Believe your inner voice. Try things, create, and try out with real people in the real world.
Max Masure (they/them) is a gender inclusion strategist and co-founder of Argo Collective. They train organizations to use creativity, empathy and collaboration to tackle gender inclusion challenges by helping them find actionable solutions for their own issues, combining the power of Design Thinking Methodology and their lived experience as a transgender nonbinary person.
They started their career working as a User Experience and Design lead, guiding Design Thinking workshops for an array of organizations, from startups to Fortune 50 companies. They led Design Thinking workshops for the innovation departments of Essilor and Johnson & Johnson, worked with Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse on award-winning mobile banking tools and co-created the first online therapy app, Talkspace, which has successfully helped thousands of individuals connect with an online support system.
At the time, they were perceived as a woman.
When they started to live their life authentically as a transgender nonbinary person, it shifted their entire world. They realized that they could be the change and solve gender inclusion issues using their very unique perspective in the society. That’s how they co-founded Argo Collective.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
When I started to live authentically as a transgender nonbinary person, it shifted my entire world. One day at a cafe, the barista shouted my very feminine birth name, instead of my name Max, to tell me my order was ready because they used the name on my credit card and assumed I was using that name. I felt mortified and unsafe, being outed as a transgender person in a public space. I started to think of solutions to avoid to put transgender people at risk, how the system could be hacked and improved to be genuinely inclusive. I realized I could be the change and improve gender inclusion issues using my unique perspective in the society and the Design Thinking Workshops methodology I practiced with startups for many years. That’s how I co-founded Argo Collective with Jay Bendett.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I have the privilege of having been selected to be part of The Wing coworking space in Dumbo, Brooklyn, through their scholarship program. So I have that beautiful and inspiring space to work from now. I still work from home about two days a week.
I start my day by listing the six things I have to do that day, including personal tasks. I have some burn out history, so I am cautious with overwhelming myself and by setting a precise reachable goal every morning. I feel satisfied when I close my computer at the end of the day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I struggled with controlling my creativity all my life. As I never understood where my ideas were coming from, it always gave me the anxiety of “what if I run out of ideas?”. The way I see this now is that ideas come from solving problems, and I am good at solving problems. So I focus on the issues I have or others have, and I start a process of analysis, observation, and then how to address what I discovered. I use Design Thinking in all aspects of my life!
What’s one trend that excites you?
Solving problems that matter, for real. Like discrimination in tech: how we create for people who look like us, therefore many products that launched in the past two decades are aimed at cisgender white male persons. I mean Siri understands me now that I have a deeper voice! I was unable to use it when I had high pitch voice… I also see that with AI and algorithms that don’t work with darker skin like facial recognition.
I am excited to be able to advocate for those issues and encourage tech companies to focus on solving those humans problems, so we don’t end up with more and more tech products that only serve a tiny percentage of the planet.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I take risks. I know that confidence builds up with trying things and learning when it didn’t work. I never settle into a routine more than three months; I explore new ways to improve myself all the time. Moreover, I allow myself to make mistakes- over my 15 years of working as an entrepreneur, everything I did, even bad choices, brought me so much knowledge for the next steps I was going to overcome.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Believe your inner voice. Try things, create, and try out with real people in the real world. Don’t stay too long alone with your thoughts- make stuff without planning too much ahead. Just do and learn from what people will do with it.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Gender binary (women/men) is limiting ourselves. We’ve been raised with this idea that girls have a limited set of actions they can do while girls and boys should grow up just as “kids.” The more we let a child explore themself, the sooner they will find their full potential. I found mine at 36 years old, and I can only think of all the beautiful things I could have made instead of struggling about finding myself.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I talk about my struggles, and I listen to other voices. I embrace my vulnerability, and that’s how I connect deeper with kindred people. That’s how I found my co-founder and many of our thought partners.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I discovered a website called www.helpareporterout.com where you receive inquiries from journalists looking for people to interview for the stories they are currently writing. I pitched a few journalists and got featured on national website news which gave us more exposure and visibility.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One of our first workshops at Argo Collective was based a lot on Design Thinking where you take a problem, and you solve it, collaboratively, sharing ideas, and using empathy to try to understand that a user might feel when going through this pain point. I applied that in my first version of a gender inclusion workshop. What I realized by running it with transgender and nonbinary individuals is that I was using their emotional labor and using anxious scenarios of situations they whole went through in their life. I felt guilty for a long time as my goal was to empower and support this community, not use their emotional labor to solve problems! I reworked the scenarios with my co-founder to turn those oppressions moments into best practices and positive role model. We now showcase good behavior in the workplace, and that felt so much better for the audience as well as for us, facilitators. Trying, continually reevaluating, improving.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
An algorithm that gives $1 to social impact organizations like Planned Parenthood and Black Lives Matter every time Trump says something that’s discriminating.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Two tickets for the science museum in Chicago with my kid. This place is amazing, and we only went through maybe 40% of what there is to see! Spending time immersed in my kid’s world makes me feel extremely relaxed and happy. I force myself to not use my phone around them too much and entirely forget about the adult world when I am with them.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I am entirely dependent on Trello! It’s a very flexible and collaborative to-do list (Kanban). I started using it the year they launched it and every project – personal or professional – I had since then has been managed through Trello. I use it to plan my year, months, weeks and day as well as catching ideas for later.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Conflict is not abuse” by Sarah Schulman has a great chapter about how we can improve our relationships by talking on the phone and in-person instead of using broken communication through text messages and emails. It changed my way of handling tricky discussions and be more open and vulnerable about my feelings.
What is your favorite quote?
“Dark times lie ahead of us, and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” — Albus Dumbledore
I see this a lot in the diversity and inclusion field: it is not easy to implement change in company culture. However, this is what’s right to do. People working in a company deserves respect and the feeling that they belong. The easy path is to do nothing until something hurtful or discriminating happens.
• Focus on what you achieved versus what’s left to do. As entrepreneurs, we need to keep that motivation on even when the climbing is rough. You make some progress every day, remember that and not only how far you have left to the top of the mountain.
• Success and learn. At Argo, we try to do a weekly assessment of what happened in the past week: the achievements we had as well as what we failed, which we name “learning moments.” It’s only progress after all! Moreover, it pays off: we see our evolution through those lines in a spreadsheet, and it’s rewarding to have a place where we track our struggles and fears and see how it became a winning moment after all.
• Self-care. Burning out is very easy when you are passionate about your work. Keeping at least one or two evenings each week for activities with family or friends is crucial to evolving personally as much as professionally.
• Humans. Improve your communication skills to be a better human with your colleagues, clients, partners as well as handling conflicts in a healthier way. Check out the book “Conflict is not abuse” by Sarah Schulman.
• Vulnerability. Get stronger and deeper connections by being transparent about your weaknesses and by listening to others around you.
• Learning. Keep your brain in a learner mindset and not an “I want to be right” mindset. Ask opinions and feedback around you and grow from others’ inputs. If you fly alone, you go faster, but if you fly with a flock, you go further away.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.