Nobody would look at getting fired from a dream job at Fortune Magazine as a good thing, but for Lan Phan, it opened up an opportunity to do something that makes a much bigger impact on the world. An award-winning marketing leader with over 20 years of experience, Lan was recruited into Fortune’s executive team in late 2019 but was let loose six months later in the middle of the pandemic.
Rather than hunker down after what seemed to be a devastating blow on her career, Lan used it as an opportunity to launch the Community of SEVEN, an invite-only community for purpose-driven leaders who want to change the world. Joining Dr. Diane Hamilton on the show, Lan shares how her upbringing in a Vietnamese refugee family trained her to be nimble and resilient amidst adversity – a quality that served her well during this pivotal moment in her journey.
I’m glad you joined us because we have Lan Phan here. She is the Founder and CEO of Community of SEVEN. She is an award-winning marketer strategist and many things. This is going to be such a fascinating show. We’re going to get into all areas of marketing and a new invitation-only membership community that she’s created.
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The Community Of SEVEN: Creating A Tribe Of Purpose-Driven Leaders Who Want To Change The World With Lan Phan
I am here with Lan Phan, who is an award-winning marketer strategist with many years of marketing, advertising, membership and leadership training experience. She has quite a history. I could sit here all day reading your background, so let’s jump in, Lan. It’s nice to have you here.
It’s nice to meet you, Diane. I’m glad and excited to be here.
I was looking at the Fortune 500 companies, the United Nations, South by Southwest. Your background and everything you’ve done is impressive to me. I wanted to get a background on you because I know you attended Stanford and graduated there, and got a Master’s at Harvard, two of my favorite school. How did you get to that level? You even were able to get into Stanford. I want a little backstory.
My parents are Vietnamese refugees. They came to America with the shirts on their back. We came with nothing. One of the things that my parents instilled in me was to work hard and education is everything. I grew up in Inglewood Los Angeles, California, which is a rough neighborhood. I had a lot of friends who passed away due to gang violence. The only way for me to get out of that situation was to become better and educated. It was a matter of working hard, hyper-focusing on studying, and putting all my efforts into becoming better. I then got into Stanford. I do have a funny story. My mom was a hairdresser growing up and my dad was disabled. We lived off of my mother’s salary of $10,000, $12,000 a year for a family of five.
I didn’t even know what a nanny was. We didn’t have babysitters. We couldn’t afford it. Growing up, I’d go to my mom’s beauty salon every day because she’d have to work every day and we didn’t have a babysitter. I started working when I was 11, 12, at first sweeping hair. When I turned 13, I started doing acrylic nails and manicures. It started gradually and then I was washing hair and people were like, “Isn’t that child labor?” It was the Reagan days, so there were no regulations. I was making $100 a week, which was a lot of money. I remember at one point, I was telling my mom, “I want to do this for a living.” That was the last time I went to my mom’s shop.
Was she worried that you would do that?
Yes. There’s no shame in that profession and working hard, but she also understood that what we see, we want to be. What I was thinking every day was this one life and profession. As soon as I said that, the next day, she had me at home with my father and my brothers. I would work and study. She was like, “Your job now is to do well in school.” That was my narrative in terms of how I got into Stanford. I worked hard. I have one singular goal once I got into college. It’s to be able to support my family. That was my motivation.
What did your siblings end up doing?
I was the youngest. My older brother has an interesting story. He was an amazing artist, but my parents wanted him to go into something traditional, so he majored in Economics. He worked at one of what’s called back then the Big Six accounting firms, Ernst & Young and he hated it. He went back to USC Film School. He is now this award-winning designer and animation and he does virtual reality. My other brother went to college too and is in social work. He has his family. He’s amazing too. It was that whole narrative for our family to work hard and constantly progress.
I introduced you as the Founder and CEO of Community of SEVEN, but explain what that is because I know it’s an invitation-only member community? Tell me a little more about it.
It’s an invite-only community for those looking to change the world. It’s a community of purpose-driven leaders looking to serve the world. We bring leading executives, founders, thought leaders, and change-makers together to solve big business and societal problems. The community of SEVEN is a community of leaders who understand that before they can change the world, they need to first start with themselves. You need to be your best self physically, mentally and emotionally. You can’t fill from an empty cup. Nowadays, people are burnt out. How do you expect to help anyone if you can’t help yourself? Our membership is focused on three main communities or activities. The first one is the core community where we bring 8 to 12 executives together for this one-year journey where they focus on personal professional development.
They create this roadmap and personal life book in terms of what do they want both personally and professionally. The focus is it’s evergreen because who you five years ago is not who you are now. You also have this group that is making you accountable. The other community that we focus on is what I call microlearning. I got my Master’s at Harvard in Teaching a Curriculum. Even though I’ve been an executive for many years, I started in education. How do people learn? I look at it from the Montessori level. My daughter was in Montessori for the better part of her life. What they do in Montessori is that they put the younger kids and the older kids together. The younger kids learn from the older kids and the older kids learned from teaching.
The way we have professional training is all focused on a subject matter expert coming in for six hours for half or full day, droning on about their expertise. I believe that learning is about people connecting and having conversations like this. I would learn more from an hour conversation with you than sitting in a six-hour or two-day training. This whole notion of microlearning is bite-sized chunk learning modules. You learn one thing or concept, whether it’s public speaking or leading through COVID, and it’s not just about someone coming in as a subject matter expert teaching you. It’s about having conversations with others and then learning from people’s mistakes. You’re both learning from teaching and you’re learning from also being a student.
The microlearning and the core communities are about how do we develop ourselves personally and professionally. The last community of this membership is focused on purpose-driven communities, which is we come together on topics about how we can make the world a better place. For example, how do you deal with systemic racism? How do you deal with gender equality? How do you deal with sustainability, and bringing people together with this common purpose and this common goal to change the world? The goal for each member is to own an initiative that they take and lead, whether it’s something they bring back to their company at the ERG group, or they start their own company. I’ll give you two examples. We did this programming on dismantling racism.You build the culture that you want. Click To Tweet
One of the members realized that there were no black teachers in her school district. What she did was she mobilized a few parents together and met with the superintendent. She’s formed this group to talk about bringing more equality in terms of hiring within the school district. That’s one small example. A bigger example is one of our members, Tiffany Wang, who is the Chief Strategy Officer at Spectrums Labs. They’re a leading AI company in San Francisco. She was like, “I want to do something that’s purpose-focused but I don’t know what.” We talked it over and I introduced her to a few people, and that a-ha moment came. It was like there’s a real issue with brand safety. There is so much misogyny and racism. You look at what happened with Gamergate a few years ago and there’s still that issue.
You also see everything with propaganda and some of the negative content that’s happening on the internet. She realized that she could do good. She went to her company and got all of this funding to create the Oasis Consortium, where she brings all these leading executives from the gaming company, CMOs, and all of these different executives to deal with brand safety. What are the regulations and different self-regulation that we need? What are the policies that we need to deal with this rampant issue of negative content on the internet? It’s the Wild Wild West. We would not allow the things that happen on the internet to happen in the real world. Can you imagine if you had your child and someone comes up to them and calls them whatever the negative word is? That would not be acceptable, but those things are acceptable online. The only way we’re going to change it is if we come together. The whole premise of Communities of SEVEN is that we are so much more powerful when we come together.
I have two stories. The PR version is that seven is the optimum number if you want to create change. If you’ve ever been on a conference call where nothing gets done and there are 15, 20 people. All of us have been on those calls. Seven is the optimal number to get things done. Anything that goes beyond seven, each person you bring in loses its productivity by 10%. That’s the whole notion of Community of SEVEN. The real reason I started Community of SEVEN is that I got laid off during the beginning of the pandemic. I was at Fortune Magazine. I thought it was my dream job. I was reporting to Alan Murray, the CEO. I had the multimillion-dollar budget to create this company within Fortune. I was supposed to hire this huge team. I was employee number five and then COVID happened. I got laid off and I also had to lay off the entire team. I was heartbroken, not for myself, but the fact that people left their job. My last hire had started a week prior.
I was crying every day. My daughter would go through these finger reading exercises with me. What happened was I told my team, “We are going to meet every day or however much you need until either all of you guys get jobs. I can find you a job or start a business and hire you guys all back.” We started meeting every week and I would help them with the resumes. I was doing this while I was at Fortune. I wasn’t supposed to tell them that they got laid off until a month before, but I told them as soon as I found out. You got to do the right thing.
I went through the resumes, coached them, connected them with my Rolodex on LinkedIn. You’re like, “That’s six with you. Why is it a Community of SEVEN?” We would have these weekly calls and we still have these calls. This is COVID, everyone’s working from home. I was homeschooling and my daughter would jump in the call, so then that was our community. My daughter would draw this picture with all of the girls and all of my team with their headsets and it’s hilarious. That was the origin of why I thought the Community of SEVEN. You’ll be happy to know that all of them have gotten jobs. We still meet. We turned one of the darkest days of my life into one of the best. I started Community of SEVEN a week after I found out that I was laid off.
Talk about making lemonade. You get lemons, you have these things, and it opens up doors that you don’t even think about. You look back and if something bad happens when you’re older, you go, “That worked okay in the past.” When people are young and these things happen, it’s devastating because you don’t have that experience. You’ve learned a lot from this?
A lot. Those times growing up where I thought it was a disadvantage to lack, to have refugee parents and to be embarrassed about it because I had to be so resilient growing up. If you didn’t have, you improvised. I was telling a friend, “If your TV didn’t work, you would make makeshift antennas with aluminum foil.” If you didn’t have food on the table, you would get a job even if you’re young and pay for it. It was one of those things where that resiliency helped you later on in life. My team was a lot younger because a lot of them were in their 20s and early 30s. I realized that as a leader, I had to still be there, even though I would soon not be their boss.
You think you’re in a real safe situation, especially working for Fortune. I worked for a company for twenty years and one thing I always knew is that you’d never get laid off. They never had any layoffs and later I read, they had layoffs. There’s no sense of safety right now for people. How are you dealing with that? Is that a topic of conversation when you guys get together?
Not necessarily with them per se. They’re young. They’ve all bounced back and they all have great opportunities. One is at McKinsey. One went back to Fortune. They’re doing well. I do have those friends with more senior friends. Prior to Fortune and starting Community of SEVEN, I was at the ANA for several years. I was the general manager of SeeHer. I’m known for building startups within a company. I helped build the CMO practice called CMO Master Circle at the ANA. We work with a lot of senior executives. I’m getting a lot of requests from CMOs looking for their next opportunities and getting advice. In the past, it was usually lower-level executives that would get cut during these periods of time of hardship.
I’m thinking people who’ve been at blue-chip companies, Fortune 500 companies for twenty years are getting laid off. That’s a big difference. It is that notion of, “I’ve been here for twenty years and now you’re going to let me go.” I started my career backward. I was an entrepreneur when I was in my early twenties. I started a lot of businesses. As I got older, I wanted more “security.” I went on the agency side and client-side and work for all these big brands and big companies because I wanted security. When I became a mother, got married, and all this other stuff, it was about, “I need a steady paycheck. I need health insurance.” COVID-19 made me realize that there is no security even in that normal path. That made it easier for me to take that leap. Sometimes these trials and tribulations make things crystal clear in terms of what your vision should be.
It is a different time. It’s interesting what you said about CMOs wanting to know what they want to do next. When I was the MBA Program Chair at the Forbes School of Business, I went to the CMO conferences and Forbes conferences. I wrote a brand publishing course for Forbes. I was there to launch that and talk to them. It was interesting to me when you say that. What do they want to do next after that? What would be the next step?
The difficult part is where do you pivot? COVID has taught us that you need to be able to pivot quickly otherwise you’re going to be left behind. This is the part that a lot of people are stuck. One of the things I started when I was younger in my twenties was a music marketing agency. I remember when we had gotten an invite. These were the traditional record labels that were making tons of money. Artists were touring. All of these different independent labels and small boutique companies that work with music artists were invited to the Apple headquarter. I remember going and watching Steve Jobs talk about this new thing called iTunes and how it’s supposed to revolutionize things.
I remember looking around and people didn’t understand how fast things were going to change. One or two years after that, these high executives in these record labels who were EVPs and the heads of all these departments, a lot of them were jobless. It was hard for them to pivot into other industries because they had spent 10, 15 years in the music industry. The ones that were successful were the ones that able to pivot into branded entertainment like the NBA, experiential marketing, and digital marketing. It’s the same thing now. If you’re a high-level CMO and you were known for more traditional marketing, and you’re not able to pivot into growth marketing or digital marketing, you’re going to be left behind. That’s what’s happening. Companies are making COVID an excuse to get rid of people that they normally wouldn’t have gotten rid of in normal time.
I’ve worked virtually for many years. When I was a pharmaceutical rep, you’re virtually working because you don’t have to go into an office. All the years I’ve taught online courses were all virtual and I love that. You were talking about all this and your education. I’m thinking about how it’s ripe for reinvention. Have you ever thought of going into doing that since you’ve seen all these industries reinvented and you’re reinventing yourself? Why not go into education?
When this all happened, my first desire was “What am I going to do next? How can I bring in the most revenue?” I realized that I was stuck because I didn’t have any passion to make money building a business. I had to step back and think of what I want to do. What my heart told me was, “How do I help as many people as possible?” The reason why I focus on executive leadership and executive training is that these people, whether they’re CEOs, in the C-Suite or starting their own business, they had the most impact. Whether it’s a Fortune 500 company with thousands of employees or you’re a CMO with a team of 100, you’re impacting all of these lives, but you also have a marketing budget.
That’s why I focus on executive leadership. I’m a firm believer in creating purpose-driven leaders. I was a general manager of SeeHer, which was the gender equality initiative for the advertising industry. What we did was we brought all the CMOs together and said to all the broadcast companies, “We need more positive portrayals of women and girls. We need to increase positive portrayals of women and girls by 20% by 2020.” We achieved that. What’s powerful is our tagline for SeeHer was, “If you can see her, you can be her.” Because I focused on that circle of influence, that has more impact because you’re able to control what’s on TV and how girls are being portrayed.
These girls are able to see doctors, lawyers, positive portrayals of women, and they will become future mothers, future CEOs, and all this other stuff. That has been my mission. How do you create the maximum impact on society? That is not to discount what I used to do as a teacher. That is as important if not more important, but I had to focus on what’s my center of influence and how can I be a force for good. For me, it came back to this whole notion of, “I know I am doing education, but it’s more focused on leadership training and development.”You have to stand for your values even when it hurts. That's how change happens. Click To Tweet
I teach a lot of marketing courses and we go through some of the things that are advertised out there and different things. It almost reminded me a little bit of what Gillette was trying to do with their campaign with the men. With the Gillette campaign, I’m curious what you thought of that because they were trying to do something similar like men can be better kind of thing, but it backfired on them to some extent. They say, “No publicity is bad publicity,” but the trending on Twitter of people is the men who took it the way that they maybe didn’t intend it. What did you think of that?
I know Marc Pritchard, who is the Chief Brand Officer of P&G. We’re at dinner and talked about this. I thought the spot was powerful. The conversation that we had as a whole was initially, they had an onsite of all of these negative comments on social and all this other stuff. When they peeled the onion afterward and did some actual real research, what they realized was that there was this small group of agitators. Earlier, I was talking about brand safety. It’s usually a small group. I mentioned Gamergate. It’s an angry group of young kids, cyberbullies, who would attack any known or well-known female gamers because they didn’t want them to be elevated. It’s the same kind of underbelly of the internet.
It’s not just misogynistic, racist and all this other stuff who don’t want to see progress. It was a small group that was mobilizing to attack the ad. The learning that they had was that we need to also get people to support our message, but the narrative started to change after that. It was well-intentioned. At that point, people weren’t ready for that narrative. If you think about what happened with SeeHer and gender equality, we had the same pushback initially, and then #MeToo and Time’s Up happened. It made it more acceptable. People don’t like change. The problem is people feel threatened. What they wanted people to understand is there’s no good or bad. It’s a matter of it’s okay to be yourself. It’s funny because the whole commercial about toxic masculinity was people who were toxic or lampooning it. You’re always going to have controversy, but at the same time, you have to stand for your values even when it hurts and pains. That’s how change happens.
Did they lose anything from doing that? I saw a lot of people throwing away their Gillette products and all that.
They did. The same thing that happened with the NBA and Kaepernick. There are a lot of boycotts, but they grew exponentially after that. If you have a good quality product, people are going to stick with it. They might be upset initially. It’s usually a small group. This is the whole thing with why the work that we’re doing with Oasis Consortium is so important because the internet is unregulated. It’s usually these men and women who are in their parents’ basement, who have nothing better to do with their lives that are online and spewing all this toxic content on message boards and all of these different ways like Facebook. It needs to stop.
I don’t know how they could ever be stopped. It’s amazing to me the things that people write in my YouTube stations, my things, and the things that people are always posting like links to whatever sites and different things. If you would spend that same amount of time doing something positive, you probably would make some money.
It’s an efficient cycle in some ways because you’re spewing all this toxic bile or whatever it is. You wonder why no one wants to hire you and no one wants to be around you.
They have that sense of safety and they can get away with it. I don’t know where it’s going to lead. It seems it gets worse and worse. I know you’re working on making a purpose-driven better world and all that. I can’t foresee what it would take because of the anonymity of it all to get that to stop. It’s a culture like in any corporation. The culture starts at the top and the culture is changing in many negative ways with everybody fighting. To me, it’s fascinating because my dissertation was on emotional intelligence and I’m seeing low levels of it out there in a lot of different ways. Do you deal with working on those issues in your community of developing that sense of empathy, how to get along and all that in the incorporation?
You build the culture that you want. Everything from how we market Community of SEVEN to the members that self-led us because we are focused on people who want to change the world for the positive. We don’t have as much negative content. We have a Facebook community of maybe 25,000 people and then a LinkedIn community that’s closer to 35,000. Most of the comments are positive. The content I have is microlearning or quotes about leadership, personal health, and mental wellness. The comments that I get are relatively positive, especially compared to other things I see on the internet. When I do see negative content or bully, this is not best practice in terms of social media monitoring, I delete it. I don’t deal with bullies and bullying.
The thing is that if you let it fester, it grows. This whole notion of freedom of speech on the internet is such BS because freedom of speech is about the government and regulating free speech, press and assembly. It’s not to be a jerk online. This is my business page. I’m a mama bear. I will not let anyone in my community feel threatened, debased, or whatnot. You talk about your dissertation. My honors thesis was on Southeast Asian gangs because of that whole notion of I grew up in this neighborhood infested with gangs, and several classmates and friends got killed due to gang violence. This was earlier in the ‘80 and ‘90s. Things were a lot worse back then.
As I work with these various communities and leadership and you look at even the negative connotation. You could be a community that does good or a community that does that. You look at gangs, white supremacist groups and hate groups, they’re all about coming together to make a place that’s hateful. A gang has a lot in common with a group like the UN or a group that is trying to do positive. If you think about it, sociologists will define a community as a social unit that shares something in common. It could be your customs, your identifying characteristic values, religion, beliefs and norms.
A negative community is focused on hate. A good community is about making the world a better place, sustainability, religion or whatnot. You think about the shared identity. The community tends to form when individuals want to connect with other people that have the same values, beliefs and interests. If you look at the bad and the negative, one is focused on hate, misogyny and sexism. One is focused on how do we make the world a better place, and then that whole notion of community building a common purpose. What’s the reason for being? It’s a different world now. I’ve been in the community space for decades in marketing. In the past, communities are based on people wanting to come together to thrive, your neighborhood, association, a group. What made it successful was a regular connection in person.
What COVID has made difference is now you have virtual communities. You think about the 100 million regular users that log in to online games like World of Warcraft. They’re now part of this global virtual community. The thing that we used to do when building a community in the past is different now that it’s virtual. There’s good and bad with that. The good thing is that I look at the Community of SEVEN on our social pages, we have people from India, Africa, Australia, everywhere in the world. I would not have been able to do that with the traditional forms of help we used to build communities in the past. The bad part is that you also have people who can be anonymous, who can infiltrate and be this negative influence in that community. That’s why it’s important for me to eradicate those people because you are not going to bully my members.
You said a lot of things that brought up some ideas of things that I’ve been mulling over in general. With COVID, I’m seeing a lot of Millennials and younger generations spending so much of their time gaming instead of doing something. It’s too bad we can’t find a way that they feel like they’re gaming, but somehow, they’re raising money or something. It’s for something good. It’s just a lot of time is being wasted. Even though I love to play games and do all that stuff too, I feel like everybody’s floundering and killing time until this is all over with. I teach a lot of ethics classes where we get into the subjectivity of whose side is right, you versus me, and which one is right, it’s subjective thinking. I don’t know if you’ve seen that TV Show Counterpart. I binge-watched that talking about doing things.
I haven’t but I want to. I’m going to put it on my list.
It’s like Lost or any of them where there’s the other side, are they bad? Which side is the right side? Which side is the good side? I always find those discussions interesting because it’s all perspective. That’s why I wrote a book on perception. I’m always fascinated with a vantage point, perception, and perspective on things because a lot of it is that. I’m like you, I would delete that thing and I would want it to be as positive as possible. As you’re talking about your Community of SEVEN, we talked about how it’s invitation-only. How do you decide who to invite?
Anyone that joined, I have a 30-minute conversation with them. Also, they submit their LinkedIn page and their reason for wanting to join. I believe you can’t understand a person by just looking at an application or their LinkedIn profile, so I have a 30-minute to a 1-hour conversation with everyone who joined. I’m not trying to make a huge community.
Is it a mastermind type of thing or is it a get-together? I’m trying to envision the size of this and if it’s CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, is it solo entrepreneurs? I’m curious about that part.Before you can change the world, you need to start with yourself. You can't fill from an empty cup. Click To Tweet
It’s a mixture. We have executives from big Fortune 500 companies, but we also have solopreneurs and entrepreneurs as well. When I was first creating this, I had a lot of interest from venture capital and I was in various accelerator programs. One of the things I realized was that I wanted to create something that was authentically about helping people and you cannot get funding when your main mission is, “How do we change the world for the better?” That’s not how it works. I looked at the other different membership models in different organizations, and they’re all based on power. It’s like, “Who you know? You’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. I want to sit next to you.”
One of the things that I hated when I was in the music industry was what I called the front-door effect. You’d be at an event, a party or whatnot, and you’re talking to someone and they’re not looking at you at your eye. They’re looking at the front door because they want to see who is more important who’s going to come. I didn’t want to create an organization like that. I wanted to create a place where people feel supported and they feel like they could come together. When I used to be in sales, one of the things I used to always tell my team was that “Your goal is to move from being a vendor to being a thought leader. From a thought leader to a friend and from a friend to the family. Your goal is always to be the type of person that your client would want to invite to their kid’s birthday party.” That’s the type of person that I gravitate towards. People who are not there because of power or status. What I tell people is, “Our goal is to create a community of caring, nice, individual, helpful people that happened to be successful.”
It’s a hard time to do that. I’m working as a consultant and I’ve joined groups in the past to meet people, socialize, and learn more about what everybody was doing in this space. This radio show is something I do for fun to learn, meet people and do this on the side. In addition to this, I run my own companies, speaking, consulting and different things. I see a lot of these consulting companies are floundering because a lot of them rely on speaking and doing things in person. How much of that are you seeing with people struggling in that industry?
The benefit of being nimble in the startup world is that I was able to pivot quickly. The model before and what I was building at Fortune was event-heavy and in-person like these curated dinners with C-Suite executives. When COVID happened, I was like, “This has to go all digital.” All of our events are digital. I researched terms of what platforms could I use for virtual networking that is seamless that we connected with Upstream. It’s this other startup, where they create this environment where it’s almost like LinkedIn and speed dating combined. We do our virtual networking for 30 minutes every Friday. If you want to join, it’s every Friday from 12:00 PM East Coast standard time to 12:30 PM. It’s for lunch.
I have a guest speaker come and speak for five minutes. There’s actual virtual networking when you meet four other people five minutes at a time. It’s crazy because it’s almost like the cocktail hour right before a conference, happy hour or whatnot when you by chance meet people. There’s that technology aspect where all of these companies are springing up like Upstream where you can digitally recreate those chance meetings. That is power. When I was at these big companies and corporations, I would have had to go through IT. I would’ve had to get approval from the executive team to use new technology. I don’t need to do that.
I could wake up and say, “I want to use this provider or I’m going to test out this platform and see if it works and fits.” I signed up for a community, which is a text-based thing technology where you can text your users and they can text you. It’s going to be interesting because I sent out my whole microlearning via text. What if I could text people messages? This comes with my whole notion of friendships. Think about the best friends you have. Sometimes they’ll text you and say, “I want to check in with you and make sure you’re having a good day.” They’ll send you something positive or memes that make you laugh. What if we can recreate that from a company perspective?
I’m able to test out things that in my previous role would never have happened ever because everyone would shut down my idea. I built a lot of products in the past like startups and etc. Startups that I create are what you call MVP, a Minimum Viable Product. Think about that. What is the minimum viable product that you could come to market with the bare essentials that people will buy? I was like, “It’s such BS.” What we should be creating is an MVP that’s about, how can I bring the most value to people? I changed the MVP to how can I help as many people? How can I bring as much value to people?
With that notion, all the technology I choose, the strategy that I base my company, the revenue stream, it’s all about how do you help people. This concept will never get funded and I’m okay with that but I might have to think smaller. Instead of striving for 10,000 members, I might have to strive for 1,000 members within five years or 200 members in year one. For me, it’s all about scalability and it’s also understanding what my values are. One of the helpful things about COVID is it being a catalyst for people to figure out what they want in life.
For me, I thought Fortune was my dream job. I was on the executive team. I helped ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. I was like, “This is awesome.” I was working until 10:00, 11:00 at night. My commute with three hours a day because I live in Westchester and the offices were 1.5 hours away. I saw my daughter and my husband maybe 1, 2 hours on the weekdays. During that period when I was crying every day because I got laid off, it’s made me figure out, what are my core values? What’s important to me? What’s my North Star? I realized that the four things that are the most important to me are my family, my friends, who are my chosen family, my faith, helping people, and freedom. Even though they were high profile, I was an executive, and I was a C-Suite, none of my jobs before that had ever satisfied me in those four areas. That’s the disconnect.
We get into these jobs where people will tell you, “You’re lucky.” Even when I was young and I was a pharmaceutical rep, they go, “That must be the greatest job,” but it wasn’t to me. You get these golden handcuffs and you think you have to stay because this is what the perfect thing is. Sometimes when you leave, it’s exciting. That’s why I’ve become a curiosity expert. That’s what I talk about most when I speak is a curiosity because of my research. I’m excited about learning the next thing and finding it because sometimes you get yourself stuck in thinking that this is the only thing and it’s not. There are other things. Sometimes the hardest part is because after working in a company for twenty years and then going out and reinventing myself a few times. You’re used to being the best and the smartest one about whatever it is because how could you not after twenty years.
You start at the bottom and you don’t know anything, but that’s exciting to me. It can be terrifying and exciting at the same time. I like to be a sponge and whatever I get into, I learn everything I can about it, and then I go to the next thing and learn everything I can about it. I know everybody’s got a lot of Zoom fatigue so it’s hard. I give a couple of talks a week at least about curiosity and I could see the spark in people wanting to do that, getting out of status-quo thinking. It sounds like that’s what you’re doing. This is great. A lot of people are going to want to know more about your work, how to find you, learn more about the Community of SEVEN and so much more. Is there some link or something that you want to share?
They can go to CommunityOfSEVEN.com. I do a complimentary benefit that you don’t even have to be a member to attend. It’s the microlearning and event that we call Let’s Talk, where we bring executives together to talk about things that are most important to them. We do that often. I’m going to reinstate our weekly Founders, Executive, Changemaker Friday, where we go on the Upstream platform and we connect with other people. Especially in the digital world and what’s happened with COVID, people need to feel connected. They can find us there. Also on LinkedIn, look for our Community of SEVEN pages. I have daily quotes and sayings. They’re what I call microlearning, where each one has a message and you have to think through it.
I have a funny story about that because when we first came here, my father wanted to coach and train me, but he didn’t know how because there was a cultural divide. Even though I was mainly raised in the US. He would make me memorize quotes. For me, that was like the training. I would remember that “Measure twice, saw once.” All of the golden things. I still do that to this day. When you look at Community of SEVEN and our social page, they lean heavily on quotes, learnings, training, and micro concepts. Find us a CommunityOfSEVEN.com and LinkedIn. We also have a Facebook page. They could reach out to me at any time. I’m one of those people who respond to as many emails that I can. If you connect with me on LinkedIn and you can find me there. If you have a question and anything I can help you with, you can reach me through LinkedIn.
That’s awesome, Lan. This was so much fun. We would have plenty to chat about. I hope we get a chance to meet someday and this was great. Thank you for being on the show.
Thank you. This was so much fun talking to you, Diane. You’re such a joy. Your energy, your enthusiasm, and you’re whip-smart at that. Thank you for having me.
I’d like to thank Lan for being my guest. We get so many great guests on this show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can catch them at DrDianeHamilton.com. I hope you take some time to check it out. We’ve had more than 1,000 people I knew here. There was a lot to catch up on. There’s also more information about Cracking the Curiosity Code and Perception Power Index, The Power of Perception book, and Cracking the Curiosity Code book. There’s so much on there. Take some time to explore the site and I’d love to hear from you. I hope you enjoy this episode and I hope you join us for the next episode.
- Community of SEVEN – LinkedIn
- Facebook – Community of SEVEN
- LinkedIn – Lan Phan
- The Power of Perception
- Cracking the Curiosity Code
About Lan Phan
Lan Phan is the founder and CEO of a community of SEVEN, an invite-only membership community that brings leading executives, thought-leaders, and changemakers together to tackle and solve business and societal problems. Lan has a track history of building startups inside legacy brands; Before launching a community of SEVEN, Lan was recruited by Alan Murray, CEO of Fortune Magazine, to join the executive team and develop and lead Fortune Connect, a startup within the storied brand; Lan also helped build CMO Masters Circle and Global CMO Growth Council, a startup within the Association of National Advertisers that includes over 350 CMOs from around the world mobilized to accelerate economic growth and advance societal good.
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