Barbara “BE” Alink is transforming the “sick care” industry with The Alinker, the walking bike designed for an active life.
“If you design for people, you’re not solving problems. I reverse design everything. That means I don’t focus on problems. I don’t have problems. I don’t fix anything. I design for humans and, in that effort, you realize how much is problems-fixing out there and completely missing the point because we’re not a problem to be fixed.”
In this episode you’ll learn:
- How the healthcare system treats bodies as something that needs to be fixed
- The human-centered design process behind the Alinker
- The challenges of maintaining quality and comfort while reducing manufacturing costs
- How the Alinker is going to market outside the traditional medical system
- Why it’s so important for BE to ensure customers and others are seen and heard
- How the SheEO Network and other Ventures have helped support BE
- The important of language in transformation
Don’t miss an episode! Subscribe to the SheEO.World Podcast.
BE ALINK: If you design for people, you’re not solving problems. I reverse design everything. That means I don’t focus on problems. I don’t have problems. I don’t fix anything. I design for humans and, in that effort, you realize how much is problems-fixing out there and completely missing the point because we’re not a problem to be fixed.
VICKI: Welcome to SheEO.World, a podcast about redesigning the world. I’m your host, Vicki Saunders. In each episode, you’ll hear from SheEO venture founders, women who are working on the world’s to-do list. These innovative business leaders are solving some of the major challenges of our times. Sit back and prepare to be inspired.
BE ALINK: My name is BE Alink and I am the inventor of The Alinker. The Alinker is a three-wheeled walking bike that changes lives.
VICKI: Amazing. I am here with BE Alink, Barbara Alink on LinkedIn and other places, and better known as BE in our amazing SheEO World network. Welcome, BE. It’s great to have you here.
BE ALINK: It’s fantastic to be here. I’m so excited, Vicki.
VICKI: We met in, I think, 2015 in Vancouver, and you came into this event that we were hosting in Vancouver. You rolled in on this unbelievably cool yellow bike. I just remember looking at it the first time and going, “What is that?” There was just something electric about it. It’s an amazing invention. You call it a vehicle for social change, which I think is really brilliant. Tell us a little bit about the story behind how you got to inventing this.
BE ALINK: Well, it started with a comment of my mom, and it’s always a bit tricky to say that because some people instantly have moms and parents and elderly people in their mind. So I sometimes try to stay away from that. But it did start with a very cool sentence. She and I were walking over to market and watching some elderly people using scooters and rollators and that stuff. And then, out of the blue, my mom being a bit of a stubborn Dutch woman, out of the blue she said, “Over my dead body will I ever use one of those things.” What it did to me, it’s not that she is necessarily the user. I mean she is using it now, but what it did to me is it made me realize that medical devices generally are designed as a technical solution for a body with a problem.
BE ALINK: We treat, and our whole medical system is based on a body with a problem that needs to be fixed. In our whole medical system, we lose our humanity because we’re a little bit more than just a body with a problem. I am an active person, and whether I miss a leg or have MS made me a different person. So why am I judged on what my body has or hasn’t? And of course, that stretches way further than ability or abilities. It goes to skin color, to gender identities, and all that kind of stuff. So it made me aware that mobility devices emphasize the disability and make it even bigger that there is a physical thing going on that is different than mainstream, whatever mainstream is. That just didn’t make any sense to me.
BE ALINK: If it’s awkward to have a disability already, because that’s more to manage as a logistical thing, then it’s really not fair to have something that emphasizes that, so it creates a social divide between people with and without disabilities. That’s just the silliest thing ever. So then I set out to make something so cool that people would love to use it and not like, “Over my dead body.” But it would overcome the discomfort that other people have with a disability.
VICKI: That’s amazing. So this is this empathetic design that we’re hearing about more and more. People are now actually articulating what that is. This is an amazing thing to me because you talk about this concept of reverse design. So I’m imagining you’re sitting there and someone gives you this insight that just hits you like a lightning bolt, which happens with lots of founders, right? Someones just asks a question that just unlocks something in you, and you’re like, oh my god. So how do you even go about redesigning and thinking about a device that is designed for people to live the way that they want to live? Where did it start for you? How did you get going?
BE ALINK: Well, where it started is that I wanted to create something cool for who we are. We are active people that like to be engaged. To be engaged is crucial for how we are as humans amongst each other. It needed to be something that allows you to be out there and about, and be engaged in life because isolation is the biggest disease, and is more debilitating than the physical things that you might experience. That was the whole premise. It needed to be really cool to use and really allow you to be out there and active.
BE ALINK: Then, of course, there’s the whole process of looking at what’s there. For example, a walker. You see people hunched over because I think they need to lean off their weight, so you need to solve the weight, so maybe you need to sit on a seat. Then, in order to have full circulation, maybe your legs should be upright so that you can walk. So you sit on a seat, so some kind of over arching thing with a seating assembly. You need to make it stable, at least one added wheel so it’s stable. Then, [inaudible 00:05:20] you would kick into that. So maybe the wheel should be in the front and one in the back. And how do you solve the steering.
BE ALINK: So very quickly, it became an overarching thing with two wheels in front and one in the back, with a seating assembly on top of it. That was within an hour that I figured out that’s sort of the premise of what I need to do because it just made sense. You’ve got no brace on your legs, you’re at eye level, and it really looks cool.
VICKI: Yeah. Okay. Then so it was done, easy peasy.
BE ALINK: Totally, yes. Yeah, no problem whatsoever.
VICKI: So how many prototypes? How did you start? Tell us a little bit about that process.
BE ALINK: So first, I started cutting little pieces of cardboard and tying that together with tape, just to figure … fiddle around with some shapes and some stuff, and cutting out a little human body and putting that on it, and how that would work.
VICKI: Oh cool.
BE ALINK: Then I started bending … and I’ve got pictures of all those things. All the prototypes, the whole thing is there. I made drawings … because I’m a woodworker. The first prototype’s in wood.
BE ALINK: Then I found a guy in Vancouver, where I lived at that time, where I lived at that time. Well, I lived in Richmond, but I lived close to Vancouver. I needed to have conceptual prototypes, but in in real life. Real size, so we can actually try them. So I needed somebody who could weld stuff because I can do a lot, but I cannot weld. I could, but I just don’t have the time. So I made them in wood, and then I went to this guy who makes really cool stuff, and he can weld aluminum. He started messing about.
BE ALINK: In the beginning, I remember his face like, oh my god, what the fuck is this? [inaudible 00:06:57]. Well, some wooden shit. He started messing with these. Oh yeah, you were expecting me to translate this. What are you thinking, this wood. I said, dah dah. I said, I’m paying you to make the prototype. Stop whining, start making it. So we did a whole relationship with each other, which was really fun. Then he was like, why don’t you just make that straight, that’s cheaper. Then I was like, I don’t want it straight because it has to be fucking cool. So what the hell.
BE ALINK: So the first one was sort of functional and taught me a lot already. Then the second one … but it was still straight and I was mad. It has to be cool. So the second prototype, he went out of his way to facilitate me to make it really, really cool, and he made it so ridiculous. See, this is what you get when you want to make it cool. It was so ridiculous, I was like, damn I wanted to curse.
BE ALINK: Then we had seven prototypes together and we had a lot of fun actually doing it. I had a job with a glass studio in Vancouver doing a project Doha and quality control with the glass for the new airport in Doha which allowed me, because the time difference, to come very early in the office and then piss off again after 1:00 or something. Then I went to the studio with Toby. Toby [inaudible 00:08:13] works in Vancouver. Super cool guy.
BE ALINK: Then we started messing around with the prototypes.
VICKI: You sort of had a job to kind of bootstrap you through figuring out how to get this prototype going. Okay, so seven prototypes with Toby and then what?
BE ALINK: Four prototypes with Toby and then my money ran out, but it was about $40 thousand or something, because prototyping just costs a lot of time and money. I did some meet ups where I met Fiafia, somebody who was interesting in investing. I was like, investing, how does that work? I didn’t even know what a share was. Literally, I had no idea. Then was again, I need investments, so how does that work? So Alan, this first guy, somehow he saw something in me and he reflected on it awhile ago, but he saw something and he was like, Barbara, I’m going to invest in you. I’m going to get some associates and I’ll mentor you through how you raise money and what you do on your paperwork, and what a share is.
BE ALINK: He started working with me and he was incredible. Throughout the years, there’s this dude who was 72, I think when I met him. So now he’s 79 or something, and he’s always there. He’s always there, just quietly. He’s there when I need him, and then I call him like, Alan. He’s like, what? Then he talks me through stuff. Awhile ago, I had a call with him and he said, Barbara, literally from everything what you’ve done in the last seven years, I don’t think you’ve done anything by the books, which is probably the biggest compliment of a guy who stuck with me as an investor.
BE ALINK: But never tried to change me. He was one of those angels. We talked about [inaudible 00:09:50] but he’s a true angel because he just showed up and did not try to change me. He said, I’ll invest in you because I see something. I believe in you. I’ll write up the money, and here.
BE ALINK: Absolutely amazing, yes.
VICKI: That’s so cool. So you had some capital to kind of get it moving. When did it start to come to market? What happened after that?
BE ALINK: Well, with that money, I could make more prototypes and I started writing the patents. I thought, after four prototypes, I was really fire and I started making websites. When you look back, you see all those things like, wow okay. I had to learn a lot. So then seven prototypes in, I knew that the concept was proven and I was far enough ahead that I needed to engineer it. Then, through an old friend in the Netherlands, the husband of my old biology teacher, introduced me to this guy in the Netherlands who’s making [inaudible 00:10:42] and does engineering. He’s a bike manufacturer for weird bikes, all sorts of [inaudible 00:10:47] stuff and anything that is out of the normal, he makes.
BE ALINK: Then he introduced me to his partner in Taiwan with a longstanding relationship of manufacturing quality control and all that stuff through the years. With [inaudible 00:11:01], I made another seven pre production prototypes, all the engineering, making sure that what they do is actually affordable once you put it through production. So then, you get the engineering affordability, all that stuff. If you have to make all custom parts, which is the case in the Alinker, it’s going to be expensive. So how can we reduce cost, keep the quality and engineer it such that it’s a very comfortable and easy to use thing. That was quite a challenge.
VICKI: I bet.
BE ALINK: Total 14 prototypes, but hundreds of variations. Every little bolt, screw, whatever had dings of discussions.
BE ALINK: Testing and trying, unbelievable.
VICKI: When I hear this, it makes me laugh a little bit to think about how much we don’t know when we start off on our journeys. Oh yeah, I’m just going to solve that thing, and you get going, and then deeper and deeper, and the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. It’s just a crazy struggle, right?
BE ALINK: Yeah.
BE ALINK: With that first prototype, for example, I’ve got a guy who was 81 or something, at that time. There was not even a saddle on it. There was just a little multiplex plank, so it must have crushed his balls. But he got on it, and something happened in his face. He flipped around his cap and he started running. He’s like, I haven’t run in 20 years.
VICKI: Oh my God, amazing.
BE ALINK: I was like, holy shit. What? So every prototype, I always tested it with people, and the responses that I got back, it’s not about what I can do or what I should do or start a business. It was like, if this is what it will do to people, then there’s no other option than to do this and see it through, and bring it to market because then, if you design for people, you’re not solving problems. Getting back to that reverse design that you just already said, I reverse design everything. That means I don’t focus on problems. I don’t have problems. I don’t fix anything. I design for humans, and in that effort, you realize how much is problems fixing out there and completely missing the point, because we’re not a problem to be fixed.
VICKI: Right. Absolutely. So you have somebody playing with it and working on it, and you start to see how they’re using it. Was there a lot of interaction in the earlier days with, quote unquote, customers or free customers to figure that out?
BE ALINK: Completely, a lot. In Toby’s workshop, everybody who walked in had to try it.
BE ALINK: Everybody who want it, on the street or whatever and was like, oh that’s cool. I was like, want to try it? Try it, see what you think.
VICKI: And you’d watch them and see what they did. Yeah.
BE ALINK: Then people started referring to us, oh my brother’s an amputee, and there was somebody who said, oh my father has MS, or whatever. Then all those things started popping up. I was like, ooh, if everybody who got on the Alinker knows about somebody who they think this could work for, then wow. The Alinker is not made for a 70 … it’s not for MS. It’s not for an amputee. It’s for how we want to stay active. Then we happen to have a body with certain things. So there’s not really a segment that we can focus on I learned, because active people who happen to have a little bit more logistics to manage than other people, they’re rather second in our market.
BE ALINK: Because we’re not solving a problem.
VICKI: Yeah, and it’s a really different thing. When I first met you, I heard the story about your mom, but I would refer to it as it’s a rethinking of the walker and the wheelchair. I would say that a lot. In fact, I still do sometimes, and then I can imagine you chastising me for saying that, because that’s not really it. That was maybe where the initial sort of insight was, but then it was what kind of mobility challenges do people have, and how do they want to live, and how can this be used just really very, very broadly.
VICKI: It’s not unlike the SheEO, people are like, what’s the traditional or a typical activator? I’m like, they’re all ages, all stages. They come for all different reasons. So you don’t want to put it in a box. It’s for this kind of person, right? I imagine it’s still evolving. You’ve talked about now you’re doing this for different audiences, for kids and for others. So, as you get it out in market, you start to see more and more what the opportunities are for [inaudible 00:15:11].
BE ALINK: Where people don’t have something that they can relate to. So the people who find us, they’re generally people that sit at home desperately googling for something cooler than what they can find in the shop, something that can keep them active. If you say that half the retail users can still use their legs, but there’s nothing designed for them to be at eye level and to keep their legs active. You say that three times, it becomes really weird.
VICKI: It’s insane. How is that even possible? 50% of people in wheelchairs can still move their legs, but as soon as they go into it, then they start to deteriorate because they’re not moving.
BE ALINK: Yeah. So everybody who I talked to in the last years, with MS for example, there’s just the highest prevalence of them is in Canada. So it’s a large group of people that we have, and the Alinker seems to work for them well. They all have the same experience. The doctor says, just get used to the wheelchair overtime, and here’s your medication, because at least nothing will happen to you. This is the misconstrued reality of the medical world. Get into a wheelchair, at least nothing will happen to you. Something will happen to you because you will lose the rest of your mobility if you can’t practice your legs.
BE ALINK: But there is something that at least you can’t fall. So it’s all-
VICKI: It’s all risk mitigation. Yeah, absolutely.
BE ALINK: Exactly. The risk mitigation is on the body with the problem. It’s not on how we want to live and what actually makes sense. So we deactivate the brain by sitting all day, as where the brain wants to work. If you activate the brain, the brain can actually manage a lot more, and that means less motivation any more than the brain can do. Well, that doesn’t make money, so slowly by slowly I started realizing that everything that we do with the Alinker is not feeding into the money making system of the current healthcare system, which I always call the sick care system because it kicks in once we’re sick and is only reactive.
BE ALINK: Then it’s focused on medication.
VICKI: Talk to us about a story or two from your network of people who were not active, and then somehow found you and got an Alinker. Then what are the results? What’s happening as people start to get active again?
BE ALINK: My favorite story, and my longest standing friendship in the Alinker, is Joel. He was the very first Alinker user in the US. He was typically one of those guys, he was I think 58 or something when he … 61? I don’t know, somewhere around 60 when he contacted me. He said, I found this thing online. This is it. Is it real? I was like, is it real, what do you mean? So we got on Skype and Denise is his wife. He said, well I’m finding all this cool stuff that is potentially fantastic for me online, and nothing makes it to market.
BE ALINK: I kind of knew why it doesn’t make it to market because it’s so damn hard to bring something to market. It really is. He said, is this real? I said, well in the last pre production prototype, it will get to market, but it’s not yet there. He said, where are you now? I said, well I’m actually in the Netherlands right now to test this thing out. If you’ve got something completely new that you test out, you want to do it in the Netherlands. Not because they’re so gentle to new things, but if you make it in the Netherlands with a new product, you’ll make it anywhere because they’re so stubborn and hard to change their ways I guess.
BE ALINK: I was in the Netherlands and he said, I’ll fly to the Netherlands. I was like, no, because there’s no guarantee it will work for you. He had 20 years MS, cannot walk. With crutches, he does a few meters, but then he gets exhausted and his wrists are wrecked, and he’s got the risk of falling all the time, so his anxiety level goes up a lot. I said, you’re not coming here because there’s no guarantee that it works and it’s not even ready. He cannot come.
BE ALINK: There was no stopping him. It was so funny. He was like, no, no, I’m going to … No you’re not. He was like, yeah I am. So then, a few days later, he was there, and he met us, and he got on the Alinker and did three and a half kilometers through the [inaudible 00:19:16].
VICKI: Oh my God.
BE ALINK: You can imagine that there’s no way that he is not going to go with that prototype back to the US, because he got his life back, he had his … I was like, shit, okay. Clearly, I can’t tell you anything. So he goes from being a guy who sits at home, desperately googling for something that could help him, to now years later, four years in the Alinker, being a shareholder in the company because he loves it. He said, I want to be part of this family, and this is not about money. This is about what we can do to create a better society because it is a vehicle for social change. It’s so much more than just a bike, because now we focus on people in isolation being acknowledged and all that stuff. The essentials in our lives, just being acknowledged and seen and heard.
BE ALINK: So now that Denise and I talked … we often talk, but last week or something, I had her on the phone and she said, Joe just went with his Alinker in the car from New Jersey to Florida to visit family because he can.
VICKI: Oh my gosh.
BE ALINK: He figured out a way to lean against with his back against the car, pull out the Alinker, flip it in the back of the car, lean back against the car to go to the driver seat, drive.
VICKI: Oh my gosh.
BE ALINK: In an adjusted car, obviously, but he drives Independent to Florida to visit family.
VICKI: Oh my God.
BE ALINK: That’s one of my favorite stories. He always wanted to go to the Museum of Modern Art, for example. So when I was visiting, he said, BE you want to go to … I said, yeah sure. So we went to MOMA in New York four hours. I was exhausted. He was not. Jesus.
VICKI: Yeah, that’s amazing.
BE ALINK: Incredible. That kind of stuff is just-
VICKI: That’s one of my favorite parts from the video that you have where you have him and his wife, Denise, for the first time walking together, and they’re holding hands, and they hadn’t done that for what? She said 20 years or something. So there they were at eye height, holding hands, looking at things in the museum. How beautiful. It changes lives.
BE ALINK: It’s not just Joe that’s with MS. Denise also lives with MS.
VICKI: Yeah, exactly, the whole family.
BE ALINK: That’s the whole family around it, the whole environment.
VICKI: So okay, let’s talk abut going to market because one of the things I love about your approach is you’re doing this in a very different way, similar to how we’re doing things differently at SheEO, and we talked about the sick care system/healthcare system. So why not go and distribute through traditional medical channels? What’s the problem with doing that?
BE ALINK: Where do I start?
VICKI: I know, small question. What’s wrong with the medical system?
BE ALINK: Yeah. Well, first of all, I have nothing against the sick care system because people do get sick and they need a sick care system. So it’s very good that we have sick care, though you can question where the focus lies. I do believe, at the moment, we have a sick care system that mostly focuses on medicating. I have nothing against medication, but I do have something against medication when that’s the first go to, before we ask how much do you move, what do you eat, and what does your poo look like, so to speak.
BE ALINK: We’re a little bit lost, I feel, with a food industry that just pumps a lot of processed food and sugar into us that we get sick, and then we want the sick care system to create a solution, a cure. Everything is focused on raising funds for the cure, as where it’s not a disease that can be cured with a pill. So the sick care system, I want to leave that for what it is because, if we’re focused on we’re active beings and we want to stay active regardless of mobility challenges, we’re not in a sick care world yet.
BE ALINK: Or that use the Alinker might have medication, and often have, what we’re seeing is that, once people get on the Alinker and are more socially active to fly with the Alinker to places that they couldn’t fly anymore, visit family, generally become happier, generally start eating differently. Because, when you’re happier, you change your eating patterns often, and they can reduce certain medication. They’re not on antidepressants anymore or they’re reducing medication that they needed before. We’re not in the sick care system, and medical devices, if you want to get them back from the medical system right now, well first of all there’s the margin problem.
BE ALINK: I had one of the big medical providers, medical device providers in Canada, saying to me, we’re mad that we can’t … We want to sell the Alinker for you, but we can’t, and you’re underselling us. I was like, I’m a private company. How can I be underselling you? That’s quite interesting.
BE ALINK: It’s my thing and I’m selling it privately. They said, well if we want to sell this, it has to sell for five or six thousand dollars in Canada. Now, we’re selling it for two and a half thousand, 2480 no taxes. So it would have to be at least, if not more than two times as much. I was like, why is that? Because I learned that that is the margins that they take off in order for it to be a medical device. Class one medical device, it goes through all those procedures so you can’t be your own distributor anymore. All that stuff costs a lot of money, and it’s not to the benefit of the people that use those things.
BE ALINK: A tidied wheelchair, for example, is four and a half thousand dollars. They don’t cost four and a half thousand dollars. If that was a private company, they could probably sell it for two and a half thousand same as the Alinker.
VICKI: So there’s all kinds of margins in the supply chain for everybody taking their cut. That’s the biggest barrier to selling them through distributors for you?
BE ALINK: That’s one barrier. If you’ve ever tried to go to need a wheelchair, for example, and then you go to one of those providers and you say, I want a wheelchair, it’s not a kind process. You feel like you’re holding up your hand, that you’re asking for something you shouldn’t be asking for. You actually barely rarely get the thing that you really want, a cool wheelchair for example. You get the one that’s cheaper or whatever. So there’s the complaints that I had from people what it takes and how you feel when you try to get your money back for one of those things that you actually need. It’s really not a nice system. It’s really not nice. It’s not facilitating to the user, again.
BE ALINK: It’s facilitating the system itself.
VICKI: That’s really interesting because we haven’t’ talked about this before. So, if that’s the system … so you’re talking to someone who’s not necessarily treating you like a human, or they are, but it’s just not the way that you would like to see it running your organization, I’ve seen you many many times sitting in my living room or sitting on planes or in airports, answering all of these emails and talking to people, and getting on a phone with someone to listen to their story about the challenges they face.
VICKI: So there’s a very high touch customer service going on right now. Why is that important to you?
BE ALINK: Well, first of all, I don’t call it customer service. I call it accessible, and I think we should be accessible because people have been living at the receiving end of a sick care system that was not designed for their wellbeing. The thing that happens most is that people feel isolated. They’re not listened to. They get mad because they feel that they walk into walls trying to get the right treatment. The stories of the women, mostly, because I do think the medical system also is quite sexist. The stories of women trying to get a diagnosis for MS sometimes takes years because they’re like, oh well, you’re just a single mom and you’re tired, and duh, duh, duh. It is horrific to live at the receiving end of a sick care system that is not designed for our wellness.
BE ALINK: So showing up for people, listening, just listening sometimes, and saying I get it, I totally get it, and you must be really mad because … or whatever. What do we do with that? I don’t want to hang on the madness, I don’t want to hang in the complaints.
BE ALINK: I get it that people are in that space. So here I am, somebody who makes something that people just see and get hope. It’s not for everybody so, first of all, I need to mitigate that because it really isn’t’ for everybody. So many people I engage with never get on an Alinker, but they feel seen and heard, because that’s essential. We need to just show up for each other. And I always do because I can.
VICKI: That’s incredibly powerful. I feel like I do the same thing with entrepreneurs, which is I listen to them going through the challenges they’re facing, go yep, I hear you. It’s hard. It’s just the line for humanity, that we all need to do in our communities is just show up for each other, listen to each other, hear each other’s pain. You just have no idea what’s behind or under the surface with everybody.
BE ALINK: Right.
VICKI: So you are in the world right now. This is so exciting. So you’re out in other communities and other markets. You’re not just in Canada. How many countries are you in, and how did that kind of happen?
BE ALINK: Yes. So we’re in Canada and the US, and in the Netherlands, in the UK, in New Zealand, and in Australia at the moment. Of course, since Selma Blair posted herself on the Alinker … She found the Alinker changed her life, and she’s like, this thing needs to be everywhere, and if i can help you be a voice to bring it out to market to get sure that people can see it, I will do that. Since Selma has been involved, I’m getting responses from all over the world, like we’d like to do the distribution here, there, many countries.
VICKI: That’s amazing. Just to be clear, so the people who don’t know who Selma Blair is. She’s an actress from Hollywood and she went to the Oscars this year with a cain, and announced that she had been diagnosed with MS, which to you point had taken a long time to get diagnosed. Again, the power of someone taking a picture and putting it up on Instagram when they have hundreds of thousands of followers, and starting to raise the awareness around this, and to show that someone with MS is on something that gives them joy.
VICKI: Some of her posts were unbelievable, where she’s like, weee. It’s quite awesome to see that. That actually kind of reminds me. You and I were walking through Time Square a couple of years ago and there was this woman who was being pushed in a wheelchair by her parents. Do you remember that?
BE ALINK: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
VICKI: And I’m not really attuned to watching this, but are because you’re on it. You’re out there constantly noticing who’s taking a look at this.
BE ALINK: When that was happening, I was actually watching you.
VICKI: Oh, you were?
BE ALINK: Yeah.
VICKI: Remember, she kind of tweaked, this young girl. You stopped immediately and said, would you like to try it. Ill never forget it because her parents were like, oh no, no, no. She was off the wheelchair before they could even stop her, and on the bike. Then she started to move, and it was just … her face was just lit up in the most exquisite way. I thought, wow. What is the feeling you have when you realize that’s the kind of joy that you’re providing to people? It’s amazing to me to watch.
BE ALINK: Yeah, it always gets me when I see it. At the same time, that should be so normal.
VICKI: Totally, I know.
BE ALINK: I don’t know. It’s a weird feeling to be the one who made this thing. At the same time, I know it’s not my thing. There were so many angels and people necessary to bring it to where it is now, and it is only to where it is now because I listen to all those people who were willing to try doing the prototype and I listened.
BE ALINK: And recommended what I saw, or what I heard. So it’s not my thing. It’s really not. I’m the one who’s there to put it together and to do this, but it’s not my thing. People sometimes say, oh it’s your baby. It’s like, no, it’s not my baby. It’s not. It comes through me. I’m the one who gets to do it apparently, but it’s not my thing.
VICKI: That’s a great segway to what I wanted to talk about at some point during our conversation today, which is the need for us to do this together and to be together in community, especially as you’re bringing forth new models and new mindsets, and new products and services to the world at a time when we deeply need to redesign things. Can you tell just a little bit around your experience with riding into this community on your Alinker of SheEO activators who have sort of come around to help you? What has been the impact of being part of this community?
BE ALINK: Well, I’ll give you a little bit of an overview of where I was when I lived in Richmond and was trying to do this. I always see the Alinker as a mindset thing. So not many people are early adopters. Before the early adopters, you have the inventors. Not many people really have an inventive mind. When you try to do something before you have proof and you’re trying to build it, and you’re trying to get investors to invest in you when you still don’t have anything, just an idea of the business, and how you do business is so hard. Top all that off with menopause and all that good stuff.
VICKI: Bring it on, yeah.
BE ALINK: It was not in a good space. I was on antidepressants. I did not want to wake up very often the next day. I was really not in a good space. For some reason, I did not stop doing what I was doing because, in retrospect I always say, the Alinker nearly cost me my life, and at the same time it saved my life, because it kept me going. In that kind of state, I remember that I was sleeping in my walk in closet in a tiny little apartment. Well, apartment is a big word, but a tiny little space in Richmond. I was sleeping in my walk in closet so that what was supposed to be the bedroom was now my working space where I made prototypes and all that stuff.
BE ALINK: I was in my bed on my birthday by myself, and then I got your phone call. That was on a Sunday or something. You told me, you’ve become one of the top five companies. I remember thinking and feeling, and I can still feel it, now everything was going to be different. Now it’s going to change. Now it’s going to happen. I had to keep that a secret for a few months.
VICKI: That’s hard.
BE ALINK: What? I need to keep this a … what? Anyway, I came to the Summit and was announced as one of the top five. There I was in a big room full of radically generous women that feel that this network is something else and they want to be part of it. They’re attracted to something. Sometimes they don’t even know what they’re attracted to, but I was announced together with my four other cohorts, women, and I just felt being filled. Now I’m being held by a group of women that believe in me.
BE ALINK: Well, it sounds dramatic. I always say that. It has not just made the Alinker, at the moment, a company that still exists, but it literally saved my life. I wasn’t in a good state, and it literally saved my life. It changed from a few guys telling you maybe you need to bootstrap a little bit harder because [inaudible 00:34:06]. They’re like, we believe in you, we’re here, what do you need? We want you to be successful because this is awesome. It gave me wings and allowed me to be the leader that I am right now. I am the leader in this field, and to lead a movement of kindness is what I often refer to because just a simple acknowledging of each other and being kind to each other, just showing up doesn’t cost anything.
BE ALINK: I could have never done that without SheEO network, so that’s kind of the impact in a little summary.
VICKI: Yeah. That’s so powerful and it definitely brings tears to my eyes when you say it because I feel it too. We’re doing this with each other, so there are women in the network who voted for you, who want this to happen, who feel like they’re part of your success, and that’s a gift. That’s a huge gift that we give each other. You’re out there cranking and we’re wanting to help, and we’re talking about it and amplifying your stories on social media, and talking to our friends about it. It’s healing all of us to realize we have everything we need when we come together in community. So thank you for sharing that. I’m a little [inaudible 00:35:11] at the moment.
VICKI: Maybe we can just shift gears for a second. I want to talk a bit about language. This is something you and I talk about a lot. So we had this huge sort of discussion/debate at my dinner table awhile ago with someone telling you that way that you’re talking about the Alinker is selling, and you’re like, I’m not selling. She says, yes you are. You’re like, I’m not selling. Why don’t we just start there and talk about sales. We had a bit of a breakthrough on this the other day. So talk about how you use language and why it’s important to the evolution of what you’re doing for transformation.
BE ALINK: Yes, language is I think one of the most important things with what we have influence, or we feel powerless. We live in systems. There the food system, food industry system, there is the medical system, there is war system, there is economic system based on capitalism, and the winner takes it all. All those systems are not really designed for our wellness, and all those systems have language. They try to sell use stuff, and they buy into that because language is very powerful.
BE ALINK: The first awareness, if you want to bring change in the world, is like this is not going well for us, maybe we should change something, instead of changing the system, which is in fact my reverse design thing, of which language is a huge component. If we want to change a system, we have to realize that that system maybe doesn’t want to be changed because it’s already very successful. It was just not designed for our wellness, and it’s designed to make money.
BE ALINK: If we realize that … for example health care, sick care, I always use that word because the moment you call the current healthcare system sick care, you realize you can turn around and realize that you do not have healthcare that focuses on wellness. So, by naming it the right thing for what it really is, it opens you up and it stops you from being limited by the construct of focusing on the problematic systems. It opens you up to say, oh we don’t have health … now we can play. It’s an open playing field because there is nothing. Let’s start something new.
BE ALINK: When you talked about sales and what that discussion around the dinner table was, words do change all the time, as we talked about. The ethnological background of words and whatever. So words do change over time. They meant something else 100 years ago then what they mean now. So when I say I don’t do sales, it’s in the current meaning of the word sales. I’m not trying to push something through somebody’s throat with language that is marketed to push something through somebody’s throat.
BE ALINK: With the Alinker, I always said, if I focus on making money, I kill the business right now. If I focus on the things that really matter, that we need to show up for each other, that the Alinker becomes a vehicle for social change, that we create a new paradigm for healthcare that actually supports wellness, sales will follow. It’s not a problem. But it’s not pushing sales where there’s creating an attraction whereby sales automatically start happening.
BE ALINK: When you looked up the word sales, it was really interesting. I don’t know if you have that handy, but it was really interesting to see the essence of the word sales where the stem came from. Do you have that handy?
VICKI: Yeah, I think one of the things that it sort of shifts overtime. It literally is the gift of a product. It was literally like I’m gifting a product to someone else in exchange for this money, but it had a totally different realm versus, when we think of sales, and I guess this was probably in your mind where this snake oil salesman, the used car salesman kind of vibe around it, which is like I’m pushing something on someone. I don’t care if they need it or not. I’m just going to get this inventory out of my warehouse kind of thing. Versus with you, you’re actually having conversations with people to determine if this is going to be a successful device for them to help them.
BE ALINK: Right.
VICKI: You’re not just trying to hit your numbers, okay what’s your target this month and you’re six short? Push, push, push. That’s not at all. I feel exactly the same way about SheEO. We are not convincing anyone about anything. If you’re attracted to this concept of being radically generous with each other and you want to be in support of women who are working on the world’s to do list to create a better world, come on it. If you want me to tell you the six different things you’re going to get out of this, this is just not going to work.
BE ALINK: Right.
VICKI: That’s a very different vibe though than what people have done in the past, at this current moment in time. 100 years ago, it was much more normal. Right now, it’s a very strange thing. So having to create new words … I don’t know if you have a great example of this, but I know what I know that we’ve had a lot of conversations over the last couple of years of how we’re communicating in the world and talking about the experience that we create with people that are in our communities. So there’s even just messaging that’s kind of pushed messaging versus a place that comes from openheartedness, loving kindness, as you mentioned. It’s a very different way of talking about your product. You’re talking about the impact of it versus the features.
BE ALINK: Well, we have created a world, a capitalistic business world, as a world wherein you’re supposed to give the heart of your business in 90 seconds. If you give me 90 seconds, I’m not going to show up because who cares?
VICKI: Not enough time.
BE ALINK: If you only have 90 seconds to get the essence of who I am, of what we stand for, then I live three and a half years in Afghanistan, and why Afghanistan is so brilliant, was such a good match with me because we just slowed down. Just in slowing down, I did not design, but they happened because I was willing to slow down and to get the whole team in what we were trying to do. You can either build schools in Afghanistan with the money and then just make it happen for the least money and whatever, or you can build communities or tap into the communities that are there where they need schools, and make sure that the money is spent in a way that it goes to our schools. But it’s a completely different approach.
BE ALINK: You focus on the parents that have children that need to have a school. Of course those schools are going to be built. I’m just there because the donor doesn’t give money directly to the community. So if I’m willing to be with them and acknowledge that we’re all needing to be there for their schools to be built, I don’t need to make that project. The schools will be built because we already set that whole mindset, but the slowing down is not something that happens in our fast western world, and that’s something that’s really, really needed.
VICKI: Well, I think what you’re talking about there too is your experience in Afghanistan is all about co creation, which is a thing that we don’t see that often. You have someone who comes up with something and then they push it out into the world. It’s not as often co created with the community in order to makes sure that it works and it sticks, and it will be here for a long time.
BE ALINK: Yeah. Then the end result is that it doesn’t work and it doesn’t stick, because nobody really cared. The money is already made, and then move on.
VICKI: Well, that’s the whole thing. That’s the extractive approach to everything, as opposed to the longterm.
BE ALINK: Yeah.
VICKI: Absolutely. I think I’d like to sort of end with one piece here around sisterhood, which is not a word I ever would have used 10 years ago. I don’t know about you [inaudible 00:42:31] would have used that word. There’s a great book called Sisterhood is Powerful, a wonderful feminist political book that I read many, many eons ago. But I never experienced myself in a sisterhood, and I was very much trained to hang out with the boys and to, quote unquote, be successful in the traditional way of the society that we’re living in.
VICKI: You have helped heal me. You and all of the 53 other ventures in the SheEO network killed my feminine side basically in the sisterhood. Can you talk a little bit about what it means to be in this community of the ventures that you’re part of in this network who are inventors and solving the world’s to do list? What does it mean to be in a community of other entrepreneurs who are working on big challenges and taking them to market?
BE ALINK: Well, there’s a lot of recognition obviously. The hardship that I went through, that is apparently normal, which is ridiculous that it’s so hard. So, to be able to show up for each other, give each other a bigger platform and personal support or links to, hey you need to meet so and so, or can I just hook you up with dah, dah, dah, or do you know somebody who can help me do that. All those things that you know that the others have similar people in a network like that, so you can tap into each other’s resources.
BE ALINK: There’s a love and kindness amongst each other. There is a sisterhood, not with all of them because you don’t want to have that many sisters I don’t think, because they come with challenges too.
VICKI: Just wait until you have 10 thousand of them. Then it will be something else.
BE ALINK: Exactly. But you’d gravitate towards people. You naturally do, and some of them become really dear friends, and others you know of, and maybe never meet them again outside the events or something. But I have to say that the connection with you is different because your the systems thinker who also has no box. People sometimes say to me, oh you think so much outside the box. I’m like, what box? I recognize that there’s boxes out there that are constructs that people are stuck in.
BE ALINK: But, by the way I was raised or created myself or whatever, I don’t have boxes. I don’t feel that you have them much either. By meeting you and getting to know you, because I pretty much, after I became a top five [inaudible 00:44:44] for SheEO, pretty much just moved in with you and I never asked I don’t think. Because that saved my life, and being with you and having conversations in the morning where I was not a crazy nut that was too much of this and too much of that, and you should do this you should get a focus, and all that stuff that goes around, that you have to fight on top of how hard it is to start a business. But all that stuff that’s been put on you, you need to do this, you need to do that, that’s their need to do.
BE ALINK: To be with you, and to sort of land in a living room in the mornings with you, where we could just go into what does it look like 10 years from now, where do we need to go, how do we work our way back? If that is happening in 10 years, oh my God. What is the language, the richness of our conversations. I could just fly in whatever, all that few hundred things that are always happening in my head. You never judged, and you flew with me. I could fly with you.
BE ALINK: I think that the Alinker, and maybe as well as SheEO, are both better organizations because we had those fly sessions in the morning, and that has hugely healed me in the last few years. SheEO, and on a personal level, you as a sister. I never thought I had a sister, but-
VICKI: Hello Love Fest.
BE ALINK: Hello there.
VICKI: Well, it’s so interesting. Just finding the others. I don’t know if you know this quote by Timothy Leary. I wish all these quotes in the world came from women, but anyway I’m going to quote a guy. But I’d like to end the podcast reading it because I think it’s very important to find the others, find your people. It will save all of us if we find our people. So here’s the quote.
VICKI: “Admit it, you aren’t like them. You’re not even close. You may occasionally dress yourself up as one of them, watch the same mindless television shows as they do, maybe even eat the same fast food sometimes, but it seems that the more you try to fit in, the more you feel like an outsider, watching the ‘normal people’ as they go about their automatic existences. For every time you say club passwords like have a nice day, or the weather’s awful today eh? You earn inside to say forbidden things like, tell me something that makes you cry, or what do you think deja vu is for? Face it, you even want to talk to the girl in the elevator, but what if the girl in the elevator and the balding man who walks past your cubicle at work are thinking the same thing? Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts, do the unexpected, find the others.”
BE ALINK: That’s beautiful, and that’s something that … So we’re having this whole platform of crowd forming campaigns at the moment. All that have a successful crowd forming campaign, they start helping the others. I’m becoming friends with a few of those people and they’re saying … Yesterday, Lee said to me … He said, I had a smile on my face while I was helping others to build our campaign, and my wife said it’s not about helping the others. It’s about that you found your tribe. He’s so involved. He’s not the only one. And it’s about finding the others that get it where you are, that you can slow down with because they’re not judging and they get it.
VICKI: So, in many ways, the pattern underneath this really does feel like, what is it that you are meant to birth into the world, and do it in a community of other people because there’s this amazing Thai quote that I love as well, which is “Someone out there needs you. Live your life so that they can find you.” I just love that. Whatever that thing is that’s that burning desire inside of you, please bring it forth because there are people waiting for you to be in community with them.
BE ALINK: Absolutely.
VICKI: So on that note, thank you so, so much for being with us today. Thank you for sharing your story, and how can people find you in the world?
BE ALINK: Well, my phone number is … no, I’m joking. I could give that though. People do phone me.
VICKI: I know you’re nuts that way.
BE ALINK: Website is TheAlinker.com T-H-E-A-L-I-N-K-E-R.com, and on Facebook I’m BarbaraAlink5 I believe, or something.
VICKI: All right. Thank you so much. Greatly appreciate your time.
BE ALINK: All right. Wonderful. Thank you, Vicky. Awesome.
BE ALINK: Thanks.
VICKI: Thank you for listening to the SheEO.world podcast. If this conversation resonated with you, please share it with a friend and subscribe on your favorite podcast player. If you’d like more information about SheEO, please visit us at SheEO.world. That’s S-H-E-E-O.world.