Innovation Uncensored From The CEOs Of Virgin America, Livestrong, And Erly

We heard a lot of great questions at Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored event in San Francisco this past November, but there just wasn’t enough time for them all. We gave our attendees a chance to pose questions to the speakers post-event, and compiled a cross section of them.


We heard a lot of great questions at Fast Company‘s Innovation Uncensored event in San Francisco this past November, but there just wasn’t enough time for them all. We gave our attendees a chance to pose questions to the speakers post-event, and compiled a cross section of them below.


The first question is for David Cush, President & CEO of Virgin America:

David Cush

Virgin America is clearly focused on surprising & delighting customers but has chosen not to have what is arguably a best practice–a more robust loyalty/frequent flier program. I fly primarily with that airline that rhymes with “Belta” for the reliability my status gives me–zipping through security, boarding early, maybe getting upgraded, all regardless of the class of ticket I’ve booked. You have a superior fleet, a superior team, and are all in all cooler, why not push it over the top by elevating your Elevate program? -Chris Eberle, VP, Meebo, Inc.


First off: thanks for flying. As a new airline, we wanted to roll out a frequent flyer program that was different from day one. One of the biggest frustrations frequent flyers have is the inability to book reward travel when they want it and we think Elevate has led the way in that respect–by being one of the first programs to offer dynamic pricing–which essentially gives members the ability to book without blackout dates. And it is absolutely our intent to take the program to the next level in 2012. Part of the reason we moved to a new reservations platform this fall, was to have the systems in place that would allow us to significantly enhance Elevate. As a result, in early 2012, we will roll out more airline partnerships as well as the ability to redeem points from other airline partners on (initially with partners like VAustralia and Virgin Atlantic)–which has been high on the list of member requests. The new systems also allow us to explore the launch of tiered benefits and other frequently requested perks that you note. Until then, we hope you’ll continue to stay with us–and we have no hard feelings about you flying the airline that rhymes with “Belta.” –David

The next question is for Doug Ulman, President & CEO, Livestrong:

Doug Ulman

Very few social causes turned into social movements. What do you believe were the main drivers for your movement? -Antonia Tritthart, CEO, Traktor


The main driver behind the LIVESTRONG movement is, without a doubt, Lance Armstrong. He has single-handedly inspired people to get screened, seek a second opinion, and never lose hope. His own fight and victory with the disease allows him to connect with other people affected by cancer in a deeply personal way. Lance is at the very heart of our organization–authentic, ambitious and innovative–and those qualities are woven into the fabric of everything we do. We are focused on the people with cancer–not the disease itself. –Doug

Our next question is for Eric Feng, Founder and CEO, Erly:

Eric Hanabusa

You mentioned that when higher management puts restrictions you learned how to be more innovated within those restrictions. What methods did you use to inspire innovation? Also, was there a time when the restrictions were too much that innovation was unable to happen? If so, how did you break through those restrictions? -Eric Hanabusa, Operations Specialist, Gap, Inc.



I’m a firm believer that great products are based on constraints ( with just a single search box on their page, the iPhone with just 1 physical button on the screen, etc.). However, it’s important that there are not only reasons for this constraint but that everyone UNDERSTANDS those reasons.

For example at Hulu, we setup a constraint that we always had three customers to serve: users, content owners (studios, networks, etc.), and advertisers. The reason we had this constraint was because we believed that great products could be built serving just one customer, but to build a long-lasting business, we needed to services all three equally well.

That constraint led to some of our biggest innovations such as an elegant ad experience that was relevant to users, effective for advertisers, and profitable for content owners. But it was never just an “executive decision.” We made sure everyone on the team understood the reasoning behind the constraint so that they not only bought in but also could make smarter decisions because they were fluent with the overall strategy. And the team never felt trapped or uninspired because we knew there were always good business reasons behind the product constraints.

That complete understanding and consensus (and not just giving executive orders) was critical to making innovation possible. –Eric


Our next Innovation Uncensored event will take place on April 18, 2012 in New York City. Please visit the event website starting January 9, 2012 for more information and to register.

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About the author

I was previously the Special Projects Editor at Fast Company. I curated content and booked speakers for Fast Company events such as Innovation Uncensored, Most Creative People, and Masters of Design