How to Get Connected and Stay Connected with SKANZ (An interview with Madeline Lockhart)May 27, 2022
Madeline Lockhart is a master connector who has built technology around her ability to connect. Check out her interview below to see how she got started!
Q. What was your journey toward becoming a tech CEO like?
I grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, which is the birthplace of the atomic bomb and from a young age, I grew up around really smart people. In high school I got an internship in the nuclear engineering space and ended up doing physics in undergrad at Texas Tech. I saw that I had a future in nuclear engineering, so I came to NC State for graduate school and I just finished my second year.
Q. How did you get from nuclear engineering to running your own tech company?
Throughout the last couple of years, I have been to numerous tech conferences and got engaged in different organizations. I spent a semester in DC working for the department of State. It was a golden opportunity! Looking back on that time, I realized that I didn’t have a lot to show for it. I didn’t know how to make connections and I had a business card at the time that was very inaccurate.
I realized that I had been in so many situations where I’ve had so much potential that was lost. You go to these conferences and you talk to people and because you’re so engaged and excited, but you leave with what I can only describe as sand pouring through your hands because you haven’t really got a firm grip on all of those connections.
Q. You took this problem that you had and what was the path towards making it into an actual company?
The OG SKANZ was a temporary tattoo. I had seen a YouTube video of someone with a real tattoo of a QR code. So I went home and ordered a temporary tattoo and I thought it was so cool because I tried it out, and it actually worked, but then I thought about how I want to be able to manage what links to that code. I had been fascinated for years prior with the idea of how much information you could put in a QR code if you had the right tools. It’s a quick and easy transfer of information.
I ultimately decided one day to build my own platform, but I went about it the opposite way that it’s usually done. Startups usually follow the order of having you identify your problem, you do a customer discovery and see if your idea is validated. I felt like I validated my idea for myself and I ran with it. It was my problem so I decided to solve it and as I talked to people, they expressed that they had the same problem in some form or another.
Q. Tell me more about that evolution from solving your own problem to developing something and figuring out how it matches with problems that customers have and also, solutions that someone can pay for.
The temporary tattoo idea was cool, it was a novelty idea. QR codes are also something that’s been around for quite some time. We moved from the temporary tattoos to stickers because we knew that this was ultimately a digital business card. We had to figure out how to differentiate ourselves from competitors who have NFC cards that you tap. All of these different platforms in ours is great for making those one on one connections, you get my information and I get yours, great! But how do we take it to the next level?
Let’s look at business networking. When I go to a networking event, I want to know who else is in the room, not just the two people I talked to directly. I wanted to create a platform that has all the information in one place where it’s easy, accessible and there’s context, but we wanted to put the focus on making those connections.
This platform relieves the pressure of feeling like you need to meet everyone in the room because you are allowed to connect and follow-up later to see if there were any connections that you may have missed. It’s a great assist in the way of connecting people that you feel you missed a connection with even though you were in the same space. It provides a warm introduction so it doesn’t feel like you’re not spamming people when you follow-up on LinkedIn or IG because you were actually there at the same event.
Q. So explain how the platform runs.
So the organization hosts the event, they designate it as a SKANZ event and they’ll have a QR code or passphrase to check in and then you’ll see a list of everyone else who’s checked in. You’ll also notice that whatever information is displayed is the information that you chose to share, which tells people how you want to be connected with them. You can put as much or as little information there as you want. It’s really a way to show people that if you desire to get connected with them, you can.
SKANZ is a tool that makes it simple and easy for people to get connected, but they have to take the initiative to take the next step.
Q. How long have you been in the NC area?
Since August 2020, so we’re coming up on two years.
Q. Speaking practically, walk us through, step by step, how you got plugged into this community, even in a pandemic.
I think it was July of 2021, I sat down and said, “I have this awesome product, now I need to get out and start using it by making people aware of it.” I literally google business networking events in Raleigh and I came across a Rockstar connect event.
They host their events monthly and get people together on a monthly basis. I showed up one day and I got connected with this woman who took me around and introduced me to other people and that was it. Once you go to that first event, the other ones will come because you will meet people who say, “Hey, I also attend this event and this one”, and so on and so on.
The second event I attended was a Raleigh founded event, it was at the local coworking space that I’m at right now. I went online, saw that the event was open, and so I registered, showed up and was told about this weekly Thursday ladies meetup and I showed up consistently and it was the highlight of my week. We had coffee and pastries and we would enjoy conversations with other female entrepreneurs. You just have to search out the groups via Google or social media and then show up that first time. The rest will follow.
Q. What did it look like to practically network in those spaces for the first time?
- Find the host. They love that you’re there and want you to feel welcome.
- Introduce yourself: Hi! My name is _____. This is who I am. This is what I do and let them know why you’re there.
- Get to know them so when they have more events or opportunities, they’ll know to reach out to you
- Find someone with something that you can compliment them on, ie. sparkly shoes. I do my nails and I’m strategic with my shoes because they’re conversation starters. Think about it, if you’re at a networking event, the people you come in contact with are there to network. If you’re just standing and someone comes up to you to talk to you, you want them to talk to you, so flip that. When you see someone standing, approach them and start the conversation.
I was an introvert growing up, but I learned that you have to be uncomfortable in order to grow and you have to put yourself out there if you want to network and form connections with people.
Q. How do you transition from networking to connecting on a genuine level with people?
- Fine tune your radar. It’s definitely a learned skill. Some people that you meet aren’t meant for you to go deep with. If you’re in a room with 30 people, you may only come out with one or two solid connections.
- Act upon that connection soon after the event is over. That looks like reaching out to them and saying, “Hey, I’m so happy that I got to meet you at this event. I loved talking with you about x,y,and z. If you’re interested in grabbing a cup of coffee, I’d love to grab a cup with you sometime.” When you think about it, it’s kind of like professional dating. You’re putting yourself out there and you’re saying, “I think you can add value to your life and I think you could add value to mine.”
It’s not meant to be transactional in that sense, because it’s a relationship. There will be people who are a waste of your time, but you learn from it and develop the ability to gauge who is a better fit for you.
Q. What are some of the pieces to actual relationship building over time that you found have been consistent for you?
Showing up to events, being active, and intentional in spending time with people. The value in your network isn't just when you need something. If you lose your job and you go on LinkedIn and start reaching out to people randomly, you’re likely reaching out to people you haven’t spoken to in years. As a result of no longer having that relationship with them, they’re not going to recommend you.
If you’re truly building those relationships around you in your community, you should have your next job before you leave your current job so there’s no desperation. You’ll have your vision and people surrounding you who support you in that vision. When I meet with people, I’m not just thinking about what I can do for them, but what my network can do for them.
I know someone who started an AirBnB event space, and the other day I had a friend of mine who was trying to find a space to host her bridal shower, and I’m thinking, ‘There we go!’. It’s really about building a referral network. It’s building relationships to a point where someone else feels comfortable bringing your name into a conversation because you are reliable and known for your work ethic, etc. Also, you have to consider who’s name you bring up in conversation because what they do or don’t do reflects back on you.
Q. How do you build actual community?
For me, I want to be able to have a rolodex or network where I have someone for everything. If you come to me and say, “ Hey, I wanna make a really dope video for a nonprofit’, I can give you a list of three people. I would send you both an email and introduce you. I want to be able to have a resource to give to anyone who needs it, that resource mainly being people. You want to make those connections that allow room for trust so the relationship is fruitful and you are balanced in the help you give and receive.
Q. What’s been your experience with asking for and receiving help?
I’m not the best at it, but I'm getting better. When I first started I had a few people who were involved and supported me in some ways. Getting involved in local entrepreneur communities is definitely a great way to find some good support. It’s at these local networking events that you meet other people with similar goals that can come alongside you and meet you where you’re at.
The same way that I act as a resource to other people, there are other people around me that fulfill that role for me in my life.
Q. What do you see as the next steps for SKANZ as you bring this further into the market?
I think of it as a puzzle right now. The picture is unknown, I have a lot of the pieces, and I generally know where they go, but now it’s a matter of putting them together. That’s everything from the tech, to the people, the resources, and figuring out how best to put it all together. The evolution of the journey has been incredible to watch and it’s sometimes frustrating, but we’re starting to put it all together.
Q. Can you give the audience some practical advice for people who are just embarking on that business track?
No one is self made. No one makes a business by themselves. I just started last July and I developed the product internally, got a developer, made the product and knew I was ready to put myself out there. To do this, I joined a business club, City Club Raleigh in downtown Raleigh and I was international about being there and surrounding myself with people who had already built businesses. Who better to learn from?
I should also mention that there are generational differences. There are people who have developed million dollar businesses thirty years ago. Technology and the community have changed. So while they have years of experience, I also have a new and fresh perspective. It’s definitely a unique blending of the minds when you put yourself in those spaces and have conversations. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of people who have already forged ahead of you in the spaces you’re trying to make your way into.
It all goes back to resources. The SBA and Small Business Technology Development Center have people on staff whose whole focus is to help you build and grow your business. They have free classes that they offer all the time. I met with a mentor who once told me that I was one of the first people to tell him that I outsourced my business. When people start a business, they usually think they have to do everything. Part of that comes from a money perspective, but you have to be willing to pay for some things because time is also money. The time you spent doing something that could have been done more efficiently by someone else, is valuable.
Q. Where does SKANZ go from here?
We just finished developing the organization side of it. That’s where we take it from that basic business card level to the next level where we’re connecting rooms full of people. We’re making it the network of networks. That looks like building relationships with all these different organizations and making contacts to pitch our business to. The next level would be building more community for our company.
The first event I went to, I found on Eventbrite. It’s filled with everything from yoga classes to concerts. I want SKANZ to be a place that people can go to not only benefit from the events they go to, but to also find events to go to. What that looks like, is as we onboard organizations and get things going, they’ll have the option to make their events public. I want SKANZ to be a place where there is cross pollination of people from different organizations because other platforms still have some division. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to connect.
Q. How can the people connect with you?
You can find me on LinkedIn and my SKANZ page is linked there as well. Instagram as well.
Thanks for joining us today! Click the link below to watch the full interview on YouTube!
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