In episode 84, we speak with Lan Phan, Founder & CEO of community of SEVEN. Lan takes us through her family background and upbringing which helped shape the values, beliefs and passions she has today. We also discuss Lan's career journey, why she launched community of SEVEN, how she handles issues of discrimination and a lot more.
Want to welcome all of our listeners to another episode of Minority Report Podcast with Eric and Kerel. Each episode we talk with leaders in business, tech, and media. And today's episode is sponsored by MarketingEDGE, a national nonprofit committed to shaping the future of marketing leadership by connecting students, academics and professionals to the resources and relationships they need to see, move and stay ahead. Today joining us is Lan Phan, Founder and CEO of community of SEVEN. Let's jump in and get to know Lan. Lan. Welcome. How are you?
Hello. Great to be here.
We're thrilled you're here. Thanks for taking the time to hang with us a little bit today. Lan. Tell us a little bit about you. Where were you born? And where were you raised?
So I was actually born in Vietnam. But my parents and brothers escaped Vietnam, the Vietnam War. You know, my father probably would have been executed if we had stayed. So I came to America when I was about eight months old. And when we first came, we came to San Francisco. And we settled on mission Street, the family of five in the studio. And then we eventually moved to Los Angeles.
I want to know a little bit more about that. You moved here to escape, you know, violence and escape the war, your family, you moved to a pretty diverse sort of area, what was that like growing up there, and also, that close with your family physically close.
Very close. I mean, it was really interesting, because we literally came to America with the clothes on our backs. So I always say that was kind of born building communities, because it was the community that set us it was the churches that clothe us, you know, it was an American family who sponsored us. And so I've always been really, you know, I always understood the power of community. So, you know, when we were like a family of five in that studio, you know, there's a lot of hills in San Francisco, if you've ever been. But my mom didn't really understand what a stroller was. So she would carry me up and down those hills. And we didn't have much in terms of resources. Because it was like one of those efficiencies bachelor didn't really have a kitchen. So my mom would give my brother who was seven or eight at the time, money, and he would go down those stairs and get like, ramen noodles from like the bodega, like on the street. And so I think there was always like a dichotomy. You know, because I grew up my mother, my father only spoke to us and Vietnamese, because they wanted us to culturally be aware of who we were. But we also grew up in areas like in Los Angeles, you know, I grew up in like Englewood and Hawthorne, California and Los Angeles. So most of my friends were either black or Mexican. And I'm not saying Hispanic because they were Mexican, you know, or Filipino, or Southeast Asian. So, you know, I didn't really have many Vietnamese friends in Los Angeles, I did as I got older. So I've always kind of had diverse kind of backgrounds. Then I went to school at Stanford University. And that was a whole different cultural environment.
I want to asked you about that. And a little bit, I want to ask you about your education, clearly important, went to the best schools, I want to ask you about community of SEVEN tell us about community of SEVEN
So community of SEVEN is a invite kind of organization for thought leaders, change makers and executives with a real focus of like, changing the world for the better. So that's kind of one aspect of community of SEVEN. We also do programming around that. So there's a membership organization with within community of SEVEN. The other is corporate training. So I go in into different corporations. And I work on the really mindset that you need to succeed. As an executive. We'll do topics like power of communication, owning your voice, owning your worth, you know, purpose driven leadership, we kind of focus on really the mindset that you need to be a leader.
Cool, you've worked with some great companies, how did you get started down your career path?
So my career path has been literally a zigzag. So I think a majority of my career was spent in marketing, so I spent over 20 years in marketing, before community of SEVEN, I was brought on to Fortune Magazine by Alan Murray, the CEO to build a startup within fortune. Prior to that I was at the Association of National Advertisers building the CMO practice for the ANA was also the general manager for SeeHer. And then I worked in various agency, kind of like head of membership, head of account management roles. But prior to that, I've also been a booking agent. I started in my 20s, I had a pretty successful music agency, we booked artists in Coachella and Bonnaroo. And I was also a real estate investor. And I was also a teacher. So I've kind of had a roundabout way in terms of getting to where I am now.
Awesome. And, you know, one of the things I was looking at Lan when I was preparing for this is I saw a post on your LinkedIn profile, which basically, let me see if I can find the headline here.
hope it wasn't embarrassing.
no, it was a really good one, which fits well into this conversation. It says how my darkest day led me to create community of SEVEN.
Okay, yes, yes. Yeah, I remember posting that. You know,
can you tell the audience a little bit about that story?
Yeah, so definitely, I was at Fortune Magazine, Alan Murray, the CEO had recruited me to build this startup within fortune, I got a multimillion dollar budget, I was supposed to hire a huge team, I got to hire number five. And I got laid off because of COVID. The hard part was that I had to lay off my entire team. Wow. And so that was kind of an once again, this is the beginning of COVID. Right, everyone's losing their jobs. And I had to tell these people who have just left some of their jobs, that I now have to let them go. And I was literally in a depression for seven days straight, crying every day. And then finally, my daughter kind of got me out of it. And she was just like, one of the things she said two things, Mom, I love you no matter what job you have, or don't have. And the other one, she said was one day, I'm going to start my own business and hire you. So that literally was the kind of thing that kind of woke me out of my stupor. And I woke up with this name, community of SEVEN. And it initially was about me and the five, you know, people that had to lay off these amazing women, and my daughter, and me would be six, and my daughter would join our calls. So when I got laid off, you know, we were supposed to actually launch go from ideation to launching a product in six months. If you've ever started a business, or startup or product development, you know that that's very ambitious. But we were actually on track to do so. And so I was like, we're gonna move our mission from launching a product to now finding your next job. And I'm either going to help you find your next job, or I'm going to build my business and hire you back. So that was my motivation. At the beginning, when I first started, it was I don't know what this is. So I'm going to build, but I know it's called community of SEVEN. And I know I'm going to do whatever I can to make it successful. So if you don't find your, you know, your job, I'm going to hire you back. So that was kind of like my whole motivation in terms of building community of seven.
Gotcha, okay, And you've been at it now, for probably about a year or so now.
Probably about 10 months. Now,
what's sort of one of the biggest takeaways you've learned from sort of launching your own business, especially during a pandemic as well, too?
I think the big thing was, I had to have to throw away everything I learned, especially because it was a pandemic, but two, I was building my business based on my purpose. And so in the past, you know, for anyone that's built a product, you know, usually create like a minimum viable product MVP. And I always thought that such bullshit, we're basically creating a minimal viable product. And I was like, what we should really be building is, how can we provide the most value to people? And so I wanted to build a company based on my values, which is how can I help as many people as possible. So because I wanted to create something that was based on purpose, and helping people, I knew that I needed to fund it myself. And it couldn't be based on venture capital. And so I realized that everything that I knew I had to kind of change the whole model. And so everything was virtual from day one. And I think it actually helped that COVID helped me be able to scale my business much quicker, because there was no limitation and because I could move to digital so quickly. And because I had this role, the tech side I felt like for the past 20 years, there's a lot easier for me to scale quickly.
Lan, I want to ask you a little bit about personal experiences. Right now in the country, there's a lot of Asian hate crimes that are happening. I'd like for you to sort of walk us through, you know, moments of discrimination that you faced and how you handled and dealt with those moments.
Yeah, I mean, that's, that's kind of an interesting one. Because it's, it's so close to home, especially with everything that's going on today. I think, for me, what makes me feel kind of helpless, in this current situation in this environment is not me, but I'm afraid for my mother, who's 85. And she's in Los Angeles, when she's out, taking a walk, you know, I mean, I've spent my whole life being called, you know, names and being told to go back to x, y, z. And I felt like I could handle it. But when it's someone that you love, or someone that, you know, your parents, that's when it gets scary. I think in terms of how I've handled it, it's changed over the years. And in the past, like I grew up in, like Los Angeles. So I fought a lot, when in the past. I mean, that's how I dealt with it when I was younger, right. And I still fight now, but it's with words. And I think that's the difference. I think what I've learned is that my power is in mobilizing people and bringing people together. And the thing with fighting with your fist is it can only get you so far. And it doesn't change hearts. And one of my favorite quotes is by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and it's fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that leads others to join you. And my approach has always been different. Because in the past, I would fight back. And I think today, I fight with words, but I really fight with bringing people together to now create systemic change. Because the way you create systemic changes, you do it through bringing people who have power together. And then having changed and rippled through different organizations. And that's why I've probably, for the past decade, focus more on executives, because they usually have the purse strings, right? When I was at the ANA, we built the CMO practice dealing with chief marketing officers, because they had like $500 billion in ad spend. So think about the hearts and minds you can change with that ad spend in terms of like, people like Mark Pritchard or Raja Rajamannar, from MasterCard, they have this huge ad spends, and being able to get more diverse casting, all this other stuff makes a big difference. When I was at SeeHer with the gender equality initiative, mobilizing and bringing together broadcast companies, client side marketers agencies together to combat racism, I'm just looking at, I'm still fighting, but I'm now fighting it from a more kind of like, you know, macro level, why bring people together to now fight and change systemic racism.
Then, did you have people along your career or personally that sort of helped you to change that mindset and sort of help you to figure out how to, you know, turn those sort of physical actions more into a different sort of action?
I won't say it's one person, I think everything is just gradual, like gradual kind of conversations. There's a lot of things kind of along the way, I think, this is the thing. When you don't have power, you fight with your fist, when you realize that you do have power, and you have the power to change minds, through companies or thoughts or political systems. That's when you know, you fight with your mind. And I think that was a gradual process for me, you know, like, growing up, you don't have much power to change or influence the things around you, right, growing up poor, I didn't have the access to that. So you would just get into fist fights. And then when I got to college, one of the things I did, I was a gang prevention counselor in East Oakland. And I realized that I could change these kids lives by showing them something different. Right? It wasn't about trying to convince them here or there. It was just to kind of show that there was a different reality. So I spent probably a good four or five years when I was at the ANA, really kind of dealing with how do you change perception of, you know, gender equality, or creating more diverse casting for companies, because I realized that that was a power of influence. But I think it was gradual. I don't think it was one mentor. It was just kind of like you've taken a little bit deeper and you get to know people, and you understand systems. And then once you understand the system, because the only way you're going to really deal with systemic racism is if you work within the systems, right? And so that was kind of like the journey that I had to kind of figure out through different things. organizations and places I've been
Lan, I want to ask you, where do you draw inspiration from today? What are you using to inspire you these days?
Oh, gosh, um, there's tons. You know, there's people I follow kind of on LinkedIn, Mita Mallik, who you know, is a dear friend, and I love just anything that comes out of her mouth. I really like a Gifford Thomas, he's the CEO and founder of leadership first, whose is amazing, and has really great content on purpose driven leadership. But I sometimes just google on YouTube, morning motivation, or leadership and the random stuff that you get on that it's just so inspiring. Like, I usually don't have a lot of time to, like, consume content. And so usually, if I'm running or I'm walking in the mornings, I'll just like listening to like a YouTube like podcast, or, or some kind of like motivational kind of content or audio book.
Awesome. Lan, I want to ask you again, about community of SEVEN, you launch the business during a pandemic. I think hopefully, we can all see the light at the end of the tunnel here. And hopefully, we'll all get back to some sense of normalcy, who knows, maybe 9,12,15 months, when you think about the future of your business, what's next for community of SEVEN?
I mean, I think the big next is just kind of like now kind of figuring out, like I spent the last year all of last year or 2020, when I was kind of building it first, before I even went to the business model of like, how am I going to monetize it? I just really asked myself, how can I help as many people during this time because people are losing their job, people going through depression. So I really focused on the social following. So you know, we have about 140, 150,000 followers, about 100,000, on LinkedIn, and over about 40,000 on Facebook. And in each post I have, it's focused like on a micro learning. So I know a lot of people can't afford to pay and become a core community member of community of SEVEN. And I only do four cohorts a year. And they're usually pretty high level executives. So how can I help the other universe, right. And so I started doing these micro learnings, my goal is that anyone that reads that is able to kind of positively influence their life. And that has nothing to do with revenue. It's about lives change. And so that's kind of like my big wish is that one of the learnings or trainings and micro learnings, but let's talk that I do, is actually able to kind of change someone's life. In terms of from a business perspective, I'm continually kind of growing the corporate training part of it, which is really focused on changing the way we teach leadership to people. And one of the big issues of not getting enough bipoc executives is that there's like the training gap, right? And women as well, you know, the messy middle, right, you get a lot on, you know, entry level kind of positions that don't equate to managerial level. And, you know, two ways you advance in any corporation or company is usually through sponsorship and training and development. And the only thing is training and development has been reserved for the few, right, usually white males. So you know, a general corporate training can be upwards of 40,50, 60,000 for six months. And so I was like, how do you kind of close that gap. And so I kind of changed the model using my background in teaching a curriculum when I was at Harvard, to kind of build a model that you can actually train, I just did a workshop and training for Carta, where I trained 270 of their employees in one hour. So if you're able to do that, that's kind of how you make that messy middle that gap smaller. Because you you you're able to basically give training and development to a broader swath of the company. Right? Yeah. And also in terms of mentorship, all of my trainings kind of usually involve community as well, where I do breakout groups where people connect, you know, I just did one for Jellyfish recently, where I was talking to the their cmo, Sharon Harris. And she was like, yeah, you know, I was in a call with three other people. And I was on mute. And she's like, they were surprised that I was actually on the call. But that's how you break down and you build relationships. That's where you get sponsorship, because usually these people don't have access to the C-suite or other executives or mentorship. And so I'm trying to basically turn training and development over its head and just kind of make it something new.
Gotcha. Gotcha. Okay. Thank you for that. I want to ask you another question about your career journey. You've held a number of different positions at different companies. And when I look at your LinkedIn profile, it seems like you've pivoted a few times in terms of the types of jobs that you've had. And sometimes I know that when people think about their career journey, they think of like staying in the same sort of industry, the same type of role and just continuing to move up and pivoting to a different type of job can be very scary sometimes for folks, what did you tell yourself to sort of convince you that, like you were making the right move by pivoting?
Yeah, I think the big thing is, focus on your purpose and your Why? Because this is the thing. Yes, you might advance faster if it's linear, and you're just going up the ladder. There was a quote in Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. And he was just talking about climbing the ladder of success. This is the thing once if you spent your entire life climbing the ladder of success, you get to the top, and you realize, Oh, shit, this is not where I wanted to be. You just wasted your entire life. And so I've changed the way I've seen things where I just looked at what are my core values? What's important to me? What kind of life do I want to live, and just kind of base it on that. So I'll give you an example is when I built community of SEVEN, I had a realization because I thought fortune was my dream job. And I just got laid off. And I did a lot of soul searching and figured out what what's important to me. And I realized that my four core values was my family, and my friends, who are my chosen family, my faith, helping people and freedom. None of the jobs I've had, in the past, at least decade, fulfilled any of that. Wow. Because even with fortune, you know, like I was working till 10-11 o'clock at night. So family is the most important thing to me. And I only saw my daughter in the weekend, there's a disconnect, if one of my focus is service and leadership, or like, you know, helping others. But I'm really just helping a company make money that is not in line with my values. If you focus on your core values, and what is important to you, and your title, the company you work for, the industry you're in is irrelevant. Everything should be based on the life you want to live. In the past, I would choose jobs based on it pays this much, or it was this title, or I get to be on the C-suite or the executive team. And then what I turned around was, instead of basing it first on what profession I wanted to be in, I based it on, what kind of life do I want to live, I want to live a life where I'm spending time with my daughter, where I'm helping people. It was at that point where I really dug into my values that I realized I had needed to start my own business. Because what I wanted, wasn't out there. So I needed to create it.
Gotcha, gotcha. You know, another question we usually ask guests that we have on the podcast is about work-life balance, do you feel that you're sort of life is more in balance I guess now, since you've started, you know, your own company and are doing what you want to do, which is, you know, connected to your purpose and your mission and your beliefs and your values.
Most definitely. And this is the first time I felt like where I was, had to work life balance, because I built my company based on my values and my family, and what was important to me and my schedule, and I don't take clients I don't have the same values with and that's fine. Right. And I've created a business that is aligned and built around my values. So this is the first time ever, and we might 40s where I feel like I have work-life balance.
Well, Lan congratulations to you on that. Because I know it's something that we talk about a lot on the podcast, it's something that obviously a lot of people struggle with. And when you can find that, I think it's super important. It just makes just makes your overall life better. I think
so true. It's so true. And it just makes every decision so much clear. Yeah, when you kind of use your values as your north star. I'll give you an example of one of the executives, that's part of our community. You know, she's the C-suite executive, she got this role that would have paid her tons of money would have to move in and the executive team. And the thing was it was for the tobacco industry. And she was so quick allied with her values that she said no, I can't say yes, because it doesn't align with my values of health of other various factors as well. But when you're so aligned with your values, decisions that even might seem tantalizing because of pay or title or whatnot, you're what you know, the answer is no. And it makes everything so much easier when you're so aligned, you're closely aligned with your values, because it's easier to kind of identify opportunities that are fit or not. And in the past, I used to kind of base it on, well, what's the pay like? What's the title? What are the options that I'm going to get? Which has nothing to base with your happiness?
Right? Or, like, I've been in positions where I've traveled 80% of the time. It's like, how are you gonna really live a life of work life balance, if you're always gone from your family?
Fair point. Fair point. All right. Now, fun question. I love asking every guest that we have on the podcast, which is to give us the top three apps on your phone. But you cannot name email, calendar or text messaging?
No, that's a good one. I'm Calm, which is like the meditation app, which I love. And I'm so I'm a genius. Because four or five years ago, before anyone knew who they were, I bought a lifetime membership for like $100 bucks nice. score!
our company LiveIntent. In turn, we actually just sponsored to have for every employee at the company
op, it makes such a big difference. I use it when i wake up in the morning, YouTube, because I use YouTube like my audiobooks. Like I use YouTube for like, you know, just content like while I'm walking in Waze, of course, Waze because I always get lost, like, That's like my GPS. So those are like the three apps I probably use the most.
There you go. Yeah. Well Lan, thanks for joining us. Our audience often likes to stay in touch or follow you or, or be able to reach out every once in a while. Where can our audience find you? And how can they stay in touch?
Yeah, so they can follow me on LinkedIn. So it's Lan Phan and just find me there. Also follow the community of SEVEN page on LinkedIn and Facebook. I always give the micro learnings every day. You know, that's kind of like a leadership training for everyone. And then https://www.communityofseven.com/.
Thanks again to our friends at marketing edge for sponsoring our podcast. And thanks again Lan for joining us. Find more episodes. Where do you find all your audio and video, just search Minority Report Podcast and look for the logo. Thanks Lan!