In this episode “Hardly Headliners”, meet the founders: CEO, Allison Braund-Harris and CTO, Roger HarrisHardly Content Creator Leigh Hall learns more about them, both personally and professionally!

Transcript

Allison: Hi, I’m Allison, CEO of Hardly

Roger: and i’m roger the cto and we’re excited to answer some questions

Leigh: Hey guys it’s Leigh here content creator for Hardly and today I’m going to be talking with Allison and Roger so thank you guys for being our first Hardly Headliners— a series where we ask special guests 17 questions to get to know them better personally and professionally. So let’s get started!

As a kid I used to think that life would be perfect if I could just eat dessert before dinner. So I’m curious, what are your favorite sweets?

Hardly Headliners Ep 1
Hardly Headliners Ep 1

Roger: So I love a good New York style cheesecake. I’m weird where i just like it plain no toppings. Just give me that cheesecake and a good crust

Allison: Yeah, he’s a vanilla guy and I’m kind of the “load everything up as much as possible” — even if it doesn’t really go well together. I’ve learned the hard way. Just the other day I paired blackberries with chocolate mint cookies and just don’t…  just don’t do it. 

If you could describe Hardly in one word, what would it be?

Allison: Simplicity. We want to make people’s life more simple.

Roger: That’s a good word. I honestly can’t think of a better one.

Hardly Headliners, what’s the most frustrating and most pleasant thing about working remotely?

Roger: One of the things I love is the sort of ease of being able to communicate with people

even though that is spread across multiple apps one of the things I really miss is just that in-person uh communication and contact and hanging out with people at the lunch table

Allison: The spontaneity of interactions and shared experiences. Like being able to listen to the same music. All of that. I miss it. And I just love the fact that I can really decompress throughout the day. As an introvert, I feel like that’s really important and if you work in the office you never really have that decompression time

Hardly’s tagline is workdays just got a whole lot better. What’s one thing that makes your workday better?

Roger: I don’t know… for me, it’s that first cup of cold brew in the morning that always starts my workday off well.

Allison: And for me, it’s the fifth cup of coffee in the morning. I used to listen to brown noise all the time when I was working and then I found a few different companies… um… what’s the one that it’s like flow tunes or something it focused the name of it but it saves my life and I no longer have to listen to just brown noise all throughout the day but I can still concentrate 

 

When and where did you come up with the idea for Hardly? And be specific!

Allison: People have this vision of entrepreneurship that there’s like this eureka moment and you go and make it happen. When in reality you have a general idea of a problem and then you have to validate that and then you need to validate that there is a problem with the audience and then you have to validate that you’re creating a solution to fit that problem so really there wasn’t one moment but I think that it evolved over time 

 

Headliners, there are a lot of products that have come out since the pandemic began. What gap do you see in the market or what need is it being met?

 

Roger: I think for me it goes back to that sort of physicality of interacting with people we have zoom we have a bunch of different video conferencing apps but all of them very much feel like you’re on display, uh you’re kind of putting on a show. — So something that would allow people to be a bit more social, and is a bit more laid back.

 

Allison: When everything is communicated over the computer, all of a sudden things that are super not important, like “50% off sales” get the exact same level of importance as, “help I need a file in 20 minutes!” It’s really difficult to prioritize that information when you only are working with a two-dimensional space. 

 

Hardly Headliners, who are your technology mentors and why?

 

Allison: Steve Jobs. Just kidding!

Roger: That’s a tough one— the one the first one that springs to mind is actually my old boss Eddie because he was super smart super-capable. But also very down to earth. Would play chess games with you and he taught me a lot. He’s kind of somebody I want to become more like in my CTO position. Just being that mentor but also being very technically capable.

Allison: Kayla Matheus is a former CEO. And just a rock star in terms of hardware and behavior. Really just a great mentor to us. She’s been fabulous, as well as Carlos Lemas who we’ve been talking with since September and you’ve known for a decade. Oh my god, he’s been so patient with all of my dumb questions over the past seven or eight months.

I think we’re just focused on surrounding ourselves with smarter people than us and if we listen to them we’ll be okay.

Roger: but also Steve Jobs.

 

Starting a company isn’t for everyone. What’s the best part about being an entrepreneur?

Allison: When I came out of college I expected adulthood to give me more control, but it actually took a lot of my control away. All of a sudden, I had no ability to say, “well, I need to really take a breather I’m going to come in at 10.” That was out of my power, and I don’t want that to just be within my own power— I want to make sure that everyone in our company has the ability to set their own schedule work as hard as they need to and as little as they need to some days. Basically, I am creating the company that I really wish that I had when I was 22, and I’ve been struggling with to gain that autonomy for the past decade or so 

 

Roger: For me, it would probably be working on something you really are truly passionate about. It’s possible to do that without being in a startup or being an entrepreneur, however, sometimes it can be difficult to find the right company or even get accepted into that company. And so for me, being able to create something that I really love that I think is gonna help people— that I’m very passionate about is very rewarding for me.

 

If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Roger: Such a hard this is such a difficult question, uh, I don’t think I could. I honestly don’t think I could.

Allison: You’d rather live in silence?

Roger: yeah I would rather live in silence than be stuck listening to one song for the rest of my life because that one song would get very tiring very quickly whatever it is

Allison: hmm..brown noise

Roger: I was thinking about that

Allison: (laughter) just brown noise for the rest of my life. Yeah, I think I think it was Spotify’s year-in-review one year. We looked back and it was like your most-listened-to song: “brown noise.”

This might be cheesy but I think it would be “Here Comes the Sun” because it’s positive, it doesn’t have any grating points to where I think it would annoy the crap out of me over time.

 

Who is the Hardly Dash for?

Roger: It is for people who want simplicity in their day of remote work — people who want to be more focused and more optimal in their working life.

Allison: if you’re the type that really needs prioritization of information— the stuff that you can’t ignore. Hardly Dash won’t let you ignore something that’s super important but will filter out all the stuff that’s not.

What’s your favorite productivity app?

Roger: I would say my favorite productivity app is probably Slack because it’s kind of a bit of everything in one— which is a good thing and a bad thing. But it does allow me to do my work, share files, have social chat with friends, make calls, video calls, and play games. A little bit of everything,

 

Allison: I wish that Zapier was my favorite app but it’s not. Like, I want it to save my life, but it breaks all the time.

 

So Hardly recently was a semi-finalist in the SXSW pitch competition. What was your experience creating a pitch video?

Allison: We were we were actually a semi-finalist in the AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup competition and an alternate in the SXSW pitch competition. We had a debate around whether or not we should try to pitch together and or if I should just run with it. It’s really hard to pitch together. Within you know just a minute— which is what we had for SXSW and a 3-min pitch for AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup—you have to synchronize so tightly in order to to get 2 people into a pitch. So we just decided that it’d be best if I took it on.

It’s difficult because you feel the pressure to really say all that you can about the company, but it’s only 3 minutes so you have to prioritize. And of course, there are going to be things that you leave out because of that. My goal is that if we can just get people interested enough they’ll want to learn about all the other stuff that we had to leave out along the way

 

Who was the most inspiring speaker at SXSW?

Allison: I really love Debbie Millman’s talk on the future of work and what she felt like she lost and gained and the pandemic. She’s always a really amazing speaker if you do not listen to her Design Matters podcast you should!

 

What was your experience talking with investors virtually?

Allison: I think that we do have all of the tools at our fingertips to share our deck and collaborate and show off our product online and I don’t know if we would be able to do that a year ago because I would be worried that the investor may not be comfortable with the Zoom and all of these things. But now that we’re all comfortable it’s kind of amazing being able to move from one investor meeting to another back to back to back to back when before I would have to go to their offices and basically worry myself to death About the commute getting there 

 

Did you have any aha moments during the conference?

Allison: It was when we organized the SXSW pitch happy hour and we got to interact socially with a lot of the other SXSW pitchers— of course, over Zoom. And oh my god, it was just this moment of “wow, these people are so intelligent. so smart holy crap how did we get into this at all.” Major imposter syndrome.

 

Roger: Definitely agree, I’m more just amazed at the work that people are doing in this sphere of like technology and culture and improving society and really everything I mean if we are of course looking to improve remote work which affects a lot of people but these people were solving climate crises um social injustice crises and everything in between it was really amazing to be part of that

 

Hardly Headliners— What is your favorite feature of the Hardly Dash?

Roger: That’s just having a button that allows you to mute yourself in meetings. It seems way too complicated the hotkeys across the different apps are all different you think it should be “M” for mute it’s not uh so just having that physical key that also shows with the led lights whether you are muted or not I think is going to be a big help.

 

Allison: The LED lights around the Dash really signal you in a variety of different ways from across the room. We can actually catch your attention close up and make sure that you are aware of something that that really needs your focus. So we’re creating that prioritization of information, and that visual signaling to even other people in your home. So they know that when you’re muted or unmuted so they can actually come up and talk to you

 

Lastly, I gotta know… who’s nerdier?

Allison: This is an endless battle.

 

Roger: It is, and I think we have come to the conclusion that we are both incredibly nerdy in different ways. I’m a big nerd when it comes to video games, music, I love D&D, and you…

 

Allison: I’ve been talking. You tell them what I’m better at.

 

Roger: I’ll tell you she’s a much bigger sci-fi and fantasy nerd. Big book nerd. We both love coming together in that sphere of sci-fi and fantasy and movies and TV shows. We both cosplay when we went to Comic-Con and Dragon-Con.

 

Allison:  We will continue to go to. and we also went to BookCon multiple years in a row and that was my fault that was that was

 

Roger: I supported you then 

 

Allison: yes, it was actually a much calmer conference than Comic-Con— same genuine nerdiness, but much calmer.

Leigh: Yeah, thanks so much for talking with us. Hope you guys enjoy getting to know the CEO and CTO of Hardly to learn more check out our blog at hardly-work.com and don’t forget to press the like button or drop a comment if you want more video content from the Hardly team until next time.

 

Roger:  I think that’s a wrap.

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Ryan Lynch, Chief Strategy Officer at Beardwood&Co, about our theme of the month: creativity. In true remote-work fashion, there was a small scheduling mishap triggered by technology. The traditional binds of a Monday through Friday, 9-5 workday were broken, and we used Zoom to bridge the 7,000-mile gap between us.

As we’ve learned from 2020 and beyond, flexibility and adaptability are a must. After struggling to find a time when both of us were available, we settled on a Friday morning for him and Friday evening for me. Unfortunately, in an effort to remove themselves from the meeting, our mutual contact accidentally cancelled it on our calendars, too. Fortunately, we quickly rescheduled without harm or foul.

As I grabbed a cup of tea the next morning, hushed my husband who was on the phone in the other room, and positioned my computer on a stack of books so that my professional blouse would show and my Saturday morning sweatpants remained unseen, I thought:

“Maybe being creative isn’t about having grand moments of genius after exiting a meditative trance. Maybe it is the small moments of resourcefulness prompted by daily challenges.”  

Definitions

Lynch echoed this sentiment in his initial definition of creativity: “The human ability to problem solve.” Further intrigued by the question, he looked up the Oxford definition of creativity:

cre·a·tiv·i·ty /ˌkrēāˈtivədē/ noun the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

“firms are keen to encourage creativity”

His filter on the definition was to take out the “artistic work” and “original ideas”, simplifying it to “the use of the imagination in the production of a human endeavor.”  

In the editing of this definition, Lynch revealed something rather illuminating. Original ideas are overrated. The underrated skill of having the right idea at the right time is what breeds success. Like puzzle pieces, Lynch’s two definitions of creativity compliment each other perfectly and speak to the need for creativity in the context of remote work.

Remote Environment, Creativity

Deadlines

The use of imagination is the most beneficial when it is used to problem solve in a timely fashion. Lynch acknowledged time as a factor in creativity in his response to the question: What drives it? His answer caught me off guard: Deadlines.

When I chuckled, he explained further. He likened the process of being forced to produce to that of coal being put under pressure, resulting in a diamond. When in a time crunch, we have no choice but to think outside of the box and make it work by any means necessary. After being put on the spot, he created a signature quote:

“Creativity is best under pressure.”

Deadlines aren’t the only thing that promote imaginative solutions. Lynch’s mantra for fostering creativity is, “Failure is cool!” He stimulates creativity by encouraging others in the workplace to take risks and, as a leader, saying, “Oh, look, I failed, and here’s what I learned from it.”

As we know, perfection is the antithesis of production. Therefore, it makes sense that only in an environment where daring greatly is encouraged, and error is allowed, that creativity can flourish.

Remote Environment, Creativity, Hardly

Ditching traditions that no longer serve us

Equally as important as embracing failure as a necessary part of creativity is knowing when existing processes are failing. As we discussed how Lynch, himself, had been creative recently, we inevitably turned towards the pandemic as an example. Lynch characterized the pandemic as a “massive ball of accelerating change” that has inspired new neural pathways in our brain in an effort to solve new problems, ultimately requiring creativity.  

One of his particularly creative moments came out of realizing that Beardwood&Co long-standing, Thursday night happy hour was no longer working in a virtual environment—even after six months of trying. Wanting to maintain a time and place where staff could be human and not talk about business, his team came up with an “inspiration hour” on Fridays where they get together, eat lunch, and insight interesting conversations about life through guest speakers, clients, and friends.  

Remote Environment, Creativity, Hardly

Different humans need different stimulants

For Lynch, a walk in a green space gets the creative juices flowing. For some of his clients, it is the ability to share ideas visually or discuss projects with other brilliant minds in real time.

The point is, assuming a one-size-fits-all strategy isn’t so successful. Lynch argues “different humans respond to different things and need different stimulants” to help them enter their most creative headspace. As an overarching principle, Lynch advocates putting yourself in the shoes of the person you are talking to:

“What are they all about?

Where did they come from?

How do they think?

How do they solve problems?” 

By doing so, you are able to tap into what inspires them and what creative inspiration they are able to offer back.

Remote Environment, Creativity, Hardly

Dreaming of the future

While Lynch likes to remain platform agnostic, he does dream of using V/R to push the boundaries of creativity through collaboration.

“Take me to a William Gibson future, and I’m all in” he said candidly.  

Earlier in the interview, we agreed one area in dire need of innovation was recreating the feeling of human connection in virtual spaces. Fortunately, V/R has this capability. Currently,  Lynch uses noisy hand clappers and stuffed animals to demonstrate emotion and heighten connection. However, a tool that could provide a metaverse where interaction is seamless would take co-creation from afar to the next level.  

Lastly, Lynch mentions “play” as a salient ingredient in cooking-up a cauldron of creativity. With all of the deadlines and productivity propaganda, us adults sometimes forget that silliness and lighthearted energy are needed for the secret sauce.

On a bright day in 2015 (before working remotely), I put on my black long-sleeved dress and a denim jacket. I faced myself in the mirror and said, “Do I really look cool enough to be a brand strategist? No. But this is what I got.”

I had just graduated from my Masters in Branding program earlier that summer— a year of my life absorbing qualitative and quantitative research methods, brand strategy work sessions, creative voice, and business basics. I felt confident walking into that NYC coffee shop for the interview with… let’s call him “Daniel.” At first, he questioned why I was there because my resume was design-focused. I explained that my background was in identity design, but my real strength was in brand strategy and I had received awards for leadership in my program. (You know… the stuff you say in interviews).

And wonders beyond wonders, Daniel wanted to hire me. It started great! The onboarding process was fairly straightforward.

A month into the job, sh&% hit the fan. Daniel quit. He told me that the owners had promised that he would have the ability to better the company culture and hire a larger team to alleviate stress— and well, that never happened.

Suddenly, I reported to the company owners who, I later found out, didn’t really want me there. I was Daniel’s hire and not theirs, but they felt stuck with me. I went above and beyond to win over their favor— I started doing account work, design work, video production work, and strategy work simultaneously.

My plate filled up so fast that I started to drown in my own “yesses” in order to please them. 

My 1hr subway commute to the office in the morning started to feel like a waste of time. On one especially stressful day, I called in and said “I have to stay home today.” And they said “Why!?! Are you sick?” “No, I simply don’t have 2hrs to spare for coming into the office today.” 

Though they complained often, most strategists at that consultancy worked from home at least once a week. But my string of remote working the next few months rivalled the month I skipped of my junior year Spanish class— at the end of which, my teacher said “Allison better show up with a broken leg or cancer.” (Sorry, I don’t mean for this to sound callous to cancer survivors…. or high school Spanish teachers… )

Why would I spend 2hrs in a train when I’m already not sleeping more than 4-5 hours a night? I had so much to do that sleeping felt like a privilege that I didn’t deserve. In that time, I learned I could be self-motivated at home, and if I really focused, I could get more accomplished. In the end, found out that I loved the quiet of it all.

2hrs each day x 22 workdays a month = 44hrs on the subway

The pros of remote work vastly outweighed the cons to me.

  1. No commute. 2hrs each day x 22 workdays a month = 44 hours. That’s a whole work week every month back in my grasp. Boom-shakalaka.
  2. Ability to focus. Nobody asking me for quick favors or distracting me with small talk.
  3. Fewer meetings. Magically, meetings that would normally be called during the middle of the day just disappeared.
  4. I felt like an adult. Having someone literally (yes, literally) breathing down my neck while I was finishing a presentation made me feel like a child. By this point, I was 26. Yet somehow, I felt more like a child than I did when I was actually a child.
  5. And, obviously, I could spend more time with my cats.

That was 2015! Now in 2020, it is easier to work from home. In the past few years, I went to another agency that swore up-and-down that remote work didn’t work for creative teams. But thankfully, they gave it a try before the 2020 apocalypse happened. 

There are tons of resources out there for creative teams and other types of companies needing to collaborate.

Miro, a whiteboarding collaboration company, allows for multiple people to move images, text and other items around the screen. As the person who previously had to copy all the Expo marker scribble from the physical whiteboards onto the computer, I would like to send my personal gratitude to Miro for existing.

And dude, I started using Wrike a month or two ago. You can set up projects, create subtasks and assign to team members, designate priorities, automatically generate charts, and provide context around everything. Even *MY* chaotic brain gets organized when I put my tasks in there.

We have this incredible world of digital work at our fingertips. Did it arise out of a global pandemic and a year that has felt like being shoved into Satan’s armpit? Yes. However, I believe our growing knowledge of digital communication tools will positively change our work environments moving forward.

We have to fight to stay focused, and we have to fight to pull away

Hardly makes remote work easier for everyone, and ensures that work-life balance exists in a world where there is no physical separation between work and life.

I’m looking forward to starting this journey with you. Let’s do this.