Hi! My name is Neil Sahota, and I am a futurist and leading expert on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other next-generation technologies. I work with the United Nations on the AI for Good initiative, and also serve as the UN’s advisor on Artificial Intelligence. It’s an incredibly rewarding industry to be a part of because AI can truly make our world a better place. I published Own the AI Revolution which shares insight on how to disrupt your industry, boost profitability, and grow your business with a powerful A.I. strategy. I am also currently working on another book that will be published in the Spring of 2021– the title coming soon! I work as a professor at the University of California at Irvine and am an IBM Master Inventor, as well as the former leader of the IBM Watson Group.
Throughout my career, on a high level, I have worked to develop strategies that unlock disruption in different industries via innovative products. I have also successfully built new markets. My motto, which I’ve taken with me throughout my career, is to encourage fellow aspiring entrepreneurs that every business has massive untapped potential– the importance is to truly identify and recognize the real opportunities from the get-go. Today, I carry my motto through my framework at my company, TUCBO™ enterprises (Think Different - Understand Different - Create Differently - Be Different - Own Different), which helps companies create what I call “the full cycle” solution (think the initial idea to product-in-market to supporting infrastructure), that’s all shared in my book. TUCBO™’s full-cycle solution strategy has been successfully used for Global Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, non-profits, and startup companies.
My journey has been extremely rewarding because I’ve always enjoyed finding the problems, and then creating solutions that work. It’s great to be able to use my expertise and passion today in the work that I do.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I believe the best way for anyone to predict the future is to create it. It’s very similar to “The Secret” or simply putting the right energy out into the universe, and believing in yourself. No idea is a bad idea, and all business ideas have endless possibilities. This idea has been ingrained in me and is what helped me to start my own company, as well as becoming involved with the United Nations, which has been an honor. Today, I wear a lot of hats, and credit a lot of my success to the fact that 𝗜 have always 𝗲𝗺𝗯𝗿𝗮𝗰𝗲d 𝘁𝗵𝗲 “𝗮𝗿𝘁 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗽𝗼𝘀𝘀𝗶𝗯𝗹𝗲” 𝗮𝗻𝗱 have 𝗮𝗰𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗶𝘀𝗵𝗲𝗱 𝘁𝗵𝗲 “𝗶𝗺𝗽𝗼𝘀𝘀𝗶𝗯𝗹𝗲” by:
► Becoming an integral part of the United Nations to create and launch their AI for Global Good ecosystem
► Pioneering artificial intelligence (AI) in the early days of IBM Watson®
► Convincing Global Fortune 500 companies to forge the first set of products into nascent markets and industries
► Becoming a sought after motivational speaker and best selling author by sharing my story and overcoming my fears of public speaking and writing
For all the organizations I have helped, the common thread all they are simple. They needed my help in becoming an innovator and leader by disrupting themselves before someone else disrupted them. This ranged from product line expansion to entering new markets to driving adoption to be a teacher/speaker.’
We don’t build successful businesses on what we like. We have to create meaningful value for our customers.
In my experience in working with Global Fortune 500 companies, and as well as advising organizations like the United Nations and the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), I have learned how to unlock the hidden opportunities no one was able to see, construct the right tactics and roadmaps to the discovered opportunities, and provide the safe environment to manage risk and establish buy-in.
After helping dozens of organizations, I codified my approach by creating TUCBO™'s framework. I tested it repeatedly across different industries and different corporate cultures. This enabled a repeatable, customized solution that any business can leverage. In the last two years, over a dozen enterprises have realized the incredible and unique benefits, including large global companies and bureaucratic government agencies.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
My company’s approach to helping clients can be simply based upon:
► 𝗔𝗰𝗵𝗶𝗲𝘃𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗼𝘂𝘁𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗲𝘀 through defined strategic goals and tactical activities that yield tangible benefits and results
► 𝗦𝗽𝗲𝗮𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗴𝘂𝗮𝗴𝗲 to facilitate communication, understanding, and the use of relatable, relevant examples
► 𝗙𝗼𝘀𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘀𝗮𝗳𝗲𝘁𝘆 so that clients do not feel like they are taking an unbridled risk or feel pressured in starting a venture they do not believe in or establish buy-in for
► 𝗖𝘂𝗹𝘁𝗶𝘃𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗲𝗺𝗽𝗼𝘄𝗲𝗿𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗲𝗻𝗮𝗯𝗹𝗲𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 to develop a culture of client innovation and action to bring hidden opportunities to life
► 𝗟𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗿𝗮𝗴𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗺𝘆 𝗽𝗿𝗲𝘀𝘁𝗶𝗴𝗲 to help the client with my knowledge, skills, credibility, and business network
Describe the process of launching the business.
TUCBO™ is based upon more than 15 years of real client work. It was completely bootstrapped to start– meaning, I put my own money, sweat, tears, and heart into developing my company because I wanted to create something that truly helps organizations.
Once I had it in tip-top shape, I quickly learned that even with a successful track record, prospective clients did not automatically understand the value for them. My challenge was to educate, empower, and enable my clients. Thus, my first step was to craft the value propositions so clients would have a specific, tangible understanding of what they would get. My second step was to help clients understand why enterprises needed to apply my framework. For example, let’s say, a successful business is not motivated to change because nothing is really broken. However, these types of same businesses are oftentimes surprised when they get disrupted “out of the blue” by evolving and changing markets. I employed relatable case studies to showcase why a business that is not “ubering” itself will get “kodaked.”
After clearing this hurdle, I finally had built a good pipeline of clients. I also learned that a lot of the organizations I worked with often lacked confidence– even the very BIG ones, so I had to help build that up as well. With time, they would look at their success stories, and finally find the reasons their own enterprise was deficient– this is where empowerment came into play. I invested my time in showing my clients how they each had a clear path to use TUCBO™’s framework successfully and finally achieving material benefits. In essence, I helped build their confidence. It’s all about enablement which became a reality through my framework.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since launching, it has been a continuous effort on my part to continue building awareness of my framework’s success. I tapped into my network and used client references and success stories to gain new clientele. Yet, to truly scale, I realized I needed to utilize different avenues outside of my networks.
My first step was to create a website that serves as a hub for who I am, and what I believe in. This created a centralized location for prospects to look me up, and see what I am all about.
Next, I entered the speaker circuit to build brand awareness and generate more exposure for TUCBO™ and the new website. With hard work and focusing on audience needs, I became known as a highly credible and dynamic speaker. To be more efficient with my time (I had spent a great deal of time preparing for these engagements), I needed to focus less on speaking opportunities and dive into the world of built-in audience content. Based on my strong record of success and stellar client relationships, I had a new solid path with two different channels:
One, I tapped into different podcasts. Finding strongly aligned podcasts with my business mission allowed me to showcase my work and TUCBO™’s framework to new built-in audiences and listeners. I was happy to be credited as a fantastic guest with amazing value adds for audiences. I found that many podcast hosts wanted to connect me with other hosts in their network, it was great! Before I knew it, I had done over 30 podcasts! It has proven to be an incredible way to mass promote TUCBO™ and scale my pipeline.
Two, I tapped into the publishing world to showcase my value through current events and timely influences for organizations. Leveraging my existing connection as a Forbes contributor and my network with trusted publications (e.g. United Nations, IEEE, and Planet Home), I had an incredible vehicle to share insights and ideas on real-time issues and concerns. This created a level of engagement with millions of people in a global audience. With these two additional new channels in hand, I saw my business skyrocket.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, I feel lucky to have my business running smoothly. Since my business is based on the size and scope of client work (and each one is so unique), it makes it hard to normalize over time– especially during today’s pandemic. By looking at my raw monthly numbers, I am happy to have beaten my monthly growth expectations consistently. Despite all the horrible things with Covid-19 (and rightfully so), the virus has proven to be a “Great Accelerator” as businesses want to be the pioneers in defining the “new normal,” which is where I come in.
While there has been far more interesting and engaging in locking new opportunities, it has slowed down other plans for growth. I was hoping to launch a new training program for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to leverage TUCBO™, however, the current economic climate has suspended these plans. Yet, I remain optimistic that with an effective vaccine, I will be able to reactivate these plans in late 2021.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
In starting my business, I have learned two big lessons.
Do not burn any bridges. In other words, always act professionally. Even in my management consulting days, I found people solely focused on scoring free work. Despite some impressive and realistic promises, they really had no intention for a paid consulting engagement. It takes experience and a great eye to recognize these situations. As much as some people may want to tell these folks to “get lost,” it has to be handled professionally.
Tell your network what you want. I’m extremely grateful to have a network of people that asks each other, “what I can do to help you?” While business has been good, I want to keep growing it. Because my network is always asking me this question, they are actively looking for leads or providing advice on how to increase my pipeline. I once asked a good friend in my network if they hadn’t asked, would they know if I’m looking to build up my client flow. They spoke sincerely that they thought I probably had too many prospective clients and didn’t want to be bothered with even more. I’m really glad that my active network allowed us to clear up this misconception.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I keep my business simple. I leverage my website, stay extremely active on social media, and started a podcast called Changing the Story. I’ve found that the podcast stands as a very effective platform in promoting my mission, educating listeners, and giving people a sense of empowerment. While some of my guests are people I know who have benefited from TUCBO™, some guests have their own independent story where they have employed a handful of elements from TUCBO™ (without realizing it), while some have also encountered hard lessons learned from not implementing my framework.
People feel empowered by these stories from “average’ people because it builds their confidence that their business could do the same– and it can! For example, I had a musical guest who tapped into artificial intelligence that enabled this musician to go from mediocre to a savant. The musician wasn’t a technical expert or genius in art but created a path to greatness through the use of AI.
This is what we all aspire for. Being a game changer doesn’t mean that someone has to be the ultimate at their craft, it’s really identifying the opportunity and understanding what it will take to be successful. There are plenty of success stories from “ordinary” people who have accomplished this, while some have stumbled onto the framework’s success through blind luck, which is really where the power of TUCBO™ shines because it creates these opportunities.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Other than my own book (Own the A.I. Revolution) which taps into TUCBO™, I have been heavily influenced by two amazing books. First is “Slack” by Tom DeMarco which shows how we have self-destructed on innovation. We are so focused on productivity that we allocate every minute to multi-tasking that we’ve sacrificed our capability to be innovative. Second is the “Great Game” by Peter Hopkirk which is a historical narrative about colonial days in Central Asia. It showcases real strategy, politics, and disruptive thinking in history. It is an incredible book on what enterprises need to invest in to disrupt themselves before someone disrupts them.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Through my own experiences and helping over a hundred entrepreneurs throughout my career, I do have two critical pieces of advice for people considering starting their own business or just starting.
First and foremost, do not do it for the money. Honestly, you’ll never make it. Being an entrepreneur is VERY HARD work. It’s 14-16 hour days, 7 days a week. Success is based upon your work and the team you build around you. As Harry Truman said, “the buck stops here.” If you don’t put the effort in, you will fail. If you are not passionate about your venture, you will fail. If you don’t invest the time building and managing a great team, you will fail. Sense a theme here? I have seen too many entrepreneurs dream of becoming billionaires and having their own island. They chase a fad and don’t fully commit themselves to the venture. Guess what happens? Failure. If you want to start a business, then you have to be all in.
Second, get ready to pivot. No one has perfect knowledge. No founder will know their customer perfectly or what will impact the business. Remember, entrepreneurs should be focused on fulfilling an unmet customer need. We don’t build successful businesses on what we like. We have to create meaningful value for our customers. This is a key focus of TUCBO™ throughout the framework. There is a reason why 99% of startups fail. They focus on what the Founders want rather than having a real understanding of what customers need.
A few years ago, I was asked to help a startup company that was creating an educational toy to help children, ages 6-8, learn STEM skills. None of the entrepreneurs had children, but their value proposition was built upon parents wanting their kids to have good jobs. Their market research was based upon their friends and family so I had them interview 100 potential customers. After the first 10 interviews, they were disgusted by the parents who told them education was not a priority. Instead, they wanted something that kept their child occupied for a while and would engage them to play with the toy repeatedly. Ignoring this feedback, they carried forward with more interviews. After 20 discussions, the Founders were a bit shocked to still be hearing the same feedback. At the 36th interview, they realized they had made a huge mistake in their value proposition, product positioning, and business model. Rather than pivot and course-correct, they folded their venture because they didn’t want to pivot from their original strategy. So, be ready to pivot (possibly multiple times).
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Unfortunately, we are not hiring at the moment. We strongly believe that when we emerge from the pandemic, the business will skyrocket. Then, we will be looking for great consultants to help clients understand and use TUCBO™ as well as build up our marketing team to educate, empower, and enable prospective clients. Follow my social channels if you’re interested in getting involved in the future, I always enjoy adding new entrepreneurs, or aspiring entrepreneurs to my network.
Where can we go to learn more?
- United Nations Podcast
- Twitter: @neil_sahota
- Instagram: @neil_sahota
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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