Akram Ibrahim is a manager on the Customer Success Team for CareerBuilder. He came in when they were building the team up and two years later it has grown to something that would not have seemed likely early on. Akram also works with software start ups in the process of building customer success teams as well as other smaller local businesses, sharing experiences for scaling and best practices gained from working with some large companies in the Atlanta area. When Akram is not working, he coaches CrossFit at CrossFit 404 in Buckhead and tries to spend as much time outside as possible.
Shantel: Hey imagination. We have Akram here with us today. Thank you so much for joining us. How are you?
Akram: Thank you for having me. I'm doing great. How are you today?
Shantel: I'm well. I'm in a closet recording this so a little steamy but otherwise great. Thank you for asking. Yeah. Tell us a little bit about your journey and what you have going on right now. We're excited to learn more.
Akram: Oh, no. This is awesome. First of all, I really do appreciate you having me on. I never realized that coming in and doing a lunch and learn with your team a couple months ago would lead to coming in and talking about what I do and kind of what we have going on right now. I am one of the leaders of the customer success team at CareerBuilder, and that's kind of a small sliver of what I like to do and what I do. It's kind of the means to what I'm trying to build for myself as far as my career and as far as what I'm trying to build for the Atlanta community too. I'm really excited to be here. I can go into a little bit more detail for you just to kind of give you a little bit of background. Customer success at CareerBuilder, we work with companies who buy our software to make sure that they're using the tools correctly. It doesn't sound that exciting on the surface level, but when you dig into it all we're doing is identifying a customer problem and making sure the solution fits the problem and figuring out how to talk about that solution in terms that make sense to the client and that make sense to what's important to them. For me, that's wildly exciting for me because that's what I've done for my entire life is just figuring out what the problems are, figuring out what the solution is, and then talking about that solution and why it's important.
Shantel: That's great. Will you tell everyone a little bit about the side projects you have going on and what you're fostering as you're developing your career there as well?
| UNDERSTAND THE 'WHY?' |
Akram: Sure. These little side projects I have going on ... One of my biggest issues and I know this and I can probably lead off with this is I get really excited about a lot of ideas so when you asked me to get on a podcast about imagining more, that's kind of like my blessing and my curse. I spend a lot of time imagining. I have a huge whiteboard in my bedroom that if I think of something in the middle of the night I write it down. If I think I have an idea that might lead to something I write it down. I get a little bit cluttered sometimes but it's good. What I do on the side right now is ... I know working for CareerBuilder I have a lot of resources at my fingertips. We have a learning and development department. We have consultants that come in and teach us about leadership and teach us about sales cycles and teach us about a lot of different topics that I know a lot of startups and small businesses don't have access to. Throughout my career I've worked for NCR, one of the biggest companies in the world also, and we had the same type of learning and development department. We had the same access to resources. What I really did appreciate about what CareerBuilder gives me, CareerBuilder gives me the flexibility to reach out to the Atlanta community that I love so much, because I've been here my whole life, and really share what I've learned with these smaller businesses that many don't have a learning and development department, maybe the resources they have is just the founder or just the head person of that company teaching the rest of the company and they don't always have time for that. What I try to do is use the time that I'm able to have through my day-to-day job and share a little bit what I know. Hopefully it helps. This is kind of how you and I got connected. I did a small little training for a company called Athlete's Potential. I know Danny Matta was a guest of yours before me right now on your podcast. I've known Danny for a long time, and I'm probably going to fan boy about him throughout this podcast because he's really been a big piece of what I'm building right now. He asked me, he was like, "Hey, I'd like you to come in and teach my group, teach my team a little bit about the sales cycle." Danny's got a very interesting business where his business is a couple PTs, him, and his wife. When it's people that spend a lot of time together if the main person or the founder or the CEO is trying to teach that information, number one he doesn't have all that time to teach that stuff and number two when you hear it all the time from somebody else it's sometimes different than hearing it from a third party. I was that third party coming in and just telling them what I know. Maybe it was what Danny had been telling them all along, maybe it was something different but it was just from a fresh perspective and that's what I like to bring to the table. Then, Danny reached out to me again and said, "Hey, I've got this friend. She's got this awesome up and coming social medial marketing company. We should probably get you connected and see if you can help them out with something similar." That's why I came into Imagine Media Consulting, went in there and spent an hour with you all taking about my feedback loop and how to really identify the customer problem and understand their why. What I'm building on the side, and I know that was a really long rant so I apologize, but I know what I'm trying to build on the side right now is something for the Atlanta community. I want to build a resource for these small business, for these startups, for these companies that don't have the resources of a big company to still get the learning and development and the exposure and the talk tracks that a big company would have.
Shantel: Okay. Correct me if I'm wrong in the terminology behind this but would it be similar to a coaching model? Is that what you're going for?
Akram: Yes. Yep. It's a coaching model. It's 100%. My background's always been in sports. I played sports growing up. I played lacrosse for Georgia Tech. I've been coaching in the CrossFit world for the last five and a half years, and I've just tried to take that coaching model of basically adult learning and now transitioning into something real and something that can really make a bigger impact. It's funny; one of my favorite quotes is actually from an article that came out recently from Gary Vaynerchuk. He said, "The thought of losing all my money is often weirdly so exciting because I know I have the talent to rise back up. Money doesn't mean anything to me. I want legacy, influence, and impact." That hits really, really close to home for me. That's what I want to build. I want to be able to be a resource for these startup businesses and help coach the people who have a certain specific set of skills whether it's in, for example, in Danny's case he has great physical therapists on staff, Ashley's awesome but I want to be able to add a little bit more to help coach to get them to where they want to be as far as their business growth goes.
Shantel: That's amazing. When you came in and spoke to the team, it was just on one topic but it made such a profound impact that we've completely shifted our onboarding process. It was such an amazing opportunity to bring you in because we don't have the resources right now to have this HR team that's building out this thought leadership and resources so I love where you're going with that. How do you anticipate the model scaling and continuing to grow?
| INFORMATION AT YOUR FINGERTIPS |
Akram: That's actually something that I've spent a lot of time thinking about recently because in the world of automation right now, in the world of everybody wanting information at their fingertips, that's what I'm trying to build. Right now I'm working on building out a site to keep content on whether it's blog content or, honestly, recorded webinars. I talked to a company called LearnCore Software in Chicago actually. I have a friend of mine who knows a friend who works for this company called LearnCore and they connected me with the founder. What they do is they do adult learning for software sales. I reached out to this guy and I was like, "Hey, how did you scale your business? Right now I have a lot of ideas and I don't really know how to keep them in order, keep them on track but I just know I want to do something big." The first thing they said was figure out how to scale it using automation, figure out how to get a certain list of courses or a list of webinars that you want to talk about and record them and share them and use that as almost a way to have it at their fingerprints where if someone needs information it's on demand information. In the way the world is working right now, in the world of Amazon Prime, and everything needs to be one touch, that's going to be that next step. That's something that I've really been kind of working on the content and figuring out what type of information's important to smaller companies. I've been spending a lot of time at the Atlanta Tech Village lately because that's the startup incubator. That's where it's a collaborative workspace. It's all smaller companies. That's what I've been spending a lot of time talking to these companies, these founders, these CEOs saying, "What do you wish your team would know?" Right now I'm still in the research phase of it, figuring out what they wish their team would know as far as soft skills, and things that I've heard are, "I've heard of this disk training thing and I would love to learn more about that." That's something we did at CareerBuilder. Are you familiar with the disk training?
Shantel: Yeah, absolutely.
| EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE |
Akram: Yeah. Just communication styles. They want to know how to be able to communicate better with their people they're bringing in, how to communicate better with their clients. That's something that they don't have access to that I could potentially bring it to their table. We've also talked about emotional intelligence, how important that is. People, especially in the software world, are very, very sharp and know a very, very specific whether they coded something incredible or they created this brand new interface but sometimes the emotional intelligence piece is lagging a little bit behind the software intelligence piece, if you will. That's another thing where we're trying to work through the content and figure out how could I deliver that. I've also worked through some other projects around career development for these types of companies and figure out okay well if you have a certain role or if you have a certain set of skills, what does that set you up for in the future. I'm working on building out a site that hopefully will do some good things for the Atlanta area.
Shantel: Neat. Well, I love what you said about the automation tools and I'm excited to dive a little deeper into productivity hacks. I'm sure you have a ton of resources but on this note; balance. Right now you're juggling a full time job as well and I'm sure a lot of our listeners they're in that in between phase of they've got this passion project or this side hustle or this thing that they're working on building but also balancing a full time very exhausting job, I'm sure rewarding as well, but would love to hear how are you are currently balancing the two? What are some techniques you're using to start this but also maintain some sanity?
| SANITY IS OVERRATED |
Akram: I think sanity is sometimes overrated. No. That's a great question. That's one thing that I honestly used to struggle with a lot. I used to have no balance because I thought balance meant I had to have the "work-life" balance that everybody talks about, that you have to be able to turn it off when you leave the office. Since the last, let's say, 15 to 18 months, I've actually strayed away from thinking that it's actually not about balancing work and life as separate things. I honestly think if you're excited enough about something, balance doesn't necessarily exist. I'll dig a little bit deeper into what I mean by that. I think you need to be able to integrate your work and your life. I think balancing your work and your life almost puts you at the extremes, and again, this is my opinion. I could be wrong. If anybody wants to reach out to me and tell me I'm wrong I'm completely okay with that. It's just for me, what's worked for me ... Last year I took 68 flights for my job. I coached about 15 hours of CrossFit a month. I was taking any meeting that I can get with small businesses. I was doing trainings left and right. The reason I kept doing all that is because I stayed excited about it. The way I keep my life integrated is I keep a really great calendar. I know that if I'm off my calendar then I'm in trouble. I read a book a while back called The Way of the Seal. It's by Mark Divine. It's Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed. That was one of the books that kind of laid out a tactical plan of how you can almost integrate your life where you keep a detailed list of what you have going on. For me, beginning of the year I make an annual plan. What are the big things that I want to do for this year? I think about who do I want to talk to, any companies that I want to talk to, big things I want to do at work, big things I want to do in my personal life. I list those out and then I break it out by quarter and then I say okay for this quarter ... Q3 just started for us at CareerBuilder and I kind of break my year up in quarters. I break it up and say okay what do I want to do this quarter? Who do I want to talk to? What do I want to see happen? Is there anything big that I have on my to do list that I need to take care of? Getting even micro from that, I do it at the beginning of the month. Today's August 1st, I'm looking at my calendar earlier today and I'm saying okay here's what I have already on the calendar, here's what I need to plan out, here's contacts that I need to make, and here are some other meetings that I need to make. I even do it on a more micro level, and I know this is kind of OCD, but I do it on a weekly basis. Every Sunday I sit down and I mark down in my notebook I say what's the one thing; if I was going to accomplish one thing this week what would I need that to be? That way, honestly, if I get that one thing done in the week then it's a successful week. I say, okay well what are my big rocks for the week? If I had three big open projects, what am I working on? I look at who do I need to contact whether it's personal as far as networking, whether it's people at work that I got to talk to, whether it's a podcast that I've got to do. Who am I talking to this week and then what's on my to do list. I go through that every single Sunday, and that keeps me on track. I got that between that book By Way of the Seal and this book called The ONE Thing. Have you read the book The ONE thing, just curious?
Shantel: Yeah. We actually just did a team book club and for this last quarter that's the book that we read.
| RUBBER BALL VS. GLASS BALL |
Akram: That is by far my favorite book of all time. I actually have five copies of it. I hand it out any time I get a chance, and then I ask everybody I know to read that book. I tell them buy the book and if you don't like it, I'll buy it off of you. I'm not even joking. I read this book like five years ago and it changed everything the way I was thinking about. The whole idea of what's a rubber ball and what's a glass ball. For those people who aren't familiar with the book, the whole premise of it is what's the one thing that I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier, unnecessary. I've got that thing memorized now at this point. It breaks it down by what's the one thing that I can do for my spiritual life, for my physical health, for my personal life, for my relationships, for my job, my finance, my business. All these different things are just floating out there and I got to know now what's more important. What's a rubber ball and what's a glass ball. If I drop a ball from my business, that's a rubber ball. It'll bounce back. I'll get my job back. I'll figure it out. I'm not worried about that. If I drop something around my physical health, that's closer to being a glass ball. It's what I need to worry a little bit more about because I've got one body and if I'm not alive then I have a harder time making an impact and doing the things that I want to do. Honestly, that's how I keep things in line. I keep a really tight schedule. I work through my weekly plans, and then I just got to keep things in perspective. At the end of the day it's not that serious.
Shantel: Well, you've said probably 20 pieces of nuggets of information that I'm memorizing and inscribing in my brain. A couple things that stood out right away is the balance piece. Actually Danny Matta mentioned something very similar to that. You have different seasons of life. You're going to work harder on something when it requires more attention in that moment and just making sure you have priorities and again kind of like those glass balls and the rubber balls, it seems like you're self-aware and you know what those things are and very intentional about goal setting. Where did you learn how to goal set like that?
| 'WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?' |
Akram: Honestly, it came from the fitness world. My background has always been in health and fitness. I played sports my whole life. I played lacrosse. I've been a trainer. I worked full time for Life Time Fitness for a little bit. I spent a lot of time dealing with people's health and fitness goals. I spent a lot of time asking people what brought them into the gym and they would say, "Well, I want to be healthy." Then we'd dig into that and figure out well being healthy to them, like their why was actually they wanted to be able to keep up with their six year old son in the backyard, and they wanted to slow down diabetes and high cholesterol problems. I took that talk track, and then I read this book by Simon Sinek, Start with Why. Again, that was another one of those turning point books where I figured out that everybody's got a why. Everybody's got something a lot deeper than what they're telling you. Then I started looking inwardly about that because I had somebody ask me the same question. Like, "Why do you do what you do?" Because I was doing so much asking other people, "What's your health and fitness like or what are you trying to do or what do you trying to accomplish?" Then, somebody literally sat there in a meeting, I was trying to sell them personal training, and they looked at me like, "Well, why do you do what you?" They flipped the interview on me. I'm over here trying to sell a product and they're over here trying to figure out what I'm all about. Next thing you know, we're in this deep two hour long conversation about why I do what I do and why I want to help people and why that's important to me and who's helped me in the past and what does that mean for my life and how has that changed everything and how has that changed how I'm thinking. Honestly, it's just been people asking me questions and kind of building a good network of people that I look at them, people that I look up to, and they talk about goals and I think about like wow, that's a great goal or that's a great way to live. I need to live like that, not necessarily with those specific goals but with that mentality of I got to work for something because I've also noticed that I get pretty distracted if I'm not focused. When I worked for NCR, for example, I couldn't really get behind doing consulting for self-checkout lines. It's a great business, one of the biggest companies in the world. If you ever go to a Chick-fil-A, you're going to see the NCR logo on their cash registers, but I couldn't get behind it. I know I needed to do meaningful work. I had like a quarter life crisis back in the day, and I really learned what I'm about and what I can do for a living that I won't hate. That's why now where I am at CareerBuilder and kind of what I'm building out and kind of the conversations that I like having, that's kind of help point me in the right direction. I don't know if I answered your question right, but that was kind of the tangent that I went on.
Shantel: No, absolutely. It's interesting that just sometimes by spending that time to reflect or being prompted to reflect how that can completely shift your way of thinking and how you define your life. It seems like by that person asking you the why it helped shape some of that goal setting and that mindfulness and intention behind what you do day-to-day.
| LACROSSE TRYOUTS |
Akram: I can you tell you what, like most people ask me and I had somebody ask me this last week, "What was your biggest disappointment or what was the biggest turning point in your life?" I can pinpoint exactly the two turning points in my life that have changed everything for me. One of them was junior year of high school. I was trying out for a soccer team, and I didn't make it because I got cocky. I was going out for a team, for a coach that I already played for, and as a junior in high school that's the biggest thing you have going on. I didn't have any real problems in my life. I was living at home. I was doing what I needed to do to get decent grades and play my sports, and then I was cut out from underneath me. I didn't even make the second cut. I was a junior. I didn't know what I was going to do with myself now for that year, and I was like well I'm really bummed out and this is horrible. Then, I had somebody, a good family friend of ours, opened up a door for me to the lacrosse program and was like, "Hey we're looking for athletes. I know you had a bad thing happen with the soccer team, and you didn't make that team but tryouts for lacrosse are next week if you want to come try out and see if you can take that somewhere." I had never played that sport in my life. I knew absolutely nothing about it, but I was athletic and I knew that if I didn't play a sport I would crazy for the entire year. I ended up making that team and not playing more than like five minutes for the entire season, but I worked really hard because I realized that I couldn't take anything for granted at that point. I took that not making the team into a lesson of not taking things for granted and appreciating people that are helping me out because anybody that says they did anything by themselves is a liar, in my opinion, but that's just me. Then next thing you know, senior year I was a captain because I worked all the year the last year, and I got pretty good at the game. Then, I played in college. That was one turning point for me. The other one was when I was at NCR, I realized that I had to do meaningful work. Meaningful to some people is different than meaningful to me. Meaningful to me was I had seen enough people who hated their job, I had seen enough people who didn't like what they did on a day-to-day, I had seen enough people who complained about coming into work on a Monday. I like going in to work on Monday now. vacation last week and I was work because I was excited about what I do, and there's too many people who aren't excited about what they do. Now that's why I like to take the experience that I have and share my story and try to share my why with people to help them figure out what their why is.
Shantel: That's great. It seems like everything you do you do it with such passion or you wouldn't bother doing it at all. Not assuming that you hate your current full time job at all, because it does sound like you love it, I'm interested to know when is your timeline or projected launch for your full time company. Do you want to be doing that full time?
| BUILDING THE RESUME |
Akram: Let me tell you why I am doing what I'm doing right now. This is a story that I don't mind sharing because even though it's going to make me sound like I don't like CareerBuilder, which I absolutely love my job. I told my boss at CareerBuilder that my job at CareerBuilder right now is a means to something bigger, not that I'm downplaying the importance of what we do as a company. We help sell software to companies trying to hire people, so I know the byproduct of what work that I'm doing people are getting hired in their roles. I know and that's a great thing for most people. That's not what I want to do forever. What I want to do is make an impact on a bigger scale but, what I do know right now is as a 26 year old and somebody who has ... I've got decent experience. I've helped with small businesses. I've done sales. I've done consulting. I'm in a leadership role right now. I have a remote team. I also know that to get credibility in the industry, to get credibility with some of these other companies I know I need to have more business cases. I know I need to have more stories. I need to have more data because one of the ... Our C level executive over our product teams, he says, "In God we trust. Everybody else must bring data." I think that's a really funny quote but that's why my timeline right now is kind of loose. Right now I'm doing it part-time on the side just because I really like doing what I do. I like meeting with these companies. I like taking meetings, but what I do at CareerBuilder is giving me the experience that once I launch, once I take this somewhere big, I can at least say, "Hey, I've worked X years in this industry. I've done consulting. I've done sales and done well in sales. I've done the leadership thing, and I've gone through all these leadership courses. I've gone through all these seminars, and I've got these certifications." Right now I'm almost building the resume for when that time comes it's ready to go full steam ahead. I'm hoping I'm going to have a site live by the end of the year just to have content out there, but as far as making this my full time, I'm honestly not in a hurry because right now I'm able to do both. I have enough energy to do both so I figure why not do both right now.
Shantel: I think there's a lot of power in ... I had a similar experience. I worked in a corporate environment and learned so much on someone else's dime. I think that's a great, great plan and we're excited to see. When you do launch that website please keep us updated with the links, and I'll be sure to share it with everyone. I have two questions to wrap it up. First being, what do you think your top strength is and how do you leverage it every day?
| WHO DO YOU NEED TO MEET? |
Akram: Okay. I can tell you my top strength is connecting people. That is my favorite thing to do. I spend a lot of time meeting with people. I actually got my job at CareerBuilder just through connections. It's funny working for a company like CareerBuilder, I've actually never applied for a job, and most people think that's kind of like a weird story. Most of the jobs I've gotten from it's been through connections, it's been through talking to people. I got my job at NCR through somebody that I'd been talking to at my sister's soccer game when she was like 11 years old. I got my job at Life Time Fitness when I was in sales there because I knew the GM and I was talking to him and I said, "Hey, here's what I want to do. I want to get some sales experience. I want to climb the ladder here." That's how I got in there. My job at CareerBuilder, I was going through my quarter life crisis and I had a big network at my CrossFit gym and everybody there had pretty decent jobs. They're paying between $150 to $200 a month disposable income for their health and fitness; they're obviously doing something that they can afford it. I just wanted to get to know people and what they're doing and what they're working on. I got connected to the HR manager at CareerBuilder, and then I got hired. Since then, I've really just been connecting people. That's the thing that I like to do the most. I go to these networking events. I like to go when I'm talking to my team at CareerBuilder even. I've got nine reps that work for me and the main thing I ask them is, two questions, I ask them, "What are you doing every day to get better, and who do you need to meet?" I've had reps who say, "Hey, I wanted to learn more about the sales process." "Great, let me connect you with somebody in the sales team." "I want to learn more about project management and what that means." "Great, let's get you in some sort of project management program." I like knowing a lot of people and I like helping people out, again, because I've been helped out enough through people connecting with me, I'm trying to connect that back and connect other people. Literally I just spend all day, who else I can meet and how I can help them. One of the best advice I ever got was always carry a business card and a pen because you never know who you're going to meet.
Shantel: That is a great piece of advice. I love that. Okay last question, if people want to learn more about your company and you and just grab a cup of coffee, how can they can get in touch with you?
Akram: Yeah, absolutely. I've been spending a lot of time ... I like the Instagram game right now. It's a quick and easy way to share things especially with the fitness world and motivational little tidbits. My Instagram handle is theakramibrahim, t-h-e-a-k-r-a-m-i-b-r-a-h-i-m. Honestly, LinkedIn is also another really underutilized social media platform in my opinion but probably the one that I spend the most time on. I think that people should be on LinkedIn and connecting with everybody they meet. You meet somebody; connect with them on LinkedIn. I can't tell you how many cups of coffee I've had with people just that I've met for 30 seconds and then say, "Hey, let's get a cup of coffee at Octane down here in Buckhead." I'll never turn down a meeting because I live and die by my calendar so I know what time I have available and what time I don't have available. Absolutely through LinkedIn, Akram, or through my Instagram, theakramibrahim.
Shantel: Perfect. Well thank you so much for being on the show and telling us a little bit more about how you imagine more every day and what keeps you energized. I appreciate it.
Akram: No, thanks for having me. This was really fun.