In our latest episode of Le Podcast on Emerging Leadership, I am honored to feature Ioanna Mantzouridou, Co-founder & CEO of Dextego. Join us as we delve into Ioanna’s inspiring journey from her roots in HR to leading an innovative AI coaching platform.
Key Highlights of the Episode:
- Journey to Dextego: Ioanna shares her transition from considering a PhD in organizational psychology to spearheading an AI-driven talent development platform.
- Dextego’s Mission: Learn about her vision for reducing talent attrition through personalized soft skills training and the role of AI in democratizing leadership development.
- Overcoming Remote Work Challenges: Insights into the challenges of developing talent in remote settings, especially during the COVID era.
- Empathy in Leadership: Discover Ioanna’s emphasis on empathy, discipline, and a continuous learning mindset when building her team.
- Addressing CEO Challenges: Ioanna discusses balancing fundraising, sales, and maintaining vision in the early stages of a startup.
- Innovation Culture: How employee-driven innovation and aligning with company strategy can revolutionize workplaces.
- Success Metrics at Dextego: The focus on top talent retention and the transformative impact of personalized development tools.
- AI Tailoring for Career Stages: Exploring how Dextego’s AI coach adapts to individual skill levels and career phases.
- Ioanna’s Leadership Evolution: Her personal growth since starting Dextego and embracing ambiguity and vulnerability.
- Advice to Her Younger Self: Ioanna reflects on the virtues of patience and enjoying the journey.
- Upcoming Events: Get a sneak peek into Dextego’s future events, including LinkedIn Audio and LinkedIn Live sessions, and the exclusive ‘Dextagon’ event for HR leaders.
Don’t miss this episode if you’re interested in how AI is transforming leadership and talent development. Tune in to gain invaluable insights from a visionary leader in the tech world.
Alexis: [00:00:00] Welcome to Le Podcast on Emerging Leadership. I’m your host, Alexis Monville. Today, we are thrilled to bring you insights from a distinguished guest whose dedication to enhancing leadership through technology sets her apart. Ioana Mantzouridou, a community builder, talent development strategist, and fervent advocate for applied AI, join us to share her groundbreaking journey. As the co-founder and CEO of Dextego Ioana is pioneering and AI coaching platform dedicated to revolutionizing talent development. Johanna, how do you introduce yourself to someone you just met?
Ioanna: Awesome. That’s a great question. So I would say that my name is Ioana, I’m the co founder and CEO of Dextego, an AI coaching platform for reducing top talent attrition by half. I’m from Greece, so I’ve been living in the U. S. for seven years now, [00:01:00] and really focused on leveraging technology to push human capital further.
That’s my quick intro.
Alexis: Excellent, I love it. What inspired you to start Dextego?
Ioanna: So, my background is in HR I actually thought I was going to pursue my PhD for a second on organizational psychology, but then I ended up working in startups. I was the VP of people and chief of staff at the, at the end of another B2B SaaS startup here in New York. And I quickly realized, you know, the importance of developing talent and also the challenges.
that come with this development when it is in a remote setting, because especially during COVID, you know, everyone started working from home and I saw how hard it was for us to develop entry and mid level managers. And that’s primarily because [00:02:00] soft skills like communication, collaboration and leadership take time to be developed, right?
You need life experience. You need to go through situations where you talk to multiple people, you negotiate, you handle conflict between colleagues. And so it was very hard for us to do this and talking to other, you know, HR leaders and learning and development experts. I quickly realized it was not just a struggle we faced, but the whole industry, and that the current organizational tools we had, e learning tools, learning management tools, were not sufficient enough, because they lacked the personalization needed to develop such skills and also the interaction with the learner and the experiential learning, if you wish.
Ioanna: That is the moment when I realized that I had to do something and I created the team around [00:03:00] Dextego to develop an AI coach that can democratize access to such skills across the organization, especially for anyone outside of the C suite that couldn’t afford an executive coach or didn’t have access to an executive coach.
And make it in a way that it can leverage also the company’s internal know how. So we can integrate with the existing systems that a company has again, whether this is a learning management system or PDFs or, you know, information they have, we can fine tune our model to that so that it can speak their language and really maximize, the value it can give to its employee to support them during their day.
So high level, that is, you know everything behind the reasoning. And for me personally, there’s another layer of equity, which [00:04:00] in my opinion, you know, people with soft skills sometimes tend to have. Access to more opportunities, whether we like it or not. Because they’re not afraid of asking for help.
They’re not afraid of meeting people. And on the contrary, you have some people, like introverts, that without the perfect pitch, they won’t go out of their way to, like, go to conferences or meet mentors. And as a result they might stay behind. And I think this is very unfair. And it shouldn’t be the case.
But the right training can equalize, you know, the playing field for, for everyone.
Alexis: Very, very, very interesting. So I love, the mission of Dextego and how it, it aligns with , your leadership philosophy. you spoke about hiring new people and growing talents. So tell me what, what qualities do you look for in team members?
Especially in those [00:05:00] early stage of of a startup.
Ioanna: Yeah, I love this question because I was just talking to a friend of mine who were talking about the fact that outside of the U. S. recruiters tend to see employee, both as a person and as a professional. But in the U S we tend to have this distinction between okay, professional versus personal, like the same thing for coaching.
Sometimes you go to a corporate coach and they just talk about how to boost your revenue. And then you go to someone that has more of the personal life coach approach and you see that the way they coach people is different. And to me, Also coming from Greece, I think the lines get blurry a little bit.
And I like to work with people, but also hire people that I can see myself spending time with outside of work. So to find this like culture [00:06:00] personal fit I think it’s very hard, but it’s the number one thing I look for. I look for people that have empathy, because when times get rough this empathy will allow us to work well together and overcome any difficulties.
I like people who are very hardworking and disciplined. So that I can count on them and I know that if they say, you know, they will be on a task, they will actually do it successfully and on time. That doesn’t mean perfectly, that just means that, you know, they, they do what they say. And I think that is something I really value, trustworthiness.
And lastly I love to work and hire people that are always eager to learn, like they want to be developed, because if you don’t have that willingness, no matter, you know, what your employer throws at you, it won’t [00:07:00] land, right? So this, I would say, is the most important part.
Alexis: So let’s let’s speak about a specific challenge that you faced as a CEO and how you managed it.
Ioanna: Very interesting. There is a lot I can think right now, but if I was to pick one, as a CEO, you know, for an early stage company, there are two main things you should focus on, and this is fundraising, if you are not bootstrapped, and getting sales in. I don’t think that what I’ll say is just specific to me, honestly, it’s probably something other founders of our states face, but I think there is always a difference between where you’re in now and where you want to get as a startup, right?
Like you have limited resources, so you do what you can today, but you have this grand vision. And so [00:08:00] that gap is sometimes. It’s very difficult to put in words and to be explained to someone that just is getting introduced, for instance, to your venture. So when I’m talking to investors or I’m talking to potential partners and companies that are super established and it’s, it could obviously be a risk of association for them to work with a company that’s new, that doesn’t have the brand awareness and recognition in the field.
I found myself many times, you know. Struggling to find the confidence. To persuade them that they should work with us now, because I know how far we can get, and that this might take some time, but if I, as the CEO, don’t speak into existence this vision today, right, to get to that level, then what am I doing?
So, it’s Someone gave me very good advice. [00:09:00] It’s the fear, you know, of overselling and under delivering sometimes that holds us back. Or, you know, imposter syndrome, all these things, different terminologies, but I cannot wear all the hats at the same time because I won’t move the company further.
Like I have to think, okay, right now, I’m selling, then I’m doing customer success. Then I’m doing investor relations. So I think the biggest thing I’ve learned. This last month since starting Dextego is how to split these roles. So don’t get overwhelmed and don’t act for the best, you know, of the company.
Alexis: that’s in a way balancing the, the needs of different stakeholders. By playing different personas and you know, yeah, that’s, that’s really hard when you need to do a lot of different things by yourself. Yeah.
Ioanna: You know, as a chief of staff, it’s the same thing, but now it’s, I would say, with more responsibility.
Alexis: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. Yeah.[00:10:00] how do you feel, how do you believe we can really foster an innovative mindset?
Ioanna: Even a time where Suddenly, the innovation doesn’t come from the top. It comes from the bottom. I think employees have so much power today to drive innovation and to speak up about what they want to see in a company. So I think, you know, the responsibility is. Spread across organization like anyone today can bring innovation, I think, to a company because we see, and I’ll speak on the L& D side, like 70 percent of employees today say that they’re willing to leave.
To go to a company that develops them. So, similarly, I feel like there is a lot of fear from leadership to not satisfy employees when it comes to [00:11:00] innovation, to leveraging AI in particular because the employees could easily go somewhere else. So to me, to drive innovation successfully, you just have, if I speak to an employee now, right, you have to understand how the outcome, the ROI of whatever solution you’re bringing in will help leadership achieve their goals.
So if you speak their language. They will say yes. I think most of the times employees find such cool tools they want to use, but they can’t make a case to actually implement them because they’re missing that piece of, okay, but how will it really help us achieve our, like, five year plan or, you know, our quarterly goals.
And at the end of the day, whether we like it or not, the leadership cares about these things because they have to report to someone else. So I would say. It’s more [00:12:00] about understanding the strategy of the company and identifying the right type of innovation rather than a question of is the company open to innovation, yes or no?
Alexis: it’s very interesting because you are looking at some success metrics that, that could be met using something. for your company, what, what success metrics do you focus on and why?
Ioanna: Yes. So we focus on top talent retention. Because no matter who, what CEO you take from what field today they really care about their top talent, right? They care about the people that can call and they know they will get it done. these are people that they’ll do anything to keep in their company.
And so when you’re able to bring them a tool that is very personalized, that it matches their needs where they are today and you help them develop for the next day. You’re able to retain [00:13:00] them, but the other part and I made a post about this is totally on the company is how the company does the right change management to explain to the company that implementing a tool like Dextego is for them.
It’s not just the checkbox. It’s something that they understand they need for their personal and professional growth, whether they’re. Working at this company or not, but as a result, the employees will become loyal because they will. be part of this company where the culture is always about personal development and moving forward and improving each other.
But today, unfortunately for, you know, the lack of technology, technological advancements in L and D for the last years, HR leaders have had the misconception that they have no power because they can’t drive revenue. They can’t drive a significant[00:14:00] you know, metric in the company. So for us being able to deliver reduction of top talent attrition by half in just a quarter makes them the heroes they wish they were all these years.
And now we can have a seat at the table and really have others understand that they can make or break a company. At the end of the day, we know without talent. You got nothing. No matter what strategy you have on paper, you have no one to execute. So, to me, it’s a very important metric, and we see it across industries from, like, consulting firms that are really suffering from attrition, to startups, to big enterprises, and it’s a way to impact, you know the workforce overall, and knowing that, It’s for their own development.
It’s, it’s a, to me, it’s a just cause.
Alexis: So you, you mentioned that the tool is [00:15:00] adjusted to the needs of the people.
Alexis: what kind of adjustment are, I mean If I, if I’m early in my career or if I am a little bit later in my career, like me, for example, with over 50, how does the tool with, will adjust to our needs?
Ioanna: Excellent question. So, let’s take an example of something that will not adjust first. Like you go to a learning management system and you take the same course. On leadership that everyone else in your organization takes, for instance, right? What we do with DexEgo is the AI coach is able to understand through your answers, the way you answer to scenario based challenges, your level of skills, and adjust the level of Difficulty or the types of questions it asks you, and I’ll give you an example, to really make sure you develop the right skills.
So, [00:16:00] for instance, let’s take an example of a salesperson, and the scenario could be, hey, you have this client, that they’re throwing you this objection. How would you handle it? So you record yourself through video. The coach is your facial expressions, your tone, your pits and content of what you’re saying.
And it gives you personalized feedback back on what you did great, what you can improve. And over time, by you completing some more challenges, it understands. For instance, you might lack negotiation skills so you can close the deal. So we’ll give you more feedback and more related challenges to these till it sees that you improve.
And what we have behind the scenes to track that is our proprietary coachability index framework, which shows you. Basically, how coachable you are, how fast you’re implementing that feedback and how you’re improving your [00:17:00] skills over time. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you start at, let’s say, 4 out of 10 in negotiation.
What matters is that you’re able to improve to 8 to 9 over time. And that’s, I think, what any employer cares about today because we’re moving into this skills culture. It’s not just what you have on paper. Can you actually learn on the spot and develop? And can we see you becoming an important part of Our company, you know, in years to come, I
Alexis: Excellent. So now I turn back the questions to you, to you. Have you evolved as a leader since starting Dextego?
Ioanna: think so. No, for sure. I think you know, in startups, we have talked about this before one year equals 10. If you will, you learn so much, you see so much, you meet so many people like every day [00:18:00] putting myself out of my comfort zone being in like a situation for the first time. I love it.
It’s super, Intriguing and challenging, but it allows for a lot of self reflection. I think the people that are following my journey can see that, you know, since the last time we meet, for instance, a lot has happened, or I’m improving, or the way I handle things is developing. So, I, I feel like I get feedback from others, and also from my self reflection, I can definitely see that growth.
I think the most challenging thing is to be okay with ambiguity, right? And vulnerability as a leader, whether you’re like a leader for the first time or the 10th time in your career, there will always be some ambiguity. And I’m definitely learning to, to handle that better than I did some months ago.
Alexis: [00:19:00] So if you, if you could give an advice to your younger self. Before starting Dextego what would it be?
Ioanna: that’s a great one. You know, my number one weakness, I’ve always said, is my patience. I’ve always said that. Since I was young, I feel like I’m very impatient. So, life has a way to Teach you to become patient or else, you know I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now, but I would tell myself that it’s okay when, when things take time, there’s actually a beauty in it.
Cause you can. Be more excited when you get to the end result, and you can Develop more as a result as well. So I would tell myself to, to be patient and to Enjoy each moment, whether it’s tough or not. I think looking back, obviously every difficult moment in your life has made you right for who you are [00:20:00] today.
And if you took that away, you wouldn’t be who you are. Thanks. My little speech to my younger self.
Alexis: I love it. Thank you for that. Oh, can you tell us about an upcoming event? You’re particularly excited about?
Ioanna: Yes, a lot. We have three events in November on LinkedIn Audio and LinkedIn Live. We’re talking about leadership. We’re talking about why mentorship programs fail and how to overcome that. About flexibility. And then in 2024, I can say we’re preparing what’s called Dextagon. It’s basically an invite only event for HR leaders and C suite here in New York. But yeah, I, I won’t say much more. It will be very exciting and we’ll talk about human potential and how to drive us further as a human race.[00:21:00]
Alexis: Excellent. I love it. So where can people learn more about Dextego and get in touch with you?
Ioanna: They can go to our website at dextego. com. That’s D E X T and ego, dextego. com as well as our LinkedIn. And mine as well, you know, Ioana Mantzouridou and check out all our events and upcoming shows.
Alexis: Excellent. Thank you very much Ioana for joining the podcast today.
Ioanna: Thank you, Alex. Thank you very much for your time.