Zuzana Dobro: Founder of The WHO Method

October 05, 2020 Alex Romanovich
Zuzana Dobro: Founder of The WHO Method
Early stages of career
Immigration from a communist country to the West
Advice to those who are starving for experience
Contribution of traveling to personal changes
Zuzana Dobro: Founder of The WHO Method
Oct 05, 2020
Alex Romanovich

On today's episode, we're joined by Zuzana Dobro, founder of The WHO Method. Zuzana is a former communist kid who left the Eastern Bloc with £200 in her pocket to pursue her passion for design. Working across the creative industry in London, her last full-time job was for a big corporation where she realized this was not her path, so she quit to travel 2yrs solo around the world. Exploring the world was a heart-opening experience, leading her to a calling and an entrepreneurship journey. Zuzana helps entrepreneurs and small business owners gain clarity and reach alignment with their dream customer.

For more information on Zuzana, social media links, biography and exclusive materials, please visit our website.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On today's episode, we're joined by Zuzana Dobro, founder of The WHO Method. Zuzana is a former communist kid who left the Eastern Bloc with £200 in her pocket to pursue her passion for design. Working across the creative industry in London, her last full-time job was for a big corporation where she realized this was not her path, so she quit to travel 2yrs solo around the world. Exploring the world was a heart-opening experience, leading her to a calling and an entrepreneurship journey. Zuzana helps entrepreneurs and small business owners gain clarity and reach alignment with their dream customer.

For more information on Zuzana, social media links, biography and exclusive materials, please visit our website.

Support the show (

Alex Romanovich (00:00):
Hi, welcome to our studio. Globaledgetalk, Alex Romanovich. It is September 15, 2020, and we have a wonderful guest by the name of Zuzana Dobro with us, Zuzana Dobro, which means in English kind and kindness. She is a wonderful, wonderful senior independent, interactive designer very much involved with CX and UX, which means customer experience and user experience. And we're going to talk about her career in large companies like Microsoft, and Lexus Nexus, MSL Group in Spain. We'll talk about women in technology, innovation, and design Zuzana, welcome to our studio,

Zuzana Dobro (00:46):
Alex, thank you so much for having me.

Alex Romanovich (00:50):
So let's start from the beginning, I guess. Tell me more about yourself and I mean, I know you and I spoke a while ago and your background was extremely interesting, very intriguing as it pertains to innovation, entrepreneurship. You're an entrepreneur yourself. You've worked with very large companies globally, and then you started your own business. Tell us a little bit more about your early years, so to speak, and how you sort of came into the design area and so forth.

Zuzana Dobro (01:20):
Yeah, sure. So I was born in Slovakia, but when times were still in the communism, it used to be a Czechoslovakia, but I'm Slovakian. And I was always told that I would never be able to leave the country because when I was a kid, it was still a form communism. And my upbringing was probably very different to most of the listeners that are listening right now. And I was very lucky to be one of the first generations when the big change came, when the iron curtain came down. I always wanted to see different places and just to see for myself how it is, how are the different countries, so that was one of my childhood dreams to really go and travel, or even just to go to a foreign land that doesn't speak my language.

Zuzana Dobro (02:17):
And when I was 18, I actually ventured out in, I came to London, to UK on my own, with only 200 pounds in my pocket, not knowing anyone. And I guess my curiosity was so much bigger than a fear, because when I now look back, I was like, what was I thinking, like not having anyone. I didn't have any security in here, but I was just super curious. And also I really wanted to learn English better because when I was growing up, I was not able to learn different languages apart from a Russian. So that was another big desire of mine really, to master a different language. So I came to London and just slowly started to improve my English and really think about what I would like to do further and creative field was always part of my life. And I really soon realized that better I spoke better chances I had to get actually an opportunity to break into the creative industry and do a design work, anything really. I was thinking about arts also, but I was always gravitating more towards the design and problem solving. And I started my career in here in London and in a very small creative boutique studios. So that's where my beginning

Alex Romanovich (03:47):
I love those amazing immigrant stories. I'm an immigrant myself came to the United States a long time ago, 40 years ago from Soviet Union. So we can almost relate. And I absolutely love the stories of, by the way my wife is from Slovakia as well, so I visited your country, your homeland many, many times. And I've been to Prague, Czech Republic, obviously they split Slovakia and Czech Republic. But I just love these stories of immigrants and who achieve a lot, who are being very entrepreneurial, being very, very innovative in a way that's almost a survival, right? Almost the inactive survival. Yeah, absolutely. But you started in a very small studio in London and then you progressed very quickly and then ended up in Microsoft and the Lexus Nexus afterwards and then work with some amazing very large, very well-known brands, such as Saatchi&Saatchi, and Raremark, and Prime Focus, in the TMP Worldwide, and BBH, and so many others. Tell me about that experience. Tell me about what you've learned as an entrepreneur, what you've learned as an immigrant, as a great designer, and then how you're able to take that to very large organizations, which, by the way, could also be very bureaucratic and very process-oriented and so forth, but how were you able to adapt and become sort of a native in those large companies?

Zuzana Dobro (05:28):
One thing that I really, really respect and love about London UK is that it doesn't matter where you are coming from. If you are passionate about your craft, if you're passionate about something that you want to do, it doesn't really matter, if you are immigrant or where you're from, you will always have that opportunity because companies will always seek talent and also they love mixing it up with a different perspectives and different points of views, with different experiences. So that's something that I really seen happening across London where it was, and for the creative industry it is a really great place to be, to get a chance and then really gained that experience really fast.

Zuzana Dobro (06:18):
And me as an immigrant, I don't know how, if you ever thought of it this way, Alex, but I think immigrants are almost like entrepreneurs, because as you said, it is partially survival, in a very foreign lands, different customs, different everything. So I think, I had to be super resourceful from the beginning of my journey. As soon as I left my, you could call it securities, right? The things that are familiar to me, things that are safe, my countr for me. As soon as you leave that, and you embarked on a journey, which is so different to what you are used to, you have to become very resourceful. And I think entrepreneurship is exactly the same. You're constantly solving problems. You're constantly moving in some direction sometimes forward, sometimes to the left, sometimes you go two steps back but you are still having to deal with things.

Alex Romanovich (07:17):
So how did this entrepreneurship, how did this immigration experience help you with your design? I mean, you have to combine obviously a lot of different disciplines and I'm sure your mind is very, very complex and very creative and very innovative. How did you use that leverage experience in your design, your thinking, and let's talk more about a custom experience, use experience as a discipline and why it's becoming more and more important.

Zuzana Dobro (07:46):
Yeah, sure. So, how I leveraged that, it's definitely being super curious and super resourceful and looking for those answers. And one thing that I learned a lot working in advertising agencies, or even in a bigger company who had bigger teams is that you have to understand people and you have to actually understand how the team dynamics are working or not working. So you really have to work closely with people. And that is essential. One of the traits that, for example, customer experience or user experience designer, or consultant, or professional really needs to focus on and know how to actually work with that. This is crucial because you essentially are like a conduit between the business needs and the customer needs or user needs.

Zuzana Dobro (08:44):
So you are since then standing in the middle and you're like translating what the customers really, really desire and what business thinks that customers really desire. So your job, you become for a moment, if you are focusing really on a customer, you need to become the customer. So this is also a skill set and a trait you as a designer are able to learn from others, especially in a design field. Yes, you can have a talent, but most of the skills and most of the knowledge that I have, I have learned from someone else I have been taught by someone else, or I just modeled, or I just seen what worked, what didn't. And then obviously I brought my own experience, my own personality, , into really applying those skill sets.

Alex Romanovich (09:36):
Great, great. Now, you have a lot of specialties. You have a lot of interesting skills and innovation type of areas that you get involved with, which is not only customer experience and user experience, but also you get involved with interactive advertising. You get involved with design thinking, facilitation, and all these wonderful things. Tell me more about your sort of experience as a woman, let's talk about that a little bit, coming from a former Soviet or former communist countries like Czechoslovakia and so forth, and having that kind of an upbringing where women would not necessarily encouraged and feel free to disagree with me. I'm just going on my experience with that region, but women would not necessarily encourage to be entrepreneurial, to lead, to have those types of roles, that all of a sudden you decide to leave that world. I know it was changing, but you decided to come to the West, you come to Spain, you go to London and then you really become smitten by this wonderful areas of entrepreneurship, innovation, design, thinking, and so forth. Tell me more about that.

Zuzana Dobro (11:01):
Yeah, you're right. Women will definitely know they're encouraged to be entrepreneurs. I would say noone during the communism was encouraged to be an entrepreneur because that was scrapped completely. So if there were, air quotes and to pronounce, they were obviously non-official, but there were some, there're personality traits that are just always looking for that extra way of solving things or creating things. So, and the apprenticeship during the communism non-existent a hundred percent. I never really knew what it actually meant. I never really associated it to get with business creation or problem solving. So that actually came to me much, much later, because at the beginning of my career, I really on design and just being on that side of the creative problem solving.

Zuzana Dobro (12:04):
Only later on, after my troubles, I actually quit Microsoft and I went traveling for two years on my own because that was all my childhood dreams I really wanted to fulfill. And when I came back, only then I started to look into, apart from design, what are our skillsets and what are other things that people are doing? And I started to piece the things for myself to get in there is not a huge difference between how designers operate, think and do things to entrepreneurs because essentially both of them are problem solvers. So I started to be so much more interested into business creation and how you create businesses. And as a woman, again, I didn't really know many women that would be doing it. So I was, you could call it a completely like just newbie to actually knowing who is who, and entrepreneurs or small business, owners or founders. So that was a very new thing for me to explore. But yeah, as early when I was a teenager and in Slovakia, none, like it was non-existent, it's like there was no school, there was nothing, basically not even information. You could only find certain information that was external outside. But even at the time the internet was not even existing, I think, lack of information big time. I can say that.

Alex Romanovich (13:30):
Now, just out of curiosity, I'm a big traveler. I love traveling because I think it's one of the best ways to explore, not only explore the world, but also to learn so much about other cultures. Where did you go? Tell us about your travel experience.

Zuzana Dobro (13:44):
So I went to places that I always wanted to see and my prime focus was really Latin America and Central America. So I spent one year in that area, I also managed to backpack down to Antarctica. So that was like, wow, that was beyond my wildest dreams to me to be able to manage.

Alex Romanovich (14:04):
That's amazing.

Zuzana Dobro (14:06):
One thing I learned and this was already during my design career is that, if I do not ask, I will not know the answers. If I do not explore or give it a shot, I will not know how it is possible to solve it. So it was exactly the same thing I had. I had this really huge desire to go and see Antarctica. So I started to research how, what are the options, right? What are other possibilities? And I knew that there are certain things that could happen. So if the stars are aligned, it could happen. And I really went down and really hunted like a last minute deal to be able to do it.

Alex Romanovich (14:47):
And you were doing this all by yourself?

New Speaker (14:49):
On my own, on my own.

New Speaker (14:51):
Oh, my goodness. I mean, were you not concerned about safety? I mean, this is a woman traveling all over the world by herself. What about security, safety, that type stuff?

Zuzana Dobro (15:04):
I would say I'm not a naive person, so I'm very aware of the situations what happening, and I'm pretty down to earth, but I would say I was never concerned about like, Oh, what's going to happen to me and all this, because those are very paralyzing thoughts. And one thing that I realized actually traveling on my own as a woman is that it is really safe and people are actually very helpful and welcoming, and you just need to be aware where to go and where not to go. And number one rule - talk to locals, talk to women, and they will tell you, they will become your protecting allies, locals will take care of you as soon as they understand your intentions, where you're coming from and what you're doing, they will always help you.

Zuzana Dobro (16:00):
So it's always essentially talk to people. And by doing that, you will get the truth, the truth of what's really happening in a country. And so news will not give you this, none of the articles will really give you this. Once you hit the ground running, you will know the truth, and not a very I think important aspect about me is that I am very streetwise. And I also brought a lot of experience from the common knowledge, from the streets into my creative problem solving and into my design. So one thing that used to happen to me is that I would join the forces with another creatives or brand strategies, or another designers. And they usually would be very much coming from academic point of view or from higher, like a big brand solutionizing and all that thing. And I would actually come from the ground and really try to just convey the messaging and really tell a different type of a story of experience that customers could be having. So I would say these straights, me coming from a very humble, background going through my own experiences as an immigrant really taught me a lot of how to stay safe on their own or in a big cities.

Alex Romanovich (17:23):
Wonderful. And you have a very welcoming persona. You have a great, very kind and open face with a big smile. You're very, how should I say this, you're very open as a person. And that's why I think that experience all over the world in different countries was probably a great one. Let me ask you this question. So your perception or your attitude towards customer experience, customer design, user experience, working for these great companies and then you traveled for two years, you go to Antartica you go to other places like that. When you come back, what changed? How to travel and how did this experience contribute to your change when you came back and did you become more entrepreneurial, did your attitude changed towards people or organizations maybe it was impacting your design skills, your design innovation? Tell us about that.

Zuzana Dobro (18:38):
So after I came back, I would say somehow naturally I just merged those two sides of me that I'm an adventure and I go and travel and I love remote places, and I love hiking, all of those adventurous things and also I'm super, I'm just so curious about the human evolution and part of the spiritual practices around the world. So really just expanding my understanding of people and the Earth as is. And I broke those experiences from my travels back into design and into working on a bigger problems, on challenges. And really, I would say my creative problem solving expertise always has been there from my commercial experience.

Zuzana Dobro (19:37):
So I really joined those two things together, and I just knew that I want to be independent. I want to come into the companies and help them to solve or help them with their challenges, with their projects and be very conscious about what projects I take on. And not just, Oh, I need something or I just want to do something, or I need a job or something like that. None of that. So I came so much more relaxed. I came back with a lot of reflection, and also seeking, what is really that next thing that I want to do like really from my heart, not logically. I'm a strong believer that if we think too much, we will overthink.

Zuzana Dobro (20:27):
So I really was able to merge it at more of an intuition. And I also now use it into the problem solving with that logical, your brain. But when you think about brain it's duo, right? So what's right or wrong, or it's left brain against right brain, aware heart is an intuition, and it's just one. So really just aligning those two things to there I was able to do often my travels, because I definitely learned a lot in two years about myself and about the world. So I came back with a different perception, for sure.

Alex Romanovich (21:07):
So I guess your advice to a lot of people in our audience is travel more, right? What other advice would you give to a young entrepreneur, especially a woman, a young woman, who would love to do something similar, who would love to explore work with amazing clients, would love to maybe run her own business, travel, absorb all this amazing experience and then use that to create something really, really great? What should be your advice to those types of folks?

Zuzana Dobro (21:54):
Definitely follow your heart. I know this sounds super cliche, but just do not give up on that. And then more practical things, I would say if you are curious knowing how certain people actually achieve certain things or done certain things, then reach out to them. So ideally you would want to find someone who was already been there and done that. So maybe find a mentor, find a coach and find it in an area that you really want to learn or become. So find someone who's been there before and ask those questions and reach out, you'll be surprised how many times people do not reach out and do not ask questions just because they think, Oh, I am so little and that person is higher up somewhere and they will never reply and that's not true.

Zuzana Dobro (22:48):
That is so not true. Like I have mentored juniors and especially junior designers for many years and I've done it just part of me. I just genuinely really want people to thrive and improve, and grow. So that's definitely a part of thing reaching out, ask questions. And if you can reach someone who is really like just a little bit of way too far away from you, find someone who is closer, who is in your proximity, who has done something that you haven't done and reach out to them and strike the conversation, offer something, offer something in exchange, have something, have a good story for them also.

Alex Romanovich (23:34):
Susanna, who was your mentor, who were some of the people that really impacted your career, were you outlook on things and so forth? Who were those people?

Zuzana Dobro (23:48):
I would say from entrepreneurship it was my grandfather, I only realized much, much later about what a massive impact he actually had on my life and the similarities I have. He's no longer with us, but the similarities I have with him and the way he actually lived his life and what he has done for people and what he actually achieved under the communism was just pretty remarkable. So I would say that's would be one of my biggest mentors. In design I don't have a particular person, but I will tell you what really inspires me, and it's nature. I think nature is the biggest artist. That'd be half. So for me, it's a nature. That's my inspiration.

Zuzana Dobro (24:41):
And in business, as I said, definitely my grandfather. And then I do have a few coaches right now I always have a coaches. I always look for help because there are things that I will not see, in my proximity I will have a blind spots. So I learned earlier on, when I was a kid still when I was doing sports, I always had a coach. Even now, I play ice hockey here in UK, London, and I have a coach and I love it. I wouldn't want to have it any other way because that person can always provide a different perspective, different experience, different advice. You do not see while you are executing on something, you can only see if someone actually highlights or shines the light on something that you can improve.

Alex Romanovich (25:35):
It's amazing that we don't realize, I mean, you said something just now and it struck a chord with me. You don't realize until later that your family members can have such a profound effect and impact on your career, on your thinking and so forth. I have the same thing with my dad, with my father when I'm realizing how much of an impact he's having, especially now. I mean, we can certainly argue about politics and other things of that nature, but the values that he instilled in me early on, it's so important to remember that, it's so important to leverage that, to use that. So, it's been a wonderful conversation. We would love to continue to talk to you on a regular basis. We're, by the way, getting together with a couple of other very, very interesting and prominent women.

Alex Romanovich (26:35):
And we'll talk about the topics of women in innovation and technology. And it's a great topic, I'm of the opinion that women could even be better designers and better managers at certain things than men. And we'll explore that as well. But I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart to that you were able to join us from London and share with us your story. So let's keep in touch and I want to thank you and invite you back in the near future.

Zuzana Dobro (27:10):
Alex, thank you so much for having me and for sharing this moment with me. And I'm really looking forward to bring more value to you and to your audience. And there are definitely a lot of interesting topics we could be , talking about innovation, it's center of so many things and technology.

Alex Romanovich (27:32):
Especially now during the times of unrest, and COVID, and pandemic, and environmental issues. There're so many things to explore. By the way, we're going to be featuring your information, your design elements, your other biography type of elements on the landing page. And we'll be happy to share this with our audience as well.

Zuzana Dobro (27:58):
Thank you so much.

New Speaker (27:59):
Thank you.

Early stages of career
Immigration from a communist country to the West
Advice to those who are starving for experience
Contribution of traveling to personal changes