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It’s undeniable that Matt Kursh, now CEO of Oji Life Lab, has always had the entrepreneurial touch. This first became evident when, as a teen, Kursh enrolled the neighbors in his leafy Cleveland suburb as customers for his croissant bakery and door-to-door delivery service, a business he operated until the autumn he left for college (Brown). There, as a sophomore, he started his first “adult” company, Clearview, a software company that he built together with six fellow students. After Kursh “temporarily” withdrew from school (he now refers to this as his “64-semester leave of absence”) to give Clearview his full attention, Apple [NASDAQ: AAPL] purchased the company and he and the team made the jump from east coast to west.
After that, in quick succession, Kursh worked the requisite number of months for Apple; quit Apple to work at a pen computing startup; quitthat startup to create a new company of his own, eShop, which he sold to Microsoft (the product became Microsoft’s e-commerce platform); joined Microsoft [NASDAQ: MSFT] and ran their primary internet business, MSN (at the time one of the five busiest sites on the Web); and on and on.
Not that Kursh was unhappy with any of his successes, he tells me, but he did feel they could have been accomplished with less sturm und drang. The problem, he gradually realized, was a lack of self-awareness and interpersonal mastery in the project teams and boardrooms where he found himself.
“Working with, or across the table from, some immensely brilliant people, I could tell that something was getting in their way–and in my way as well. We were being held back because we lacked a particular set of skills. We didn’t even know the name for what we were lacking, but, more and more, I wanted to find out.”
Micah Solomon: Did you manage to put a name on it?
Matt Kursh, President, Oji Life Lab: Absolutely, though only after some dead ends and false starts. As I started exploring the subject–this was six or seven years ago–people kept telling me, “Oh, you learn those skills from your parents,” or, “That stuff’s just common sense,” but the more I got into it the more I realized that no, my parents didn’t teach me these growing up and certainly they weren’t going to teach me now; and no, it’s not just common sense.
Happily, I eventually discovered that the answers areout there. There are world-class intellects who’ve been studying these topics; it’s just that their work hasn’t filtered down to the rest of us non-academics yet. Specifically, I connected with the professors at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, two of whom later became co-founders of our company. Yale is where the term “emotional intelligence” was first coined and first researched. Though some people assume that emotional intelligence is some kind of pseudo-science, it’s a well-researched and incredibly practical concept: that it’s helpful to be able to understand what your own current emotions are at any moment and what the emotions of the people you interact with are as well, and then to be able to regulate your emotions to get you to the place that best suits the situation.
Solomon: Did you ultimately figure out how to get these insights out to the rest of us?
Kursh:That came together when I had the good fortune to team up with Andrea Hobin, who ran global skills training for Robert Half, and who became my co-founder. Andrea and I realized that there are new possibilities to do this with mobile technology in a way that can make this learning available to the corporate training market. And this–the underlying academic research combined with the delivery system–was the birth of Oji Life Lab and our first product, the Emotion Life Lab.
Solomon: Why did you take a technology based approach? This isn’t something I could learn from, say, a book?
Kursh: The realities of learning emotional intelligence are tricky, and are why we had to design our approach just-so. This is a discipline where a “10 secrets” approach like you could learn from a book–or even, I suppose, a blog post–doesn’t get you any farther than a “10 secrets for how to play piano better” would; that’s great, but then you have to practice for five years. In other words, it’s not just information that you need; it’s skills, and skills take practice. This is why our approach is practice-based: Our Emotion Life Lab is a sequence of learning experiences, each just 5-10 minutes long, that you complete on your phone, each of which helps you explore a key idea. You complete exercises, you do what we call “reflections,” you play instructional games, and then, interspersed with that, is live video-based learning where you work with one of our coaches in either a group setting or one on one. Over time you gain lasting skills and turn them into habits, so that when the moment comes to apply your emotional intelligence, the skills are immediately available to you.
Solomon: Can you give me an example?
Kursh: I’ll give you three. Let’s say that right now I’m feeling anxious, yet for me to succeed in this upcoming meeting I need to feel calm. After completing our sequence, I’ll know how to regulate my emotions to pull that off. Or: Right now I’m feeling angry but for me to succeed in this negotiation I need to be enthusiastic about the opportunities and put my anger to one side. Or: Right now I’m feeling incredibly jazzed, but I have a one-on-one meeting with a colleague coming up; if I want to have a productive conversation instead of overwhelm her, I’ll need to use my new skills to down-regulate.
Solomon: You said you’re selling this to the corporate market, but tell me more specifically who this is for?
Kursh: As far as the type of job or position that’s a good fit, it’s for any job where you deal, internally or externally, with other humans. I don’t want this to sound like a pat answer, but every human has emotions, and regulating your emotions to match what others are feeling at the time you’re interacting with them is of universal value.
Solomon: So, as customers, you’re looking for everyone in an organization?
Kursh: It’s up to the client company whether they want to sign up their entire organization or take a more limited approach. Some are deploying it across the whole company; some of it are doing it in a particular division: a ward of a hospital or a team, such as in HR. So there’s a lot of variety in how companies deploy it. But it was important to us to design it in a way that made it practical to roll out across large organizations and to price it in a way that would allow them to provide it to as many users as makes sense for their organization.
Solomon: How are you funded? Is this all money you saved from your croissant profits and such?
Kursh: Thankfully, not. I think I spent those late at night on hoagies at the food truck at college. No, we’ve rounded up a group of like-minded investors who’ve funded us because, as business executives themselves, they’ve seen how important this kind of learning is.
Solomon: What does the future look like?
Kursh: The focus right now is on growing our first product, the Emotion Life Lab (our emotional intelligence product). Moving forward, emotional intelligence is only going to be one of a varietyof topics we’ll be addressing at Oji Life Lab. Ultimately, we’ll be offering a whole family of life labs that address soft skills topics like decision-making and goal-setting. Our approach with everything we do is always going to be to combine this unique software platform with world-class research and a superb coaching staff so that we deliver complete solutions that help people build essential, life-improving new habits.
May 29, 2019 at 01:56PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs