IAM1689 – CEO Helps Organizations Overcome Technology & Customer Churn Challenges to Succeed

Podcast Interview with Nicole Maaguo

Why it was selected for “CBNation Architects”: Nicole's story was motivational and how things sometimes happen and she was “pushed in the right direction.” To hear from Nicole that she tells clients that the “technology is supposed to serve you.” She helps clients to understand and leverage the technology to hit their goals.

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Nicole Maaguo Teaser 00:00

Anytime things look like they're going wrong at the moment, it's just because you can't see the bigger picture of what's meant for you. And I totally feel like that's what happened with my career and my life.

Intro 00:10

Do you want to learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and grow your business from successful entrepreneurs, startups, and CEOs without listening to a long, long, long interview? If so, you'll come to the right place. Gresham Harkless values your time and is ready to share with you. Precisely the information you're in search of. This is the I am CEO podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:37

Hello, hello, hello. This is Gresh from the I am CEO podcast and I appreciate you listening to this episode. And if you've been listening this year, we're doing something a little bit different where we're repurposing our favorite episodes under certain categories or topics that we think are gonna be extremely impactful for CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business owners.

This month is going to be about not forgetting about the human part of business. Often we forget about the human part of life. We often forget about the human part of business. So look for self-care tips, fitness, burnout, purpose, biz and personal, personal branding, motivation, drive, success, understanding your why, and of course, how important customer service is. But at the heart of it, it's all about, remembering the human part of business. So sit back and enjoy this special episode of the I am CEO podcast.

Hello, hello, hello. This is Gresh from the I am CEO podcast and I have a very special guest on the show today. I have, Nicole Maaguo of Cultivate Ink LLC. Nicole, it's awesome to have you on the show.

Nicole Maaguo 01:35

Thank you so much for inviting me. I really appreciate it.

Gresham Harkless 01:38

No problem. And what I wanted to do was just read a little bit more about Nicole so you can hear about all the awesome things that she's been able to do and accomplish. Nicole is the founder and CEO of Cultivate Ink, LLC, a boutique tech firm that helps organizations overcome technology and customer churn challenges to reach new levels of success.

Cultivate, Ink accomplishes this by elevating strategic priorities and goal setting to help customers align investment with desired outcomes. Over the course of her career, Nicole has served nonprofits, associations, software startups, and Fortune 100 companies. Nicole is also the creator of #ProjectBox, a subscription box of curated professional development for aspiring leaders.

In her spare time, Nicole advances the customer success and women in tech movements as the Co-President of PulseLocal DC and as a contributor for Mstech. Nicole, are you ready to speak to the I am CEO community?

Nicole Maaguo: 02:34

Bring it on. I'm excited.

[restrict paid=”true”]

Gresham Harkless 02:36

All right. Let's do it. The first question I had is if you could tell us a little bit more about your CEO story and what led you to start your business.

Nicole Maaguo 02:43

Absolutely. I think part of me always had the entrepreneurial bug. I actually founded my first organization in third grade. It was a Kids for Saving the Earth Club, which was sponsored by Target at the time. And over the course of that, throughout my life, I went on to found several other clubs in high school and then eventually meetups and other types of organizations. So that bug was always there within me. But I actually started out leaving college. I studied, Economics in international affairs, and I studied abroad in Uganda. I became super passionate about microfinance and I worked in microfinance after graduating until I hit a ceiling.

And even though my thesis had been on microfinance and I had done all this field-based research in Uganda, I was told I needed investment banking experience in the US before I could move over into managing microfinance investments. So I moved to San Francisco like any enterprising person would, and I tried to get that experience on my resume. I hit a lot of roadblocks, especially applying for jobs in that field. I started to feel like maybe I should change my name to Cole instead of going by Nicole because I was feeling a little bit of gender discrimination in the hiring process. I finally got a couple of job offers going into Christmas, but when we came back from the holidays in January, a formal written offer never came through and was low unbeknownst to me, but there were bigger things in the environment turning at that time. I went ahead and married my fiance who had moved to San Francisco with me.

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We found out, we were expecting, and decided to move back to the Midwest, and within a couple of months actually of getting back to the Midwest, this was around summer 2007, we found out, as did the rest of the nation, that Bear Stearns was in really bad financial trouble. And the reason my job offers had dissipated was because the financial industry was starting to collapse in on itself. So that turned out to be devastating at the time, but it turned out to be an amazing thing for me because by not going into investment banking, I was open to go into software development. I took a job at Rotary International, which was back into my microfinance space, thinking I would eventually get into grant-making, but ended up in software development at Rotary International, doing a lot of their custom builds, and I just loved it.

It really blended creativity and problem-solving for me in a way that other things hadn't. And so that kind of became my career path going forward. It led me to the software startups that I worked at later on and it really let me do things in ways I never would've thought possible. My last software company I was at, I was recruited into when I was eight months pregnant and immediately jumped on a plane to fly to London for training before I was too far along in the pregnancy and couldn't fly anymore. And those are things that are just not really open to women a lot of times, but because of the software industry, that was an opportunity for me. So my last software company, it was purchased, it was acquired, and I decided, this is it. This is the time I've always known I wanted to eventually go do something on my own, and this is a great opportunity to do that.

Gresham Harkless 05:38

Awesome, awesome, awesome. Well, that definitely sounds like a rollercoaster, so I'm sorry to hear that you went through all of that, but it seems like you were pushed in the right direction. Is that correct to say?

Nicole Maaguo 05:48

Absolutely. Anytime things look like they're going wrong at the moment, it's just because you can't see the bigger picture of what's meant for you. And I totally feel like that's what happened with my career and my life.

Gresham Harkless 05:59

Yeah, that makes perfect sense and that's a good reminder for everybody that might be going through the downs that there is always light at the end of the tunnel and just might be redirecting you towards something that's even better. So, I appreciate you sharing that with us. I wanted to drill down a little bit deeper and hear a little bit more about what you're doing with Cultivate Ink and how you're helping out these tech companies.

Nicole Maaguo 06:16

Yeah, absolutely. Well, how we help our clients really depends on which type of a client I'm working with because right now we have two main types of clients. So the first is businesses or other organizations that are looking for help overcoming technology challenges, specifically in regards to software or multi-system websites. So a lot of times these clients have outgrown their current solutions or their needs have evolved and they're looking for a partner to come in and help them. That might mean helping them transform the challenge into an opportunity such as overseeing the development of a new software product or app. Or it could mean helping enhance a current product or a website to better serve them.

For our other clientele which is largely aspiring female leaders, we have that monthly subscription box and it delivers curated leadership lessons to help ambitious women unlock the leader within themselves, and help overcome any imposter syndrome they might be feeling and self-doubt. Each lesson includes a mastery book for them, a Skill Mastery workbook to help them really internalize the lesson, and then some additional gifts designed to enhance habit development and help keep them motivated and inspired.

Gresham Harkless 07:15

Nice. I love that. And obviously, getting the opportunity to get that every single month, I'm sure definitely helps out as far as like building that confidence, not just to go and do you know, what we are destined to do and hoping to do as leaders, but also understanding exactly how to do it.

Nicole Maaguo 07:29

Absolutely. And it helps them take their personal development and personal growth and just put it on autopilot because they know every month a new great lesson's gonna appear in the mail.

Gresham Harkless 07:38

There you go. I love that. So now I wanted to ask you for your secret sauce, it might be just for you or it might be both of your organizations, but, what do you feel like separates you or differentiates you?

Nicole Maaguo 07:48

I think what really sets Cultivate Ink's aside is the customer success mentality. It really permeates every aspect of the company and the services that we offer. A lot of companies will make sure that the software they deliver meets the basic requirements needed to complete the project, but we'll come alongside our clients and start truly understanding their strategic priorities and then we use those priorities to inform the project from day one all the way through day done.

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Making sure we're setting goals and we're meeting the client's vision, it's getting realized, and it's not just another item getting checked off a list. There are really no silver bullets in software development. But there are companies out there like Cultivate Ink that put you at the heart of the technology solution that's delivered.

Gresham Harkless 08:24

Yeah, that makes perfect sense. And that's like the most important thing to, like you said, be at the heart because, it helps make sure that you're reaching your goals as an organization. This is because at the end of the day when you peel back the onion, that's what these organizations are trying to do and try to leverage as much of those platforms in order to do that. But having organizations to lean on like you and your organization definitely I'm sure help out with that.

Nicole Maaguo 08:42

Yeah, definitely. And people sometimes forget that technology is supposed to serve them, not the other way around. So we make sure that those prioritizations are clear.

Gresham Harkless 08:50

Yeah. Well thank you for that reminder too, because sometimes I feel that way as well. So I wanted to switch gears a little bit and ask you for what I call a CEO hack. And this might be a resource, like an app, a book or a habit that you have that makes you more effective and efficient as a CEO.

Nicole Maaguo 09:05

Yeah, so I know CEOs are always looking for ROI but I think one important thing is to start developing your PROTI, and I call that your Personal Return on Time Invested. It's easy to look at other people's work and see opportunities for business process improvement, but when you look at your own work, it's so close to you, it's hard to see those areas where you could be improving. So anytime you do something repeatedly, maybe more than three or four times a month, I like to try to scrutinize the process that I'm using and see if there are ways that I can automate it.

I can streamline it or I could offload it to others completely. I feel like as a CEO, my time is the most valuable thing I have, and if I don't use it carefully, I'm not gonna get any more of it. So I try to invest in activities today that will help me free up time in the future. And I don't stop at work. I try to apply the same process to household management at home. So we recently got a Eufy robot vacuum, and now it cleans the house, and the floors for us twice a day. That's one less thing that anybody in my house has to do.

So I think it's really important to protect the time you have so that you can spend it with your family on your personal development, on your mindset. And the only way you're gonna do that is by saving time in other aspects of your work and home life.

Gresham Harkless 10:09

Yeah, I love that. And I love that perspective because you never really, as you said, like the Eufy vacuum, all those little minutes add up and they're not only just minutes, but it's things that you have to worry about, oh, I didn't vacuum or I didn't do X, Y, and Z. But like you said, if you're doing it three or four times, a week or a month or a day or whatever those might be things that you can automate and take off your plate, so to speak, so you can focus on like, I guess level things.

Nicole Maaguo 10:31

Exactly. Or even just having the time to go for a run in the afternoon if that's something you enjoy.

Gresham Harkless 10:36

Exactly, exactly. And, now I wanted to ask you for what I call a CEO nugget. And this might be a word of wisdom or piece of advice or something that you might tell your younger business self.

Nicole Maaguo 10:47

Yeah. So I think that for me and this is really a core value of our company as well, it comes down to practicing everyday generosity. As a CEO you have a fiduciary responsibility to set high-value contracts, and I'm not talking about abandoning the need to get your company a good deal. I'm really talking about targeted random acts of kindness and directing those toward your employees, your partners, and your clients. Corporate gifting and corporate compassion, I think need to make a bit of a revival.

People focus on sending out branded trinkets to clients during the holiday, but instead, they should really be focusing on sending a pair of baby booties to the client that just had their first kid, or sending a partner a handwritten note to let them know how much you appreciate the partnership. You can be generous with your team by throwing them a party if they hit a major milestone, or just be approachable if one of your employees needs to talk. I think that generosity is really important to help you stay humble. It'll help you stay grateful. It can prevent analysis paralysis, and it will enable you to serve those around you until they reach success. Because it really is the little things that matter.

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Gresham Harkless 11:43

Yeah. And people start to pay attention to those little things and I always mess up the quote, but people don't know how much you you care until they show them how much you care. Always mess that up. But it's just, at the end of the day, those little small things that people do that extend beyond like you said, just the trinket and the branded trinkets that go so much farther that lets you remind you, your organization, the people within your organization and also your clients, that you do actually care.

Nicole Maaguo 12:04

Exactly. And it's one of those things that sometimes being generous, your time can be the most generous thing you have to offer because we are all pressed for it. So it doesn't always have to cost a lot of money. It's really the thought that matters.

Gresham Harkless 12:16

Very true. Awesome. And now I wanted to ask you my absolute favorite question, which is the definition of being a CEO. And we're hoping to have different quote-unquote CEOs on this show. So I wanted to ask you specifically, what does being a CEO mean to you?

Nicole Maaguo 12:29

I think first and foremost, the CEO needs to be the company's visionary in defining the road ahead. I've been at software startups where the CEO had brought the company out but then started to let other people drive the vision and it doesn't really work very well after a certain point in time.

So as the CEO, I think you really have to be forcing yourself to stay on that visionary road and help to illuminate the path for everyone around you. I think you need to be the one that's defining and modeling the company values. It's great to say that you encourage employees to take a vacation, but if they never see you taking a vacation, they're not gonna feel like they're capable of following that.

And I think most importantly, the CEO always has to be the chief customer advocate. Again, where the bottom line is concerned. If employees don't see you doing what's in the customer's best interest, they're not gonna model that behavior.

Gresham Harkless 13:18

Exactly, exactly. Making sure that you're being a leader and you're practicing what you preach and whether you know it or not, everyone's paying attention. Especially if you have that quote and quote CEO title or that leadership role. You are manifesting whatever it is that you  say or whatever you do, people are gonna be listening to and paying attention to. So I think that's a phenomenal definition.

Nicole Maaguo 13:35

Thank you.

Gresham Harkless 13:36

No problem. And Nicole, I truly appreciate you for taking some time out of your schedule. What I wanted to do was pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there is anything additional you wanted to let our readers and our listeners know about you and your business. And also, of course, how to subscribe to Project Box.

Nicole Maaguo 13:49

Yeah, I would just say, For anyone out there, you're gonna hit roadblocks. It's not about the roadblock, it's about how you persevere and overcome it. Life is always going to throw those in your way, and the people that really succeed in business and in life, in general, are the ones that are able to take those and try to find the perspective out of them so that they can keep moving forward.

If you wanna get in touch with me, the easiest way to do that is through Instagram. our Instagram is CultivateInk_projectbox. Or you can find us online at And if you're in the DC area, we would always love to have you at one of our Pulse local events, and you can find information about that on our website.

Gresham Harkless 14:35

Awesome. Well, thank you so much again, Nicole. I appreciate everything that you're doing and I hope you have a phenomenal rest of the day.

Nicole Maaguo 14:41

Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Outro 14:44

Thank you for listening to the I am CEO podcast, powered by Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at I am CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community. Be sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, and everywhere you listen to podcasts.

Subscribe and leave us a five-star rating. Grab CEO gear This has been the I am CEO podcast with Gresham Harkless. Thank you for listening.


Dave Bonachita - CBNation Writer

This is a post from a CBNation team member. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand. We are focused on increasing the success rate. We create content and information focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(, podcasts, ( and videos ( CBNation is proudly powered by Blue16 Media.

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