Continuing with our feature series, Meet a Member, we spoke to Zach Braiker about his entrepreneurship journey and what led him to TiE.
Tell us about your background: where you grew up, what’s your family like, and how did you come to Massachusetts?
I grew up in an entrepreneurial, open-minded, family whose values of welcoming strangers and learning from everyone informs everything I do.
I don’t have a hometown. For the first 18 years of my life, I moved constantly: 3 lower schools, 3 middle schools, 3 high schools; all in different cities. When you move so much you make a choice -never make friends or make friends easily. And I chose the latter.
I came to Boston in High School, for a summer program at Harvard. I loved the energy of the people I met — international, inspired, and vibrant.
What is your company (or idea), and how/when did you realize that it was potentially great?
My company is refine+focus, which I co-lead with my wife and partner, Purnima Thakre. Simplifying complex ideas to empower companies and leaders achieve their potential is at the heart of what we do.
We build go-to-market strategies for health and technology companies pursuing big, audacious ideas. We use customer and market insights to reveal what customers really want and apply the learning to express value propositions that cut through the clutter.
We know that pretty decks and PowerPoints don’t build lasting competitive advantage, but informed leaders and aligned teams do — and that’s who we serve.
20 years ago, when we started the company, we were at the forefront of the social media revolution. At the time, businesses were out of touch with how their customers used social media to make decisions about what to buy, who to date, and where to learn. We helped companies understand the behavior of socially savvy customers. While now our focus is strategy and execution planning — not just social — understanding how the world is connected socially helps us be more effective.
We have a unique model that places learning at the center everything we do. We learn with heart-led, brilliant young leaders and senior executives alike who comprise our community. They work with us because they want to grow personally and professionally. And like us, they want to do well while doing good.
What motivated you to pursue your idea?
Curiosity. Helping people. Constantly learning. So did building a community based on trust and shared values. We found an opportunity to do this with our business.
Too often people are afraid to ask questions they think are naïve. And because of this, they don’t learn and grow. I want to change that. I am motivated by creating spaces for authentic conversation and connection. This creates alignment, trust, and clarity even before a strategy is developed.
Was there adversity along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
Absolutely. When I started the business 20 years ago, I had just graduated from college. I had to learn how to present to very senior leaders who were skeptical or threatened by change. I learned how to present insights in a way that was inclusive, rather than threatening, and lead by understanding the values that mattered to others before expressing my own ideas.
I’ve learned the awesome power of lifelong business and personal relationships, and, as the saying goes, business moves at the speed of trust.
We’ve worked extensively across countries, cultures, communities, and learned how to communicate to earn attention and build trust. We’ve learned that being clear is kind, and being concise is essential.
What is a tech trend you are following, and why?
How to use AI to unleash the creative potential of everyday people, and how to use AI responsibly: as a thought partner not as a thought replacer.
It’s incredible to watch someone who has always wanted to write a poem, or a song, or paint a picture they have in their mind, being able to do so with AI.
How did you find TiE Boston, and what prompted you to become a member?
I am a TiE Charter member because of Neeraj Chandra. He inspired me with his passion for mentoring companies “the right way, the ScaleUp way”, and for his ability to master so many topics, from poetry and cuisine to startup growth and giving back. After many shared dinners and great conversations, he invited me to join TiE ScaleUp.
On many visits to India, I met incredible TiE leaders, including Naren Bakshi who invited my wife and I to his home in Jaipur, and hosted us to meet with startup leaders in his community.
What is your current involvement in TiE Boston and TiE ScaleUp?
I serve on TiE ScaleUp’s Task Force, which is ably and well lead by my good friend and colleague, Pramod Kalyanasundaram. Working closely with him, Satish Tadikonda, Satish Bhat, and Dean Walsh is a continuous opportunity to give back to our startup ecosystem, while growing professionally at the same time.
I had the pleasure of collaborating with Sunita Kanchinadam. Her leadership of the 2023 edition of TiECon East moved mountains and creating an amazing event for our community.
I have enjoyed many conversations with Yash Shah, who is energetically cultivating purpose, and social connection in our TiE community.
What did you find most rewarding about this role?
I love to help startups grow, and building a community of innovation that benefits us all.
What is most interesting/helpful about TiE Boston for you?
It’s the People. Always.
I admire the remarkable women leaders in our community, from Anu Chitrapu, Sunita Kanchinadam, Rowena Mascarenhas and Nilanjana Bhowmik and the entrepreneurs in our ScaleUp program.
I also have the pleasure of learning, from Sushil Bhatia, insights on well-being, and learning from Dinesh Patel’s wisdom.
How can people engage in TiE Boston to help their personal and professional growth?
Start by making a friend, or colleague. Explore a shared interest at a TiE event.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to follow in your steps?
Give first. Help people whose character and ideas you believe in. Stay in touch with them.
What are you working on now?
Helping incredible companies, established and emerging leaders achieve audacious goals. This includes empowering a sovereign nation to increase its foreign direct investment, enabling a leader in whole genome sequencing to bring its offerings to mass market, creating insights-driven customer acquisition and growth strategies for a high growth company, changing how families solve for dinner, and guiding senior leaders and executives to build strategic narratives which want pay attention.
Are there any books and or podcasts you would recommend to rising professionals and entrepreneurs?
To think differently, change your media diet.
For podcasts, try: This American Life, Marketplace, the Ezra Klein Show, and Radio Lab.
And for books: Salman Rushdie’s “Languages of Truth”, April Dunford’s “Obviously Awesome,” Warren Berger’s “A More Beautiful Question.” And anything by Jhumpa Lahiri or Yiyun Li.