…The strategy is to help people become their best selves, but make it fun and easy to do. We help people break through their own self-imposed ‘rules of behavior’ and hard wiring in their brain.
In the world of business and within every industry, there are forward-thinking leaders who go against the status quo and find success. Their courage to take risks, embrace innovation, and inspire collaboration separates them from the competition. Until 2002, Apple’s famous slogan was “Think Different”. This attitude likely helped them become one of the most successful organizations in history. This interview series aims to showcase visionary leaders and their “status quo-breaking” approach to doing business. As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing: Christine Heckart, CEO of Xapa World.
Christine Heckart is a 30-year veteran of the tech industry with a track record of creating new products and market categories. Her latest company, Xapa World, is a mobile app that helps people “Get Filthy Enriched™” and represents a unique way to consume all forms of personal improvement and professional development. She has previously held executive management and board positions at some of the industry’s most iconic companies and was named one of the ten top strategic thinkers and 50 most powerful people in the technology industry before she was thirty, one of the Fifty Most Powerful Women in Technology, a 2016 Woman of Influence, a Top 100 Silicon Valley Female Leaders, and a 2020 Top Women in Cloud.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
As a kid, I lived in the country, far from any friends. I couldn’t stay after school for sports or socializing, because I had to catch the bus home. I was a huge Star Trek fan, and one year I decided to build an astronaut training facility in my front yard because I really wanted to be an astronaut. It had a tire swing that you could wind up and then let go, to get used to centrifugal force. You needed to hit certain points on the tire with your hands while spinning. Once you were completely dizzy, you had to do an obstacle course. The best part was that kids would get off the bus at my house to train, which meant I had playmates after school! I gave up my dream of space travel when I realized that being an astronaut in the 20th century was nothing like being in Star Trek in the 23rd century. But it taught me that if you create value for yourself and others, everyone wins.
Can you give us a glimpse into your journey into this industry and share a story about one of the most significant challenges you faced when you first started out? How did you end up resolving that challenge?
When I started in the telecom industry last century, I was really good at managing products, but less so managing people, and my job required me to manage people who didn’t report to me so that we could get products launched on time. I never really learned the right ways to drive change with and through other humans until years later when I was partnered with a change management expert at Changecast. I began to understand the need to reach people’s hearts, not just their minds. People have to see and believe in the benefits of the change — whether organizational or personal — and the benefits have to be much greater than the pain and hassle of change since very few people actually like change unless they’re driving it.
Who has been the most significant influence in your business journey, and what is the most significant lesson or insight you have learned from them?
Raj Sisodia, Dr. Neha Sangwan, and Hitesh Shah started the Conscious Business Leaders Academy, to teach the principles of conscious capitalism to CEOs. I was a graduate of the inaugural class. But everything we learned as CEOs was applicable and valuable to everyone in the company, and every human on the planet. We learned the five levels of listening, the five levels of agreement and disagreement, the need to balance stakeholder perspectives in decision-making, the role of purpose and meaning in our personal and professional lives, and so much more. The experience was transformative for me and 34 other CEOs, but it was impossible to share it all with my team, let alone everyone in my company and my family. After a successful exit from that company, I started Xapa, with the intent to democratize access to this program and many others like it. Our goal is to enrich the world, one person at a time.
Can you share a story about something specific that happened early on that you would consider a failure but ended up being a blessing in disguise or ended up being one of the most valuable lessons you had to learn on your own?
One of the most difficult times in my career happened when I was CMO at a tech company and failed utterly to fit into the executive team culture. Ultimately, I was expelled because I failed to connect at the heart level, which may sound odd, but that was very important at this company. There were three contributing factors, but the biggest one was my own (lack of) vulnerability. The company’s culture was built around leadership vulnerability, and I was coming off a string of executive roles where vulnerability was death. Now, I had transitioned into a company where it was required for success, and I struggled to make the change. It didn’t help that I was focused on a market trend that others didn’t feel would be important, and it didn’t help that I was the first new addition to the team in nearly a decade, and they were all very close. What’s interesting is that there was a checklist of all the attributes the company expected from leaders, and everyone agreed I excelled at each of the things on the list. Yet there was something more important than all the things on the checklist combined, and that’s where I failed. I left with grace, and with a huge gift of learning. It opened my eyes to how hard it is to master soft skills, especially vulnerability, and especially later in your career when many of us are conditioned by past experiences to ‘armor up’. This failure sent me on a path to build my own social and emotional skills and model them for others, and years later, to build a company that helps people everywhere to develop them. That low point became a turning point. And on a final, and happy note, one of the executives from that company was a very early investor in and supporter of my new company, Xapa.
Leading anything is hard, especially when grappling with a difficult situation where it seems that no matter what you decide, it will have a negative impact on those around you. Can you share a story about a situation you faced that required making a “hard call” or a tough decision between two paths?
I’ve spent most of my career doing the first product in a new category or being on the front end of new technology trends. The hard part about this is that you have to make decisions before there is data, and when there’s no obvious right answer. Decisions are usually uncomfortable because nothing ‘fits’ with the usual pattern or status quo, and smart people often disagree. I’ll give an example with Xapa which still causes disagreement. We help humans get more than money, we help them Get Filthy Enriched™ — by this, we mean learning the social, emotional, leadership, communication, and other skills that make for success and happiness at work and in life. How we do this is completely unique, because we’ve had to invent an experience that is fast, fun, and impactful, which turns out to be really hard to do. We have built a consumer product — it’s a 3D world with avatars, gameplay, interaction, characters, and story arcs. Yet, we plan to launch initially as a solution to help companies upskill their employees, train first-line managers, and engage teams. People are always telling us we have to ‘pick a path’ between consumer and business. Internally we debate about the push and pull between these two segments, and how to prioritize needs, as we fully understand the different go-to-market motions and feature needs. To make decisions we always go back to the most important priority: the user’s experience. If we help people to learn the skills they need to be happy, fulfilled, and successful — regardless of whether they happen to sit in a home, home office, or office — and if people want to use the product because it’s fast, fun and effective, then we will have a winning product and company. The consumer experience is the most important. Overlaying a dashboard for companies to gain insight and adding enterprise features like customized content is only important if we first achieve the primary mission to meaningfully enrich people’s lives. So the hardest decisions sometimes require that you buck convention and break the rules so you can do what you know is right for your company, situation, users, values, or whatever is at stake.
‘Successful Rule Breakers’. Why did you decide to “break the rules”? Early on, did you identify a particular problem or issue in how businesses in your industry generally operated? What specifically compelled you to address this and want to do things differently? Please share how you went about implementing those changes and the impact they had.
I built my marketing career by knowing when to break the written and unwritten rules in marketing. For example, I used cartoons, poking fun at my competitor, to build my company’s brand on a tiny fraction of the competitor's budget. I built my product career by upending status quo technologies with disruptions, launching industry-firsts in networking and entertainment. As the only woman in the room for a high percentage of my entire career, I usually had a different point of view than my peers on whatever issue was being discussed, from business strategy to risk mitigation.
All that experience comes together in Xapa, where we take rule-breaking to a whole new level. We don’t follow the accepted wisdom on anything, and it could be our downfall, but if not it will be the fuel behind our success. Xapa is an amplified game and the world’s only personal enrichment engine. It creates an entirely new form of content packaging for authors, experts, companies, celebrities, schools, charities, and more. There’s nothing that looks like Xapa in any market, but when we succeed, there will be something that looks like Xapa in every market.
In the ever-changing business landscape, how exactly do you decide when to adhere to industry norms versus “breaking the rules” and forging your own way? Can you share an example?
I think this is instinct and experience, and working from a set of first principles that’s right for your specific business or situation. I don’t think there is a formula that can be applied. Risk, luck, timing, and instinct come together to either create success or failure.
To make an impact, you have to champion change, get creative, and take risks. Please think back about the decisions you’ve made that have helped your business get to where it is today, and share your top 5 strategies or decisions that helped you succeed by doing things differently.
There are several places within Xapa where we’re breaking the traditional mold, or having to forge entirely new molding constructs.
1 . We decided to build an app inside a game.
We aren’t doing an app, or a game, or a gamified app. Instead, we’ve created the world’s first appified mobile game. This isn‘t like any personal enrichment or enterprise software you’ve ever seen, because it’s designed to work like consumer entertainment while having a measurable positive impact on individual and team performance in just a few minutes a day. Our team is made up of people from tech, entertainment, and mobile gaming, which means communication is near-impossible at times since the same word — beta test for instance — means different things to each group. We have to debate and discuss basic decisions since what we’re doing hasn’t been done before and there’s no real ‘best practice’ to apply in many areas of the business.
2 . We decided to build a platform and discovered we needed to create a new category to describe it. We don’t fit nicely into any existing category. We live where personal improvement, professional development, and employee engagement overlap, and yet we’ve carved out a white space that we think every human needs and wants, and that no one delivers well on a continuous basis. We have built a platform that can be used by experts, companies, sports teams or celebrities, universities and schools, and charities to reach and engage users, employees, customers, fans, students, and donors in new ways, by packaging experiences in a completely new format. Our goal is that the platform is used to measurably improve the lives of all the people we touch.
3 . The strategy is to help people become their best selves, but make it fun and easy to do. We help people break through their own self-imposed ‘rules of behavior’ and hard wiring in their brains. For example, we can help you move from a fixed to a growth mindset, from a framework of scarcity to one of abundance, from fear to trust, from anxious to confident, from self-conscious to self-aware, or just about anything else that holds you back from achieving your full potential. One of our users reported that after a particularly bad week, her husband asked her “What’s going on with you? I would have expected at least a few meltdowns this week.” Her answer? “Xapa.” Creating something that people want to use, but something that also creates real value when they use it, has turned out to be really hard.
4 . We have discovered surprising things about the disengagement problem in the workforce. We believe that the current levels of high employee disengagement are NOT about their work ethics (or their lack of it) but about our ethics at work (or lack thereof). And the reason why people work — or don’t — has changed dramatically over the past five years. Just like marriage, work has followed the trajectory of transaction, to love, to self-actualization. In each case, the driver 100 years ago was transactional, then were expected to love our spouse and our work, and now love isn’t enough. Today people marry only if their intended will support their hopes and dreams, and help them to become the best version of themselves. Love alone isn’t enough. The same expectation applies to work. Employees expect their employer and work experience to help them move up Maslow’s hierarchy. Businesses aren’t (yet) set up to address these changes, because doing so turns the traditional systems of engagement, training, and even compensation and rewards, upside down and inside out.
5 . Xapa is about helping people get more than just money, it’s about helping people Get Filthy Enriched™. Xapa’s goal is to make a high EQ hip, cool and sexy. Most millennials and GenZ want to have a high EQ, it’s considered desirable, even if they don’t have it yet. 65% of them planned to look for a new job at the start of 2023, but 76% said they would stay with their current company if they just cared about and invested in their personal and professional development. While it may seem difficult to believe, our own research with people in their 20s and 30s shows they are seeking more than just money, they want a life of experiences and personal growth. They want to Get Filthy Enriched™.
As a leader, how do you rally others to align with your vision? Also, how do you identify those who may not be fully committed or even silently sabotaging or undermining your efforts? What steps do you take to address these situations?
If someone disagrees or has a competing idea or execution path I’m nearly always open to hearing, debating, and even trying. If someone is actually sabotaging or undermining, that’s a whole different thing, and there’s no room in my company for such behavior. However, it’s not always crystal clear, because what some people lack is the skills to disagree and debate with respect, hear alternative viewpoints, build trust and collaborate effectively, or whatever. Where there’s a skill gap, Xapa and other programs to strengthen social and emotional skills can bridge gaps. But if someone truly doesn’t share the purpose and vision of the company, or worse, purposely undermines a teammate for personal or professional gain, they are not welcome on my team.
Imagine we’re sitting down together two years from now, looking back at your company’s last 24 months. What specific accomplishments would have to happen for you to be happy with your progress?
We want to be the fastest-spreading app, but more importantly, we want our users to describe their experience on Xapa using words such as “Xapa helped me change the narrative of my life.” “I understand and accept myself today because of Xapa.” “The relationships in my life are stronger and more authentic.” “I’ve learned how to speak my truth, and still respect others who have a different truth.” “Every day I do at least one random act of kindness, and I end the day by writing in my Xapa gratitude journal.” These, and many more, are written in our definition of business success. The success of Xapa is based entirely on how we positively impact the lives of our users, and how they, in turn, impact the lives of others.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I love this question because the first business paper describing Xapa described it as a movement. A movement to spread positivity and help each person become the best version of themself, so they would have the desire and capacity to be generous and compassionate with others and help the planet. Xapa means “joy” in Greek, and we want to spark a movement that actively teaches people to learn, live, and spread joy every single day. Not superficial happiness, but the deep and intrinsic joy that comes from self-acceptance and self-love, and from the acceptance and love of others.
Thank you so much for sharing all of these insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
About the Interviewer: Chad Silverstein is a successful entrepreneur with more than two decades of experience as a successful founder and CEO. He started his first company, Choice Recovery, Inc. a third-party collection agency, out of his apartment while going to The Ohio State University. He grew the business nationwide and represented more than 10,000 clients before he sold the company on his 25th anniversary. Chad’s second venture [re]start, a career development platform that helps people find new jobs, launched in 2013 as a division inside his agency. [re]start was a catalyst to Chad’s team becoming an industry outlier after connecting thousands of people sent to collections with new career opportunities so they could afford to pay their bills and get out of debt. His team was nationally recognized for their social impact, while twice being ranked the #1 business to work for in Central Ohio. Chad sold [re]start in 2023 and is now a writer and thought leader for Authority Magazine’s Entrepreneur and Sports Editorials. He also offers an exclusive executive leadership program inside his online community at Authentic Authority.