Business leaders should always be at least two steps ahead of clients. They hire you because they trust you. Anticipate their needs, and think critically.
Ania Rodriguez has advised Fortune 1000 companies around the world on the topics of user interface design, product design, and user research for nearly two decades. Her company, Key Lime Interactive, masterminds all things usability for web, mobile, tablet, and medical devices using both qualitative and quantitative research methods.
Known for her focus on quality and actionable results, Ania has helped the Key Lime Interactive team achieve double-digit growth over the past six years to become the leading user experience research firm in the U.S. She manages strategic relationships with some of her company’s key accounts, including Citigroup, Coca-Cola Co., GE Healthcare, and Intel Corp. Her expertise spans customer experience strategy, usability testing, competitive research, personas, journey mapping, medical human factors, electronic health records certification for meaningful use, wearables, and mobile.
In March, Ania earned an Enterprising Women of the Year Award, one of the most prestigious recognition programs for women business owners. Ania was also named to the South Florida Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of 2014 for her ability to demonstrate exceptional business savvy, company leadership, and community engagement. She frequently presents at conferences and online symposiums and enjoys helping her team excel at the user experience.
Ania holds a bachelor’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University and a master’s degree from the University of Miami in industrial engineering with a concentration in human factors. She also has professional affiliations with User Experience Professionals Association, American Marketing Association, and Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, where she serves as the program chair for the Internet group.
As a mother of two children, Vanessa and Max, Ania is an inspiration to young women with dreams of pursuing their own businesses while juggling family life.
Where did the idea for Key Lime Interactive come from?
It was January 20, 2009, and I was at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition because the organizers had extended a complimentary ticket. After letting my team go at my previous job, I was also laid off four weeks before the conference (three weeks after having my first baby). I had two choices: network to find a new job or network to find a project.
It was also the day of President Obama’s inauguration, and the organizers had stopped the conference to broadcast his live speech. I sat there so inspired that I turned to my new friend and said, “I’m going to start my own business.” I literally got up, went to the hallway, called my husband, and told him to go to sunbiz.org and start a new company for me. He asked what he should name it, and I asked for three choices. He rambled off three options, and I settled on Key Lime Interactive because it sounded fresh and tied back to South Florida.
I then proceeded to create business cards at the conference and print them at the onsite FedEx. While no business came out of the conference, three months later, we started a project with our first client, ESPN. Today, we’ve worked with more than 50 Fortune 500 companies, including Anthropologie, Belk, Citi, Norwegian Cruise Line, and FedEx.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
On my drive to work, I listen to one of my audiobooks or a TED Talk via my Bluetooth car speakers. Then, I meet with my senior vice president to discuss strategic or tactical needs for 15 to 20 minutes. As we continue to experience high growth, these conversations allow us to share ways to improve operations, sales, hiring, employee retention, project profitability, new offerings, etc.
Following that, I usually catch up on emails for 30 minutes before taking a break to check in with a few employees who have pinged me. Then, I usually call one or two clients to follow up on project work.
I tend to eat lunch at my desk, but my marketing person often comes in to discuss tactical marketing needs, as we constantly work to improve our messaging and positioning. Our clients call these the golden nuggets. These days, we converse about our new trailblazer UX webinar panel series with thought leaders from companies including Google, Office Depot, Citigroup, Condé Nast, Intel Corp., Fitbit, and Jawbone.
How do you bring ideas to life?
At the core, we use research to make informed decisions rather than shoot from the hip. First, we gather a pod of three to four team members to do a brainstorming session and discuss the business needs and any questions this idea should answer before selecting two or three important ones.
We break off and look at current solutions by conducting online searches on Google, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and relevant secondary resources, then pitch what we learned internally.
After that, we start brainstorming potential solutions that will answer the business need as a team, using whiteboards and continued research. One person is then given the lead to create an initial wireframe to present to the team while another person creates a sketch of a marketing poster. Meanwhile, the last person creates the wireframe usability test plan that identifies key scenarios to consider during guerilla testing.
We then present the idea to another pod and gather feedback, which we incorporate into our design, marketing, and test plans. Other pods serve as our test subjects for formative usability testing before we iterate the design again.
Next, we recruit target users to participate in usability testing sessions and continue incorporating the findings and recommendations. Finally, we build and conduct agile user tests over the course of the build phase and run summative usability tests with target users for the final or near-final design.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The interaction between man and technology fascinates me. Brain-computer interfaces excite me the most, possibly because I was marveled by the latest “Big Hero 6” movie or because I still think we do too much work trying to translate our thoughts into zeros and ones.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
My superpower is knowing how to make quick decisions without overthinking every detail. My clients want actionable data quickly, not a Ph.D. thesis.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
When I was 17 years old, I had a part-time job selling products, and the business owner asked me to lunch. I thought it was to talk business, but it wasn’t. I quickly realized his intent, excused myself, and quit the next day. It taught me that I have zero tolerance for sexual harassment.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Not hire friends. If they perform poorly, it’s hard to say goodbye. If they perform really well, they want to take a piece of the pie. It’s complicated any way you look at it unless you’re willing to partner with a friend and she or he is committed to the business.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I always try my best to over-deliver. Before I talk to a new client, I research current press releases, articles, reviews on the products, stock performance, and any other relevant secondary research so I have a good preliminary understanding of their strengths and opportunities. I also send them relevant articles on important topics and add extra nuggets to their deliverables so there’s a value add in working with us. I care about my clients; business is personal to me. I treat them like I would want to be treated. Business leaders should always be at least two steps ahead of clients. They hire you because they trust you. Anticipate their needs, and think critically.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We’ve formed pods that work together on projects for a six-month period. This allows us to streamline resourcing on projects and decide whether we have the bandwidth to take on another project. Typical research projects last three to six weeks, depending on the client’s ability to be agile/nimble. Pods allow us to fill gaps across different projects without overloading one person.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Balancing being involved in high-profile accounts and managing the business. I have a client that’s grown to become a very large account and constantly demands my attention. This is challenging when you’re trying to run a business and people. At the same time, I feel thankful and want to make sure the client is attended to.
I’ve overcome this challenge by hiring an excellent project manager to be the first point of contact. Now, the client has a dedicated project manager, and I have time to write and continue to develop my brand. I should have hired her sooner. You can’t be all things to all people.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
According to the latest Yahoo Labs study, we take 47 minutes to answer an email. The average email length is 17 words for teens, 31 for adults, and 40 for those 50 and over. I wish someone would come up with an email solution that allows you to handle messages effectively rather than requiring users to overthink them.
The idea: a solution that scans your emails for tone. It would use keywords and categorize the tone as positive, negative, or neutral. As a new user, you would be asked to edit email templates you’d like to use based on tone so when you get a negative message from Debbie Downer, you can keep your cool and not stress for the next 40 minutes trying to find the perfect words to say.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection global entry application fee. I travel internationally about six to 10 times a year. The lines at the Miami International Airport are often very long. The last thing I want to do after being on an international flight is wait in line and delay seeing my family.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
My days are often spent in PowerPoint, but I occasionally have a progressive client that permits me to use Prezi to create phenomenal presentations. I love how Prezi can jazz up and animate the presentation experience. We recently implemented Asana, and it allows me to check on the status of my team members without needing to ask for an update. I also like Salesforce reports because I’m able to get an organized view of upcoming sales and projects.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Crucial Accountability: Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior” by Kerry Patterson because it helps you air out frustrations with your team in a productive way.
For example, I have an employee who doesn’t like to log his hours in QuickBooks, and I need this to bill clients. I’ve had conversations with him, but I recently applied what I learned from this book and was able to explain how this pattern is beginning to affect my relationship with him. He’s part of my senior leadership team and needs to be accountable as we grow. For the first time, I feel like he finally got it.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
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Key Lime Interactive on Twitter: @keylimeinteract