Ep 92: Help Is Always Available: You Don’t Have to Go It Alone with Mike Hess From The Blind Institute of Technology

One of the challenges most entrepreneurs create for themselves is an inability to ask for help. This can stem from fear of appearing weak, a desire for control, or a heightened sense of responsibility honed by years of “Gettin’ it done.”

Regardless of the root cause, one thing is certainly true: You are not alone. Neither in your thinking that you ARE alone nor your actual state of aloneness. Help is available for you and it’s ok to be vulnerable and ask for assistance. (In fact, asking for help is seen as a way to help others. The Jewish faith calls this a worthy deed – a “mitzvah”.)

My guest today is Mike Hess. He is the Founder and Executive Director of the Blind Institute of Technology. Mike and I actually met several years ago when he was doing a presentation for the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO). Mike took us through a really cool exercise that demonstrated how entrepreneurs in particular have a hard time asking for help. Mike and I chatted about this challenge – particularly in relation to the idea of loss aversion and how he experiences that as a person with blindness.

Mike says he gets a sense of this kind of “squishy” feeling sometimes when he’s talking with people and makes some recommendations for ways to avoid creating that experience for others if you are starting to put off that vibe. Mike believes that if one can just be vulnerable and admit the challenges that they’re having, how that becomes a way to diffuse the “squishiness” and creates a stronger foundation on which to build relationships. As you may have guessed, Mike is just an amazing person. His willingness to share his perspectives to help others grow is truly a gift.

Blind Institute of Technology

Partner up! If you don’t know how to do something, find a partner and engage with them – particularly if things are feeling “squishy”.

Listen to the podcast here:

Mike: Like it’s, you know, and it just, so you think about that, like again, like there, Salesforce is not making any money off of B I T like, I don’t work for B I T, but when, when you hear of the egregious unemployment statistics for the broader people with disabilities community, and to know that there’s a single SAS, you know, software is a service company that is this committed to the, the, this population as they are like, it’s like, how could you not wanna see that company succeed even.

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Now here’s your host, author and marketing specialist. Stew swine Fort. 

Stu: Hey, everybody Stu here. My guest today is Mike Hess. He is the founder and executive director of the blind Institute of technology. Mike and I actually met several years ago when he was doing a presentation for the entrepreneurs organization or EO.

And I was a part of their, their accelerator program at the time. And it was a really cool exercise that really demonstrated how entrepreneurs in particular have a hard time asking for help. One of the things that Mike and I talked about today at length was this idea of loss aversion and how he experiences that as a person with blindness.

And he gets a sense of this kind of squishy feeling that occurs when he’s talking with people and. If one can just be vulnerable and admit their the challenges that they’re having, how that could actually be a, a really good stepping stone to starting any kind of conversation. Mike is just an amazing person.

He’s put together a really, really cool organization, and I hope you can all check it out. This, this episode was just a, a blast. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Here we go. Good afternoon, Mike. How are you today? 

Mike: Fantastics too. Thank you so much for having me my. 

Stu: Well, I am very, very excited to have you on the show today.

We originally met quite a few years ago when I was part of the accelerator program with the entrepreneurs organization. And you ran a really fun, really inspirational. Kind of a, a, a group activity for, for all of the accelerators and, and that’s that was just a, a really, really neat way to get people, to kind of understand how teamwork works and, and things of that nature.

So I, that has stuck in my mind as, as one of those great moments that I had in EO. And I, I’m excited to have you on the show. 

Mike: I appreciate that. It’s, it’s kind of fun when I think of how so blind Institute of technology B I T is about to turn 10 and you know, kind of the, the first two, three years.

So we started in 2013 and the first few years. Stu literally I leveraged that workshop called the art of blinders as a way to get the word out there for what B I T was doing now. Ultimately blind Institute technology, we act as a nonprofit staffing agency. However our, our niche of candidates that we supply to organizations large and small are the blind, visually impaired and the broader professionals with disabilities community.

And if you, if you look online, if you Google like organizations for-profit non-profit that are kind. Selling blind, visually impaired professionals, deaf professionals, neurodiverse professionals motor skills, impaired professionals. Like if you, if you Google, like how many staffing agencies are really focused on that niche, it’s a really small list.

and so I leveraged you know, kind of my 20 years of corporate experience and organizational develop. I’m gonna say misses, like I, over my 20 year corporate career, like I had all this organizational development that was, you know, mandatory and that sort of thing over my career. And, and so few lessons ever stuck with me and yeah, so I wanted to bring a, a very interactive and it, and it’s the reason why is because most of the, most of the lessons were like, Here’s the information, trust me on this.

And just memorize it kind of stuff. And I wanted to create a workshop that was very interactive, but very lived experience oriented. So from my blindness perspective we we’ve got a we’ve got a guest. We’ve got a guest speaker as well. Yep. So I wanted to bring my lived experience of being a blind professionals to over my 20 year career to, to the workshop.

And so it’s, it really is exciting. I, I get it on occasion. Like I’ll, I’ll show up at some airport. I kid you not, and they’re like, Hey, you’re that blinders guy? Aren’t you, you know, . Yep. And it always kind of it warms my heart through that, you know, the that people remember that, you know, cuz again, we, I always have people practice the technique of active listening mm-hmm and how that is literally by putting blinders on and focus on what people are saying.

Right. And so, so it’s, it warms my heart when when somebody like you actually remembers the workshop though. So thank you for. 

Stu: Oh, you’re welcome. And, you know, thank you. I remember it very fondly. There was one exercise that was just, incredibly, not only well received, but it, you know, stuck in my mind where you had you, you provided, you got us all in a group and you blindfolded one person and and then asked that person to perform a task and.

And I don’t, I don’t even remember exactly what the task was, but it was something that, that was, you know, incredibly challenging. Particularly for those of us who, who are cited and and are, you know, most are very recently blindfolded and unable to use, to use our, our vision perception. And and we all went through the exercise and at the end of it, You were like, well, why didn’t any of you ask for help?

And it was just that, you know, it, it tapped into that kind of entrepreneurial thing that happens where we entrepreneurs tend to think that we’re either the only people that, that can do something or, or that we’re the people. The only person that should be responsible for that. And it was just, it was really enlightening to, to have that exercise would be like, well, the first step you all might have wanted to consider was the fact that you had a team and you could lean on that team for, for assistance.

And you know, that was one piece of that that really did stand out for me. And and, and it’s just such an incredibly insightful, 

Mike: powerful lesson. No, it’s I use that a lot, especially people. Especially entrepreneurs I’ve been, you know, now going on 10 years with my, with, with one of my ventures and it’s, it’s you know, rec, so as a blind person been blind my whole life I’ve.

You know, there are times that my mom, I always call it. She gently nudged me, which is a firm foot to ask. , but she gently nudged me to get out there and she goes, yeah, you’re blind. Yeah. You’re gonna run into stuff. Yeah. Sometimes things are gonna run into you, you know, be careful, but don’t be afraid.

And in that lesson, quite honestly, I mean, when, as I started my organization, my first organizations do. How often, you know, like again, just recognizing there are a lot of scary moments, but I have, I have learned like I travel, like I just got back from San Juan, Puerto Rico, you know, five airports, five different planes you know, just me, my cane.

And I, I always seem to find people like, I don’t need somebody to hold my hand through. Mm-hmm scary airports, but man, it’s okay to ask for some assistance, right? Like. You’d be amazed at how many kind souls are out there. But so many times we’re just taught like, no, no, you know, do it all on your own.

Like this crap, you know, empires are not built, you know, big organizations, Jeff Bezos, these, these guys don’t do it all themselves, man. Like they, no, you know, but you gotta be willing to kind of get over that fear of asking for, for some assistance. So glad you actually remember that exercise. I really.

Stu: Yeah, it was great. So, so you, you say you’ve been around for about 10 years. I’m assuming that things have, have evolved quite a lot since, since you and I first first met back in probably 20, 20, 15 ish 2016. What’s new at, at at the blinded Institute of technology, 

Mike: you know It’s it’s been such a fun, well, you know, fun and scary.

And times where I, you know, like, like a lot of entrepreneurs, like when we really started to grow and scale the good news is like cuz again, we act as a nonprofit staffing agency, which, which means that organizations you know, really, so right after we had met landed some of my first, really large contracts with mm-hmm some real notable fortune 100 companies.

You know, and they were, they were bringing us on for really large projects, which is like really exciting. And you’re like, oh my gosh, it’s our first, you know, quarter million dollar project, our half million dollar project or whatever it is. Well, well, that, that all sounds really fun. And then you’re like, wait a minute.

I only have enough cash flow to last, you know? And so then, then you’re like, oh my gosh, I gotta get a line of credit and oh my gosh, I gotta do this. And I gotta do that. And you know, oh, I’ve never done background checks before. And so all these, you know, Like, you know, exciting and stressful, you know, things that a lot of entrepreneurs have to go through.

You know, and again, I wouldn’t trade that experience for all for the world. Like it’s been so part of it, but it’s you know, the good news is like Our, our workshops and all the different kind of accessibility, digital accessibility, and other kind of projects that we were leveraging early on to open up doors and you get our name out there.

It started to work and, and We’ve been placing people really consistency consistently organizations from CVS and Prudential and Anthem and Salesforce you know, throughout the years now. And, and then we, we became the first organization in the country to cuz my background is all tech.

Mm-hmm and so we, we, I had a hair brain idea to. To put seven blind people I’m sorry, six blind people and one neurodiverse gentleman through the Salesforce admin certification. Back in 2017, we were the first organization in the country to do such a thing. Because in workforce development, you know, leveling folks up with relevant certifications is super important.

Yeah. So I wanted to use this as a vehicle to again start first of all, starting with a platform that is very ubiquitous pervasively used out there globally from public to nonprofit, to for profit wanted a platform that was, you know, very very much out there. Also wanted to leverage a platform that was accessible, digitally accessible to the hardest to U serve, which is the blinder blind deaf communities.

And so Salesforce at the time they certainly weren’t completely accessible before they, they were really far down the pathway. So, so anyway, we put seven folks through the The Salesforce admin certification actually had people move all the way from Ohio to be part of this pilot course.

And the great news is We ended up getting six outta seven people jobs from that course. Oh, that’s amazing. And so we we’ve continued down that path, stew of leveling folks up getting folks trained. We actually, in 2020, just a couple of months into the pandemic, we became the official training provider for people with disabilities globally for Salesforce.

And they chose us for two primary reasons. Stu one is And they interviewed you know, large nonprofits all over the country that were interested in doing workforce development with them and that sort of thing, but they chose us for two primary reasons. One is we were already 100% remote, 100% accessible mm-hmm before it was cool and trendy with C.

So we meet people with disabilities, where they are, right. And just having brick and mortar shops all over the country. That’s not gonna be a scalable model. So so so that was the first reason. And the second reason is because employment, like I said, our, our pilot class, we got six outta seven people, a job.

That’s great. And so we’ve continued. And now our, our current cohort we have more than 60 participants from around the world, including five from Italy alone. So our training is literally we’re finding completely blind, completely deaf neurodiverse, motor skills, impaired individuals print, disabled dyslexic all over the country, all over the globe who are looking for an opportunity to.

Their skills. And the great news is 100% of the folks that we’re getting certified are getting. That’s 

Stu: just great. So tell, tell me a little bit more about how B I T works. Are you are, are you helping as a, as an outsourced kind of group or are you, are you doing placement or is it, is it kind of 

Mike: both.

We’re we’re full scale staffing agency. So literally we’ll do. And especially for the people with disabilities community, a lot of times organizations, they dip their toe into this, you know, PWD, this people professionals with disabilities community by doing a contract, right. Sometimes a contract to hire or sometimes just a project because in the world of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives globally, right?

Like the four main pillars within de and I do. And you. Very well know this, like it’s gender, it’s gender equity, ethnicity Q I a plus, and veterans, those are the 400 pillars that are talked about the people with disabilities community, even though we’re a billion strong globally, we’re rarely even talked about actually within the fortune 10,000 it’s single digit percentages that even have people with disability programs.

It’s interesting. It’s really small. And so, so B a T and we, and. There co couple reasons behind that one is, you know quite honestly, people just don’t know, like they, they still have this stigma and perception around, you know, we’ll just use blindness as an example, mm-hmm around like, oh my gosh, it, you know, must be so hard to be blind.

And you know, if you’re blind, you must be a customer service rep or piano tuner, you know, there’s all these stigmas and perceptions that are out there pervasively around blindness alone. Right. And. So just with that alone, like there’s like almost a triple sale that we have to do as an organization. And one of them is just breaking down those stigmas and perceptions in and around.

You know, again, we’ll just use blindness because it’s one is one of the digitally from a digital perspective. It’s one of the more challenging things to solve for. So, so once we find an organization, a leader who just says, you know, what. , it is so difficult for us to find talent where I’m interested.

Talk to me. Then we go into the how, and I always explain, like, so there’s this thing with the people with disabilities, community that other marginalized or disadvantaged, or whatever, whatever term you want to use there communities don’t have to deal with, and that’s this thing called reasonable accom.

Right. Right. And so that term is a very legal, very nebulous term. And so when, when I, when I share with, you know, technology leaders and, and leaders in general of organizations, like, you know, like, Hey, Salesforce, Is the reasonable accommodation mm-hmm literally is the reasonable accommodation. So we’re, we’re training people who are completely blind globally that use a completely free screen reader called N VDA non-visual desktop access and the platform Salesforce, the same Salesforce that other organizations are using.

Like this isn’t a special like blind sales force. This is. This is Salesforce, right? Like and so we, and so literally with a free screen reader, that’s completely open source downloadable. And the platform Salesforce, a totally blind person is able to do incredibly difficult, very visual, technical things on the inside, on the administrator, on the developer side of the Salesforce platform.

Okay. So, so literally like that’s, so how we sell to these organizations who are just really wanting to dip their toe in the pond is like, Salesforce is that reasonable accommodation, like you don’t want, like, you know, but, but what about, what about no, no, no, there is no. What about like, literally, like, this is all completely possible based on the commitment that Salesforce as an organization and by the way, they are the organization, they are the CRM globally.

That is this committed. No other platform is as committed to workforce development for people with disabilities than Salesforce. 

Stu: That’s really really interesting to hear as well as just it just, it, it just makes me feel good that there’s a, that there’s a platform out there that. That is trying so hard to, to kind of move toward in inclusivity.

And you know, it’s a, it’s a shame that some of the others haven’t had, haven’t made that move as well. But but hopefully they will get there is, is, is Salesforce, CRM training, and, and then placement, is that your primary? The, the primary. Service that you, that you provide. 

Mike: It’s a, it is certainly a a large part of it now because of the success that we’ve been having with our academy.

Mm-hmm we still, at our essence, we are a nonprofit staffing agency. Right. So, because we started with you know, placements and, and getting people in the door and that sort of thing. Salesforce is just one of those. Like, it’s a, it’s a really nice you know, secondary service that we offer. We are because of our success with our academy.

We’re, we’ve been in discussions with other large SAS organizations as well. And so our B I T academy is gonna be expanding to do more than just Salesforce, admin and Salesforce develop. Students but you know, we’re, we’re, we’re willing to work with any organization that really wants to spread their wings when it comes to you know inclusion type efforts within the people with disabilities community.

So it’s not, it’s not exclusively, you know, like how we’re placing people as just sales force. But since Salesforce is growing, you know, exponentially right now, like it’s been, it’s been a really hot topic over the last couple of years. 

Stu: Well, I do know Salesforce also. I had a, a CRM specialist who actually Liddy who reintroduced the two of us.

She, she mentioned that there’s a nonprofit Salesforce kind of module 

Mike: or, or. Instance. 

Stu: Yeah. Instance, I guess. Yeah. So for, for nonprofits out there who are in the market for a for a great CRM Salesforce has, has you covered for sure. 

Mike: Yet. I mean, there’s so much more that that platform offers mm-hmm in, in truly.

So first of all, for nonprofits, it’s completely free. Mm-hmm for up to 10 licenses, which is, you know, for the vast majority of non small nonprofits, it’s perfect. And even when you start getting to more, more licenses, the, the price is incredibly affordable for nonprofits, but what we offer to these organizations.

So for any nonprofit, that’s looking for like, you know, true technology support. Our nonprofit prices. Literally can’t be touch. So so when I, when I say they can’t be touched, literally nobody can touch our prices and it’s because we’re a nonprofit organization. Right. So, so we’re able to pay our folks a, a nice salary.

It’s, it’s definitely livable wages that we pay folks, but we’re not, we don’t have an owner or a stock share holders to. Be accountable for, so, so we use this literally as just earned income to support our mission. So so for any nonprofits that are out there that are looking for true technology support or any other kind of support from you know, back office kind of support.

We, we, we, we can definitely, as an organization help you and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how truly affordable it can be. 

Stu: Yeah. So tell me a little bit about your, your target client. I mean, obviously you do a lot of work in the nonprofit space. It sounds like you work with, with, with nonprofits perhaps of, of kind of all size.

But, but who, who are you going after? Who’s, who’s a, an ideal client for for B 

Mike: I T truly right now, it, we we’ve, we really found our niche and it really is the small to medium size nonprofit or even international NGO. So we have, we’ve got some clients the size of women for women. Very very significant you know, international NGO, fantastic organization.

They have nothing to do with blindness, nothing to do with accessibility, but they have they’re, they’re pretty significant Salesforce shop. And they use us exclusively a because we’re reasonable, but B we just do, we do a dang good job. So they’re, they’re VP of technology there loves us. He’s come to.

Conferences with us to show our apprenticeship program but really small to medium size nonprofits. And it’s the reason why we love working with that that client base quite honestly, it’s because we, you know, we want to. Also be part of this bigger ecosystem of making a difference. And we know we can do that.

And so many nonprofit leaders are struggling with, you know, they could do more if they had the proper technology in place, but then they go out there and they, they look at what, you know, organizations are offering like, oh, for the low, low price of, you know, $28,000 or 2 million, like. It’s just ridiculous.

And so we’re nowhere close to any of those prices. Our prices are so reasonable for the small to medium size. And then we get to work closely many times with, again, like the VP of technology or the CEO of these organizations. And we just love that because that’s Like, I don’t know crap about sales do but I about relationships and man, I, I it’s me.

It’s just about, it’s getting to know the organization and really caring about what they’re doing. Right. And then, you know, they in turn get to realize like, oh my gosh, you know, I didn’t know about the blindness community or the deaf community or the neurodiverse community. And I didn’t realize that the unemployment epidemic, it was just so egregious.

And so that’s what I really like. What. When you’re with the, the large nonprofits or even large, you know, for-profit organizations, you’re just another vendor. Like they don’t mm-hmm they don’t care about the relationship. They really, I mean, they, they might say that, but they don’t really care. Like, they’re just like, okay, what’s, what’s the cost.

Can you get this done in, you know, half the time as this undergraduate vendor, like you get lost in the shuffle. And I, I don’t want to, I don’t want our population, which truly, you know, I know that sounds kind of ironic, but our, our population really needs visibil. And the only way to do that is through relationship building and not just be in another number shop.



Stu: it sounds like you have two audiences that you you’re trying to speak to as well. So you’re the, the the disadvantaged community who, who would be would benefit from your training and then, and then placement as well as the people who need those types of, of workers. How, how have you successfully kind of gotten the, the word out to both of those audiences?

Mike: Ha it’s a great question. Cause you’re right. We have two pipelines for sure. So we literally have a couple dozen. Young budding professionals with disabilities nationally from around the world reaching out to us. And it’s because of our relationship with Salesforce. So because, you know, we we’ve, we’ve, we’ve made you know, like a couple weeks ago, I just I was one of the honorees of the.

Denver business journal, D E and I award winners, blah, blah, blah. And it, and it really like the whole, the whole premise of, of winning that was because, you know, we are the first apprenticeship the official apprenticeship program for blind, visually impaired people nationally per the department of.

So like, you know, so these kind of things, you know, and again, I go back to it’s because of Salesforce, we’re getting this kind of recognition nationally, which means we’re getting, you know, these, these awards and I, I leverage awards for marketing. Right. It’s all, if you could, if you could think about it.

Well, the good news is then the word is getting out there, which means that both sides of the pipeline. Right? So both the demand for, you know, needing leveling up opportunities, you know, from, you know, call it the. The people with disabilities community, that word is getting out there. Mm-hmm and then the good news is, you know, organizations are hearing about what we’re doing which is fantastic, but Salesforce themselves, they send us.

Nonprofits who are looking for you know, help all the time. Right. So right when you have an 800 pound gorilla like that in the room that really give, I mean, and so for any, any organization who really like, you know, again, cuz nonprofits, the reason why they do the nonprofit work is because they, they care, right.

They really have this hearing. Mm-hmm and, and sometimes it’s, it’s lost that, you know, big, big software companies like Salesforce really care. I’m telling you, they really. They, they flew me down. I got, you know, so they, they flew me down to, to keynote one of their summits down in. That’s why I went to San Juan and, okay.

So they flew me down to, to San Juan to speak in front of a couple of hundred. National and international clients that use Salesforce, like they’re, so they’re everything that they’re doing because they, they want to help get the word out there. So because, oh, that’s just great. It, it is fantastic. So for any organization, who’s like, you know, like, oh, should I go with this CRM?

Or should I go with Salesforce? Like go with a software, like company that actually cares about the broader population in such a way. Like, to me, that’s where you make your investment. Right. 

Stu: No, I, I completely agree that that, that that’s, you know, it, it’s, it’s putting your money where, where your mouth is, I guess, in terms of, of really kinda living those values and making sure that you’re supporting organizations that, that have kind of a, you know, shared cultural.

Desire to give back. And and you know, it’s, it’s kind of like, you know, any of, any of the giving back movements out there that, that really are starting to build awareness around. Around you know, groups of companies or individual companies that that are taking certain steps to, to support you know, whether it be DEI or the environment.

But, but really giving people that opportunity to say, well, do I wanna support these guys who don’t really do anything or, or these guys over here who, who really have kind of embedded in their culture, this idea of, of, of of giving back and doing something greater than just. You know, just making money.

Mike: Absolutely. And, and I’m, I’m telling you like sales, there was a, I, I didn’t realize that there was gonna be there, there was a senior vice president really, really big player within Salesforce you know, SVP of a fortune 100 company, like that was the audience and. His, his name is, is Don and Don requested time with me afterwards and said, Mike, I’m gonna do everything in my power to make sure that you guys get recognized.

Like that’s awesome. You know? And it just, so you think about that, like again, like there, Salesforce is not making any money off of B I T like I don’t work for B I. But when, when you hear of the egregious unemployment statistics for the broader people with disabilities community, and to know that there’s a single SAS, you know, software as a service company, that is this committed to the, the, this population as they are like, it’s like, how could you not wanna see that company succeed even more?

Yeah, so exactly. So anyway, I’m a, I’m a huge fan, so that’s kind of how we’re kind of growing both sides of that equation. It’s really because we have, you know, we have this amazing, you know, 800 pound gorilla in the room. That’s like, I’m gonna help, you know, 

Stu: I love it. Well, it’s nice to have an 800 pound gorilla fighting for on your behalf a hundred percent as opposed as opposed to against you, for sure.

Oh yeah, absolutely. So how is B I T funded? Are you, is it grants? Is it donations, you know, combination of those things? No, 

Mike: we’re so we’re, we kind of flipped the script. 80% of 70 to 80% of our monies are fee for service. So literally from the beginning, I didn’t have a rich uncle. I had, you know, as a startup nonprofit, you get zero grant dollars.

I still, like, I think we get like, I don’t know, $4,000 a year in donations. I, I suck at asking people for money. okay. But I am, I am really good at going out there and kicking in corporate doors or kicking in organization doors and saying, Hey, we have some amazingly talented. and and so again, we act as a nonprofit staffing agency.

So these companies, you know, from potential to CVS to Allstate, like they, they pay us to help them find talent. Mm-hmm for people with disabilities community. 

Stu: Do you partner with other, other staffing agencies or, you know, we’ve groups of that nature? 

Mike: Oh, man. We I’ve tried that model so many times I’ve even tried.

Okay. So the I’m just gonna say it I’ll say it anyways, the, the big boys don’t care. The big, you know, they’re so quota oriented. They’re so bottom line, like, wait, wait, you, you’re saying that if I’ve, if I’ve got a, a blind candidate or a deaf candidate, I’m gonna have to spend an extra, like 12 seconds explaining to, and I don’t have time for that.

Right. And so, and again, you know, I’ve, I, I’m not gonna mention any names. They’ll, they’ll remain nameless, but I’ve talked to the biggest staffing agencies out there. They, they, they, they, they don’t care. They, they it’s it interesting. Yeah. And, and they, they might have social media posts that say they care mm-hmm business model is not meant for them to.

so because they’re so right. They’re so quota oriented. So, but I’ve also gone and had conversations with smaller staffing agencies too, right. Because the cuz these staffing agencies are a one to many mm-hmm right. You know, so it makes perfect business sense to do that. And I, and I I’ve had board members throughout the years that have, oh, like you need to go partner with this.

And of course I’d go and have the conversations and then, but it all breaks down because they’re like, Well, so it, so I’m just gonna say it like a hundred percent of the recruiters for all these very large for-profit staffing agencies. They’re all fully able bodied, right? So they have no idea like how to sell a blind person.

They have idea how to sell a deaf person or somebody who’s newer. They have no idea Stu so, so it’s like, but you know, and then you’re like, you mean, I need special training to sell your people. Like, I don’t have time for that shit. Right. So I’m just going to, you know, so I hate to say it like that, but I’m just telling you man, like that, just so I’ve, I’ve tried.

It seems like it would be an easy win but it’s not. 

Stu: Yeah, it’s interesting. I just know quite a few people in, in staffing, particularly here in Denver and they, you know, they’re all relatively small firms. But it just, you know, it just seems like it would be such a, a, a good A 

Mike: good partnership.

No, you’re right. Partnership. Yeah. It seems so obvious, right? Like, so yeah. Wait, wait, you’re saying Mike, you have, you have this, you have this applicant tracking database. That’s just filled with talented, you know, individuals and I’m, I’m talking, you know, PMP, I’m talking developers, I’m talking like, not just, you know, we’re not just talking.

You know, uneducated, you know, blah, blah, like we’re talking, you know, skilled individuals, right. But because these organizations have to learn, you know, again, blindness, or they gotta learn, you know, the disability, you know, language and, you know, the God forbid of what a reasonable accommodation even looks like or sounds like, you know, so mm-hmm, again, so many of these organizations again, well, meaning, well intentioned, but at the end of the day, they’ve got quotas to fill.

Stu: Yeah. Yep. 

Mike: I mean, you know, you know, the industry, it’s a super competitive industry. 

Stu: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, in and in today’s market, it’s, I’m sure even more competitive in some, in some ways. And it’s but it’s interesting too, because we, we are seeing this cultural shift or, or at least it, it feels like we are experiencing a cultural shift that is that, that has at least an intention.

And, and sometimes you you’ve pointed out perhaps. You know, ill, ill conceived or ill. I, I don’t know what the word is. I’m looking for. Not, not well committed to intention, but, but to, to, you know, to bring diversity inclusion and equity into the, into. The corporate world. And, and so it seems like a perfect opportunity.

You know, for some of these, some of these agencies to, to kind of get on board with that, or at least be able to help support that in a, in a, in a very interesting and, and different way. But but yeah, it just sounds like maybe they they’re a little stuck in, in how they do things. 

Mike: It’s it? Well It leads to, to me.

So like one of the ways that I feel like we’ve been able to be much more successful recently is because, so like, I, you know, again, the first several years like I’ve met, you know, I, I truly, and I, I told former governor Hickenlooper this you know, I truly believe that Denver and the great state of Colorado can be the most inclusion friendly place on the planet.

Mm-hmm and I, I truly, I truly mean that. And so. But, but again, I’ve, I’ve shaken hands and met with, I, I wanna say hundreds, maybe even. Low thousands of executives now, you know, over the years. And I always, like, I always say like, I’m blind, not dead. right. I could always feel kind of an uncomfortable kind of an unease when I’m doing some networking, not when I’m doing my workshops and stuff, because I break down, I break down perceptions pretty quick as you, as you realize, right?

Like, yeah. But when I’m just, when I’m just networking, meeting an. And I always say like like have having the cane. So you know, using my cane, I always say like the cane was like you know, like the 19th commandment thou shall not be a jerk to the blind guy. right. Like, it didn’t make the top 10, but it was, it was this.

It opens up doors. So even executives, busy executives, they never wanted to say no to the cane. Right. Mm-hmm . And so but even, even when I would get the meeting, which again, for a lot of sales people and at the end of the day, that’s what I am. And that’s what all, most CEOs of nonprofits are your sales, whether you like it or not.

Right, right. You’re like so getting the meeting is so good, but I could always sense people always had this, like this uneasy and I always called it a squishy. And so when the pandemic, when the pandemic hit and really the whole, you know, the whole country, but the whole world came to a screeching business halt for the first three months of that.

Yeah. I actually had time to like slow down and I really analyzed that. So I had the great fortune of knowing a neuroscientist, a PhD here in the Denver Metro area told her about this squishy feeling. And I, and I said, you know I said, doc, I really feel like like there’s this like my cane, my blindness invokes this like primitive.

Like fear of the dark. When I, when mm-hmm, meet me and she’s like, oh my gosh, that’s fascinating. So I had this PhD that we retained she gave me a screaming discount. Thank goodness. she was, she had time on her hand too, the first few months of the pandemic. So, so anyway it was, it was wonderful. And she, so I had this neuroscientist did some research cuz she loved this concept and she says, you know, she goes, Mike, you know, comes back and she goes, You’re onto something with this fear of the dark, like globally, all, all humanity.

That’s why there’s so much junk light in urban areas is because of the, the fear of the dark. She goes, she goes, but actually, what I’ve, I, I think you’re actually experiencing is you’re sensing people feeling loss, aversion and loss. Aversion is from a a Nobel prize economist from 2002 Daniel mm-hmm , Daniel Conneman and Daniel.

So in loss aversion, It’s this people will avoid feeling a loss versus having an equivalent gain. And so from you know, so when people see me, right, it’s obviously I’ve got a cane it’s obvious, you know, I’m wearing sunglasses. So clearly I’m blind. The loss aversion is literally, so people will be like, oh my gosh, if you have the ability to feel empathy, and unless you’re a sociopath, you have the ability, right.

To feel empathy, right. You’re able to put yourself into my shoes. Right. And right. And right away, people are that it scares people like, oh my gosh, I’m, I’ve got this loss. Right, right. And I don’t know how to deal with this loss. And that’s why, so again, it’s so important. And so we, we sh that’s why in our trainings now.

So so I still have some of those fun, some of those fun exercises and stuff I do for, but so much of my training now is focused on helping people realize like, okay. Yeah. Like, is there unconscious bias that goes into, you know, not hiring somebody who’s blind or deaf, maybe. Maybe. Yeah, but I think, I think there’s so much more to it.

Stew and I think loss aversion is also something that we need to educate people on. Like the reason why you feel uncomfortable around somebody who’s in a wheelchair, somebody who’s got a protic limb somebody, again who’s blind or deaf or da, da, da, like, like, like there’s this thing again, because you, we, as human beings were able to put ourselves in somebody else’s mood.

Yeah. So loss aver is. 

Stu: Yeah, it’s weird. There’s this empathy thing, which is a, which, you know, one, one could argue is a, is a good component of our, of our being. And, but then it, it kind of leads to this, this other component of our being that is is 

Mike: I don’t, I don’t call, I don’t consider that bad those dude, but what, so to me, I leverage this as like helping people realize like, okay, Hey, Like, so now that we can name this, it’s almost like saying, okay.

You know, like a 12 step program, the first step is literally. So now if we can admit like, okay, so I, since I’m human and I feel empathy. And so now I’m feeling squishy because I’ve got this loss aversion, we’re able to name it now, Uhhuh. So it’s not this isn’t a bad thing, but it, but before that, we just, we don’t even know how to name this.

We just know that there’s this uncomfortable feeling and we don’t know where it’s coming from. So. So that’s what I, when I go into organizations now it’s all from this very educational lens, like saying, okay, cool. But then, so cool. Okay, good. Oh, that’s why I feel uncomfortable. It’s okay. To feel uncom.

It’s okay. To feel uncomfortable. Yeah. Yeah. But then it’s like, okay, so now that we’re that we, we, we, we name this, we identified this. We still have, again, within the people with disabilities community, we have this thing called reasonable accommodation. So that’s when we can get to the brass tax with, with, with leaders now and say, okay, so how does somebody who’s blind?

How I call it the how hump, how somebody who’s blind accomplish X, Y, or. That’s why I go to, well, are you an organization that has Salesforce? Well, yeah. Okay. Salesforce is the reasonable accommodation, so, right. So it’s all these steps down this path of, of inclusion, especially for the people with disabilities.

And again, they, these are extra steps that, again, other disadvantaged communities don’t have to deal with. 

Stu: Right. Is this something that you do? I mean, this is a little bit off topic, I guess, but is this something that you’re you’re able to do is, is essentially disarm that vulnerability that people are, are feeling by, by getting it out there?

I mean, one of the things I, I know works really well when. You know, I’m, you know, I’m a bit of an introvert in, in, you know, in big groups. I’m the kind, kind of the guy who finds the one person that I already know. And I am hang, hang out and, and talk for 45 minutes during the, the mixer. Right? Yep. So I end up meeting no people but one of the ways that I.

I’ve been able to kind of disarm that is to just own it and, and, you know, and, and admit that this is uncomfortable for me. You know, I’m not great at, at, at meeting new people and, and it’s, you know, really nice to meet you, but but just let you know that, that this is out of my comfort zone a little bit, and that then It, it, it really just kind of changes the entire conversation in that, you know, I’ve admitted this, this kind of vulnerable semi embarrassing, or, you know, however you wanna what a judge that, but but you know, it puts it out there.

I’m wondering if that is something that you, that you do when, when, you know, when you’re experiencing that squish. 

Mike: I so you’re, you’re a hundred percent accurate on that. And that’s why I’m saying like, I’ve by noticing. So when I couldn’t, so what I thought I had to do was like sell harder or mm-hmm , mm-hmm, convince people harder when I was feeling that now.

Okay. Knowing. So that’s why, like I put this out there. This is part of the. The spiel. Right? So when I get a chance to speak in front of whether it’s a keynote or other trainings that I do now, like I, I bring this up, I bring up loss aversion all the time. Right. I, I multiple podcasts, multiple, like I, you know, getting the word out there, like, guess what?

This it’s okay to feel this squishy feeling. Because that means you’re human and you have empathy and you’re not a sociopath, so kudos. nice. So that’s a good time to not be a sociopath. But, but it’s good to be able to say like, oh, you know, cuz sometimes people just feel bad. Like, man, I don’t, I don’t know why I didn’t want to talk to the blind person.

Right. And you know, Now, you know. Okay. So now okay. Like, oh, okay. That makes, that makes perfect sense. So yeah, I, I struggle with that, but so from, from the networking perspective, just educating folks on there, like, okay, this, this is human. Like this is organizational development. Yeah. You know And it’s and there’s a lot of training out there for, again, sexual harassment and racism and all these other kind of concepts.

But if you go out there and look for, you know this kind of training for the people with disabilities community, a lot of times what you get is like disability etiquette. And who’s gonna throw the bullshit flag on that. Like, I don’t, I don’t want people to be more polite to me because I’m blind.

Actually actually, you know, so again, you’re separating me from other like, and in the business world, that’s, that’s part of the reason why there’s this unemployment epidemic is because, you know, the mass majority of humanity don’t know how to, like, they don’t understand that this feeling that they’re feeling is loss aversion.

Right. And then they don’t know like, okay, so how do I interact with somebody who’s blind or deaf? You know? I mean, when you’re, you know, talking to somebody who’s blind, you know, you, you, you talk louder because of course, you know, You know, you just, and you don’t know if you like say, Hey, did you see that movie?

Oh, well, you know, like I, you know, we’re, we’re just, we’re so on guard. And that’s part of the reason why the unemployment epidemic exists is because there’s this uncomfortableness. So we don’t need disability, etiquette. We need true organizational development. We’re realizing like, okay, cool. That’s okay. I understand why I’m feeling uncomfortable.

Stu: Yeah. And, and making, making sure that it’s, you know, that we, we identify that we give it a name and, and put it out there and then it, then it’s out 

Mike: there. It’s not, yeah. Then it diffuses. You’re like, oh, okay. I get it now I, I get this. Okay. So, but then it, then you have questions like, okay, well, so is it okay for me to say something like, oh, did you see that movie?

Oh, oh, did, oh, it’s right. Look over there. Oh, you know, Right. Okay. Let’s, let’s get over. Like as long as again, let’s be respectful. Like let’s use people first language. Right? Right. So I am a person who is blind. Okay. Right, right. There are people in wheelchairs. There are, you know, there are people of color.

So recognize that we’re people first don’t define us by our physical traits. But we don’t need these etiquette language we need, we need, we need true awareness of why we’re feeling the way we’re feeling around people with disabilities. 

Stu: Yeah, it’s. I mean, it’s, it’s really a really interesting and amazing how you’ve, how you’ve been able to break that down and, and, you know, define that and, and, and demonstrate how easy it is once that is out in the open to.

To kind of diffuse that. I, I, I just love love what you’re doing there. And it’s cool if you, that you took those first three months of, of the pandemic to kinda, kinda suss that out and, and, and get a, a good understanding of, of what the. You know, what the sociology or the, even the psychology is around that or neurology even.

Mike: Yeah, it was, it was it was, it was a, it was a, just a lovely happenstance. Like it it’d been something on my brain for, for truly years up until that point. And then literally just this introduction of this amazing, you know scientists PhD here in the Denver Metro area. And. I mean, I, I know, you know, this, like, it just, it’s amazing how, when things are kind of meant to be they happen

Yeah. But truly, I believe that that over, excuse me, over the last couple of years has been a, a huge part of our success. And we. We’ve you know, we’ve continued to grow and it’s, it’s fun with the relationships that we continue to cultivate cultivate and create out there with truly some of the biggest brands in the world.

It’s super fun. Well, 

Stu: yeah, you you’ve hit on on some amazing synergies, I guess, would be a good a good way to, to, to frame that in terms of this, this kind of you know, partnership with Salesforce and, and really enabling that platform to, to do what it does within within, you know, all communities and, and, and open up opportunity for for people who.

Who don’t don’t have that many or have as many opportunities perhaps as, as some of the, the rest of us. 

Mike: It’s it really? And I, I think it’s that was phrased very well too. It’s it? It’s not that, you know there are organizations that are out there that are some of the largest employers for, you know, will just stick with blind, visually impaired.

And but the government or government type agencies, shouldn’t be the only. Right opportunity for the blind, visually impaired community. And that’s that’s that, you know, so my, my goal is, and, and it, and it sounds huge, but yet if you think about it, it’s, it’s not like my goal is to get 10,000 blind, visually impaired people just blind, visually impaired people, but obviously other professionals with disabilities, gainfully employed.

And you know, to me, that is just the reason why I’m saying that is like that, that that’s only one per fortune 10,000 company. Right? Right. So it’s, so we’re not talking about like a huge number, but yet all of a sudden now we’ll have at least representation in every fortune, 10,000 company out there, which right now that’s the thing we do not have.

We do not have representation at all. We do not have a seat at the table. 

Stu: Well, and just going back to our, to the, to the squishiness conversation, it, it, when, when you have representation in workforces that large, that now you have, you know, collisions happening. Yes. Where, where all of a sudden, it, it. It just changes everybody’s perception of, of, you know, how to, how to interact with people as people.

And it, I mean, it’s just, there’s, there’s something there that just continues to build and, and creates amazing things. And I’m, I’m so thrilled that you’re on this, on this journey. It’s amazing. 

Mike: No, I appreciate it’s been, it’s been a fun it, it really has been a fun journey and we’re, we’re turning so our so I’m a.

I grew up well, I grew up, my, my girls grew up with the Harry Potter kind of you know, series and all that sort of thing. And so mm-hmm, we, the one thing that we do that really makes us look a lot, like a charity is we do have a gala and we have a gala that’s coming up in October.

Okay. October 8th, actually. And B I T we are turning nine and three quarter. Awesome. so so our we’re gonna have a, a bit of a themed you know, gala, but it it’s it’s always a lot of fun. So we offer blinders. So at, at every table there’s blinders. So. People if they choose and it’s same blinders that you remember from the activities, but yeah.

They, they get to choose to, you know, put these blinders on and experience dining using other senses than just your site. And so, and of course I explain, you know, the best way to like, you know, use your plate as a, as a clock, you know? So nowhere near there was nowhere, three and nine and six are on your plate and around your plate, you know, so, and so, but we, we encourage this, not.

You know, there are definitely dining in the dark kind of concepts out there. Mm-hmm we don’t, we don’t do it like where we shut off all light. Right. But honestly it scares the crap out of people’s do. So we and I’ve practiced being blind people who are blind of practiced. Right. It’s a skill, right.

It’s a, and so we just, you know, we’re like, Hey, you know, you’d be, you’d be amazed just like you were with your activity, like now that you, you, you can actually do more. than you think you know, when, when you’re faced in this situation. And so, so we that’s so we have a, we have a gala that’s coming up in October for and it’s a limited amount of actually seats.

So cause we’re doing it at the the cable center at the campus at the, the du campus, so, okay. Should be a, should be a fun event, but So for any of your audience listeners who are interested in that we do have, we have a link on our website, but if you’re, if you’re interested in kind of a Harry Potter themed event, it will be, it will be fun 

Stu: so, well, I will definitely share that in the show notes and, and I I’ve, I’ve just had such a, a wonderful time reconnecting with you today, Mike, and, and having this conversation’s just been fab.

Fabulous. How can people find out more about about B I T and what you’re up. 

Mike: That just obviously we’re on social. Our website is pretty easy it’s blind Institute of technology.org or blind it.org blind as an unable to see blind it.org. So we have a obviously we have an events page there.

We have a newsletter that goes out on a monthly basis that we, we feel like is You know, again, we, we focus on the relationships that we have and the organizations that we’re you know working with all that good stuff. So, but yeah, we, we try to stay pretty, pretty current and pretty active on our social.

So and I’m really easy to get ahold of my email address is Mike M I K E blind it.org. 

Stu: Well, great. I will share all of those links in the show notes, and I’ve really just had a, a wonderful time, like I said, reconnecting with you today. One of the things that I love is, is being able to have these conversations on a weekly basis.

However, I really, really wanna foster the idea that we can all take some kind of an action. And so if there was one action you would like people to take after listening to our show today, what would, what would that. 

Mike: It’s a great question. I moderated a panel of de and I leaders last week. And so my, my, my, it was the same question I had asked each one of them, like if there’s audience members at this conference, you know, if there’s one takeaway what it is, and I loved this one, it said, it’s, it’s all about partner.

And as, as she was a tribal leader, indigenous populations, native Americans and she was just like, you know partner, like if, if, if you don’t know. Get out there and partner and, and for us, quite honestly, like we’re not the typical nonprofit where we’re looking for volunteers to do this or that.

But just, you know, schedule some time with us, like recognize, you know, like, you know, let’s, if, if you realize that you might have this loss of version towards blindness, then you get this squishy feeling where you just don’t know, like have a virtual cup of coffee with me. I mean, if you’re local, have a cup of coffee with me, like.

Re realize like so there, there are professionals that are out there that could really bolster your, your community quite honestly. And so to me I’m a huge fan of that, that collaboration, that partnership. So feel free to reach out. We, we, we’d love to talk to you. 

Stu: Yeah, that’s awesome.

Thank you so much for being on the show today, Mike and I will hopefully talk to 

Mike: you very soon. Awesome. Stu, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate this opportunity. 

Stu: It’s my pleasure. I’ll talk to you soon. 

Mike: Take care. 

Stu: And there you have it. Another great episode of relish this. Thanks again for listening, you can find past episodes of the [email protected]

And remember if you liked what you heard today, please subscribe and leave a review. Wherever you listen to podcasts. For more information on purpose marketing, grab your free copy of my book. Mission uncomfortable. How nonprofits can embrace purpose driven marketing to survive and thrive. Get your copy [email protected]

Thanks again for listening. Come back next week. Won’t you.