Joanne Gouaux

Listen with the intent of understanding.


A visionary with a passion for spearheading efforts that improve the human condition, Joanne is a proven, accomplished leader and social entrepreneur with more than 15 years of experience creating companies and programs, developing strategy, and solving big problems to drive results. She is deeply skilled in uncovering and fixing serious organizational, productivity, and systemic problems in complex work environments in both business and nonprofits. Joanne is CEO of Morning Angel Communications and currently serves as the Acting Chair of the Board of Directors for My New Red Shoes, and as a certified mentor of The United Nations Association of the USA, San Francisco Chapter.

Where did the idea for Morning Angel come from?

Morning Angel is a communication agency designed with the principles of a social enterprise. Our specialty is languages, communication and interpersonal harmony.

The idea for Morning Angel came to us in the summer of 2018. It was around the time the family separation policy and child detention center in Brownsville first made headlines. We were horrified. We also recognized unfair and unnecessary containment is a global phenomenon. Humanity must find common ground amid the struggle for influence, survival and securing the places we call “home.” The effects of climate change will continue unfolding making immigration matters even more complex. In the meantime, people need opportunities and a means to meaningfully participate in decision-making about their lives.

We create innovative solutions to policies, programs, and processes that commonly lead to misunderstanding. We’re experts at operating within a field while being outside of it. Our practice centers on understanding others and being sensitive to their beliefs, ideas, feelings, intentions, motivations, and opinions to better meet society’s most pressing social and cultural challenges.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Good communicators are the social glue that keeps groups together. I’m where I need to be, whatever that means for the day. That’s my way of saying, I don’t have a typical day in terms of fixed format. I start my morning with reading. I read and take notes, jotting down ideas I might want to research or revisit later.

I try not to be affected by everyday movements around me and keep my eye on long term goals. It can be challenging to control the signal to noise ratio. Too many meetings, constant updates from social media and general email static can take attention away from deeper thinking. Unless an email merits an immediate response due to urgency, I typically respond either at the end of the day or in the morning.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Bringing ideas to life is an adventure. Sometimes getting started can be the hardest part. Exercise helps. Walk, hike, run, row, climb stairs, hit tennis balls – movement helps me think more clearly.

I also give myself pep-talks. The dialogue goes something like this:
Joanna, we have to be brave. Don’t be afraid to invest time in building something that may not become a final product. Trust yourself and the process. Let the ideas flow and evolve to become what it needs to be. There are times when it’s best to go it alone, but it’s also not necessary. Stay focused. Don’t overthink it and get discouraged. When the time is right, reach out to others, share the idea and ask for their insights, and recommendations or introductions to other people who might also be interested in the idea.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’m drawn to the trend toward flat organizational structures where everyone in a company is a leader. Henry De Sio, Global Chair of Ashoka’s Framework Change describes this shift from top-down, hierarchy style institutions and silos to one where “everyone is a changemaker.” I personally enjoy building relationships with people, discovering their strengths and finding ways to apply those qualities toward achieving broader goals. I’m happiest in organizations where people are encouraged to influence, persuade and motivate each other.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Listening is a skill that evolves with practice, and over time, becomes a habit. I do my best to listen with the intent of understanding. Notice what’s not being said. Pay attention to non-verbal communication. I enjoy listening to people, learning about their aspirations, challenges, hopes, and fears. When we listen to people – clients or colleagues – we’re more likely to avoid costly misunderstandings (decreased productivity), gain meaningful feedback, and increase productivity.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Small ideas can lead to world-changing businesses. Don’t let the shadow of “big ideas” detour you from exploring possibilities. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. It’s the future of clean energy.  As of last summer, there were over 5,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road in California. Germany and Japan actually have more hydrogen stations, but California has more cars on the road.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?


What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Adaptability is key to building capacity and longevity. Learning from peer experiences has helped us build our service model to scale. I believe our ability to adapt to change is the single most important leadership competency of our age.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

When we first started Morning Angel we designed a prototype of a software system we thought we would have to build from scratch. It was discouraging because we really couldn’t justify the cost. We spent several weeks on the prototype only to set it on the shelf. Several months later we discovered an all-inclusive software system that had all the features we wanted already built in. The failure? We didn’t ask for help. Had we gone to an expert in the field in the first place, we would have saved weeks of designing a prototype. That said, creating the prototype allowed us to compile all the features we “thought” needed. We chalked it up to a learning experience.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Research suggests women have fewer ties to successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists than men. That’s a great business opportunity. I propose creating a social enterprise that facilitates connecting global social entrepreneurs and venture capitalists among women. Research suggests the gender of the VC may influence evaluations of entrepreneurs. The study found that VC firms with women partners are more likely than VC firms without women partners to provide funding to women-led ventures. One goal of the business would be to increase the number of women VCs to help raise the representation of women in high-tech entrepreneurship.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Buying tickets to industry conferences. Being in a learning environment can help spark excitement about possibilities, gain fresh perspectives and get a sense of industry trends.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I’d be lost without my google calendar. I use it to schedule all of my work and personal activities.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I recommend everyone reads The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit

Misunderstandings are the root of most conflict. While we might hope that communication will evolve with the advancement of technology and society, the level of conflict and human suffering in the world indicates that technology is actually making matters worse in some cases. We’re more connected than ever, but we seem further from mutual understanding. Solnit’s writing has an inclusive way of questioning the status quo. The book opens with a short history on silence and the importance of calling things by their true name. She advocates for us to speak the truth to the best of our ability.

What is your favorite quote?

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
– Coco Chanel

Key Learnings:

  • Misunderstandings are opportunities to bring people together
  • Listen with the intent of understanding
  • Notice what’s not being said
  • Small ideas can lead to world-changing businesses
  • Ask for direction and guidance when you need it