Dan Wojno on Making & Maintaining Global Connections
CEO & Founder
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Co-Founder and COO
In this episode, Dan Wojno, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Aether Diamonds, joins host Alana Muller to share how he navigates and grows his international network by connecting remotely with professionals from around the world. Tune in to hear how Dan utilizes tools like Zoom and Slack to meet professionals with aligned interests. “I’ve made a lot of great connections and deals, all with people that I’ve never actually met in person.”
Alana Muller: Welcome to Enterprise.ing, a podcast from Enterprise Bank & Trust that's empowering business leaders, one conversation at a time. We'll hear from different business leaders about how they found success in cultivating their professional networks and keeping them healthy and strong.
I'm your host, Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader whose primary focus is to connect, inspire, and empower community. We at Enterprise Bank & Trust thank you for tuning in to another episode.
Well, hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Enterprise.ing Podcast. So glad to have you here today. And anyone who knows me, they know that I love diamonds. They are definitely a girl's best friend, and after all, they are especially great when they're manufactured in a sustainable manner that's actually good for the environment. Imagine that.
Serving as Aether's chief operating officer is today's guest, Dan Wojno. He brings decades of experience in jewelry manufacturing and production to the team. While Dan's jewelry career has taken him around the globe, it began in New York City, working for David Yurman and later for Pandora. Dan, welcome to Enterprise.ing.
Dan Wojno: It's great to be here. We like to say that diamonds can be the planet's best friend, as well.
Alana Muller: I love that. And you know, I have to tell you that my birthday is Earth Day, so I'm good with both of those things. That's great.
Dan Wojno: And April is the month of the diamond, so it all washes.
Alana Muller: Exactly. That's exactly right. With that in mind, tell our listeners a little bit more about Aether Diamonds and its value proposition, in terms of manufacturing climate-positive diamonds.
Dan Wojno: Yeah, absolutely. So at Aether, we make the world's first diamonds from thin air. So we take captured carbon from the atmosphere and use that to create high-quality, gem-grade diamonds in a lab. So they're the world's first climate-positive, carbon-negative diamonds.
Alana Muller: I think that is amazing, and I love the idea. I love the notion. And we've heard so much about the way that gems are actually extracted from the earth, and the fact that you're making this out of air and actually doing something positive for the environment is really remarkable. So thank you for the important work that you're doing.
I know that you have lived and traveled all over the world, with stints in places like Thailand and Denmark. What have you discovered about networking, on a global basis?
Dan Wojno: You know, I think overall, it's not that much different from just networking locally. And honestly, it's the face-to-face interactions: having a meal with somebody, talking about things that are outside of your normal scope, that really help build the relationships. So I stay connected with friends that I made in Copenhagen and in Bangkok to this day, and it is a little bit harder being half a world away.
Alana Muller: Well, and I think what you're reaffirming for me is that when it comes to networking, the thing that makes it difficult from country to country or on a global basis is really just the distance. It's about the geography, but it's not because networking or relationship-building is unimportant or differently important, so to speak, in other parts of the world. That this is really about human nature and making friends and building meaningful and long-lasting interactions. And I assume that's what you've found, based on your comments?
Dan Wojno: Yeah, absolutely. And I think the pandemic and doing everything on Zoom these days has shown me that there's plenty of great connections that you can make remotely. To a certain extent, we built Aether entirely over Zoom, because we had the idea pre-pandemic, but we really started ramping up and doing our fundraising during the pandemic, and so just by that nature, everything has had to be remote. And so we've made a lot of great connections and deals and started manufacturing, all with people that we'd never actually met in person.
So I don't want to say bad things about doing things remotely, but there's a certain aspect that can never be replaced. When you actually meet somebody in person, you can let your conversation wander a little bit more than it might over a Zoom call, and you can find other ways that maybe your businesses can overlap and align and figure out new paths forward.
Alana Muller: Yeah, I think that's right, and in fact, with that in mind, how do you actively manage your network?
Dan Wojno: For me, I'm always looking to meet new people, and one of the ways that I've done that, especially over the pandemic, is Slack groups. So typically, I've always thought of Slack as an inter-company sort of tool, but more and more interest-specific Slack groups are popping up. And if you can find ones that align with your interests, it's a great way to join a community of like-minded people, ask questions, learn, teach people, and network. And you're not going to run into the trolls that you might run into on some open Facebook group, and it's been great.
Right now, I think I'm in five different climate and manufacturing-oriented Slack groups, and just the other day, ended up having a business meeting with somebody that's making carbon-negative fabrics that maybe we want to use in our business. And that was all through this Slack group and then different seminars that they've hosted, both virtually and then also some in person.
Alana Muller: That's so cool. It's almost like what Meetup was originally, but almost coming at it from a hybrid perspective, where you're leveraging both the goodness of coming together in person, as well as virtual interactions.
Dan Wojno: Absolutely, and just kind of seamlessly tying them together. I've been in some really great virtual events that I've found out about through the Slack groups, but then oftentimes, it ends up being an in-person Meetup. And so I've gone to different climate Meetups in person and met investors and other people that are doing interesting things in the space. And it's a great way to organically meet people that align.
Alana Muller: Did you search for those Slack groups? Were you invited by other participants? In any given industry, how would you recommend to them to find Slack groups that are of interest?
Dan Wojno: I definitely think Googling around. I kind of tripped and fell into quite a few of them, honestly. Podcasts that I've listened to. Some of them have communities that surround them, so there might be Slack groups that you don't even know about that exist. So one of them that I quite like is called “My Climate Journey.” It's a podcast, but then the founder started up a Slack group. It started out as a free Slack group, but now it's a paid one. There's thousands of people in it, at this point. So I think it's worth just Googling around, and I think things that you're already connected with might have that available to you.
Alana Muller: Great recommendation. Great recommendation. Kind of going a little bit further down this path, what are some ways that you have found to make connections mutually beneficial? So for example, how do you give back? How do you show mutual appreciation?
Dan Wojno: Yeah, for me, I think I get this from my mom, a little bit. I'm kind of a connector. My brain is always bouncing around: How can I help somebody out? Who do I know that might be useful to them? Because the way I see it is if I can be helpful to somebody, then that makes them want to be even more helpful to me, and even if there's no alignment between us.
And I especially see that in the climate space, because we're all working towards a common goal, and there's so many solutions that need to succeed, if we're going to make this planet a place that our kids can live. So personally, I'm always trying to make connections, and if I had a meeting with somebody and they don't align with me, I try and introduce them to somebody else. So always trying to connect the dots and keep the ball moving forward.
Alana Muller: Very cool, and I appreciate the shout-out to moms out there. So that's so great, so great. I want to talk a little bit more about Aether, and I wonder how Aether's focus on the environment and technology has impacted the way that you connect with others and maybe specifically, who you seek to interact with in a networking capacity. You've talked about Slack. Are there other ways that because of the focus, again, that Aether has on the environment and technology, that you've shifted or altered the way that you connect with others?
Dan Wojno: Yeah, I think the biggest thing here would just be that we try and be very intentional with the people that we bring into our network and that we associate with. We want to make sure that we're doing as much good as we can, and so we look for that alignment with our investors, as well. Shared values with both investors and also our employees. And anybody that we're doing business with is very important to us.
Alana Muller: Makes so much sense. Focusing on yourself for a moment, can you tell me about an interaction that you've had with one person that's resulted in a breakthrough for you, either personally or professionally?
Dan Wojno: That's a good question. So recently, I started coaching for this group called ScholarMatch. And so ScholarMatch is a group based out of San Francisco, and they match first-generation high school students that are going into college with people who have been to college. To coach them through the process, because otherwise, they might not have anybody that's done it before to usher them through the process. And having somebody that you can ask the questions to help keep them on track, to make sure that they don't miss a silly payment or something, can really help improve outcomes.
And so I'd been looking for a place to volunteer for a while, and it seemed like the perfect way to volunteer my time. And so I got really lucky with my first student that I'm working with. It turns out he's an undocumented immigrant. He moved here maybe five years ago. Didn't speak any English. He lives in a studio apartment with his now three-year-old sister and his mom. He's helped raise his sister. Now he speaks English flawlessly. He has a 4.2 GPA, and I just helped him apply to Stanford.
Alana Muller: Amazing.
Dan Wojno: And so I'm like, "How does this kid exist?" Thinking about everything that he has been through and how determined he's been, it inspires me to do my best, because I haven't had half the struggles that he's had, and he's still coming out on top.
Alana Muller: I'm inspired by the story, and how incredible. Typically, when I ask people this question, they're talking about somebody more seasoned, who's had more years of experience, who's helped to coach them. And you're the mentor, and yet your mentee is the person who has inspired you. I think that's amazing and an incredible story.
Dan Wojno: We were working on what his personal essay would be, and he's talking about how when he was a sophomore in high school, he had to get a job to help pay the rent, and so he'd work at night, and he'd go to school during the day. So he'd work from 11:00 PM to 5:00 AM every day, and after just over a year, he'd saved up enough money. He'd help pay the rent, but then he had eight grand left over. And what does he do? He donated $7,000 of that to his community back in El Salvador.
Alana Muller: Oh, my gosh.
Dan Wojno: It just blew me away, and it puts into perspective some of the people that are out there and how hard some people work and deal with their challenges.
Alana Muller: Well, I think it shows us that when we're having a bad day or when we think we're the ones hurting, that there are other people really going through a tough time. And it's not to diminish our own challenges or difficulty, but we really can be inspired by people who are just making it happen. That's an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing that. So great.
Talk a little bit more about how networking has impacted your business. So specifically, I'm interested in knowing how cultivating professional relationships has enabled you to start and grow Aether.
Dan Wojno: For me, our business wouldn't exist without networking. I've been in the jewelry industry for 11 years, and when we started the company, of course it had a strong jewelry network, but my co-founder and I didn't really know much about how to grow diamonds in a lab, and so we just picked up the phone and started calling people who make the machines that you need to grow diamonds. Calling people who are doing the growing. All the while, meeting great people, interesting people, who want to share their knowledge, their experience. In that regard, sometimes you just have to take the reins and just run with it yourself. And so to me, I see that our company wouldn't exist without networking.
Alana Muller: Of course. I love that. I love that. And so with that in mind, what advice would you give to someone who wants to grow or cultivate their own professional network?
Dan Wojno: I think of course, like I mentioned before, Slack groups, finding groups of people with common interest, whether that's business interest or just personal interest. And then if there's a goal or a business you want to start or an idea you want to pursue, don't be afraid to just call people up and say, "Hey, I'm interested. Can you teach me? What can you tell me about this?"
Sometimes it's hard for me to wrap my head around, but if somebody ever comes to me wanting advice or knowledge, I'm always happy to give it, and it's just making sure that you remember that other people are probably going to do that for you, as well.
Alana Muller: Yeah, that's so cool. I think that's great. If you could meet one person for a networking interaction, and I'm talking living, no longer living, fictional, non-fictional, who would it be? And why?
Dan Wojno: Oh, I'm not sure that this is the most inspiring answer ever, but just because it's top-of-mind, I'd love to meet Lewis Hamilton, F1 racing driver.
Alana Muller: Cool. My son would be very excited to hear you say this.
Dan Wojno: He wears lots of diamonds. He wears jewelry. He would be great. I'd love to get him in some Aether.
Alana Muller: I love that. Yeah, Aether Diamonds is definitely for him, I would say. That's very cool, very cool. What's currently on your nightstand? Just a kind of a fun final question.
Dan Wojno: I have a small wooden gorilla from Uganda that my 11-month old daughter calls Dog-Dog. So I have that. I have a nice Danish lamp that I purchased in Copenhagen, and a book that I just finished reading: The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz, which I couldn't put down.
Alana Muller: Yeah, great book. Yeah, great entrepreneurial story. Useful guide for other entrepreneurs out there. So that's very cool.
Dan Wojno: Absolutely.
Alana Muller: Very cool. If our listeners want to learn a little bit more about Aether Diamonds, where would I direct them?
Dan Wojno: Check out our website. Aether: A-E-T-H-E-R Diamonds, D-I-A-M-O-N-D-S.com. You can see our newest collections, and if none of the items that we have on our website pique your interest, reach out to our custom, and we're happy to make you anything that you like.
Alana Muller: Well, I have to admit: I have been out to aetherdiamonds.com, and what I want to know is: Are we going to move to Aether gems? So are you going to grow sapphires and rubies and emeralds, at some point?
Dan Wojno: That is absolutely possible. They have different chemical makeup, so we wouldn't necessarily be able to make those out of captured carbon, but this is our first material. We see ourselves not just as a diamond and jewelry company, but as a carbon-devalue company. So I don't know if we'll be making other gems in the near future, but maybe other types of solid carbon.
Alana Muller: Well, I appreciate that, and I'm still a diamonds fan, so I'm good with Aether Diamonds. Dan Wojno from Aether Diamonds, thank you so much for joining us today on Enterprise.ing Podcast. So great to have you on.
Dan Wojno: Thanks for having me.
Alana Muller: Thanks for joining us this week on Enterprise.ing. Be sure to visit our website: enterprisebank.com/podcast, to subscribe, so you'll never miss an episode. If you found value in today's program, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or telling a friend about us. Enterprise.ing: powering business leaders, one conversation at a time,
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