, screenwriter and an Amazon top-selling author

Amara Barroeta, native of Venezuela, chemical engineer and owner of Amara Chocolate & Coffee Cafe in Pasadena

Steve Elkins, cinematographer, editor, producer and explorer

Mei Fong, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, foreign policy expert and human rights advocate

Lila Higgins, scientist and manager of the Citizen Science program at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Grace Killelea, author and founder of the GKC Group, a leadership development firm based in Philadelphia

Ryan Pfluger, New York-based photographer whose work is published in New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, New York Magazine and TIME

Joyce Ruygrok, mentor and long-time community volunteer

(Hui-wen) Alina Sato, writer and pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) nurse

Amanda Southworth, 15-year-old app developer, coder and winner of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) Scholarship

Lisa Strohman, psychologist and foremost expert in the field to address the global issue of technology addiction and overuse

Carri Twigg, cultural/campaign strategist who served as special assistant to President Obama during his administration, overseeing White House efforts to protect the rights of working Americans

Jenny Watts, writer and curator of photography and visual culture at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California

To learn more visit

Innovation for the Win: Lessons Learned from ESPN’s Struggles


In the most recent issue of CSQ, Echo-Factory’s dear leader, Mike Schaffer, used a recent wave of layoffs at ESPN as a jumping-off point for an article touting the importance of building and maintaining a culture of innovation. And that’s something you don’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate.

When it launched, nearly 40 years ago, ESPN was a revolutionary idea: nothing but sports, all day long. The company was able to ride the burgeoning wave of 24-hour cable programming well into its second decade, but then a series of tubes called the internet came along and roiled ESPN’s reign as the most important outlet for sports.

With record-setting sports viewership and sports stats available in the palm of your hand, at any moment, you would think that ESPN would have tapped into entirely new audiences and formats for their content. But over the past two years, ESPN has laid off more than 400 employees. So, why isn’t ESPN still flying high?

Because they refused to innovate. While the entire rest of the world has been busy figuring out how to evolve to accommodate the initial dot com boom and internet 2.0 and whatever comes just before flying cars, ESPN has dug in its heels and remained stubbornly shackled to a failing business model. In the meantime, other outlets have happily seized the opportunity to fill in the gaps, offering exciting new ways for audiences to watch, track and interact with the sports they love.

It’s worth mentioning that, since Mike wrote the article, ESPN’s parent company, Disney (maybe you’ve heard of it?) has announced that ESPN will offer its own standalone streaming service beginning in 2018. Here at Echo-Factory, we believe that it’s never too late for innovation as long as the innovation provides new value. Now the ball’s in ESPN’s court to make sure that their streaming service gives people something to cheer about.

To get the full story of what is happening at ESPN and to hear Mike’s thoughts on how to avoid a similar fate for your business, hop aboard (or, uh, inside, I guess?) one of those fancy internet tubes and read Mike’s article on how to create and sustain a culture of innovation on the CSQ website.

Social Media Is Key, Especially If You Want Nuggs


As marketing professionals, we know that social media is important for reaching and engaging with your customers. It’s free and hardly takes any time, right? This is what @Wendys thought before they met Carter Wilkerson (@carterjwm), your average high school teenager just wanting his nuggets.

Wendy’s had a way with talking, or tweeting, with its customers. No other chain was doing things like this juicy hamburger-maker.


An Outsiders Perspective on the Women in Tech Movement


During the month of February, Echo-Factory planned, promoted and hosted a series of Women in Tech panels at Apple stores in Old Pasadena and Santa Monica. These events, featuring major local tech players, including Renée LaBran, senior advisor to Idealab, Max Powers, senior vice president of business operations at TeleSign, Natalie Sun, creative technologist and founder of NextArt, and Anna Barber, managing director at Techstars, centered around the advantages women bring to the industry, along with advice for tech companies looking to include more women and for techy women looking to advance.

What about Men



I was watching a completely factual documentary about Portland, Oregon the other night, and came across an inspiring song, dedicated to the struggles that men face in this country.


It reminded me of several very important facts:


  1. Echo-Factory is hosting a “Women in Technology” roundtable next week.
  2. About 90% of the people who have registered so far are women.
  3. Women already have about a 35% advantage in leading tech companies over men.
  4. If we (and by “we” I mean men) don’t show up and discover their secrets, that gap can only grow!!!!


So, I urge you, my fellow men, to RSVP immediately.  Only by engaging with women in technology leadership positions will we be able to learn their secrets, and hopefully one day steal their powers of tech company growth and success.

women in tech










Women in Technology, The Latest Silver Bullet

Wed, February 22, 2017
8:00 AM – 9:30 AM PST
Apple 3rd Street Promenade
1415 3rd Street Promenade
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Using Women To Your Unfair Advantage


women in tech

Here are some facts. Ninety-three percent of investor money goes to startups founded by men. Just 11% of Silicon Valley executives, 10% of directors, 10% of committee members and 8% of committee chairs are women. At Fortune 500 companies, things aren’t much better, with just 11% of the executive workforce made up of women.

Here are some more facts. Private technology companies that are led by women return a 35% higher ROI. Publicly traded companies with women in leadership roles in a broad range of industries have about a 27% performance advantage over companies that don’t. (more…)

IRobot Inventor Shares 3 Things VCs Look for in Robotics Companies


robotics companies illustration

Creator of the technology behind the iRobot vacuum, Paolo Pirjanian, is also the founder and CEO of one of the most awesome smart robotics companies yet, Embodied, Inc. He recently spoke at Innovate Pasadena’s Friday Coffee Meetup, a group co-organized by Echo-Factory, and I (one of the writers on the team) had the chance to interview him for an article on Huff Post. (more…)

The Role of Branding in Mergers, Acquisitions & ESOPs


company announcing employee stock ownership plan (ESOP)

Air Treatment Corporation announces the enactment of its new ESOP its team of employees.


Last Monday, Air Treatment Corporation announced to its employees that they were now the new owners of the company.  And we were lucky enough to be in the room.

We were there because the executives at Air Treatment understand that change, even very positive change, can be scary. And announcing a change in the right way can have a big effect on how successful, or not, that change is.

We’ve talked in the past about how worthwhile it can be to invest in branding ahead of a merger or acquisition. It can be just as important, or maybe even more important, to brand the acquisition itself. (more…)

Thinking About Acquisition? Think About Branding


(article written for CSQ magazine)

Branding can play an enormous role in creating or destroying value during an acquisition


Bringing in a CFO to “clean up the books” before acquisition is a common process. Even if the books aren’t particularly dirty to begin with, a good CFO has the ability to help cast the company in the best possible financial light to potential investors. (more…)