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EP 01: From Corporate Instructional Designer to 6-Figure Freelancer in 1 Year
Episode 116th April 2024 • Learning Matters • ttcInnovations
00:00:00 01:10:20

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We're sitting down with our founder Debbie Wooldridge to dive into the early days of ttcInnovations, the challenges of navigating industry changes, and the lessons learned on her path to a 7-figure business. Debbie shares her journey from working in childcare to becoming an instructional designer and training manager in corporate America. She discusses the challenges she faced with new leadership and the impact of a changing company culture. Debbie also talks about her transition to contracting and starting her own instructional design business, DW Training and Development, Inc.. Throughout her journey, she emphasizes the importance of creating relevant and relatable training that helps employees become better at what they do. Debbie discusses the growth of a sustainable business, the partnership with Bank of America, and the expansion of the instructional design and content development team. Tune in for inspiration on your L&D career path!


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Learning Matters Podcast (:

Welcome to the very first episode of learning matters, the podcast where we do a deep dive into the world of learning and development. I'm Doug Wooldridge and I'm super excited to kick off this journey with a very special guest. She's a corporate instructional designer turned entrepreneur, visionary, and author with over 25 years of experience in the learning and development industry. She's been featured in publications such as training industry, chief learning officer,

and ATD solidifying her status as a thought leader in instructional design and adult learning. When this episode comes out, it will mark 23 years for the business she built into the powerhouse it is today. So without further ado, we welcome Debbie Wooldridge, CEO and founder of TTC innovations to the podcast. Let's get to the interview. We want to welcome to the podcast, Debbie Wooldridge. First off, I just want to thank you for agreeing to be our first guest.

On the podcast, I know your schedule is a little packed these days. So thank you for coming on. And I'd like to take this opportunity for you to tell us a story of how you went from working as a corporate instructional designer to becoming the founder and CEO of TTC innovations.

Well, awesome. Thank you. I'm excited to be here. No pressure being the first guest. So that's great. I'm excited and thrilled to have this opportunity to just have a dialogue and talk about how, how people get to wherever they're going on their journey. So definitely to share my journey. Don't know whether or not it will resonate with other people, but I think you will. I think our listeners are in for a very good story here. So,

Can we start with what got you into corporate learning, the corporate learning space just to begin with? So, so yeah, actually I had zero background in instructional design and zero understanding of adult learning. I came out of college with a background in early childhood education and my degree was in business management for childcare.

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organizations and all of my early career was around building a not -for -profit child care organization for school -age kids. And one of the things that I think is important for people to know is that child care is so important, but it is so underfunded. And that was the problem is that I was consistently trying to find funds to run the organization to keep enough teachers available for the kids to make a really good environment.

for the kids and so that required grant writing, which I also had zero background in but as one does, you just kind of do what you need to do. And for the longest time the grants were for playground equipment, supplies, things for the kids and that was great. But federal legislation changed, the president changed and the focus on what they were willing to fund changed.

and all of a sudden they didn't fund things that were specifically for the kids anymore and instead focused the funding around adult education and preparing people to be better at working with the kids, which is honestly a really good idea because you can overcome a bad environment with children, but you cannot overcome a bad teacher in the classroom. So I think the federal government was smart in making that change.

But for me, it threw me a curve ball because I knew nothing about how to train teachers. So I thought, well, OK, no problem. So I wrote a grant request, and I asked for a lot of money to fund a certification program. I don't know why I thought this was smart, but I did. That we would create a certification program for all school -aged child care providers for the state of Kansas. Wow.

School -age child care is something that is not really recognized as frequently as, like, there's a lot of preschool education certification programs. And so, and my child care facility was school -age child care. So I thought, well, this is something that doesn't exist, so why not? So I submitted the grant and I figured nothing. And for whatever reason, the federal government decided that this was a smart idea and they agreed to it and they funded it.

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So what were you able to do with that grant money ultimately? Well, the problem is, is they funded it and I didn't know how to build training. So I reached out to the community college, Kansas City, Kansas Community College, early childhood department. They had a really great, really strong leader. The woman's name that was in charge of the program was Betty and she was fantastic.

She just was so open -minded and I called her up and I said, you don't know me, but I've heard of you. And I've been to a couple of training classes that you've run and I just got this big grant from the federal government and I don't know how to build this. Would you partner? So she kindly said yes and so I met with her and because the funding had a lot to do with

building this certification program and it was doing video pieces, components, and then it also required me to travel across the state and deliver the training program once it was built. So it was a very short window, we had to build all of this. So she brought on the media team, she worked with me to write out scripts. We created eight different courses and each of the courses had a different vignette. We had a magic.

theme. We had a detective series. We just tried to change things up. We did a game show series. We did a video that had like an interview kind of thing. We tried to do like an Oprah moment. Anyway, it was it was lowball. It was, you know, bless the heart of the media team over at the community college. I'm sure that they were just overwhelmed with.

year. It was like in the late:

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And we printed workbooks. And so we had this series. It was eight modules. And what we would do is go in to a location and we partnered with the local community health departments so that they could pull together and provide as a facility. We paid it was all paid for by this grant. The facility food bringing in all the child care providers in the community all of the marketing materials. Again this was.

like this big massive initiative that I had no experience in any of it, but it worked for whatever reason. The thing is, is that nobody knew what to expect. And so whatever we did was fine because nobody had really any expectations of what this would look like. And with that in mind, what was the response to folks first delving into this training? How did they respond to this type of interactivity? When they came to the first session, ironically,

My brother was working for me at the time. He was my secretary of the organization collecting, doing all the accounts receivables and all of that for me, doing some computer work for me. That's kind of his bag. I forced him to go with me to do the facilitation because there was just, I wanted to be able to focus on the training session and needed somebody to kind of pass things out, make sure everybody was comfortable, answer questions, get water, whatever. So he traveled the state of Kansas with me.

We went to our first session and 25 people showed up for it. And the thing that they said when they walked in the door and we had some introducing yourselves was the fact that they had never had an opportunity to attend training for their school age kids. So they were super excited because they had taken a lot of preschool training classes, but nobody had really helped them really focus on how to deliver good child care for school age kids. And.

It's not just preschool on steroids. I mean, school age kids have unique needs. They have different physical abilities. They have different emotional experiences, different social experiences, and giving them training to help them be successful. What was this uplifting experience and just an amazing year long. So we spent like three and a half, four months building the training. And then I spent a year.

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traveling the state delivering the training on the weekends. So we would go out, we would deliver a full day session. The attendees would then take the modules and the state funding included printing of all the workbooks for all the attendees. We would deliver the workbooks to them and they would get the video cassettes. So they'd go finish all the homework and it would be the eight modules. I would send them a little

Piece of information kind of midway through to make sure that they were doing okay through their community health department I would send them like check -ins, you know, how you doing? How are things going? And then at the end of the series we went back and they had we did an assessment of them when they when they completed it to make sure that they had taken the information were able to do something that they'd actually completed the course and then we had these beautiful certificates that John had created for them and they were they were really

It looked great for:

people in the audience who were suddenly so moved by having somebody care to make them better at what they love to do. And that was the moment when I realized, you know, there's something bigger out there, something different that I want to do in my career. But that's a big jump to say, oh, I'm going to suddenly become an instructional designer. I'm going to become, actually, I didn't even know the term. I didn't know that there was a people. Was the term even out there at that time?

ake into, I think it was like:

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So I thought, this is meant for me, because here's this corporate job that wanted me to write training for their childcare workers. And so that was kind of that defining moment of where I left not -for -profit and took that passion and moved into corporate America. Corporate America being a childcare corporation. But it definitely was that.

point that brought me into the world and that's when I learned that there were jobs called instructional designers. Thank you so much for that. So you've gone from the nonprofit area now into the for -profit and what was your job title at Lappetit? What was that job that you were actually applying for? So I was applying for it officially. The job was called instructional designer.

So I went in for an interview and I met with the director of training and she was asking me about all of my experience. And so I tried to make the eight modules that I had built with the community college sound like this really a lot of hefty training, this two year project funded by the federal government, and she hired me. Which yeah, so.

when I had to do a 30 day notice, because I was executive director of this not -for -profit, I had this board, and I had started this not -for -profit, so this was my baby, and to suddenly say, I'm gonna leave this and move on to something else, I wanted to give them a nice notice, so I gave them 30 days, I helped them find the new executive director, I did some training with that person, and stayed on call with them for a little bit.

So I didn't start work until about 30 days after I had received the job offer. And I showed up to work the first day and they told me when I walked in that the director of training had just left two days before. Oh my gosh. So now I take on this brand new job that first of all I had no idea what an instructional designer was supposed to do on a daily basis.

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But I took on this job and I didn't have a direct supervisor. She was gone. They assured me that they were going to be hiring to replace her. But in the meantime, they set me at a cubicle and showed me my desk and showed me some of the training materials that they had for some of their people and gave me a course that they wanted that was supposed to be my first assignment to build. And they also said, by the way, we also have a temp here who's going to help because...

you need to be doing all the registration of all the people for all the training courses because states have requirements for continuing education for their child care providers and their early childhood staff. And so we need the department is responsible for tracking all of that compliance. And so we don't really have an employee to do that. So we've brought in an attempt to help for a couple of weeks. And here's Dana Huffsteadler.

this is who you're gonna be working with, and by the way, you need to manage her because we don't really have anybody else in charge of this. There's no director of training, so can you make sure that she has what she needs? So I took on the job of instructional designer, no idea what that meant, and also became a manager to the training department administrator who was a temp. And so,

Is there a moment during that first like two days where you got into your office and closed the door and you're just like, I am way in over my head here? Well, one, I didn't have an office. I had a cubicle, which I never even, I had, I had heard people talk about working in cubicles and I knew that this was a thing. Um, but I never envisioned myself to be in a cubicle, but it was, so I'm sitting in my cubicle and

I think it was like maybe four hours into my day. And I remember staring at my computer and I kept hitting the enter button because I didn't know there was nothing to do. Like I had my email program open. I expected to come in and just have this wall of stuff that I was supposed to do. And so I kept hitting enter thinking, why is my email not coming in? Maybe, maybe something. So I sat there and I realized.

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Nobody's going to tell me what to do. I've got to figure this out. So I got up and I started introducing myself to other people in the cubicles. And I did have an opportunity to meet the person who was in charge, the director of curricula. So she was in charge of writing and developing all the curriculum that was going to be delivered to the children. I was supposed to train the people to deliver that curricula. So I thought, oh, good, I'll talk with her and she'll tell me what I'm supposed to do.

She had no idea what I was supposed to do, but she knew I was supposed to do something. So we talked about what was going to be rolling out in the next quarter. And so I thought, OK, well, I'll write a training program to introduce this to the staff. So I sat down and started writing stuff. And I scurriedly looking through all the different stuff that was in the director of trainings office, because she had an office.

It was a nice office, the door was shut. I went in there and poked around in all of her cabinets and her files and tried to find stuff. I found the template and it was out on a shared drive. All of this was new to me. We basically used an accounting program and an email program at the childcare agency. We were not for profit. We didn't have anything fancy.

I get on here and there's Microsoft Word and very old versions of Microsoft Word and a shared drive. I'm hunting around the shared drive and realizing I'm probably not supposed to be accessing some of these files. You've got to find what you've got to find. Sometimes you need to just take the initiative and go find what you need to learn. You've just got to do it. That was how my first week started at my new role as instructional designer.

Fast forward about a month later, they realized they weren't going to hire anybody or they hadn't found anybody. So they came to me and said, Hey, how would you like to take on the department and be the training manager? So wouldn't that be great? So I said, sure. What was your thought though, when they, when they came to you, when you, when they first walked in and said, Hey, Debbie, um, got a proposition for you here.

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What do you think about taking on this department that is kind of influx right now as is? Influx is a very kind word for what it was. But you know, honestly, I was so relieved because when I started the not -for -profit agency, I had a board of directors. We met with them once a month. I reported to them once a month. But there was nobody.

over my shoulder telling me what to do on a daily basis. I think had I come into the job and that director of training would have still been there, I think I would have really struggled because I think it's not within my nature to work that closely under somebody's supervision. I'm not really great at waiting for somebody to tell me what to do. I kind of just do. And.

I don't know that that's necessarily the best employee type to be. So I don't know that I would have been the department head's favorite employee because I think I just do. And so for me, it was a big sense of relief because I felt more comfortable with that because then I felt like, okay, now I can shape this department. I can do what I think needs to happen. And I had been doing a lot of interviewing with, they had,

area vice presidents who were responsible for big sections. And these people answered right to the CEO. So these were important people in the organization. And I had got to spend a lot of time with them in this first month, meeting with them, because they were in the corporate offices. We were in the middle of a CEO change in the organization.

And so they were there and I had used that opportunity to meet with them and talk with them about what was going on in their areas and what were the challenges and the problems that their staff were facing. And so I was gathering a lot of really good information and what I didn't know that that was called is analysis. I had no idea. I thought I was just asking them a lot of annoying questions. These are your first subject matter experts here.

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Exactly so. So what I uncovered during my analysis is there was a lot of need and it was this really great natural learning progression for my own experience as an instructional designer. That's crazy. So ultimately there's just from the start, there's massive changes going on at this company and not only did your original manager not

be there during the beginning. You're also having a brand new CEO come in. So what is it like dealing with that type of chaos of a company going through a reorg? I tell you, it was for me the most impactful experience and unfortunately not in a good way. Because what was happening with the organization is they had had a CEO who had been with the company.

for a really long time. And he was super committed to the children and the families that he serviced. He was so committed to the employees. And it was this very warm and welcoming environment that I interviewed for. And my first couple of weeks were this warm and welcoming experience. And people made me feel very comfortable very fast, which was great because new person, no manager. I needed that type of support.

And then the winds changed and he retired and they brought in a new CEO. The board of that for -profit agency brought in a new CEO with the purpose of making the company more profitable, more efficient. And there are...

CEOs who were hired specifically to go from company to company to company and their job is to come in here, create change, make all kinds of different strategies, do an efficiency audit and then implement a lot of change and then they move on and then they bring in a new CEO. So it was a very planned experience that the board had put into play. The problem is, is this is a...

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organization, a company that is supporting people. Right. The output of what they're doing is taking care of people's most important possessions, their children. And so when the leadership of that organization doesn't represent the level of service, care and nurture, you have a lot of chaos happening. And in some companies and in some structures, that chaos might be good. It might be the fire to light people up.

In this situation, it definitely was not. But there was one shining light that happened out of that in that the new CEO brought in a vice president of human resources, Patty Powell, my all -time favorite person in the whole universe. If I could ever aspire to be so great, I would be Patty Powell in my next life. She's this amazing person. She came in.

with the new CEO and she sat in and really took the time to get to know me, got to know my vision of what I wanted to do with the training department. And ironically, one of the things that I had to do as training department was to send everybody to this executive leadership back to nature moment.

kind of thing. I'm sure you've very fun retreat centers. You actually go up into the mountains, you stay in a cabin. It's very rustic. There's no email. There's no phone service. This sounds right. Yeah, you wouldn't enjoy it. My job was to book people into this and I had to organize them based on there was a tiered level of who who was expected to go. So, you know, first year was the CEO and and the VP levels.

the area VPs, they all went as this first group. And then I was scheduling the next group, and I was supposed to be in the next group, but I was busy. So I wasn't able to schedule myself. So I kept putting my name further and further down the list. But anyway, they come back from this retreat, and I could see some differences in Patty. And we had a couple of conversations that were really great.

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She stayed very positive and she shared, you know, her goal was to really make the human resource department a really great place that would support the organization. And I was inspired and thinking this is gonna be really good, it'll be fine, we'll manage through this. And then a few weeks later, she announced she was leaving. And that this retreat experience had...

given her an opportunity to reflect on her life. And what she realized is that she didn't belong in a corporate change organization and that she really wanted to spend time just helping companies be successful in their human resources. And so she decided to become a consultant. Wow. And she left. I think that takes a ton of bravery to have those moments of clarity and then act on them. Exactly so. Exactly so. And, uh,

When after she left, the new person that came in, the new vice president came in for human resources and she couldn't have been more opposite. She was the Auntie Patty. It was just, it was exactly, it was, couldn't have been more different. Um, and we, we managed through a few months, we were doing some really good things in the training department. I was, I was proud of the work I was doing. Um, I really felt successful in the work that I was doing.

I actually talked the CEO into agreeing to bring Dana on as an actual employee because she was a temp. Oh, very cool. And so I convinced them that I needed her as an employee partner. And so we converted her from temp to hire. And I brought her in. And her and I really, we bonded. We...

developed a lot of stuff. She was a risk taker just like me. She was so wide open to let's try it. I mean, why not? And we were clicking, doing some really good things, but there were still so much culture, things that I wasn't enjoying about the company. So if what I would do, and they did, by the way, move me into the office. So I went from KubeLand into that office when they promoted me. I forgot to say that. So I did get an office.

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But then I moved Dana in because I, and I just shared that it was really important for her and I to have the ability to communicate privately because we were talking about learning experiences and people's, and how they were doing with their learnings. I don't know how I sold this. It was, it sounded good at the time, but anyway, they moved her desk in to my office so we could shut the door and just kind of shut everything out and just work heads down and create training and plan events for people who were working in the company. So.

And I assume that this is really the catalyst for the lifelong friendship, professional friend, working relationship that you have together with Dana. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Dana Huffsteadler became Dana Jansen, who is now, and I am thrilled that we've had so many years of experience and she's, she's with me here making TTC happen. So anyway, um,

around, I don't know, probably five or six months later after Patty had left, I got a phone call. And it was Patty. And she said, hey, Debbie, how are you doing? How are things going? And she just kind of shared a little bit about what she was doing. And she goes, you know, I have this really exciting gig that I'm working. And there are some human resource things that I'm working on with them. But one of the things that they have is a problem in their training. So hey, if you know anybody,

just like you that might be looking for a consulting gig. I have a three month contract. Um, so, you know, just if you know anybody like you that would be interested, that would be great. She told me a little bit about it and we talked for a little bit more and actually hung up. She goes, you know, if you think of anybody just like you, give me a call right away. I love the subtlety here. Right. So we hung up. I went home and, um, I talked to my husband who was in the garage and he was

fiddling around with go -karts because that was his passion. And we were chatting and I told him, hey, Patty called me and shared with me about this opportunity for me to, somebody like me, to take this three month consulting gig. And he looked at me and he said, are you not? Why would you? You're not seriously considering that. You have a great, you have a full -time job. You're making more money than you've ever made in your life.

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And it's pretty low pressure. You just got a raise. You just got a new job title. You're good, right? And I said, no. I really think I'm interested in this. And he said, I don't think for our family this is the right thing to do. And he gave me a lot of really, really good feedback, great feedback. The next day I went back to the office, picked up the phone called Patty and said, see Patty. Oh, awesome. I'd really, really like to.

take this on, who do I need to connect with to interview for this? She connected me, I interviewed, got accepted for the consulting gig and came back and quit my job. So what made you take that leap of faith after, you know, I'm sitting on it for roughly like 12 to 16 hours and being like, all right, I'm doing this. What, you know,

Was it something in just the way that you felt about how things were going at La Petite or was it just, I need to make a transition in my life and I think this could be that transition. You know, maybe a little bit of all of that. Um, I knew I wasn't happy. I knew that, um, I had a vision for where the training department could go at La Petite and

the CEO was not interested in following that vision, fine, I mean, she was CEO of the company, that's her decision to make. But I struggled with it because I knew that maybe I didn't have all the answers, but I certainly knew the questions that I was asking were demonstrating to me that we weren't giving the employees the support they needed. And it was frustrating to me because I felt like there was so much more we could do. And I also...

didn't love the culture. When I first started, it was such a very different culture in such a short time, it flipped to this focus on profits, this focus on efficiency, how do we make our name so big? I mean, all of this rebranding that was going on, it was as if we threw everything out that was so good and that attracted me to this new environment. And it was almost as if this was this moment changing, this changing,

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moment in my life where it was like jump in all in or stay. And I decided to jump. So, you know, when I thought worst case, you know, here's the thing. I could go get a job somewhere else. I know I can get a job somewhere else. And that's what I told my husband that night when I went home was. Oh, yeah. Let's go back to that. What was his thoughts when you came home that night? Was he like, all right.

I think I said it really nicely. I think I said something about, you know, this is an opportunity of a lifetime. It's great money for three months. It's going to be wonderful. And I'm going to come back and get a job and I'll be so much. He knew that I was not happy with what I was doing. I was happy with what I was trying to accomplish, but I felt like I was hitting walls all the time. And so he knew that. And bless his heart. I mean, after he had this.

Opportunity to have a say but once I told him I was going for it then he was like great. Let's do it All right, make it happen. That's the type of support everyone needs is yeah partner that's able to come in and be like, you know what? Follow your dreams. Let's let's make it happen. We will make it work So you had three months nailed down as a freelance instructional designer you had that looking at you I know we just kind of discussed it a little bit and while you I'm sure that you were

confident in the fact that you could come get another job. Was there anything there in the back of your mind? Like, Oh boy, did I make this right decision?

You know, no, I never thought it wouldn't work. I love that confidence. I never thought it wouldn't work at all. You know, because I don't really have these moments where I'm like, oh, I have to have this or I have to have that. I'm kind of a fly by the seat of my pants kind of person. So in fact, thinking through and planning out where

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I see myself six months from now as probably a weakness for me. I'm not great at that, which as a CEO of this company, can be a challenge because while in my head I have a strategy, putting it on paper is a challenge for me. And so, you know, back in those days, it was, I never thought that there wouldn't, that it wouldn't work. So. I'm a big believer in things are going to work out, you know, with good, you know.

with good vibes or at least a commitment to continue hard working, something good's gonna come out of this. So we'll just see what happens at the end of the show. So while you were working this three month contract, you were on location in Ohio, correct? Yep, Columbus, Ohio. Wonderful. So how did you deal with the pressures of spending multiple weeks of a month away from your family? So it was what, three weeks on, one week off? Exactly, so yeah.

ry different. And this was in:

cell phone with me all the time. Technology was not the same. I had an actual phone in a hotel room. Communication and scheduling for my family was a super challenge. There were ups and downs. There were a lot of good things. I think it was great because my husband got to spend a lot of time being.

Mr. Mom and doing, you know, those kind of roles where while he was working a full time job and we had good childcare, we had good support. So, you know, at the time it seemed to work. But here's where things go sideways a little bit, because, you know, when you are the primary person taking care of your kids, you take them to school, you take them to daycare, you go to your job, you pick them up from daycare.

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You go home to work, you do dinner, whatever. You get into these routines. All of that was out the window because my husband was not the primary caregiver of the kids for their first few, and kids, you, was not the primary caregiver of you and your sister. And so the bottom line was is that there were a lot of mistakes. And I remember I was in a meeting.

on site in Columbus and I get this urgent phone call to the center and it was a call center and they said, you've got to take this call and I was like, who's calling me here? So I pick up the phone and it's my sister. I'm like, why are you calling me? I'm at work. And she goes, yeah, I'm notifying you that your children were left at school and then there's a no school day because it snowed.

And the school had to call me because I'm your emergency contact. I'm at work. I can't pick your kids up. Could you get a hold of Chris and tell him to pick your kids up? So he didn't know that, you know, school gets canceled occasionally and he didn't know to check the weather reports and he dropped the kids off. And this actually happened more than once during this experience. It was a great...

growing experience for Jessica and I. Ultimately, we get to have that wonderful moment with her children where we get to go, well, back in our day, we used to walk to school even if we didn't have school in the snow, uphill, both ways. Yep, yeah. So, you know, there were little glitches like that, but we made it work.

We made it work. And then when I would come home for the one week, I was still heads down though, because I was having to write. I would spend three weeks sitting doing side by sides at the call center, watching the activities, listening in on the phones to hear how the customer service reps were interacting with customers. And then because I was rewriting a new hire training program for them. So then I would come home and I'd spend a week just heads down writing.

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and then go back. And was that your first experience really working from home there or were you working in, you were working from home during that time? During the week. It was so weird not to go to an office because I had spent my entire career up until this point in an office somewhere. So yeah, I didn't even have any, I didn't even have a desk. I had no workspace. So I was on my living room couch.

ine what laptops were like in:

phone cord that was plugged into the telephone, we'd have to unhook the phone from the phone cord and plug in my computer so that I could get online. And no one could make a phone call in or out of the house. Nobody. No, and if it had a snow day, we would not know. They would have to call my sister because you could not dial in because you'd get a busy tone. Very funny. So you've finished these first three months.

working with, I believe the company Submit Order, is that correct? Yeah, yeah. So the company was Submit Order and it was at the beginning, they formed at the beginning of the dot com era and their job, they brought companies, they managed all the customer service of all of the company's online ordering, which was all new. I mean, back then, this was a very new thing and the client that they were,

Working for to improve customer service was Kmart's blue light calm. Gotcha Mm -hmm. And so I was writing all of the new hire training for blue light calm So I was learning all of Kmart's processes and procedures all of the the stuff and the job of the customer services was when people placed an order on blue light calm then they would call and

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and have issues or whatever. I mean, you know, the internet was not what it is today. Right. I can just imagine chaos in the shipping centers. Oh my goodness. Yeah. And just with customers being like, I just got, I ordered this and I got this. Right. I imagine that happened all the time. All the time. Which I would also imagine would mean that the training was constantly evolving. So is that ultimately what led you to sticking on for a much longer contract than the first three months? Yes.

So what happened is I delivered the training for bluelight .com and we ran a couple of new hire classes. And so I sat in the back, they had a facilitator that worked for the company and I had to go to Florida to watch the classes and take notes, make changes, adjust the curriculum based on what I was seeing with the new hire interactions. But within the first couple of months of deployment, they had such a dramatic increase in speed to proficiency of the new hires.

that were taking part in this new curriculum. When I first got there and what they were doing before they brought me on board was they had purchased some off the shelf customer service training. It was okay. It had talked about how to speak nicely, how to be empathetic to the customer. The problem is this had nothing to do with bluelight .com. So, you know, I took those basic customer service principles, but then I embedded in the culture of Kmart's bluelight .com. And so when,

the new hires got promoted and worked on the floor, the time for them to have side by sides was decreased by almost two weeks right away. And then the proficiency was immediately impacted in demonstration. But then I think that that is, I'm a great instructional designer. It's not that. Honestly, it's when you build training that is relevant and

is relatable and immediately usable, you become better as an employee quicker. And that's what they got with the custom learning solution that I built for them. And so what happened then is Submit Order was a housing firm for all of these. But they had other clients that were using their call centers. And so they then brought me on to Dix .com. And what was the most cool, though,

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was that, and this is where my daughter Jessica thought I was just became the cool mom was when I got to do limited two. Oh my gosh. That's right. So, right. So I brought home when I would come home, I would bring home all of these manuals that had limited to logo. All she was thrilled. She was thrilled at the least interesting swag that you could possibly bring into it. That's awesome.

Just anything that had the brand name on it. I love it. The logo. Exactly. Exactly. So yeah. So I ended up working for all of their logos then. And I rewrote all of their training. Many of the pieces were convertible that I could take from, that I built from bluelight .com. And then I would customize it for each specific company and their culture, their organization. And it was super effective. It was a lot of fun.

It was something completely out of the box for me. But you mentioned distribution, and that's where this chapter went next, is because once we got done with the call center, they said, hey, we have problems over in the distribution center because Submit Order also owns the distribution center. So I got my first glance behind the scenes of a distribution center, and it was fascinating. I mean, these machines just bringing

stuff all over and I learned terms like picker and how important the job of the picker is. But they brought me over to the distribution center and that's where I met Lori Fry. She actually worked for Submit Order and one of the reasons I was there doing the instructional design was because she was home. She had just had a baby and took a lot of time off to be with her daughter and it was lovely for her and fantastic for me.

but she came back to work and we had an opportunity to meet. And so I partnered with her and she was in essence my new boss there because she owned the training department for submit order. So who was ultimately in charge of the training department while she was gone? Was it you were kind of just sitting there attempting to take that on?

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No, not at all. I was focused only on instructional design. Fran Watkins is the was the HR lead. And so she was just managing all of those components in Lori's absence. But Lori would have been there doing the instructional design had she not had a baby. So it was kind of just magic that this happened because she would have been in there doing all of this had she not been on maternity leave, but because she was, it was this.

opportunity for me to step into this corporate world. So it was a real blessing. And she's just this amazing person. And not only did she work at Submit Order, but she also had her own company called Technically Right. And Technically Right was a contract house. And she had a group of technical writers and technical team members who she would.

farm out work to consultants to do that work. And it was kind of her side business, her side gig that she ran. And so. And can you, let me rephrase this. Can you give us a, can you give us a brief rundown of kind of the difference between instructional design as opposed to technical writing? I, yeah. In fact, it was super interesting because as Lori and I,

started having opportunities to have coffee together. We did that regularly whenever I was in Columbus. We talked a lot about what she was doing with her technical writing firm and what we were doing, what I was doing as far as instructional design. And she shared that one of the challenges she had at Technically Right is oftentimes companies would...

Begin the contract with her looking for a user manual to be written which is a lot of things that technical writing are thinking and walk step -by -step processes if you get Back in the day when you would buy a new piece of equipment It would come with an owner's manual and it would have all of these You know user guides or if you bought new software you'd get a user guide So technical writers do a lot of that kind of work. They do a lot of job aids a lot of process documentation

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And then what would happen is they would, especially these companies that were implementing new systems, they would get the user manual and realize that there was still a gap for their employees. So they would have the information on step by step, but there was no correlation between how did this, how did I then use that to do my job? And so they would ask, Kareena, what kind of support can you do? And...

my contract at the distribution center was wrapping up and so she said, hey, I have a company that is really looking for more of a training solution versus a technical solution. Would you be interested in contracting with me and with my company? And so that's how I connected with Technically Right and I became their one instructional designer. So all of the other team members there were technical writers or technical documentarians.

Page layout people as well and then they there was me sounds like a perfect partnership Wonderful and At what point Did you transition from doing contract work with submit order into doing leading seminars for Fred Pryor mm -hmm so as my work was was

coming to an end with the distribution center, I realized, gosh, I gotta find my next gig. And while Lori had reached out to me, the work that I was gonna do for her was really small, it wasn't gonna pay the bills. Right, how many hours were you able to work in those initial days? Oh, I was working, gosh, probably 50, 60, 80 hour weeks. I mean, I was booking a lot of time. And it was great because you know, but.

Here's what I didn't realize though, is that when you're a consultant, you get this really great hourly rate, but nobody's paying your taxes. So I learned all about the fact that you gotta pay your own taxes and you don't have benefits and if you're sick, you don't get paid. If you don't show up to work, you don't get paid. So there was a lot of those kind of lessons and it was fine. I was making really good money.

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this first contract was just was really a good one and Chris was thrilled. Unbelievably thrilled with how good this contract was, but it came to an end and I didn't want to go back to corporate America. I figured I could get a job because now I had some real good legit instructional design experience at a whole lot of different industries. So I felt like that was an opportunity, but it was something that I didn't want to do.

And so I wanted to find ways to keep doing the contracting because then I felt like I had some control over the kind of work that I did and the kind of companies that I worked for. But I needed money too. So I saw an ad for Fred Pryor Seminars and they were headquartered in Kansas City which was real convenient. So I went and I interviewed and the interview was intense. I mean you had to, you had to.

do first a face -to -face interview and then you had to get on camera and you had to deliver like 30 minutes of training on a random topic. And I just, this is not my thing. I mean, I was so, so nervous and so I was sure I could. Oh yeah, yeah. With people. There's a big difference between interacting with people and interacting to a camera. Gotcha. So.

This is how I know Hollywood is not calling my name because I actually need people. Look, you're meant for the stage. I get it. You got to have that interaction. Yeah, it would have to be interactive plays. Yeah. Anyway, I made it through and they called me and said, hey, you made it. We're so excited to welcome you. You need to come to this like two, I don't know, week or two week training thing.

You're not going to get paid for it, but you have to come to it. And by the way, you have to become a registered business. You can't do this as a sole proprietor. Everything up until this moment, I had been a sole proprietor. So I didn't know how to do that, but I found a website to the IRS and it talked about how you file for a federal employer identification number. And I called the 1 -800 number and I filed. And they're like, what would your company name be? I was like,

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What? I don't know. I hadn't put that much thought into this. You just gave me one, right? No, I chose. I was like, DW Training and Development. Awesome. I was super clever. But you know, I was like, it's me. Who cares? Anyway, so I incorporated. I got my letter of incorporation April 16, 2001. That's when the official DW Training and Development launched. It was a company of me. And I went to the...

Fred Pryor training program. And by the way, they did a fantastic job. They really demonstrated what it was like to facilitate a really good program. They really knew their stuff. And I enjoyed the training session tremendously. They pushed you out of your comfort zone. And in one of the activities that I was doing where I was being pushed out of my comfort zone, I met a fellow trainee, Keisha Dugan.

And we clicked immediately. We couldn't have had more different types of personalities. For whatever reason, we clicked. It was just dynamic from the get -go. She's this fabulously boisterous, energetic, enthusiastic, just a ball of fire. I'm a little bit more reserved. But we played off each other, and we had the best time.

getting to know each other during this training program. And because we were both newbies at the same time, our first week that we were sent out happened to be the same week. And at that time, the way Fred prior worked, because you were remote working, you had a call -in, a phone mailbox. And so every day you would call in and you would report your numbers. How did your program go? How did things?

interact, any questions you had. But there was a calling tree of other people in the network that were part of Fred prior, because you could reach out to anybody for help, because people were delivering the same seminar all over. So you could call somebody else who was delivering customer service training and ask questions or say, I got this question, can you help? And everybody was super supportive of each other. It was really a good first remote experience workforce. Keisha and I shared each other's voicemail box. And so every night,

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we would call each other and leave each other these very long messages about the funniest things that happened that day or the most, you won't believe this happened, blah, blah, blah. And I remember leaving her this message about the fact that I got to a city and they were always at the hotel and so I went down to the conference room and it was one person, one person in the seminar.

So I'm thinking, obviously this person's going to, you know, I call corporate office and they're like, you can offer her a refund or you can offer her to come back another day. And she says to me, no, I want the training today. So I delivered an eight hour training one -on -one with her and was legit there the entire eight hours.

I'm on the phone that night and I'm sharing this with Keisha. The next night I get to the next city and I'm listening to my voice mail and she's like, you won't believe this. I have a class of 150. I was done in four hours. Oh no. And she'd sell it. I mean, she could get through that class so fast and people would never complain. They'd never be like, we paid for an eight hour. She would just, and I'm like, one person, eight hours.

50 people in four hours. Man, talk about rolling out the red carpet for this person. That's something special. Wow. Exactly. The beautiful part about that, though, is that Keisha and I really formed this bond of professionals who are sharing kind of some of the same issues, but in a very different experience. So that's how we became this. You know, the first there was Dana.

with La Petite and now Keisha with Fred Pryor Seminars. It's very exciting. It's so cool that along this crazy road, you were able to meet some of our most impactful folks that have been a part of the journey of TTC innovations. So let's go back to Lori Fry. Eventually she got a job with Bank of America. Is that correct?

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Yeah, so she was working for Submit Order and then at some point she had an opportunity or interviewed with Bank of America there in Columbus and got a great position with them. All this time between my time with Submit Order while I was working for Fred Pryor, she'd pitch me a few pieces of training development. So her and I were still in conversation.

I was doing a few pieces with her. I would do the work at night, send it in during, while I was doing the seminars, or if that was my off week, then I would, was available to meet with clients and do that work. So her and I stay connected throughout all of this time. So she shared with me that she was taking a position with Bank of America and technically right, had a contract with Bank of America. So it was really a conflict of interest for her. She couldn't do both.

And she decided it was really in her best interest and it was an exciting opportunity to go join Bank of America. So she at that point had a couple of options. She could shut down Technically Right, but she had some good clients that she had been doing some ongoing work with. There were also several contractors who had been doing a lot of work with her for a long time, including myself. And so she...

you know, decided instead of shutting the company down, then she'd go ahead and sell it. And she originally talked with the person who was doing her business development for her and said, you know, do you want to buy the company? And that gal was like, yeah, you bet. I sure do. And then Lori was like, great. Well, let's talk about a price point for this and how, how that would work. And the business development person said, oh,

No, I just thought I was going to take it over. It's not really normally how you acquire companies. So Lori said, thank you, no. And she reached out to me and she said, you know, Debbie, she goes, you know, I've been working with contractors for quite some time and I just connect with you. And I just think that this might be something that you might be interested in. And, you know, she said, you know, here, you know, I'd like to just.

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talk with you about that. And so I said, okay, well, let's schedule some time. We can talk through what that would look like. I got off the phone and talked to Chris and told him that I was thinking about buying this company. And he's like, crazy. You're nuts. Yeah. You said, you know, things are going really well. You don't have a lot of stress. You are traveling a lot, but there's not a tremendous amount of stress in your world. If you buy a company, now you've got all of this other headache. And I said, I know.

Isn't that exciting? So I talked with Lori the next day, we came to terms that were equitable for both of us. And the one thing that we talked about was that, well, I know that there was a lot of business out there for technical writing and a good need for technical writing. It's really important. It's not my passion. Right. And so if I was taking the company on, I really felt like I was going to need to change the direction a little bit. And she said, you know,

It's good. You do you do you and and you know, our clients are looking for both. So I don't think that that's going to be a problem. She said, you can't use the name technically, right? And you know that, you know, I'm not telling you the name of the company, I'm selling you the business, the clients, the contractors. And then so I was like, okay, that's great. So hey, now it's technically training.

hat really happened in, gosh,:

And then in:

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that she would be this amazing instructional designer as well. She had such a creative mind and she's so brilliant at knowing what people need and how to get learners there. And so she said, you know what, I've never done that. And I said, well, let's just do it. I'll review your work. I'll fix it and make it instructionally sound or whatever, but Kiesha, you're brilliant. And so she took on one of my first projects, which was a Bank of America project.

and helped me do some of the instructional design work for it and Gosh that just really kicked off our relationship with Bank of America. I think that's one of the most impactful and inspiring aspects of what makes a great leader is someone who is able to See the potential with the quiches of this world and be able to bring them under their wing and ultimately allow them to prosper and and

d I'm proud to say that since:

has had Bank of America as a client. And I think it speaks volumes to the quality of the people and the trust that Bank of America can have in our organization and our team members because we have a group of people who truly care about the outcomes for the learners. And that's where the focus has always been. Bank of America was a great partner and...

They were using a tool called Knowledgeand at the time when we first started contracting with them for their e -learning. And so you would create these modules in Knowledgeand. And Bank of America was such a good partner that they actually arranged for Knowledgeand to deploy the tool.

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on our server at Technically Training. Really? At the time, Technically Training. They installed it on our server because you had to build the training on the tool. And so I would have our technology developers would VPN to the server in my basement. Connection was horrible.

I could see them working on the screen and it was just a mess. But one of the pieces of Knowledgeant was this tool called Virtual Customer. And the bank had adopted this tool for e -learning specifically for Virtual Customer because it gave them an opportunity to take a recording of an audio of a phone conversation and then program a simulation of the system.

And so it was kind of one of those very early stage simulation tools. So you had to go in and do all of these triggers in the virtual customer system. And this is how Dana came back to become part of our team. I had her do a couple of other page layout things for me, but that was really small and there wasn't a lot of work.

But Virtual Customer gave me a reason to really embed her and have the opportunity to work with her a lot. And because it was on my server, it was actually easier for her to come to my house and work on the server directly. So that's when she started coming to work with me a couple of days a week. And she would do programming in Virtual Customer. She self -taught to build in Virtual Customer. I mean, the tool was pretty.

Clunky system, but it worked. You know, it created the training it worked. Well, I think some of the best origin stories for companies a lot of what makes them so impactful so successful is that you get to work with your friends often exactly you get to choose. Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm. And I really I had my brothers working for me. Um, my youngest brother still works for for the company as one of our contractors he you know, he he's the kind of guy that you give him a

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online tool or something, he'll figure it out. And so, you know, throwing different tools at him, he was like, great. And he'd figure out how to use them and build solutions. So he's been one of our web, at the time it was web learning and now e -learning. He's been with us since really the beginning. He was one of our first technology team members. So it's been this journey. So it was a very small group of us to begin with. And in 2003,

That's really when we became a company and you know that first year we if you take the dollars from April to April, which is kind of when we had our first funds come in from April to April that first year we brought we had $700 ,000 in sales. Oh my gosh. I had no idea because Laurie had shared with me like there I think they're.

biggest year many years ago had been around 700 ,000. She said that the average year was 300 to 500 ,000. So it was that moment in time though, because if you think about that time period, that's when e -learning really hit off based training at the time. But it was really becoming quite a thing and companies didn't have internal resources who could do that.

So at the end of that first fiscal cycle, we had a $700 ,000 in business and then one year later we were over the million dollar mark. Oh my gosh. Well, and I would have never guessed that. Right. So I think that that is an incredible place for us to stop. You have the players all in line. You've got a successful first fiscal year. The road is laid out in front of you guys.

And I think that this is a great place for us to maybe take this to a part two, where we go into that second year, um, and some of the trials and tribulations, some of the things that you learned, uh, some of the failures maybe. And of course the successes that led to a very successful second year. So, uh, for this podcast, I just want to thank you, Debbie, for coming on. We will continue this conversation, uh, because the story, well, it's never ending.

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Ultimately, so we'll get into a little bit more about the history of the company and then we'll talk some more about what the actual state of the company is right now. Some of the exciting things that you have to share for us about the current state and then the future of what TTC is going to look like. So again, thank you so much for being our first guest here and couldn't be happier with sharing this moment with you.

Oh, thank you. This has been so much fun. It's funny to remember all of those moments. So I appreciate you listening to my story. Of course. You're a great storyteller. So we want to make sure that we can capture that and gift the story to the world. Tune into part two to get the rest of the story of Debbie Woldridge and her growth as a CEO and entrepreneur. For more great insights, join our newsletter, The Buzz, to keep up with what's trending in the ever -changing world of learning and development.

Catch new episodes every week, like and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and I'll see you next time.




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