Tiasia O’Brien

Founder of Seam Social Labs

Tiasia O’Brien is a third-time social entrepreneur with a decade of professional experience in leading strategic communications, fundraising, business development, and public-private initiatives. She is the founder of Seam Social Labs, a mission-driven company working to empower disinvested communities. Seam Social Lab’s survey tool, co:census (formerly Synergize Insights) is an inclusive survey and polling software pioneering the collection and analysis of public sentiments for organizations. Our SMS surveys are developed in up to 50 languages and our sentiments analysis provides deep insights on constituent needs, conditions, and experiences to deliver transformational outcomes.

Tiasia’s experience in working with community-based organizations and small businesses has given her deep insights into the complex nature of economic development. Academically, Tiasia is a Qualitative Research Scientist with an Advanced Diploma in Data Analytics from NYU and an M.A. in Sociology from The New School, where she researched civic and community innovations to resolve social inequalities. Her research examines how models of civic engagement are working for low wealth communities. She coined the term, Civic Gap, which highlights the correlation between wealth and civic engagement. Her recent research focused on post-Great Migration Harlem in the early 1900s political engagement in Sugar Hill and Harlem Proper.

Where did the idea for Seam Social Labs come from?

Seam Social Labs launched as a consulting service for the public sector. However, after researching revitalizing areas, I realized something was missing —surveying tools did not provide the level of efficiency she needed to engage the public in these economically distressed areas truly. It was time for me to consider how tech can help.

I met my co-founder, Michelle Brown, in late 2018. We both discussed their passions about supporting revitalizing communities because they first hand experienced the gentrification in their respective childhood neighborhoods of Bushwick and Miami Gardens. After several conversations and a week-long innovation sprint, we developed the initial idea for what would evolve into co:census. Since then, our team & product have pivoted, but our mission remains the same to empower disinvested communities.

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

I start my days around 9 am by getting ready and walking my dog, Mayhem. I then focus on emails and outreach to potential clients and this is how most of my day goes. I spend about 80% of my week in meetings. Midday, I check in with my team via Slack, and I close out my “unofficial” workday with emails again. I usually spend time on the couch with my husband watching tv in the evening; this is sometimes done while researching sales leads. Football season makes this so much easier because my husband is focused on his fantasy games.

How do you bring ideas to life?

When we have an idea for our product through my team, my focus is on two areas: priority and execution. So my questions are always, “do we need this right now?” and “how can we make that work while maintaining our key focus?”. If we can answer those questions, we develop a plan where every team member who needs to be involved has a role. We maintain efficiency and flexibility in designing new ideas and we always bring ideas to life based on real customer needs. Once our plan is developed with a timeline, everybody moves! We are heavily deadline-focused and collaborative, and we pride ourselves on being a nimble, quick-thinking team.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Mesh grids. Not a trend, but I have been reading a lot about this and am very interested.

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

Using software to help me be more productive, I use Super Human for emails and Clockwise for my calendar.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Never back down from an idea you believe in, and that can make the world better. And do not shrink yourself to be smaller, be who you dream to be!

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

Cheese is the best food on earth.

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

Talk to my team, investors, and board. Nothing is possible without your key stakeholders. Being a leader means I need to ensure everyone understands our vision and collaborate to determine who we get there. Having constant communication helps me understand our stakeholders better, but it also ensures everyone is reaching the same goals and milestones. Sometimes this could be challenging, but the more clear with communication you are, the better.

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

Oddly enough, it’s finding my stride as a CEO. I spent my first year and a half in a bit of doubt and taking a lot of feedback from others internally. Quite often, especially for startups, it is hard to sort feedback into what is worth input and what is not. I spent time doubting myself and unsure which feedback points were worthy of using, and it was honestly exhausting. When I decided to follow my gut and focus on our product, letting data and our users guide our growth, our business naturally began to grow. Our north star is our brand promise: co:census pioneers community insights by empowering people. If an idea does not fulfill this purpose, then we do not use it.

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

Last year was very tough for our business. We just started and were attempting to build a product for the first time. I had confirmation from a funder that they were interested in investing in us and decided to proceed with hiring to prepare to scale. However, last-minute, this funder changed their mind leaving me with a team and no resources. It was a hard hit and I had to deal with the age-old lesson of “the deal is not sealed until you have a signature.” I took a month to think about my next move and decided to do a company “reset,” letting new team members go. This part was incredibly hard on me but my focus stayed on how to move forward. We adjusted our business model, secured nearly $400,000 in investments, hired a new team, and business began booming.

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

Free ideas? Here is one: bring internet access to communities in need specifically distressed communities. If you are willing to battle “big telecom,” it is a very profitable opportunity to research mesh grids more. If anyone has a good plan to execute this, I will always hear a pitch and invest myself.

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

I recently spent money on skincare items at Kiehl’s. It’s worth it because being indoors most of the time due to Covid-19 has made me think of new self-care methods. My latest self-care kick is skincare!

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

I mentioned SuperHuman and Clockwise earlier. Also, Airtable is amazing!

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

Arlan Hamilton’s “It’s About Damn Time

What is your favorite quote?

“Your silence will not protect you.” – Audre Lorde.

Key Learnings:

  • Innovators have great ideas.
  • Entrepreneurs never give up.
  • Thomas Edison once said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time”. I am glad to have shared more on why I never back down with IdeaMensch.