Welcome to The Dare to Scale Show

Episode 19

Masters Spotlight Series: Marilyn Zakhour

Welcome to another episode of the Masters' Spotlight series! Our guest today is Marilyn Zakhour, CEO and founder of Cosmic Centaurs. Before starting her journey as an entrepreneur, Marilyn spent a large part of her career working in marketing, most recent of which was as the Chief Marketing Officer of EMAAR and the Head of Dubai Opera.

Marilyn shares with us her captivating story of starting her own company during the height of the pandemic. She has infused her passion for collaboration, innovation, and creativity, along with her vision to empower teams across the world into her business.

Episode Highlights:
  • Why collaboration and synergy matter so much in a business.
  • Marilyn beautifully describes what disruption means to her
  • The vision for Cosmic Centaurs and for her 'I dare' statement
Guest Pages

LinkedIn :       www.linkedin.com/in/marilynzakhour/

Instagram :    www.instagram.com/permanenthunger/

Twitter:            https://twitter.com/Marilynzakhour

Company Pages

LinkedIn :       www.linkedin.com/company/cosmic-centaurs

Facebook :      www.facebook.com/cosmiccentaurs

Twitter :           https://twitter.com/cosmiccentaurs?s=21

Website:          https://www.cosmiccentaurs.com/about-us

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Episode Transcript
Warsha 0:01
Welcome to the dare to scale show with me Warsha. So what is the scale over the years that we've been coaching founders and business owners, much like yourselves, we work through a framework called

Evan 0:16
Dare to scale, indeed, that framework has helped loads of business owners. That is what this show is all about. So, put on your big picture thinking hat.

Evan 0:28
Oh and your headphones and come join us and enjoy the ride.

Warsha 0:42
Hello Marilyn joins us today on the master spotlight. Marilyn welcome

Marilyn 0:46
Thanks Warsha and Evan I'm so excited to be here.

Evan 0:49
Hey Marilyn welcome.

Warsha 0:51
We are so excited to be here as well. Marilyn is the founder and CEO of Cosmic Centaurs

Marilyn 0:58
That's right. What a name.

Evan 1:00
Absolutely wonderful name. And in terms of the inspiration for that name come from, and tell us a little bit about your journey. Sure.

Marilyn 1:10
So, I mean, I'll start you off at an important moment, which was last year, March 19 I was the head of the Dubai opera, and that was the moment where Dubai was starting to go into lockdown and the opera suspended its operations, and I was let go. And so, yeah, first time for me. So I went home, march 19 I'm like, okay, country's going to lock down what need to look for a job anytime soon. But also, I was in a very privileged place, which was that I had enough savings that I didn't have to worry about where my next meal was going to come from or how I was going to pay for rent. And so, In an odd way being let go. In the beginning of lockdown was actually a real blessing for me because it gave me an opportunity to just stop right, and to think about what it was that I wanted to spend the next 5,10,15 years doing. And I was always knew that I would end up running a company are starting my own company, I just didn't know when. And it occurred to me that this was the perfect time to do it because I literally had nothing left to lose. And I started thinking about what is the thing or the topics that I've always been really obsessed with and passionate about, as a manager, as a teacher because I've been teaching at University for a while. And what came up to me is that something that I've always just it's the one thing that has brought me the most joy is when I'm able to help a group of people come together and collaborate in a way that their outcome is bigger than the sum of their parts. And this was the beginning of lockdown for Dubai but in a lot of other places it was still like people were still not sure what they were doing. In some countries it took another month or two before that would happen, but you could see that one of the biggest challenges to our human capability of collaboration was going to be the fact that for the first time ever, we were all going to have to be working away from one another. And while I didn't tell what we were going to sell. I knew that that was the problem that I wanted to address. And one day, you know, we were like, so this was March 19 I applied for my company on April 1, which wasn't a joke. We're always joking like, it's kind of funny that you're doing this on April 1 Because it sounds like you're pulling our leg but no, you're really doing this at the time I was locked down with my husband and my best friend. We were sat down at dinner, and I was like I need a name for this company like even if it doesn't end up being the brand that we use, I just need anything to kind of register the company, and we were brainstorming and I think we came up with a bunch of things, then we were all laughing because there were these memes coming out about how everybody would be wearing, you know, corporate shirts with pajamas bottoms. And I was like, oh, it's like a centaur, you know, half business half casual half human half horse, and unlike great Centaurs and like Centaurs 42 because for the two of them a number that means a lot to me. And then we were also joking about like all the Zoom backgrounds that everybody was using and at the time people hadn't figured out that they could upload their own so they were using the native zoom ones and one of them is like this space background and everybody was floating in outer space. And so I said, Cosmic Centaurs, because everybody is going to be a cosmic Centaurs, because of this pandemic. And that's how we started the company, and I was like great, I'm just gonna apply to that I'm like, Do you can you imagine like the people at DMCC reading this company's name, like they're gonna think I was smoking up when I invented it. And truthfully, no I was just on lockdown in Dubai with my husband, my best friend having dinner and that's how we came up with it.

Evan 4:40
Well that's fantastic. Look, I love the 42 pages because that is the answer to everything. Remember, right. That is exactly right, and collaboration when you're working with people and then the synergy of the sum of everything obviously getting a bigger result. What's important to you about that.

Marilyn 4:58
I often joke that the reason why collaboration matters so much to me as a person, is because I had divorced parents and I spent my whole life, getting people to get along with each other. But that's not, I don't know, that's why I think it's also like if I go to like why it matters to me personally, I just hate being alone. And I love being able to build things with others, and I know we're going to talk about my day to scale statement at some point, And that's where that comes from I just feel like when we're able to cross cultural, religious, personal boundaries and connect with one another, we can really create magic, and maybe it comes from being brought up in Lebanon, that's like, you know has a very kind of diverse socio economical and religious backdrop where you have to constantly learn to navigate those cultural differences and collaborate with others, even just to build a country which we've clearly failed at doing, but it's something that you learn that you have to address very young in Lebanon. And so I just feel like that's always been a recurrent theme and I remember even a colleague of mine at NCR, he took me through this. I don't remember the questions he asked me, but essentially it was an exercise to get you to like your one true essence, Like the one thing that is pervasive across everything that you do, and it came down to that he's like the essence was, I just want to help people connect and collaborate, it's always been about that for me so part of it has to do with my upbringing, and my kind of cultural background, and part of it comes from a real belief that you can't build anything meaningful on your own. I don't think you can.

Evan 6:39
That's incredibly powerful. Absolutely. So taking that as a premise, when did you realise that that's what he could do with Cosmic Centaurs because he said you know what, give them a sell to start with.

Marilyn 6:53
Yeah, I mean honestly from the get go, I knew that would be the theme that I wanted to address, so I just didn't know what the product would be, and I still say that I say like, if tomorrow, what it takes for us to help teams and humans Collaborate is we need to design the office of the future, then that's what we'll do. So in that sense, I didn't care what the product was I cared what problem we were solving, and it's really funny because I've been teaching Design Thinking University for a long time. Right. And it wasn't until I had to build my own company that I really saw how to apply those concepts that I teach at University, where I say like, what you should be worrying about isn't what product you're selling, it's what pain point you're solving for your customer. And once you figure that out, the product will come on its own. And here it was just like, I understand that there's going to be a bunch of human beings and managers and executives, and HR professionals that are going to struggle with, how do you build organisations, because at the essence of why do you have organisations like if you go back to the fundamentals of why companies exist right they exist, task is bigger than one person, but also in order to deliver that task. The fundamental problem of an organisation is how do you divide labour and how do you integrate outcome. Right, that's the basis and the integration sometimes is as simple as like, you send me a slide which shows me is like, we'll just stick them together, but sometimes the integration is there's a metaphor that one of my professors uses for collaboration which I think is beautiful. He says it's like says if each of us has one piece of a puzzle, and we're working on it together. And when you haven't put your puzzle down the shape and colour of the piece in my hand, changes. That's true collaboration, it's not just like sticking things together, it's the fact that the outcome of our work collectively cannot be attributed to anybody, right. And so, I've always known that that was the problem we're going to solve because so many people because of this remote work problem, we're going to be faced with issues and decisions and new models that they had no idea how to deal with, and the fundamentals of what it is to have an organisation to run one to create culture for, we're going to be put in question, and this was last year right like I couldn't now I can say a lot of this with eloquence because like we know what happened right. But always, you know, hindsight is 2020 Right, but that's how I felt at the time was like, I'm pretty sure a bunch of people are going to need help. And while I don't know what I'm going to sell them, is it going to be software it's going to be services it's going to be consulting, is it going to be frameworks, am I going to write a book like it didn't matter. What mattered is, this is the fundamental problem that I want to address, and this is what I want to obsess about for the next 10 years,

Evan 9:47
You've had 12 months of runway. And because we've known you for some time. You've had some wonderful success in Europe. Do you find that different regions have different resistance to working together and in the way that you envisage,

Marilyn 10:01
I think, for example, so we're in Dubai, and I often say this, the Middle East has a trading mentality, because that's our history right we're merchants we bought things from China and took them over to you know, we've always been on some silk route somewhere.
And so in that sense,I don't think we're very good at building organisations, and in fact, you'd be hard pressed to find it to be able to name right now, more than I know only two companies from the side of the world that have listed on the NASDAQ just like to take some kind of KPIs an example. And so in that sense, I don't think we worry a lot about human collaboration. European companies have had to do that for multiple reasons. First of all, there have been organisations in Europe for a longer time. Just historically, but also they've had two world wars, and I come from inside so I'm very ingrained in that this idea of business as a force for good of like building companies, and bridging cultures as a way to maintain peace and there's a lot of data to show that that's pretty accurate countries that have business relationships with each other. Fight less. And I think also, Europe, but I think a lot of other continents I just happened to have a big network in Europe but it's funny, the other day, someone asked me this, they're like, Don't you find that people are not willing to kind of rethink fundamentally what the future of work is going to be like, once you've helped them figure out remote work there. It's like someone broke up foot and I bandage that they don't want to do anything else, they're just like, oh thanks, I'm fine, I'm gonna leave. And I said, I think that the companies that really understand what they need to do today, are those that grasp, complexity, and generally what I found in my anecdotal sample is they're companies that are more than 30 or 40 years old. Because if you're a manager in a company like that. You've already, like, one of the companies we work with and I can cite them because they, you know I have approval to do that so of our SQL scripts wanted as long. They're more than 100 years old. They have been through through two world wars to cite, you know, just a few of the things they've had to deal with in terms of change, they've been through the creation of the European Union. So managers and organisations like that. They understand what change means, and they have the institutional history if not knowledge, to know that this company has had to deal with change before and what allowed it to survive what it was its ability to reinvent itself, and they're not going to be the executive who misses the boat. And so companies like that are more willing to think about the future of work in a more profound way than just Can you just help me figure out how to do this remote thing because my employees are tired, and that's why I think we've found more success in Europe than on this side of the world.

Evan 12:44
Just simple question. Are you finding that even now, there was still some people hoping to go back to the way things work, Or is there a general sort of consensus that things have moved on.

Marilyn 12:58
I mean, by now most people kind of are afraid to say I want to go back to the way things were, because by now everyone's like so certain that we've gone into a new normal that you'd be ashamed to say like, I'm pretty sure like when this is over everything is going to go back. But we know from human behaviour that just humans don't like change, it's normal where they've never have. And while everybody's kind of nodding along as to like oh yeah, the world is different, please. Now a lot of people don't want it to be a different place and I understand them. And I think a lot of what we do is also hand holding humans through this transition, like a lot of it is coaching and personal relationships and it's going to be fine. You're going to be okay. Yes, the world's changing but it always hadn't been changing you just didn't notice that before. But yeah, it's really funny like even now in the pandemic I'm like, well I don't know how I'm gonna cope with it when we can travel again. It's funny, you know, and I've only been in the situation for a year, but it was like, uncomfortable. And I had to deal with this madness, but I don't want to deal with the world going back to something or becoming something else, and I just think everybody's tired and afraid, myself included, and so people don't think it's okay and they're not happy with it, but they also understand that they don't have a choice because they spent so much time hoping that the vaccine you know you remember these stories like last year was like oh but by September, this will be over and then September was here and it's like oh by January we'll all be vaccinated and now that the vaccines are rolling out in some countries it's going to take two years to get everybody vaccinated at the pace that they're going and people are can now do the math, which is something they couldn't do a year ago. They're like, No, actually, this is it, the world has now is going through this tunnel and there's nothing I can do to change it and so they accept that now it is going to be in a while, and they're trying to figure out what to do with it.

Evan 14:52
Wow, Which leads us nicely into one of the tenants of the conversation we're having. And that's disruption. So disrupted been forced on a lot of us, and we've learned from that. But what does disruption mean to you.

Marilyn 15:05
It's an interesting one. I think I'm going to reference something that someone we all know read that taught me about maybe wish or you can jump in with the cultural piece if I butcher it but when I did and I met, and because it's called Cosmic centaur as I have a lot of cosmic objects in my office, hanging on the wall and so on and ratchet spoke to me about the Nataraja, right, who is this God of dance but also comes along with it every 400 million years or something like they've covered there ass you know it's like 400 million years no one will know, but essentially he comes when the world is has reached a state of order that is no longer kind of conducive to growth or improvement right it's just like everything is stable and he dances right and he disrupt everything and moves things around but with the purpose of creating space for progressive creativity right Warsha please do jump in if I'm messing this now.

Warsha 15:59
It is you are not at all messing it up, that's exactly what that entire symbolism really is to recognise that, if this is it. Then let's get on with it, and clear the space for something new to be born in its place.

Marilyn 16:12
Exactly. And so for me that image that I really love to have around disruption thing, which is that nature doesn't settle right if you look at it just from an evolutionary point of view, you don't survive by settling right if you don't mutate and evolve and change then species sometimes just disappear, because they're no longer relevant, they haven't been able to adapt and to me that it's just disruption is a fact of life. I don't see it as a big word I know like in the beginning of the 2000s and I think was Clay Shirky who wrote about it a lot and it was this whole thing about like oh my god disruption, but maybe also being Lebanese means you're like, what else dude, like you come deal with the fact that every other day you don't have electricity or water and then we can talk about destruction, like, I've never lived in a state of stability and so I think that image of the Nataraja really sticks with me because again as a kid if you grew up in a space that is constantly itself being quote unquote disrupted or in the way I see it is not stable for a very long time. You become the kind of person who like when things are fine, you're like, what's going on, you know you look over your shoulder like something's gonna happen. You're always waiting for it and so I just think disruption is a space for new creativity and new solutions and new problems, and I think it's a great space to invent. I don't see it as such a difficult word to deal with, I think.

Warsha 17:35
Totally and I love how you are explaining what disruption means, because you said something right in the beginning and I'm going to take you there. When you are talking about what happened about a year ago. And you said a line was said you had nothing left to lose. So, give it a shot to start something new. And that pretty much encompasses what disruption means because if today we're at a stage where things aren't what they are. So, to me, what I'm getting from this is more reinvention rather than disrupt for the sake of disrupting, so that's pretty much what the thought process behind in talking about disruption is it's not because you just go and shake things up, because you don't like something, but it really is about saying, You know what, maybe something needs to be reinvented. Over here we have now reaching that stage of being stagnant. So I want to take you back to those words. And when you've got nothing left to lose. The only way is up, is what I usually say, again that's half the world says. Tell us a little bit about what your thoughts are on that.

Marilyn 18:44
I mean I can only share what my experience was like at that moment, right. And it's funny like before I became an entrepreneur, right, I used to work in a company for 10 years where we did a lot of advising entrepreneurs. And as a consequence, I mean everybody also there's this cult of like being an entrepreneur and we've read a lot about the stories and how people do it and we all obsess over the early days of a company, learn how this idea came and what they did and all of that. And now that I'm a year in on the other side and I'm not trying to say that I know that I'm going to be successful like who knows, I might fail, next year, but regardless, what I learned about disruption, my way right because I didn't sit down and like, think about the future and look at macroeconomic indicators and like do my analysis for six months and then predict some kind of big change. I was sitting here and change was occurring around me, and I was just like, I'm not gonna pretend it Not gonna happen. That was it. I'm just gonna, I'm gonna listen. And I'm gonna see how the world is changing, and of course I'm gonna do it within the topics that I care about that I obsess about that I'm passionate that I want to wake up for but truthfully all I had to do is listen. And then the next thing I had to do was keep walking. And it's funny, like, people look at me and go, My God, but within two weeks you had set up a company and then within two weeks you're up and running and then two weeks later you had your first clients and then a month later you heard her first person and there's a bit of that like, I could never be able to do that. And it's funny because now on the other side of the mirror, you know, I'm like listen to it. Honestly, all I did was wake up every day and be like, I just need to accomplish something today. That's it. I don't think that I'm some kind of genius person who figured something out or that nobody can do what I did, or, I don't think that because now that I've done it and I look back and like, Honestly, all I did was wake up and say, What are we going to get done today, and that was it. And so, disruption and invention and creativity. They don't have to be big aha moments. And I don't think I had any big aha moments, honestly I look back, I'm like, it's really boring. I just had a few charts and thought I was inspired and oh I loved being a manager and thought maybe people would need help and started posting things on LinkedIn and one day someone told me why don't you start a company about this and I'm like, funny you should ask and that was it and I just kept going and kept moving. And I think that's another piece of that disruption is that it's not a big aha moment, and it's not a big something massive happens and you realise forever that you're right, but rather it's a series of tiny steps at least that's how it was.

Warsha 21:23
That's exactly what you were talking about how the world reinvents as well. So milestone is like last year happened only once every so often. It's not every day. However, every month, there are those little changes that keep happening that as you very rightly said, people don't realise that we are always changing. We're always evolving, and only when a year like last year happens suddenly, is the whole thing comes together. Yeah, exactly. So, absolutely love that. And the second part that I want to go into. If you've shared us what you're joining oh by the way, we've known each other for what over a year now. And so first time I actually know what cosmic centaur ascenders actually made them where did it come from, so I'm so glad we dug them up. There you go. Yes. So the second part of that is, once you know that re invention that disruption that evolution is imminent and it's facing you and you got to take the bull by the horns and you got to do it, otherwise you're gonna get swept away in that way, that's coming in that's pretty much what you did, you stood up and you said, dust yourself off and move on. And, as an entrepreneur as a modern leader today one of the things that if you separate the clouds in the sky, what do you see, at which point do you decide what is something for you, and what is something not for you, at which point do you begin to get into that discerning space world is full of opportunities. It's important that you begin to get into that discerning space so tell us a little bit about that.

Marilyn 23:00
It's really interesting because the, the one-year anniversary of cosmic centaur is coming up, and humans we love these kind of arbitrary measures. Thank you, but it's an arbitrary measure that kind of forces you to like, record a milestone you're like okay well we survived the first year and actually the only thing I can see is how many decisions I have to make and I remember sharing this with you guys in one of our sessions about the root of the word decision, which is the same root as the word scissors. Yeah, that's this, which is about what you're going to cut out. And I had milestone moments where I could have made money selling something, or we could have taken on a project, and we just didn't feel it in our gut that that was the right thing to do. And the reason it's in our gut is because the one thing I'm really uncompromising about and I think the wonderful human beings that work with me. Join me on that, is we're uncompromising about why we exist. And if you know that, then it becomes easier to cut things out because that's your first principle, it's everything else is a second order, but if you know why you exist, and someone's asking you to do something that goes against that, then cutting it out is simple. And we've had a couple of milestone moments like that, a potential client that would have been great money, asked us to do something. And we just, we felt sick right like it wasn't that bad but it was just like, it wasn't right. And, and even though we knew that this would ruin our relationship with them forever that it would be really upset that we were like losing good money. We had to write to them and say listen, we're just not the right company for you we can't do this. And it was hard but it was a foundational moment because would signal to all of us was, we have a choice. We can say no we don't have to take every project that comes our way. And so, we now feel more empowered and more courageous coming into these decisions we have so many decisions to make, to be honest there's so many services we could be selling. We're building a piece of software called Aion, there are so many directions we could take this into, and I'm sitting here thinking like wow, I really need to make all these decisions or we need really need to make them. And while I worry about making sure we make the right one. I also know there's a lot of things we know in our gut. And if it turns out to be wrong. Big deal. We'll start over. But it's because we were so connected to our why. I think so.

Warsha 25:35
Absolutely brilliant. And right over there. You also address my third point over there is once you know what is right for you, and you take that decision and you stand by it those decisive moments, we take that decision and stand by your values, and in many cases, that's why we say yes or no to something, and how strongly you stood by what I want to dig a little bit deeper into here is that may have been a easy decision for you because you could see that picture in its entirety, whatever the picture was at that stage. How did it go with the rest of your team, and how did you communicate this with your team and enroll them in this decision.

Marilyn 26:16
So, in fact, what happened is this request came from the client and the meeting were both Tala and I were there and tell us the first sent or she's the first person to join us. And she and I have built so much of this together. And when the call ended. Tala was like surely we're not going to do this. And I always need a minute, I'm like Tyler we can't we sent them an offer like ethically We can't just leave them in the wind. Right. We have to think about how we're going to deal with this and it was a bit like stern because it's like, it's about the reputation of our company too. And then I slept over it on the weekend, and Tala, you know, she's like, okay I guess we're doing this, and so she was working on the proposal, updating it based on what they said. And I needed time to figure out how we were gonna do this in a way that I could live with myself because while I disagreed with what they were asking us to do. I also didn't want to leave them in a ditch, right, it was like three weeks to the deadline, like it wasn't cool. And so eventually, I was like, wait, I know somebody who can do what they need and it fits within like how they do things. And I can connect them and that can be a solution because I'm putting them in touch with someone I trust, who could do the work and they would do it well. And then I did that, and then I spoke to Tala, you know, spoke to the team we all kind of collectively discussed it and agreed on it but I think what was more important and how we dealt with it as a team is that we do monthly retrospectives to kind of assess, you know, the decisions we've made the work we've delivered the way we've collaborated and see how we can improve it moving forward. And it was a great occasion for me to tell the team like I had a doubt. But I didn't want to be a spoiled brat. And so I was pushing forward, and the fact that Tyler expressed her that to me so openly, it actually helped me because it helped me to say like, Okay, you're not being a spoiled brat by saying no to a good project, you're actually doing the right thing, and it was just an occasion for us as a team and to establish kind of a new rule which was, if it feels wrong in your gut, it don't matter what Marilyn saying because she's the loudest person in the room and she got a shitty character and she can out, you know argument, all of you say it, because then we can realise that we need to stop and think before we keep moving because I'm always pushing the team to like move and go fast and execute and whatever, but I told him, like, promise that if any of you ever express a doubt, I will stop.

Marilyn 28:42
And that was so helpful.

Marilyn 28:43
And that's how we've processed it together,

Evan 28:45
Totally love that. It's interesting when you know what you want, and you got to bring clear direction and vision and what that is. It's a lot easier to stay on course. And obviously having the courage as the other very, very key thing that you'd said is having the courage to do the right thing, what's the right thing for you, kind of thing. Tell me, is there anything you had to unlearn in the sort of space when you came out of corporate being the entrepreneur.

Marilyn 29:09
Well,there's something that I, funnily enough, started learning at EMAAR, that I'm not sure I would have learned it in another corporate so I don't know if it's representative of the corporate world, but I've always been a very kind of rational, creative, meaning like, they have to go through a process they have to establish a strategy, I have to like, do one thing at a time. It also comes from the fact that my beginning of my career was in the agency world where you have to like convince your client of every damn decision you're making and so it slows down the process. In fact, and I always used to joke because I was in tech, and then I came to Dubai and I worked in real estate. And I always say like I thought Tech was fast until I did Dubai real estate, where the speed and I happened to be here in a crazy year too, so I was the Chief Marketing Officer of EMR, for the year where they released I think it was 43 different properties in one year so practically every week. We were telling a new story because the way you sell real estate is you're selling lines on a screen, at this point because we don't even print brochures anymore. Right,

Marilyn 30:17
there's nothing,

Marilyn 30:18
there's a piece of land, and it's barren and what you're doing is, of course, the architects have created, let's say the experiential story, but as a marketeer what you're doing is you have to tell people why they should buy something. Now, like give you a million dollar homes or to wait five years for it to emerge. For them to be able to either move into it or rent it out. And why by the point they're going to rent it out, it's going to be such an amazing place to live, that they're going to get a good deal. And you have to do all of that every week for a new place. And I think in that sense, EMAAR really taught me and I think that GCC is quite impressive in that sense, to operate at a speed that I never thought possible. And that's the lesson that I brought into this, and it's funny because, so two of my teammates from my first company have joined me now and before they joined I'm like listen, remember how I used to be like so picky about everything being good before. Now I'm picky about everything being fast, and you guys are going to struggle like I warn them like, you're not going to know what hit you because the speed at which we're going to operate is uncomfortable for you because you and I 10 years ago, we were so focused on doing it well, but now I've learned that for 80% of everything. If you do it fast. You'll do it 80% Good enough. And that's good enough. And I think that's one of the most interesting lessons, and then we carved out a space where if you're working on an idea that needs time, because those still exist, everything can be done. Seven times faster with the same outcome we label it. So we say, this is, you know now I call it an island because of conversation I had last week but this is an island, meaning like, Don't come talk to me about it in the daily stand up. Don't ask about it every week. I will come to you and this idea is ready to be shared. And then we'll build on it together. But if it's gonna take me six months, then that's okay. And so it's about kind of delimiting those spaces of what is it that we can execute that much faster. That'll be good enough so that we can keep moving, versus what are those things that need incubation, that need a bit of time, and therefore we shouldn't put them under the pressure of that daily, weekly, because they really need to be incubated before they're ready to be meaningful.

Evan 32:45
That's a wonderful space to operate from at least what I'm hearing because there's a lot of it really is their discernment. When it's ready is ready, and equally as important. I would dare to also say that there's a lot of excellence in what you do say it might be fast but it's also about excellence. And it's no longer about perfection. And I think that's the unlearning that I was hearing. I mean I have to giggle because I've been in Dubai and so has Warsha, we've been in Dubai for quite some time, and at some point we both work in the field. And he talks about every week in the new offering it wasn't just me so some years ago it was it was just crazy and so completely feel, what you were talking,

Marilyn 33:26
you know what I'm talking about.

Evan 33:29
Totally. Yeah,I want to ask you. So, in this journey, there's a lot of thinking and decisions that you're taking. What can we look forward to in the next year or two.

Marilyn 33:39
You know it's funny so last year for my birthday, my best friend, which is soon it's in May. I know she knows because we're releasing the podcast in May, I think we are indeed. And so, Rhea asked me, What do you want for cosmic centaur is at your next birthday and I'm like Raya, I want us to be five, you got to remember at the time, it was me and me and Tala had started working for me as a freelancer, but I hadn't hired her yet. And here we are. There's five of us now. And it's truly terrifying because you realise how many people you're responsible for what I want for next year, it's more what I want than what you should expect but hopefully they'll be the same thing. We're building a software called Aion. It came from a conversation that I was having with a friend. Again, April last year, where there was no lockdown yet in Lebanon, so everybody had a choice of who they would bring to the office and how often and he had sent everybody to work from home and he was giggling about the fact that his competition was bringing the team, half of the time. And I said, Why is that funny to you and he said, Well, this guy went from being the CEO to be the chief scheduling officer. And so it occurred to me that, you know as the pandemic continued to be around as work models actually not evolved but went back to being hybrid, because if you know anything about the history of the office, you will know that it's a fairly recent invention, as that happened, there would be a need to figure out, how do you get people to continue collaborating and vibrating and connecting to each other, even if they're not constantly together. And so, Aion, who is the abundant God of Time, as opposed to Kronos, the god of limited time is a software that is trying to answer the question of, How can I help teams that are distributed or hybrid, figure out the right norms, the right team identity the right rituals, but also get a good sense of mutual knowledge because what we know from academic research is that when people are not together, what helps them to thrive as a team, and collaborate, is knowing a lot about each other, is like knowing, are you a morning or an evening person could you live with, is there somebody you have to care for, you know, what's your favourite food, knowing these things about each other make us better as teams. And so Aion is a software that hopes to kind of be that team Helper, that helps them both structure the way they spend their time together and apart, but also how they should learn about each other so that they can be better teams, and we're launching the MVP next week. Oh, yeah, very exciting. And that's what all MVP is I mean it's, I'm like oh my god there are so many things that are missing from this and how am I going to sell it and is it good enough. Should we take another month and. And then the other Marilyn's like, listen, we're going out to market better deal with it. So I'm hoping, we've set a bold target that a year from now we'll have 400 teams using the software. So, my goal is to get people using it, and also to get them to attest to how it's helping their teams be happier, more connected, more efficient, you know, or whatever it is and they want to be at that then we can go fundraise,

Evan 36:57

Marilyn 36:58
I'm gonna put that out in the world, hope it works.

Evan 37:01
Just so I understand these beta testing we've already done some beta testing. We've done beta

Marilyn 37:05
testing and now what we're doing is we're releasing the MVP. And the first 30 teams that sign up, they will get like a handheld journey, meaning, we'll start with a facilitated workshop around, team building and intention setting will work on the their team identity will help them use the software which today allows them to do two very basic things which is say where do they work from today, where are they working from, and how are they feeling coming into work and how are they feeling, leaving work. And that's it, basic features, far less than, everything we have in our backlog, but just something to start with and then our hope is that with these first 30 teams, we'll be talking to them every other week, we'll take part maybe teach them a few retrospectives or other rituals that they can put in place to facilitate that communication, and we're hoping to hear back from them about what would they want next. And then we'll build it. So again, this whole thing I've been teaching for a while, you know, agile and design thinking they all rely on designing with your user, so it's not so much about you intellectualising and a corner. It's not like, Oh, I'm some genius person we'll figure out what everybody needs to build it, but rather, can I bring in my users with me, we go on a journey together. I interact with them and listen to them and we co design, what the next version will look like and so we're giving ourselves until July to release an alpha and then until September to release the beta, which hopefully will have some good enough features that somebody will want to pay for it.

Evan 38:38
Totally sure that we plenty of ages.

Marilyn 38:41
Yeah, I mean hopefully someone want to pay for them because if they're free and everybody likes them, then that's not good enough. And then hopefully we can go and fundraise because HR Tech is a hot piece of investment at the moment, everybody's looking at that so hoping we can catch the current totally looking forward to it.

Warsha 38:56
Oh, absolutely fabulous. I love that. And what I really love over there was, you know, I know it's a podcast, most of our listeners are not actually going to be watching your face Marilyn your face it completely lit up when you were talking about this, that was amazing. I'm just here watching you, I don't think you'd look at that energy that is going into, Into this entire creation it because that's what it is you've created something out of something immense out of seemingly nothing, but it's not nothing, it was always there, you actually brought it all together, and you're putting it in a platform where it's easy to consume for those teams. It's a very vital piece of information that is missing from the teams because they don't know each other and that's what you're bringing, bringing together connecting them.

Marilyn 39:41
Yeah and I mean, you know I said this to my mother one day, she was like You sound so much happier than you've ever been at work before and I said, you know, because before, I used to create things that were interesting or beautiful or that would sell or whatever. And if I did good for people around me, it was within like my limited scope of the people I managed right or the people I interacted with, and what I feel that cosmic centaur and Aions have provided me with is I have an opportunity to help people be happier every day and I say this, I'm not saying this is not a pitch, I really feel it, like when a team connects when they finally have a retrospective and say something that they've been holding back for a while, when they managed to forgive each other and move past it, when they managed to build something. It truly fills me with joy. And I guess I built a company that allows me to do that every day and it's just, it's marvellous, and as a consultant, I can do this at a small scale because there's only so many people that I can reach out to, as an individual, but with Aion, if it works, Then we can build a whole universe of teams and companies that feel more empowered more safe, more creative, like this year has been, you know, this idea of reflecting because it's been a year in 10 days it's our anniversary this year has been so full of creativity for me. And part of me is like, now the company is growing and I have to put processes on everything and you know you always have this thing of like what am I no longer gonna be able to experience in the same way and, and I think it's important to, to market that and say like, I understand we're moving into a new phase I mean it's why I built this company, but you also lose something, but it's been such a great moment of creativity and if I can help other teams to get that even some of the time that my job is done here. That's why it excites me so much.

Warsha 41:40
Absolutely brilliant. And the next question that I'm actually going to ask you is something that you mentioned again right at the beginning. And we've heard it, we absolutely want our listeners to hear it, Marilyn. We all have a, I dare to statement hidden within us, we show it usually with our actions we rarely ever actually say those words. So tell us what your I do statement is

Marilyn 42:03
I dare to build with others, and I have a funny story about that.

Warsha 42:07
Fantastic, Oh, do tell.

Marilyn 42:11
it's really something I've been saying for a very long time. And when I met my now husband, you know, we were just chatting it wasn't like nothing had happened yet like we weren't dating or not. It was the early days and we were talking about like what marriage means to us or what being with another person or building a life with them means. And for me, I come from obviously I come from a divorced couple. And so I don't take marriage as, you know, it's not an a pill that's easy for me to swallow I'm like whatever it's all bullshit. And I told him, I'm like you know for me, a real marriage is a partnership, it's like building a company together and marvellous that I'm saying this to two people who've done both, because you got to wake up every day and be wanting to build something with that person, right, because you can fall in love with a lot of people and you can have, you know chemistry with a lot of people and you can be friends and find intellectual stimulation with a lot of people across genders like it's not a thing right like just loving somebody else isn't enough to for me to make a successful marriage or partnership. It's not about that it's about waking up every day and deciding that you're going to build something with that person and on some days that means that you're going to be creative and positive in some days it means that you're willing to address conflict, and it's not all, you know, happy moments but it's all committed. And I remember telling him this anyways. He then got on a train went to London and I still have that video because I still have it on my whatsapp. my husband is a very like classic man who's really cute that way and that night, he sent to me a video of him writing with like some you know Montblanc or like traditional pen whatever he wrote on a piece of paper, and filmed himself writing on a piece of paper. I want to build with you. And I still have that video because it's in my What's up, and I think that's always been in the cards, that's always been how I see things I just think there's something so powerful you know like human beings are the only species that can organise in groups, bigger than 150 individuals, and we can do that, one of the explanations for that is because we're capable of inventing and believing in common myths, and I think that's the essence of why I like to build with others because in order to do that in order to do it, beyond a certain size, you all have to be seeing the same mirage, and then walk or run towards it fast enough that it turns out to be real. And that to me is pure magic and that's why collaboration is such a big theme in my life and innovation and creativity because we're the only species capable of that.

Warsha 44:48
First of all, thank you for sharing that story. Oh, my goodness, goosebumps all over. That was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. And I love that story, or the metaphor that he used about the mirage have enough in you, to see that mirage and have enough in you to run fast enough to make that a reality. Brilliant, what are my biggest takeaways of this conversation today thanks. Leave a shadow behind.

Marilyn 45:17
Yes, pretty much yeah that's a good one. Leave your shadow behind I love that.

Warsha 45:20
Phenomenal. Marilyn. You have been an amazing guest, And you've shared so much and shared so generously. Thank you.

Marilyn 45:32
Thank you for having like therapy I really enjoyed that.

Warsha 45:34
It was such a brilliant conversation and really, again, we meet so often, and yet very rarely do we put aside time to really get to know what lies beneath. And that's the purpose of bringing up these masters spotlight, so thank you for being our master on today's show.

Warsha 45:55
Thanks so much for having me and I mean I have to thank everyone for being so insistent back in June of last year to having me joined the group, because what a right it's been

Evan 46:06
quite frankly we're all changed because of it, all grown up.

Warsha 46:10
Very much so. Marilyn. Thank you. We love this conversation, there are so many takeaways and so many little stories that you shared gave those deeper insights into what this last one year has been like for you, and what the first year is for a lot of entrepreneurs out there. And one thing that you said, completely resonated with me was, why do people go and start a company because A, they're good at something that they really do really good at what they do. Very rarely do they realise that that's so different from being good at what it actually takes to run a business, to turn that profession into a business so that entire conversation resonated so beautifully, we loved having you on the show, Marilyn. And now, before we go anywhere. We know that people are going to want to get in touch with you, Marilyn, tell us how and where can people click on somewhere and say hey Marilyn, we need to talk,

Marilyn 47:04
I'm going to give you like the complete advertising piece,

Warsha 47:05
Do that

Marilyn 47:07
So, there we go so I have three pieces of my persona that you can reach out to me for the first one is, obviously you could go on cosmiccentaur.com and then you can get in touch through the contact form. You can find me on LinkedIn, and connect with me I always accept all connections and I always try to answer everybody who reaches out. On the other hand, and I should mention this, so that Raya doesn't murder me and I'm also the co host of a podcast called Who run the world, and over there. Raya, my best friend and I explore themes that we're interested in, from the point of view of who we are, which is too young, I mean relatively young and getting less young but to young Arab women kind of dealing with these themes from the point of view of our culture and where we come from, so you can find us on @whoruntheworldpod on Instagram. And then lastly, I also, I know we didn't talk a lot about this here but my other passion in life is food. And so you can find me on Instagram @permanenthunger, and I also have a blog called permanent hunger.com where I post my mother's Lebanese recipes. If you're in the mood for some Mediterranean inspiration. You can find me there as well.

Warsha 48:16
Okay, and just like that, you gave us another topic should come back on this podcast, and this conversation with you, food.

Marilyn 48:20
Let's do that. That's going to be another amazing conversation,

Warsha 48:34
Marilyn, such a pleasure having you.

Marilyn 48:42

Warsha 48:43
Hey, thanks for joining us, and listening right to the end,

Evan 48:48
Head on over to daretoscale.fm to subscribe, and access show notes, and transcription.

Warsha 48:54
Also, did you know that we have a Facebook page for our podcast listeners, come join the conversations at daretoscale.fm/Facebook.

Evan 49:02
Oh and also remember to give us five-star reviews other entrepreneurs can find this podcast like you and get value to scale from within.

Warsha 49:11
Fabulous! We will see you at our next show. Bye for now.

Meet your hosts:
Warsha Joshi and Evan Le Clus
We are business mentors and business owners operating out of the vibrant city of Dubai, UAE.
We love helping dreams become a reality by bringing about the transformation from Founder to Leader, Consultant to Business Owner.
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