Shooting Duff Goldman for our commercial was a real pleasure! Duff, who was the cake master in The Food Network’s reality show Ace of Cakes, instantaneously soothed any starstruck nerves some of us might have felt– especially Nicole, a Convo interpreter, who is a huge fan– with his easygoing vibe. He welcomed us in his West Coast bakery, Charm City Cakes, located on Melrose Ave in Los Angeles, and his staff made us feel like we were being greeted by friends.
Duff Goldman going over script with Wayne and Nicole
Turns out he was just as smooth on camera– not surprising, if you consider the 5 years he was on television. We didn’t need to coach his acting, which was a good thing because the entire team was occupied with their own tasks: Wayne and Jay were filming and maneuvering the camera movements while Leila and Nicole were standing in a corner, signing and interpreting the bride’s lines into Duff’s phone. With every take, Duff would surprise us with a new facial expression and word choice in his lines. Talk about giving us variety to work with!
Wayne working behind the scenes
When we came up with the commercial idea, it was a no-brainer to go with Duff. Not only is he big on supporting civil rights, he somehow found out about a lesbian couple who was denied a wedding cake from a local anti-gay cake shop. Unexpectedly, he made the cake for them at no cost whatsoever because no cake should be involved with any form of discrimination! Duff is also quite a personality, a lovable prankster, that we wanted to capture… and is evident in this bonus clip of him learning to sign: Duff Goldman learns ASL.
The icing of the cake was when Duff didn’t bat an eyelash when we asked if we could borrow one of his decorative cakes for the final scene in the commercial. “Have your pick,” he told us. When all was said and done, Duff looked at his phone, chuckled, and commented that he had to run down to get a brownie for his fiancee, who was threatening bodily harm if he came home empty-handed. Waving us good-bye, he got in his huge truck and pulled out of the driveway, presumably pranking his fiancee that the brownies were sold out.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Bex Freund cultivated a love affair with oil painting at the age of seven and has been exhibiting since 2004.
In 2007, she moved to the Bay Area to earn her BFA at California College of the Arts.
In 2008, Bex worked as a prop/set fabrication intern for the Emmy award-winning series Robot Chicken, learning how to craft tiny worlds alongside Hollywood industry veterans.
More recently, Bex has spent the last two years working as a studio assistant for internationally exhibited painter Joshua Hagler in Berkeley. Her work has been exhibited at the de Young Museum of San Francisco and showcased on the popular entertainment weblog, Autostraddle.
In the era of free and accessible information at our fingertips, TED has become a global sensation for its videos of talks that are centered around spreading new and inspirational ideas. TED also empowers communities to share ideas locally as well, under the program TEDx, which is where communities can gather to watch presentations that are designed for them.
The first and only TEDx event of, for, and by the deaf community, TEDxIslay, was held in Austin in 2010, followed by another one in Los Angeles in 2011. One of the talks from TEDxIslay, “Deaf in the Military” by Keith Nolan, was selected to appear on the front page of TED.com and became a viral sensation. This talk led to a sequence of events which prompted the Secretary of Defense to begin planning a pilot program that would allow Deaf people to serve in the military.
One of the co-organizers, Mark Gobble, passed away tragically in 2012. There will be a TEDxIslay event in 2013 which will be held in his honor. Convo is very proud to have sponsored the TEDxIslay events and we eagerly await the new videos of the talks that will appear in the upcoming weeks. We hope that you will be as inspired by these talks as we were.
Did you know that less than 1% of all businesses in the U.S. currently are Deaf-owned? If we apply the 2.07% of U.S. population that engages in entrepreneurship to the population of Deaf citizens, we should have about 20 thousand more businesses led by Deaf entrepreneurs. Deaf economics is seriously lacking in our world today, and that is precisely what one group of teachers and students is striving to change.
Professors Thomas Baldridge and Alim Chandani teach an integrated capstone course at Gallaudet University on ‘Developing a Social Enterprise Business Plan’. Last year, they teamed up with several students to create an organization called ThinkBiz that would help aspiring Deaf business owners achieve the necessary resources in entrepreneurship. Baldridge and Chandani not only teach the course, they also act as advisors to the ThinkBiz organization, which students themselves run. When Chandani and CEO of ThinkBiz, Don Cullen, talked to Convo about a potential collaboration, we immediately jumped on board. As the Deaf-owned VRS in this industry, we understood the need for more Deaf-owned businesses. ThinkBiz hits it close to home for us.
(Cullen introduces ThinkBiz with Zornoza)
This year, ThinkBiz launched a pilot Business Plan competition. Students of Baldridge and Chandani’s capstone course worked in groups throughout this spring semester to develop a business plan that would serve as their entry in the first-ever business plan competition, judged by Michael Janger, Margie English, and our very own Wayne Betts, Jr.
Six teams of two or three students entered the competition, each presenting their own entrepreneurship idea and plan to the judges and audience. The judges deliberated and awarded second place to Custom ASL, presented by Ryan Bonheyo, Albert McCrea, and Jared Vollmar. Their business plan proposal was to provide ASL classes for the restaurants and bars on H Street, which are frequented by Gallaudet students and staff. The classes would be customized to best fit the type of communication that occurs between the staff and Deaf customers.
First place went to Boomerang Cafe, by Raaed Abu-Atteeyah and Richard Dahan, who were gifted an iPad mini from Convo. Boomerang Cafe is an already-existing business on campus, located inside Living and Learning Residence Hall. However, it was lacking a business plan, which was what Abu-Atteeyah and Dahan presented. Their clear and structured plan won the judges over. First and second place winners also received monetary prizes from sponsors.
(The judges watching as a team presents)
“In the past, Gallaudet students have tried to set up businesses, but they collapsed as soon as the students graduated. I hope that ThinkBiz will be an incubator that serves as the missing link for transition to preserve existing businesses. I want the students to feel a sense of ownership with ThinkBiz; it should be a vibrant center of resources for them,” Cullen commented.
“There is no business culture here,” agreed Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Cybulski. Cybulski was also the Master of Ceremony at the competition.
Chief Financial Officer Travis Zornoza wishes he had this type of access to resources and support when he was a freshman. “Gallaudet would be a different place by now,” Zornoza contemplated. “Many Deaf people have great ideas for entrepreneurship, but don’t know where to start. This is the perfect opportunity to try them out and to make mistakes. Make it your playground.”
“We want to expand ThinkBiz from organization to incorporation for outside of Gallaudet as well as inside. We can do more. Pop that Deaf bubble!” said Clayton McMillan, Chief Marketing Officer.
(Wayne with the winners and their new iPad mini)
ThinkBiz winners Abu-Atteeyah and Dahan plan to expand equipment and add food options with their monetary prize.
“We really want to buy an espresso machine and a refrigerator,” Abu-Atteeyah said.
“We’ll use Square on our new mini iPad to make credit card charges,” Dahan added. “I hope to see a larger pool of competitive applications and employees, and to see awareness spread. Someday, there might even be a Boomerang Cafe franchise. Who knows?”
“But, our first and foremost goal is to keep Boomerang Cafe going,” Abu-Atteeyah chimed in. Wise thinking, as a significant percentage of businesses never make it past the first three years.
Stability is key in a strong Deaf economy, which could potentially be a powerful tool for our community. Think of the opportunities that could be created with a vigorous center for Deaf entrepreneurs. We’re calling it: ThinkBiz is onto something big here.
If you are a Deaf entrepreneur, get on Convo’s CODE Directory! Apply today:
Current and aspiring Deaf business owners alike flocked to the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, CA for Deaf Business Symposium, hosted by DCARA. This weekend-long event included presentations, workshops, networking, and more. Convo was asked to send owner and former CEO Robin Horwitz and Vice President of Operations Jewel Jauregui for a panel presentation. DCARA Executive Director Jim Brune moderated the panel and asked Robin and Jewel some questions to gain insight in how, after four years, Convo became the fourth largest VRS provider in the industry. Audience members were able to ask questions at the end. Below is a summary of the highlights of the panel presentation.
Audience member engaging in discussion with Robin
Inspiration to start Convo
Robin: I was frustrated with the quality of service, so based on my experience and frustrations, I and other people decided to start Convo.
Jewel: It was as simple as seeing the quality of VRS and knowing that we could do better.
Robin: I have one story to share, which served as fuel for my drive to achieve the best relay service experience possible. I was calling a potential sponsorship opportunity through another VRS provider, and the interpreter was slouching in his seat and doing such a sloppy job of interpreting. I was thinking, “This is a professional call and this interpreter is not representing me in a professional manner!” I never forgot that experience, and it was one of the things that kept me reaching for a company like Convo.
Robin: I will tell you this: Convo’s start-up funds was zero. I’m not kidding, we had no money when we first began. Our priority was to get FCC certificate, so first, we needed someone familiar with FCC policies, and we got Ed Bosson. Next, we needed someone technology savvy, and that was Chad Taylor. We needed an expert in marketing, and that was Wayne Betts, Jr. We all became owners, but with no pay. Later, when we launched Convo, we only had 3-4K in funds.
Jewel: All of us had little to zero experience, but we removed any self-doubts that may have been instilled during our lives, like: “Oh, women can’t do it. Women aren’t good with math. Deaf people can’t do it.” Instead, we focused on finding the right people with the right skills. We had nerve. We had a “can-do” attitude. I think it’s really important to follow your instincts, too. When dealing with people you want to work with, listen to what your instincts tell you.
Robin: Here’s a tip: young lawyers that are just starting out tend to want to prove themselves. They are usually hungry for opportunity and experience, and will work hard. Our lawyer, who helped us become FCC-certified, was exactly that.
Convo’s best asset
Jewel: People who work at Convo actually use our own service. We look for interpreters with the right attitude. We care about our own services. Our best asset is our heart.
Robin: When we see a lazy interpreter, it’s actually the company’s fault. Interpreters may be at the front line, but it takes logistics that occur behind the scenes to make the experience at the front line smooth. We want to make sure our interpreters are happy.
Robin: It’s very simple: certification, integrity, and transparency. For example, it can be hard for our callers to get information on FCC and its policies, so we communicate what FCC says to them.
Jewel: Our core value will always be the caller’s experience. Like Robin said, we wanted to make sure our callers understood what was going on with FCC changes. You’re all smart people and we don’t need to dumb anything down, but we wanted to present this information in your own language. (See a video of Wayne explaining FCC’s new tiered rates here)
Another thing about transparency; we went through some tough times when we weren’t getting paid from FCC, but we never hid any of this from our staff. We asked them if we could pay them later and they chose to believe in us and were willing to stick with us until we got through it together.
Jewel talking about how to deal with budget freeze
Robin: I personally don’t like business plans because they can lock you in, but it is a good idea to keep a general plan as a point of reference.
Jewel: Put down your ideas and visions, but how to reach them? There are a lot of different ways, so you have to be flexible.
Robin: The biggest reason Convo survived, with first-timer Deaf owners, was because we found a strict financial person. For your first start-up opportunity, set aside money for a lawyer and a financial person. For your second and on, you could be less dependent in these areas because of your experience with the first business.
Jewel: It’s important to have smart and trust-worthy people around you. Don’t ignore your intuition. Dream big, but be realistic at the same time.
Robin: Paranoia is a good thing sometimes. If you feel that something is off, don’t ignore it! Stay on top of it. Another tip is to build a model of a one-year plan. Sometimes what seems good in your head will appear flawed in writing. For example, our legal fees became our debt, so it’s good to outline the first year in writing. Most people look at debt as a bad thing, but that’s not necessarily true. Some debt are good debt. It is okay to borrow money for a good investment. Immerse yourself into your service and become your business’s best salesperson, as long as it’s not scripted and comes from the heart because you believe in it. Have a back-up plan and surround yourself with people smarter than you are; it’ll teach you a lot.