Episode 11: A Talk with Traci Snowden, CEO/Founder at Apto Global

CA Short All-In Employee Podcast

Nelsa and Scott have a great conversation with Traci Snowden of Apto Global. Traci shares her perspective on women's empowerment in the work force and describes her journey to launch Apto. Traci is also a seasoned musician and Scott's songwriting partner. Listen to the episode below or continue reading for a full transcript. 

[00:00:07] Welcome to the C.A. Short All In Employee podcast, and I'm your host, R. Scott Russell, with Nelsa Webber, and we're so glad that you've joined us today. Let's dive in. 

[00:00:28] All right, we want to welcome everybody back to our All In Employee podcast. Scott, we have been away for just a minute, not too long, but we are back. And guess what? We have a guest again. Oh, yes, love. Yes, always an excellent one. I think this one is going to be so intriguing for our listeners. Just with the content we're going to bring to them today, it's going to be some really awesome information. So I'm going to pass it on over to you so you can introduce our guest. 

[00:01:00] Well, let me tell you now. So I'm very, very excited to get this special guest today because I have a very special relationship with today's guest and she's a busy lady. 

[00:01:13] And getting her locked down for just a little while is an important thing. So I was very glad to do that. But today's guest is Miss Traci Snowden. She is the CEO of Apto Global and she is also an amazing songwriter performer and has written wonderful songs, including some with myself. She is one of my songwriting partners. She's my main songwriting partner. What am I talking about? And while we haven't gotten to write in a while, we will. But in the interim time that we actually were writing together and working on my record, Traci went out and launched her own company and is now this big world traveling CEO. And I'm very excited to have her here today. Welcome, Traci. 

[00:02:02] Thank you. Thank you very much. 

[00:02:04] And we're so happy. So first things first, Traci. Just tell us about Apto. Tell us about this, this amazing company that you have founded. Tell us what they are. And then go ahead and talk to us a little bit about how did you get there? Like, where'd that idea come from that you're going to tell us about? 

[00:02:22] OK, sure. Well, short answer, Apto is a social learning platform for guiding humans who need to cross-culturally, interact, travel or relocate. And the goal is so that they can feel at home or feel like themselves, no matter where they are, who they're with or what they're doing. So it's the first platform to essentially combine culture and language training in hyper local destinations and even workplace or academic environments. 

[00:02:51] So so you're not just teaching people language, you're teaching them how to acclimate into the current culture of wherever they are. 

[00:02:59] I'll do you one better. Scott, we're not teaching. The people who are local are teaching. 

[00:03:04] Oh, that's awesome. Oh, yes. You're the conduit. We are the platform. 

[00:03:10] We are the platform. So, you know, the goal is now. Now, do does Apto provide some validated content or premium content? Yes, we do. We focus on American English, to people who are coming into America and that destination. We've helped corporations, international ex-pats, international students and travelers, et cetera. But what we really believe in is this concept of what it means to speak human, to listen human, to speak human, and to connect across the things that have traditionally divided us. 

[00:03:49] Well, I would tell you that we would talk about WorkHuman, but that's a competitor, so we're not going to talk about them. But we will talk to your space, so. 

[00:03:58] OK, so tell me, you know, I know some of these stories, but our listeners don't. So tell me, how how did this idea come to you? Like, what led you to to want to launch this company? To want it to want to is a lot of work. I know you. You have done an amazing amount of work in the last few years building this organization, this company. What led you to that spot? What made you say, hey, this is something I want to tackle? 

[00:04:24] Sure. Well, you know, I don't think I mean, I don't think any sane person wakes up and thinks they're going to start a global technology company the next day. 

[00:04:33] So it's definitely an organic and evolutionary process. What I can say is this from a very early age, I was exposed to all kinds of cultures. I grew up speaking two different languages at home. 

[00:04:47] By the time I was 13 years of age, I got put into an exploratory course for German, picked up a third language, started singing in a Latin band, picked up a fourth language, studied. I was very into languages and cultures. And I think Scott, as a musician, as a songwriter, you'll appreciate this music theory, language learning theory. I mean, it's all there are a lot of similarities. And it's also to me, music was my first love. It's it's it's the most one of the most universal languages. I mean, food maybe comes first, but music second. And so so there was that that passion. And also I think that empathy from a very early age to be able to know what it feels like to not fully fit in anywhere, like the odd person out. And so that was definitely a driver. And then I studied abroad in Germany, my first year of university, and talk about culture shock. I mean, not a culture that I would organically gravitate towards, but ended up finding common ground and appreciation and got fluent in the language and studied international business and studied German literature and really began to understand the history of Germany in a completely new way and started making friends. And it's just it's powerful when that happens and when that occurs. And and so I took that power back with me to the US. I continued my studies in the US and because I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I started using those skills and teaching at a little immersive language school in downtown Cincinnati when I was about 18 years old. And so there I wanted to teach German because, hey, I just learned as the language got to teach it or I got to do something with it. But they had a very high demand for English teaching. And so they got me certified in TESOL and I started catering specifically to international ex-pats from all over the world who were coming in to work at Procter & Gamble big organization headquartered there. And it was a really cool experience, Nelsa because we were essentially catering to people who, you know, had these really high budgets. 

[00:07:13] So really different from that immersive school you were in. 

[00:07:17] Right. But one of the things that was that that that did is it awakened in me a desire for equity, which is a theme that in itself, as I as I get further along in my story. So, you know, I realized I get really these people who who were coming and they did have these budgets and they could afford to relocate their family to for eight weeks in advance and just immerse themselves in the local language and the local culture. You know, I could take the wife to the post office, show them what to do, take the kids to the Zoo, take the take the the and in many cases, the husband to the restaurant, show them how to order for a business meeting and so on and so forth, was really effective. But it stuck with me that not everybody had access to that. And so fast forward about 14 or 15 years. You know, as I was finishing university, I ended up going into music and serendipity kind of played a role in that, too, which further brought me into the world. So I was able to tour internationally kind of all over the place, right out of university. And that was exciting. And one of the things I'd always do from stage was just learn to greet the audience in their native language. That was always a way that I could connect with the local audience. And so you know how to say hello and thank you and a whole bunch of languages. 

[00:08:46] Well, that's engaging with the audience, right? 

[00:08:48] Good manners. 

[00:08:50] That's right, that's right, Scott. So so, yeah, so that that ended up taking me to Nashville and which is where you and I met and and then I I was in music full time for a number of years. And some things happened, some values, conflicts mostly. And I decided I wanted a normal life, whatever that means. So I got recruited into technology sales. And when that company got acquired, I had a little bit of a dark night of the soul. And that was the point when I asked myself, you know, what am I going to do? Because, you know, I I love music and was passionate about that, but just didn't want to pursue it as my number one financial source of stability. I enjoyed business, but I recognize that sales wasn't the end of the line for me. I was really intrigued by all of the different aspects of business, and I was a sponge for that. So I then I started thinking about those moments that I had with internationals and helping them to adapt and helping them to feel at home in the community. And it wasn't just that I was giving something to them. It was I was getting something from them to you know, there is there is some there is an indescribable like English doesn't even have a word for it. The feeling that you get when you are allowed to be yourself one hundred percent authentically yourself with someone else who is being one hundred percent authentically themselves. And you all are different, but it works. You know that it's so fulfilling. And so all those experiences combined and the recognition that there were so many people who are relocating and they weren't getting that experience, they were having less than positive experiences, that was a big motivator for me. 

[00:10:50] So you you know, and I think Nelsa can attribute to this as well, just just letting you know. So Nelsa does corporate training for us, but she's a teacher in her background, which is fantastic. So so, you know, there's some paths that you guys cross. 

[00:11:04] And, of course, you know, I feel you I think you and I are on the same level when it comes to, you know, music is such a great love in our life. But not having it be the source of financial stability is great because the pressure is not there for every new school to offer. And we use our skills that make our living. 

[00:11:27] And then we can live through the music when we want to. And and I think that that's that's a great moment. And so I'm one of the things I think is amazing about what you've done is I mean, I think it's a lot of anxiety and stress to just launch any company, much less to launch one that has to live on an international platform scale. Did that present any unique challenges to you when you decided to to build a business? 

[00:11:55] Well, on the pro, fortunately, on the positive side, we are essentially a business that helps people culturally adapt. So there's a lot of synergy and there are a lot of things are very congruent there. But on the negative side, if you've never scaled a global technology company before, which I had I had two successful businesses previously, but never at this scale, I, I think that that always of course, that's going to bring challenges. One of them is, is focusing on not being focused enough, trying to do too much too quickly. You'll probably remember that I was gone like the majority of it. Yeah. So I was bouncing around from Japan to Korea to Indonesia to Brazil to wherever. So that's definitely something to be mindful of. And the impact that that has on your employees, if they are not ready for that or if you're not scaling that in a thoughtful, conscientious manner, that can that can create problems. 

[00:13:09] Nelsa, will appreciate this. That that leads me to a little story, little nugget on the side. But during that year that Traci was all over the world, literally, I remember getting a phone call from you and or a text message and it was like, guess what I'm doing today? And the response was that you were hanging out with the prime minister of some country. And like the Middle East, it I was like, this is like my friend. I don't even know what to say to that. Like, how is that happening? So obviously, some great doors opened for you. And I'm just so proud and so grateful for you to be building this, to talk to you about, you know, one of the things I think that makes your your company so interesting and why we wanted to kind of talk to you is because, you know, we're so focused on engagement and recognition in our world appreciation. I think you are getting to see sort of a global view of engagement and appreciation and culture because you are working with people to acclimate them to cultures. So so what does you know, what does anything stand out to you like from it from a global perspective and who you've worked with? Is there anything that stands out to you from an engagement experience or people that are truly doing it well that perhaps we don't think about in our in our offices here every day. But but you may have seen this or experienced. 

[00:14:40] Yeah, well, you know, there's a model and I'm not going to be able to off the top of my head, think of who to attribute this to. So you guys may have to fact check me and, you know, provide a source. But there's a model that essentially demonstrates how people move from unconscious incompetence all the way to conscious or sorry to unconscious competence. OK, what I mean by that is I think in order for real engagement to exist, there are these levels of awareness that have to occur in one's self first and then in others consciousness that kind of has to occur. And so I may be talking way too much jargon, so I'll try to break that down. But, you know, there is a period of time in our lives when we just don't know what we don't know because we don't know what we don't know. It's easy for us to be unengaged. 

[00:15:44] It's easy for us to be unengaged because we don't even know that there's a benefit to being engaged. So then there's an AHA moment. There's an awakening moment. Right. And that's where we start to move to conscious incompetence. What I mean by that is it's like, OK, I now am aware that I don't know what I don't know. And boy, is it painful because I now realize when I look back, oh my gosh, I shouldn't have said that to my mom. Oh my gosh, I shouldn't have done that in front of my boss. Oh my gosh. 

[00:16:17] I do that every day. 

[00:16:18] You know? And then and so then we make then we have the option. Right. We can make the choice to go back into that comfortable kind of place of of of of disengagement. Or we can decide we're going to grow. Right. And if we decide we're going to grow, then we say, OK, what now? What do I need to learn and how am I going to do that? And who am I going to who am I going to engage with and what am I going to engage with to make that happen? And once that happens, we start that progression and eventually we have the ability to retrain our brains. And when you think about how we engage with other cultures, I mean that it's a great model for how it happens. It's like I've never been to pick a country like I'll just say I've never been to Russia. I don't speak Russian. I don't know anything about Russian culture. I mean, really, I don't like what I see on the US media regarding Putin is not helpful. Right. So so, you know, so then now I have to say, OK, I can I recognize that I don't know any of those things. How am I going to learn? How am I going to learn Russian and I going to go to Russia? Am I going to make a friend with somebody from Russia? Like, what is that what is that going to to look like to the point of, OK, now I'm in Russia or now I have this Russian friend, I'm engaged, I'm listening, I'm learning. You know, eventually there will come a time where I'm like passive and I'm just throwing a throw in the language around and I'm like completely comfortable in the culture, even though I'm not of that culture. 

[00:17:58] So I think that's that's a good illustration of of how it works. 

[00:18:04] I do, too. I love that because it it does parlay into just true engagement. The way you've explained it, you know, it's hard to build an engaged workforce if if they don't know what they don't know. Right. If they can't admit that to themselves and then as they know and learn and acclimate to culture, engagement can grow through that process. So I think that that is so exciting. I mean, it's just and I wondered this along the way for what you chose to do and how you built your company. But do you think that your years of being a musician or writer performer has that led you to? Because I've seen you in action and you are just I mean, you are engaging, you're engaging leader. 

[00:18:53] I think people want to know who you are. People want to listen to what you have to say. People are you know, you drive and inspire and motivate. Do you think that having that musical background, did that play into where you are now in business at all? 

[00:19:11] I mean, to break down for you exactly how I'm not sure that I could, but I know that it's such an innate part of who I am. How can it not? You know, in fact, ironically, the reason that I got recruited into business development was because of my music background. They said skills are going to be so transferable because when you believe in something, you know, when you when you get on stage to sing a song, you better get up there with all your conviction, because if you don't believe it, everybody in that audience is going to feel embarrassed for you like they're literally feeling the emotion that you're feeling. So I think it's very similar in leadership and in terms of how I engage clients, how I engage investors. I mean, there are days where it's like I know I need to make a sale or I know I need to raise a certain amount of money. And I'm like, there is no way I am going to even attempt to do it today until I get know get my my feelings right and my mind right and shift shift my own energy because they're going to feel that and it's going to be useless. It's going to be absolutely pointless. You know, that's very similar to what you have to bring to to fruition on on stage people. 

[00:20:38] It's a lot like teaching and leadership as well, Traci, you know that element of performance because sometimes you have to carry the show in order to get the rest of your team on board with things that you have to do. So it's like you've got a gift for for that already. 

[00:20:57] Thank you. And yeah, and I think I mean, for me, a performance has to be authentic. I think that's what I'm really trying to say. It's like if that if, if I don't feel it authentically, how is anybody else going to feel it authentically. 

[00:21:11] Exactly. 

[00:21:11] It may not be perfect. 

[00:21:11] But real. 

[00:21:15] That's right. 

[00:21:17] So what do you think of now that you're a CEO founder? One of the things we talk about on our podcast is about the All In employee. Right. And what we look at that on my side and all and employees are highly engaged, very dedicated, loyal employee. But what we like to hear from our guests is what what does that mean to you? What what is an All In employee to Traci Snowden? 

[00:21:45] Well, I think in All In employee, what I tell my staff is be the CEO of your own domain. 

[00:21:53] So for me, it's it's an empowered employee, it's someone who understands who they are and what they bring to the table, and they marry that with the mission and vision of the company. So they they so believe in the mission and vision and cultural values of the company, that it's easy for them to be authentic and empowered and be the CEO of their own domain. 

[00:22:18] Well said. I like that and I think I'll take that back. 

[00:22:26] Feel like that is where we're constantly kind of reviewing that definition and just thinking about what does this mean to to different companies and to different leaders and and what they look for in employees, you know, when it comes to their own businesses. 

[00:22:41] Well, and in a startup, it's critical, though, if if I can't not only am I not a micromanager and I don't care to be a micromanager, but I don't have time to be a micromanager. 

[00:22:54] So it's really important that, you know, I'm multiplying myself in that way, but also that I'm not that people aren't sycophantic.You know? That they are they own their own person in their own their own team member. 

[00:23:13] Nelsa, just jump in any time, because you know I just talk. 

[00:23:21] I did have a question Traci, though, because that brought to mind like you've been in other countries. I'm curious, what do other people look for like you've you've met with these people who are coming in from other countries, you've taken people over to other countries and you've used other people's work force, what are those employers looking for in employees? Because the world has gotten smaller with remote work now. 

[00:23:49] Yeah.

[00:23:50] It's changed the whole dynamic of how people are hiring people now. So what are some things that that maybe employees who are listening and who are looking for a different type of work experience, you know, what's something that's universal no matter where you go, these maybe three things or four things or whatever are the world over is what people are looking for in a in an employee who is going to be of high value. 

[00:24:18] That's that's a great question. And ironically, I was just recently on a webinar working with a local university who is a partner of ours, and they were going over their strategic plan for their for international business, for their international business academic unit. And it was really interesting because, you know, universities and institutions of higher ed, they tend to operate in silos. And those silos may or may not speak to each other. 

[00:24:53] Right. And what we're starting to see or what their research is starting to show us is that employers, multi of particularly multinational employers, which they are naturally targeting as an international business unit, are looking for there's a resurgence of those soft skills for a long period of time it was all about the technical skills. Right. And now we're starting to make technology with the exception of maybe advanced manufacturing or things of that nature. But a lot of technology companies are starting to create platforms that kind of work for themselves. So it's more about the multicultural skills are actually really, really critical. Employers are looking for that. They're looking for emotional quotient. They're looking for cultural quotient in addition to intellectual quotient. And that's something that after that, we have coined the phrase human quotient, you know, because for so long everything was IQ this and IQ that, you know, and then we started this trend on EQ. And you can't forget that to be a global citizen, CQ is is a is a piece of that component as well. And that is not just intercultural, Nelsa. I mean, as we know that in intercultural right. So you've got employees right there at your organization who don't even know how to have a conversation with each other. Who are talking past each other. Coded language left and right, depending on what media outlet they listen to. That's happening every day. And employers are starting to say, no, that's not going to cut it in the employee of the future. We need people who know how to get along and make things happen. 

[00:26:43] Well, listen, I want to tell you guys something, it is beautiful to witness the two of you together. I can only imagine you writing a song out of me to see you meet me for the first time. But Scott knows he and I go back and forth on the show a lot. But I can tell the energy the two of you guys have together is so phenomenal. 

[00:27:01] I've been over here laughing on mute. I've been like double dutching trying to figure out when I'm going to jump in and ask a question. 

[00:27:12] I'm just ready for our sound and write. I'm ready to go to the Smokies. 

[00:27:14] That's right. Me too. And it's it's going to happen because that's what we finally now used to be. We could just get together. Of course, we were both in Nashville for a while at the same time. But these last couple of years, my world traveling friend has been hard to book. We decided that we were going to have to set some time aside, so that we could do a little bit more writing together, and I'm excited about that. But I tell you, I'm just so thrilled about what you're creating there and and what your vision for Apto. What's what's what's Traci’s vision for this company she's launched? 

[00:27:47] Oh, gosh. You know, some days I wish it were smaller, but one of my favorite people on the planet says dream massive, start tiny. So so that's what we do. The vision is so right now, we are really full bore working on the release of our Android and iOS consumer applications. So we have an Alpha version of our Android mobile application that is live in the Google Play store in four countries. We are building ambassador programs for that, for direct for our direct consumer. And that's going to take that social learning community and bring in content and users from all over the globe. So we're very excited for that. Of course, we still our Web application is mobile responsive, so we still have a good, healthy user base in the United States asia Pacific. In particula, In Southeast Asia, we have really strong got some reseller partnerships and offices, local offices dotted around there. So we've still got really strong ties between those areas. But our vision is to see this social learning community take on a life of its own for people again, to to learn to form a community of belonging where they can listen humans to be human from one another, where people can authentically post and we use things as teachable moments instead of instead of denying it or being PC. But also where we don't tolerate we're unlike Facebook in the sense that we're not going to tolerate fake news or certain political bigotry or privacy violations, things of that nature we're on like Instagram and that authenticity is valued. We've got a whole lot of nerds and weirdos and introverts and stuff. Proud, proud to say that say that in a in a good way. 

[00:29:53] But obviously also people who are very social and outgoing and want to want to go see the world. I want to share the world through their eyes. And ultimately that social learning community will reconnect with the back end of the Web application so that we can bring really superior use. The best of the technology has to offer to bring really superior premium language and cultural learning features to to the app. And again, carrying that back from the focus is going to be much more on on real life and real life skills. So rewarding people for taking what they learn and applying it in the real world. That's the be human element. And then ultimately going back to this coming full circle on the story about equity, we want to make it a marketplace. I want teachers of Uraba in Nigeria or EBOW to be able to teach their own language and their own culture from the comfort of their own home in their own country, so that people who are living in diaspora could learn that language. I want people in rural Indonesia who would have maybe no other opportunity to learn American English, to be able to build the skills they need to be able to get that job in Jakarta. 

[00:31:12] I want people who I imagine I imagine people in America, I imagine white people, maybe for the first time listening to some black folks and black folks, maybe for the first time listening to some white folks that we can do it asynchronously and be like, oh, my gosh, that's what he meant when he said that. 

[00:31:33] Right. And it's a beautiful vision. 

[00:31:38] Yeah. We we have a big vision for it. And and I hope that. My belief is, I mean, it's not just my belief, I'm betting the bank on it, that there are a whole lot of other people out there in the world who share that vision and they just haven't known how to make it happen because there hasn't been a platform designed just for this. 

[00:31:58] So, yeah. 

[00:32:01] And it's also taken a sample of the world in your own company. That's what I think is beautiful. 

[00:32:07] You've described all those different people. And, you know, I'm sure they're probably days where everybody doesn't agree. But learning how to be a community in that little microcosm is the way I think. And this is just my soapbox just from where I where I come from and the work that I've done as an educator, like when we can learn how to do it in our small spaces, then we can matriculate that into the rest of the world. So kudos to you and your colleagues for for making that vision a reality on a day to day basis for people. Traci, I think it's amazing. 

[00:32:44] Thank you, Nelsa. And, you know, the reality of it is most people start with good intentions and it's it's really easy for them. Remember going back to those unintended unintended incompetents or whatever, like unconscious incompetence, lost a lot of the time. When the conflict arises, it's because of an assumption. It's because it's a story that we're telling ourselves in our head about something. And so one of the hardest things to do, and maybe you know, Scott, to your point about employee engagement, one of the hardest things to do and just being a good human, I mean, shoot, this happens at home with our husbands and wives and loved ones. 

[00:33:23] Right. 

[00:33:24] Others, right. Partners. So just just to get out of our head and stop the story and go ask a clarifying question, what did you mean when you said blah, blah, blah? 

[00:33:38] Right. . 

[00:33:40] Instead of assuming the worst and going from there? Exactly. 

[00:33:44] Yeah, that's one of the most powerful skills for inter or intracultural communication. 

[00:33:51] Well, I tell you what, I feel smarter every time we talk. 

[00:33:54] So it just makes me feel, you know, this little Southern guy right here feels great when I talk to Traci because she always just makes me feel smarter. Just through osmosis, I think is what it is. Just aclimate, because you're just one of the brightest people I know, an incredible musician. But but I have loved watching this transformation to see you as a business leader on the world stage. 

[00:34:24] It is it's been a it's a great experience, even though I don't get to see you as much. It is a great experience seeing you progress, seeing you grow and, you know, tackling the challenges that you tackle with your business. I just hats off to you, my friend. 

[00:34:39] Thank you, Scott. And I miss you, my friend. And Nelsa, I look forward to meeting you in person. 

[00:34:44] Yeah, definitely. You shall. You shall. Yeah. And we're going to do that. I'm going to be having her come visit soon for a very important reason. 

[00:34:54] So there are fifty important reasons to have that conversation, but we'll save that for another day. Thank you for joining us today. I hope. I hope. 

[00:35:07] Now, listen, tell us if people want to know more about Apto or if our, you know, any of our clients are listening and they're very interested because we have some great global clients as well. Where should they go? How do they find you? How do they find your company and more about it? 

[00:35:21] Great. So first first things first. You can go to our marketing website, Apto Global dot com. So that's a-p-t-o. A is an Apple P as in Peter T as in Thomas O is an own global dot com. And then you can also follow me. All of my social media is, I think Apto Global CEO or Traci Snowden on LinkedIn. And you can email me at Traci@aptoglobal.com. So I would love to to have a chat. We are very focused right now on on the relationship between higher education and workforce development, multinational with multinational organizations and pipelines. So that's a great, great place, a great place to start. 

[00:36:10] That's awesome. So I hope they do it. All right, my friend, thank you for joining us today. I've been thrilled to get you on here and look forward to seeing you very soon. 

[00:36:20] Thank you so much. Bye bye. 

[00:36:22] Bye. 

[00:36:23] Bye bye. 

[00:36:30] Thank you for joining us on the C.A. Short, All In Employee podcast. Scott and I will see you next time. 


Topics: Employee Engagement, Communication, Community Engagement, Culture of Engagement

R Scott Russell, CRP, CEP

About the Author
R Scott Russell, CRP, CEP

R Scott Russell is a video host, public speaker, and a sought-after thought leader in the world of employee engagement and recognition. At C.A. Short Company, he is responsible for producing engaging content, helping clients maximize the effectiveness of their programs, and providing ongoing training and education.

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