Szymon Slupik: Changing the hardware game with Bluetooth Mesh & his startup Silvair.

Szymon Slupik is a technologist, inventor of Bluetooth Mesh technology, as well as co-founder of Silvair (formerly Seed Labs) where he currently holds the CTO position. The best way to describe Szymon is that his mind and thoughts constantly live in the future. He’s always thinking 10 steps ahead, piecing together and marrying concepts that do not yet exist or have not been explored in a certain way. In his professional experience, Szymon was also tasked with launching Wind Mobile, a Polish VAS telecommunications company which subsequently ended up listing on the Warsaw Stock Exchange. Szymon remained with Wind Mobile as CEO until October 2008. Following his time at Wind Mobile, Szymon went on to work as an independent consultant until he founded Silvair in 2011. Since then, he’s been busy disrupting the world of connected things with Bluetooth Mesh technology, changing how smart objects ultimately connect and communicate with each other. Here’s more from Szymon on business, technology, and how he’s leaving his dent in the universe. 

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1. Where did the idea for Silvair originally come from and at what point did you realize that you could turn it into a real, profitable, multi-million dollar business?

Back in 2010 I realized the cost of a low power silicon radio was less than a few feet of a copper cable. I realized we could replace copper with sand and software. But that software part was not trivial. This is why I wanted to build it.

I live in the future, building what is missing. So when I look around I see the world of connected objects. Everyday things like lamps, wall outlets, door locks. Electro/mechanical objects are software. Even cars are software. I saw the chasm those who were creating them would have to cross. From making things of metal, glass, plastics, to making things of hundreds of thousands of lines of software code.

That software was missing. Still is and will be. It is an enormous opportunity. How to turn that into a billion dollar company is another matter – of mindset and execution.

2. What makes Silvair technology so unique from what’s already out in the market?

We dig down to the roots of the problems to solve them. We looked at all low power wireless protocols and pick one candidate: Bluetooth Smart. It is a fantastic radio. Orders of magnitude better than nearest competitor. But the software layer and topology of Bluetooth Smart was not enough for what we needed. Bluetooth was a point-to-point link. We needed a network. So we ripped the Bluetooth stack apart, went down to the metal, and built a completely new stack capable of creating large, secure IoT networks. Then we started the crusade to establish this as the global standard. It is called now the Bluetooth Smart Mesh. I think it is quite an achievement for a startup.

Once we knew we had a solid foundation: the right underlying technology established as a standard, we pushed the excellence of the implementation to the limits. Today we have the highest performance Bluetooth Mesh stack on the market. It is our “Formula1” engine. Capable of accelerating the products using it to pole positions.

It is a completely plug and play solution. On average it takes our customers 2-4 weeks to build a product based on our Bluetooth Mesh module and software.

3. When you accepted the CEO role at Wind Mobile, the company was still operating in startup mode. What was your biggest challenge in growing the business past that phase and into an established market player? How did you overcome it?

Wind Mobile was a great story. It still is. Our challenge was convincing the big players (Tier-1 mobile carriers) to trust us. We had great software. Fundamentally better than any of our competitors. But we were a team of 25 and were certainly not a safe choice for CTOs and procurement departments. Gradually we managed to build the trust relationship and step by step the big players stopped being afraid of awarding us very large projects. It paid off big for both sides.

4. You spend a lot of time travelling between Silvair’s offices in China, Poland, and the US. What are some of your favourite tips for managing a startup team that’s spread all over the world? How do you keep everyone motivated, engaged, and happy?

There is one tip. Sharing the vision and desire to change the world. We are not a safe place to be. It is sweat and blood everyday. But then there is this enormous satisfaction that we could do something nobody dared. I’ve learned it starts with being completely open about the sweat and blood part when hiring new team members. Surprisingly there are people looking for places to earn scars and frost bites. They make a great team. The key is keeping them up to date with the vision and planned milestones. Once they share that vision they don’t have to be managed.

5. What do you find most exciting about the future of IoT?

That what we see today is just the beginning. IoT presents a galaxy of easy – hard problems to solve. Problems that look easy on the surface but are really hard.

6. What advice can you give first time founders regarding fundraising and investor management?

Build a network. The more people you can reach out to, the better. You will be surprised how many will be turning you down. But then somebody, out of two or five hundred you’ve met, will write you the big check. But first you will need the several hundred investors in discussion.

7. Where do you see Silvair in the year 2020?

I like the “air” part. It is invisible, but indispensable. We want to be that for hundreds of millions of everyday products.

8. Who’s your idol? Why?

Irwin Jacobs, the founder of Qualcomm. At an age of 53 founded a startup that went against the odds creating the CDMA technology, which was fundamentally better, but considered not practical. Known today as 3G / 4G it is the “air” for mobile, a trillion-dollar industry.

9. What are the top 3 characteristics that you think all startup founders need to embody in order to be successful?

Vision. Courage. Perseverance. They are needed exactly in this order. VIsion on the first day. Courage during the first month. And then perseverance all the way through.

10. Why is it good to be Szymon Slupik?

Because it is your passion to keep silently changing the world. I love walking a street seeing people using products I helped creating. Bluetooth Mesh – the technology we’ve developed, will be the most widely adopted IoT standard in residential and commercial markets.

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Adam Rivietz: Confessions of a social media marketing king & serial entrepreneur.

Adam Rivietz is a co-founder of #paid, a premium service platform for connecting brands and ad agencies with social media influencers. The company enables people with large followings to earn a living posting sponsored content on Instagram and other social networks. Adam knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur long before #paid was even an idea on a whiteboard. He grew up with his co-founder Bryan Gold in Richmond Hill, attending the same nursery, elementary, high school, and university.  Their “aha” moment came when a close friend of theirs blew up on Instagram – Ronnie Friedman (@inspiredtobefit) was depressed and overweight when she decided embark on a journey to wellness. She started an Instagram account to hold herself accountable and document her weight loss journey. Within 6 months she racked up over 75k followers and brands began reaching out and offering her free products in exchange for sponsored posts. Adam and Bryan knew she could be earning money for those posts and began brokering deals between Ronnie and various brands. Now, 3 years after publicly launching and working with thousands of brands, influencers, and celebrities, Adam and the #paid crew are gearing up for an even bigger year ahead, expanding to the US and closing their Series A. Here’s more from Adam on #paid, his heroes, and past ventures.

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1. Since launching #paid, what’s the most important lesson you have learned about making money via social media?

If you’re a social media influencer, have a consistent brand/voice across your channels. Also, contrary to popular belief, follower count isn’t as important as engagement. Lastly, post authentic content at least once/day.
 
2. You know you have a good co-founder when (fill in the blank).
 
You have no doubt that they’ll always be there to support you.
 
3. You’ve started multiple businesses in the past, in various industries, at various points in your life. Describe your first venture and the impact it had on you as an entrepreneur.
 
I thought of the idea for my first venture after organizing all of the prom limos for my grade 12 classmates. The idea percolated through the summer and into the first few months of my 1st year of university. I brought on a partner I didn’t know very well which in ended up back-firing in my face. Our work habits clashed and there were trust issues that couldn’t be overcome. After the first year in business, we decided to go our separate ways. Little did I know, he ended up starting the same business under almost the exact same name, leading us to compete for business in year 2. At the time, I was devastated – the backstabbing and competition took an emotional toll on me – but everything happens for a reason. After 1 year of competing, my ex-partner gave up and I took control of the entire prom market in the GTA. I learned that a business partnership is like a marriage; you must have complete trust in your partner or could end up in a messy divorce. I also developed a very strong back-bone which kept me pushing onward and enabled my first business to still be running today. I now have a manager that runs the entire operation and has helped expand the business to over 20 schools across the GTA.
 
4.What are some #paid milestones that you’ve accomplished that make you feel like a #boss.
 
The things that make me feel like a #boss are graduating from the Ryerson DMZ incubator and moving into our own ~2,000 sq. ft. office space, raising our first round of external funding, expanding our team to 11 full-time employees, and working with massive brand/agency clients like PepsiCo, Universal/Sony Music, Canadian Tire, and Dentsu Aegis.
 
5. What makes #paid different than any other social media business tools out there?
 
Most certainly our technology, team of experts, and relationship with influencers. We’ve been in this space for almost 3 years and have seen it evolve tremendously; thus, we’ve evolved with it.
 
6. As a software developer, business manager, the marketing department, and business development director, how do you manage these hats within #Paid and what are some of your favourite work hacks? 
 
For me, time management has always been a weakness so it was very tough at first to balance multiple roles. Implementing systems and utilizing online resources/tool has helped – Trello, Slack, Google Drive, scheduling meeting 15 mins before they actually are, hiring a virtual assistant. I also tend to believe I can do everything on my own but realizing that it is physically and mentally impossible to do so made it easier to hire the right people to wear hats I no longer could.
 
7. Who has had the biggest impact in your life so far?
 
– My dad; for being supportive of my business ventures, teaching me valuable lessons about business and life, and instilling core values that make me who I am today.
– My mom; for the endless support and positive reinforcement. 
– My girlfriend; for getting me through the ups and down of startup life.
 
8. What’s in store for you and #paid in 2016?
 
– High growth mode; increasing revenues and our global customer base.
– Growing existing relationships and establishing new major partnerships. 
– Expansion into the US: officially opening our office in NYC.
– Closing our Series A! 
 
9. If you had to eat only one type of sandwich for the rest of your life, what would be on that sandwich?
 
Veal parmesan.
 
10. Out of all the social media influencers you have worked with, who had the highest number of friends/ followers? 
 
-Male; Chris Collins (@weeklychris)
-Female; Kaitlyn Bristowe (@kaitlynbristowe)

Steve Long: Co-founder of Chowdy talks entrepreneurship, bootstrapping his startup, and staying sane through it all!

There are 5,000+ startups in the Food and Beverage category on AngelList, so consumers do really have quite a bit to choose from. The Uber for this, personal chef for that – what makes Chowdy stand out is the simplicity of the service. It’s not just a food delivery service or a catering company, it’s a combination of thoughtful meal planning simplified and leveraged with a tech platform to make meal management easy, and to an extent, completely automated. Anyone who is too busy to cook at home, can’t cook to save their life, wants to eat healthy and support local, doesn’t have time for prep or cleanup, is exactly the type of person who would love Chowdy. Steve Long, Chowdy’s co-founder, put his experience with large scale logistics projects to good use, with 90K+ meals served up to his subscribers since launching in 2014. Having just crossed the $1MM revenue mark while still bootstrapping, Steve and his team have set their sights on replicating their service in other major cities, raising strategic capital, and expanding their meal offerings. Here is more from Steve on his entrepreneurial journey, how he stays sane, and his startup Chowdy.

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1) At Chowdy you wear both the software developer and business manager hats (sometimes even more), how do you stay productive and manage your time between the different roles?

Managing the business requires a different mindset than coding, so I always try to block off a large chunk of time dedicated to each, to be as productive as possible. For the most part I’ve been able to dedicate entire days to either coding or running the business (e.g. fix a database issue on Monday, sourcing suppliers on Tuesday, etc.). Even within the “business” side, I find it necessary to section off time for different tasks. For instance, on days when I have tons of calls and team meetings scheduled, I try not to do things like analysis, forecasting, or bookkeeping. 

2) Chowdy controls the customer experience end to end, from food prep to delivery, making it more than just a food delivery service. That being said, how do you compete with the likes of UberEats and other food delivery services who are clamouring for the same consumer dollars?

The short answer is that we identified a different market segment that allows us to not have to compete with most of these services directly.

One of the “aha” moments we had early on that led directly to Chowdy was that the food market is actually incredibly diverse, with tons of different what we call “meal occasions”. For example, a typical consumer eats 14 meals (excluding breakfast) a week, but some of these meals are home-cooked, some are from food courts, and some are from fine-dining restaurants. What we noticed is that most of the activities happening in the food industry right now are focused on the higher end meal occasions, where it’s crowded with both traditional players and new entrants like UberEATS, Munchery, Sprig, etc. We saw an opportunity in the “everyday work lunch” meal occasion, which is still predominantly catered by food courts (not healthy or particularly cheap) or home-cooked leftovers (not convenient). 

By serving this segment, and focusing on what customers really want in this segment – tasty meals at an affordable price – we are able to differentiate ourselves from others. In fact, when UberEATS launched in Toronto in Spring/Summer 2015, we did not notice any change in our sign up numbers and our growth continued per usual.

3) Chowdy brought in $1MM in revenues in 2015 without any VC or angel investor funding, which is absolutely amazing for a bootstrapped startup. What are some of your favourite growth hacks picked up along the way that helped Chowdy reach and win over new customers?

We keep an open mind on any growth approach that get on our radar. We first used click-ads on social media, then we got the idea of referral codes. We got a lucky break when BlogTO featured us in the spring of 2015, and that article not only gave us an immediate and massive boost, but it is to this day providing a steady stream of customers. Due to these exposures, we steadily climbed up the Google ladder, and now we rank of the front page for big key words like “meal delivery”, “food delivery”, and “lunch delivery” in Toronto. This helps us get a steady stream of organic traffic customers. 

I really can’t think of any particular growth hacks that we did, but one thing we learned not to do is to spend any money on traditional advertising. When we first started, we tried things like setting up a booth at gym to distribute free meals and give out cards with promo codes. These things probably gave us at most 5 customers last year, and they cost a lot in both time and money.

4) What piece of advice would 50 year old Steve Long probably give present day 20-something year old Steve Long with regards to starting and growing a business?

Starting a business is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep a positive outlook and take care of yourself both physically and mentally. 

5) Can you talk more about the technology you’ve developed that powers Chowdy? 

We use WordPress for our sign up page, because it’s simple and is better-looking than anything I can design. But as soon as customers sign up through Stripe, our in-house app takes over. 

Our app is coded entirely in Rails and hosted on Heroku. It sends out confirmation emails, lets customer login to manage their accounts (e.g. number of meals, meal selection, delivery vs. pick up, etc.), lets chefs input their menu, and lets us admins manage customers at the aggregate level and run promotions.

One of the best features of the app is the series of scheduled batch jobs that we’ve coded to run every week. These jobs does everything from updating total meal numbers (so we know where the business is at), to running projections (so our head chef knows how much ingredients to order for the next week), to identifying any account issues that require manual attention (unpaid bills, incorrect meal selections, etc.). Having the app and the automated jobs is definitely allowing us to run the business without any admin staff.

 6) What were the first 6 months of Chowdy like? 

The first six months was all about building up the infrastructure and experimenting with different business models to find one that works. 

When we first started, we had no permanent kitchen or staff (we used small kitchen incubators without commercial kitchen equipment), no real distribution channels (using our apartment for customers to pick up food), and everything was tracked on a Google Spreadsheet. We were overwhelmed by the workload when we were selling 3% of the weekly meals we are selling now.

We quickly realized that even though the demand was there, we could not grow without finding a proper commercial kitchen, commercial pick-up locations, and some sort of app to automate most of the admin tasks. Finding these things took tons of cold calling – at one point I emailed 40 night clubs in Toronto to see if we could use their kitchen spaces when they were not running during the week.  

7) How does Chowdy work exactly? Do you require your customers to buy a membership and order food in advance, or can they purchase meals on the fly?

Customers sign up for a recurring weekly meal subscription, ranging from 6 meals per week to 14 meals per week. After they sign up, they can go to our hubs to pick up any meals available there Monday through Saturday. Customers can also opt for delivery for an extra delivery charge, and they will get fresh meals delivered to their door every Monday and Thursday. 

Pick up customers can choose their meals at the hub when they pick up, but delivery customers must choose their meals one week ahead of time through our app. Customers can pause or cancel their subscription at any time without penalty. 

8) Do you have any plans to enter adjacent markets in the future? Eg. Delivering meal kits to customers for their own assembling pleasures, personalized food planning, or catering?

We are thinking about going into the single-order market, where customers order a la carte without signing up for a subscription for higher prices than our subscription meals. This would put us in direct competition with UberEATS, Hurrier, and other services. We want to get into this market because we want to leverage the team we’ve built up, and make higher margin on the meals.

We are also exploring the idea of selling other producers’ merchandise (e.g. preserves, beef jerky, kimchi, etc.). This it to both add value for our subscriber base and monetize them beyond simply selling them our own meals.

9) What’s your favourite quote that keeps you going when you’re down?

It’s not really a quote per se, but when I get super stressed out I just keeps telling my self that the show must go on. 

10) What’s the one rule you always live by?

 Don’t let the to-do list get too long

Bart Casabona: Director of Social Media at Pitney Bowes on life, creative thinking, and marketing magic.

Bart Casabona is the Director of Social Media at Pitney Bowes, a technology company helping businesses thrive through services that include customer information management, location intelligence, customer engagement, global e-commerce and shipping and mailing. He got his start at Pepsi while still in university and climbed the ranks to manage communications and new media for all of North America. After working for Pepsi for a number of years, Bart continued to make a name for himself in the marketing and media world, working with clients such as Procter & Gamble, Gillette, and Braun to name a few. He’s a trailblazer for managing and expanding brand reach, digital marketing, and communications. Here’s more from Bart on life, business, and success.

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1) Your personal journey and rise in your career started with a gig at Pepsi as a customer service supervisor while studying at Pace University. What was the most important takeaway from that job, and how did it help set the foundation for things to come?

Truth be told, joining Pepsi’s customer service team was simply a means to gain employment at a company that I admired and wanted to belong to, no matter what it took. Little did I know what a significant impact the role would have on me professionally. Beginning my career in customer service has proved invaluable over the years, because it allowed me to recognize the importance tied to customer experience. I witnessed first-hand the value created through a positive brand experience as well as the damaging effects poorly conceived customer programs could have on a company’s reputation and sales. Today, as competition intensifies globally, and true product differentiation becomes more difficult to define, creating a superior client experience is even more critical to establishing meaningful client relationships, preference and loyalty.

2) You’re not a computer programmer by training – where does your technical knowledge come from, and what advice do you have for anyone who wants to amass the same in order to advance in their own career?

Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to surround myself with talented teams, partners and agencies, who’ve made it easy to appreciate and learn the technical aspects of digital and social media marketing. Today, staying current on innovative technologies is almost a full time job itself, so anyone in the space, including me, must remain a student of all things digital/social/tech.

My advice to others: never stop being curious and never stop surrounding yourself with intelligent, creative, motivated people, who inspire you to think and act differently.

3) What’s the best part about your job at Pitney Bowes?

Simply put, leveraging my creativity in support of Pitney Bowes business priorities and clients. Pitney Bowes is a global technology company, which recently celebrated its 95th birthday on April 23, 2015.  Despite being an arm’s reach away from its second century in business, Pitney Bowes continues to transform its products, services and relationships, to better meet the demands of its clients in today’s marketplace.

Social Media at Pitney Bowes is transforming too, so it’s an exciting time to be leading this marketing function. Over the last year, I’ve partnered with my team to reimagine our organization’s approach to social media marketing, and our creative, bold, new approach is beginning to yield some significant results in the marketplace.

4) In all your past positions, you had to be really good at creative problem solving. How do you approach problems and what steps do you usually take to arrive at a solution? Does this  process always work for you?

For me, problem solving centers on identifying the root cause of the issue and addressing it properly. This practice requires a thoughtful approach when investigating a problem, and the discipline and knowledge to decipher between symptoms of an issue versus the actual cause.   Solve for a symptom of a problem, and you’ll temporarily alleviate the issue, but over time it will surface again, likely with a vengeance.

5) What’s your #1 tip for startups just getting off the ground when it comes to forming a solid social media/ communications strategy?

Develop a social media marketing plan that’s guided by business goals and metrics, before becoming socially active on behalf of your company. Same goes for communications. Much like any other business function, social media requires strategic planning and ample support, not just passion for the space, to provide a proper return on your investment of time and resources. Big rewards are waiting for organizations who understand the significant difference between posting personal pictures of kids or kittens on Facebook, versus leveraging social media to create meaningful customer experiences, engagement and business opportunities.

6) What does it take to be an effective communicator/ marketer?

Truly effective professionals, in any function, possess the right perspective when considering what success looks is like.  In particular, successful marketers tend to think less about transactions, like a single sale, and more about fostering meaningful, long term relationships with clients and partners who matter most.  They understand and embrace the notion that if you simply sell a product, you’ll receive revenue once, but if you forged mutually beneficial partnerships with customers, you’ll have a client and revenue stream for life.

7) What was the hardest thing that you’ve ever had to go through in life, and how did you manage to come out of it in one piece?

Like most people, I have a long list of bumps and bruises which have helped shaped me personally and professionally. That said, the most difficult challenge I’ve faced is unfolding now, as I watch an illness consume my father.  He’s been my mentor and inspiration throughout my life, and I owe a great deal of my success to his involvement, direction and friendship over the years.

No matter what I’m facing, I try to avoid getting overwhelmed by the magnitude of an issue, by focusing my energy on tackling the problem piece by piece.  Each solution, each small win motivates me to keep pushing forward and before long whatever I was facing is safely behind me.

In the case of my dad, I may not be able to cure his medical condition, but I can be there to support and comfort him, and squeeze every bit of value out of our time together.  No question, those small wins matter and keep me going.

8) What are the top 3 things that companies of all sizes usually get wrong about marketing?

– Developing marketing campaigns with products and services in mind, versus your customer. Customers need to be central to planning and campaign activity; otherwise, your efforts will yield less than optimal results.

– Overlooking the importance of digital and social media as viable business channels. Few companies, of any size, can afford this misstep, yet many organizations continue to undervalue the importance of digital and social media as part of the overall client experience.

– Trying to implement too many marketing programs instead of developing a handful of compelling initiatives that truly resonate with customers.  Most every business operates within a set of limited resources, so it’s essential to only plan activities which can be executed with excellence and yield the greatest return on investment.

9) Why is it good to be Bart Casabona?

I consider myself a very fortunate person.  Throughout my career, I’ve worked with amazing partners, bringing to life programs that have touched people’s lives, and I enjoy knowing that I’ve sparked meaningful impact.  At Pitney Bowes, I belong to a marketing team who helps businesses discover information, product and services which enable organizations to realize their business goals and aspirations, which is extremely rewarding and satisfying.

10) What is your greatest accomplishment, personal or professional, to date?

No question, my greatest accomplishment is being an involved husband and father. I often joke that I’m a modern day Clark Griswold from the 1983 movie Vacation.  I love being a family guy, and I couldn’t be more passionate about my children and my role in developing them to become positive contributors to society  In my opinion, properly raising children isn’t a job you outsource, so I work extremely hard at balancing my profession and personal life.

Keiran Thompson: On data science, the startup scene in Australia, and his company Datagami.

Keiran Thompson is a data scientist, former professional fencer, and founder of Datagami. Based in Australia, Keiran shares his experience of the startup scene down under, as well as his time in the world of data science. Datagami is a platform that aims to put enterprise grade analytics tools in the hands of the little guy. Datagami beta invites are now available, so make sure to get yours (after reading this interview of course)!

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1) Where did the idea for Datagami come from and how did you assemble your dream team?

I met my co-founder, Hourann Bosci, at a hackathon in Perth, Western Australia.  He knew all this fancy datavis web front end stuff and I knew some maths.  We won a prize at the hackathon and started talking about opportunities in machine learning and usability.  It seemed to us, and still does, that the open source ML tools are incredibly powerful and most people are still using excel for data analysis.  So the barriers to innovation are not technological at this point, they’re about usability and all the human and organizational factors that go into decision making and the use of data.

2) What’s the startup scene in Australia like?

So Datagami was actually founded in Perth, which is the most isolated city in the world. But it is the centre of the mining industry in Australia so there’s real money for technology.  It’s an interesting startup scene, there aren’t many companies but those that are there are legit.  Sydney is larger and flashier, with more people pushing what I would regard as dubious business models, but also a lot more people with real tech experience.  Google and Atlassian have big offices in Sydney so there is a solid tech base, and some real great meetups.

3) Your academic background is in chemistry and physics – how did you end up in the financial industry?

Well, I had been doing open innovation consulting and could see there was a recession coming.  And in London, it all comes back to the finance industry.  So I applied for some jobs, got a couple of interviews, muttered the words “monte carlo” a few times and indicated I knew python, got offered a job.  About three months later the world ended.

4) You’ve helped develop all sorts of software and digital products – which one are you most proud of and why?

You know my PhD project keeps turning out to be way cooler than I realized at the time.  It was actually a Bayesian machine learning model for growing simulations of chemical reactions from fundamental physics.  At the time we were just trying to solve a hard problem, but so many of the ideas that we wrestled with then keep resurfacing.  I think it says something about the value of basic science, and pure research, that an entire career across several apparently unrelated fields can be informed by your early training like that.

5) What’s the difference between a good and an exceptional data scientist?

Exceptional scientists are like magicians, to quote Mark Kac describing Feynman, you have no idea how they do it.  Good data scientists are ordinary geniuses, with hard work you can understand how they got the results.  It will be some time before computers replace the magicians, but we’re building tools to help everyone up the curve from ordinary to magical powers.

6) Describe the dent that you want to leave in the world using song lyrics.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,

starving hysterical naked, optimizing click through rates.

Hourann started out in ad tech, I worked in finance, and now that we’re in data science we get a lot of offers to sell our souls all over again.

7) If someone made a movie about your life, who would play: you, your best friend, your parents, your high school crush, and your least favourite person on earth?

Johnny Depp reprising his role from Transcendence, my parents are straight out of Meet the Fokkers, my best friend is played by Owen Wilson, my high school crush is someone impossibly out of reach like Cameron Diaz, not sure I have a least favourite person.

8) You’ve been quoted saying “Machine learning for the masses!”. What does that mean to you and why should the rest of us take notice?

At the moment you are more likely to have machine learning done to you than to be able to play with it yourself.  Our idea was that machine learning should be available to a wider audience than the current crop of PhD level experts.   Other people have talked about “democratising machine learning”, so it feels like an idea whose time has come.

9) What’s the biggest difference between VCs in Australia, and investors in the US?

The received wisdom is that the US investors are smarter and have a larger appetite for risk.  I think the more nuanced analysis is that they can afford to be.  Australia is a small country with a smaller pool of investors and a smaller number of startups, which makes it hard to run a successful VC firm. That said, it does often seem like the only way to get funded outside the US is to be already running a profitable business.

10) Where do you hope to see Datagami in 3 years?

Billion dollar valuation, headed for IPO, obviously 🙂

Andrew Bermudez: Shaking up the commercial real estate market with his startup, Digsy.

Andrew Bermudez is the co-founder and CEO of Digsy, a California startup that helps match commercial real estate brokers with business owners looking for space. If you look up “go-getter” in the dictionary, you will surely find Andrew’s name next to the entry. He’s meticulous about this work, conquers all challenges that come his way, and may just be the most energetic and artistic person you’ve met. He’s a real estate expert, executive, and musician. Here’s more from Andrew about entrepreneurship and how Digsy came to be.

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1) How did the idea for Digsy come up and when did know that the idea could be turned into a sustainable business?

I was a Senior Vice President and Partner at a national commercial real estate brokerage called, Lee & Associates for 12 years. I managed team and implemented a lot of my own proprietary technologies and processes that I built from the ground up to beat our competition. I saw a lot of inefficiencies around business owners trying to save time finding space, and great brokers trying to connect with these business owners to help them. So we decided to build Digsy as an on-demand technology platform to connect both so that they can instantly be able to work together. Once we closed deals and brokers were happy to pay us a portion of the commission for connecting them with new clients, we knew we could tap into the $35B brokerage services business.

2) What are your top 3 management tips for other startup CEOs?

Focus, recruiting, and fundraising. Focus and time management is critical. Focus, focus, focus, don’t waste time on things that won’t move your business forward. As a startup, every minute you spend doing things that are not pivotal to your business, you’re burning cash. Recruiting is an essential skill a CEO must posses. Learn how to identify key talent, make them fall in love with your vision and do everything you can to keep them happy and working to the best of their abilities. Raising money: You must get really good at pitching and raising money. Without the cash to build your dream startup and recruit the talent you need, you won’t get anywhere.

3) What do you want everyone to know about Digsy?

If you own a business and need Office, Warehouse or Retail space for your business Digsy can help you find it in ⅓ of the time. Our Digsy concierge service consists of local commercial real estate pros who will find you the best spaces within a few hours, we’ll pick you up, show you buildings and negotiate with the landlords to get you the best deal possible — all free of charge.

4) What’s the secret sauce for being and staying creative?

At heart, I’m a creative soul and a musician. I play the guitar and write a lot of my own music. I’ve been playing since I was 15 years old and have an eclectic taste in music. I listen to everything from classical, punk, metal, country to anything that is artfully crafted. My favorite singer songwriter is an Italian rock/pop artist by the name of Nek. Everything from musical arrangements and band formation are extremely similar to business. I truly enjoy breaking away from my startup to write some songs and inevitably identify a parallel of insight that helps my company move forward.

5) What advice would you tell your 20 year old self?

Start my company earlier, and don’t worry so much about not having all the experience required. Most of my success came from jumping in front of things I was not familiar with. The biggest mistake I made was wait to get stock options and financing paperwork done at the same time, with the thought we would be saving legal fees, but in retrospect some people could have gotten options at a lower strike price if we would have done the stock option paperwork earlier in the process. Our initial team would have gotten a bigger pop on their shares as the valuation of the company grew.

6) What’s your approach to setting and following through on goals?

Every week I review my short term and long term goals and get them into my Things app which I use to manage my To-Dos. I also use Asana with our development and customer success team to manage all of the priorities for our weekly sprints. This is important exercise for any entrepreneur because it helps keep you disciplined and focused on doing things that are truly important, rather than letting “nice to haves” sneak their way into your immediate roadmap.

7) What was your biggest challenge in launching Digsy?

Nailing down the business model. We never had a problem attracting customers, but had to iterate about 3 business models before finding that on-demand commercial real estate brokerage services was the way to go. We knew we had found the winning model when our customer satisfaction levels grew and helped increase revenues.

8) Who do you look up to?

I really look up to John D. Rockefeller who founded Standard Oil. He was poor growing up, became a billionaire by today’s standards and didn’t care about material things. He was an uncanny strategist and frugal businessman who built an empire from his passion alone. The most important thing I’ve learned from Rockefeller is that material things don’t matter. Building the company of your dreams and achieving the unimaginable is the biggest reward for an entrepreneur. Naturally, this transforms into monetary success.

9) If you could possess any superpower in the world, what would it be and why?

Flying. It would just be so cool to fly around and check the world out from perspectives never once imagined. Not to mention all the gas money and Uber fares I would save 🙂

10) Finally, some words to live by?

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. — Just like Ali.

Robert Schmidt: California’s Department of Food and Agriculture CIO talks innovation, food, and entrepreneurship.

Robert Schmidt is the Chief Information Officer with California’s Department of Food and Agriculture. Simply put, his work creates an impact on anyone in California who consumes food. Always dedicated to his craft, Robert has received multiple awards from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. He’s the type of guy that thrives on challenges – the bigger the better, and commits to expanding his knowledge at every opportunity. An expert, and agent of innovation in Agriculture Tech, Robert shares advice for entrepreneurs, what his life is like as CIO, and how to get involved with the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

 

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1) What’s it like to be the CIO at the California Department of Food and Agriculture? What’s something a lot of people would find surprising about your job?

As a CIO I travel to remote locations from Smith River to El Centro, California. I visit our CDFA veterinarians, entomologists, weigh masters and livestock inspectors. I start my conversation with a simple question, “What is it that you do?”. They sometimes start talking about their latest smartphone, but often a conversation develops into a working relationship with the people that matter most: our 1100 Sacramento and 900 field employees and 58 county agriculture departments. As a CIO my role is to deliver business value through technology to 2,000 CDFA employees in 85 locations in 3 states.

What is most surprising is the diversity of my role. CDFA’s is protecting and promoting California agriculture which extends across 7 divisions. I have the opportunity to meet with 100’s of agriculture and technology representatives on a monthly basis to share the future of AgTech as well as problems that we are working on internally. Agriculture is a fascinating topic as everyone can relate to it. I’ve received speaking opportunities across the country that I would have never received outside of Agriculture Technology.

2) How did you get started on this career path and why do you think you remained on it for so long?

My entrepreneurship and innovation story starts when I was very young; my childhood entailed working in both Agriculture and Technology, by being a son of a well-known research scientist and part-time farmer. By age 10, my family was the largest producer of wholesale herbs on the East Coast and owned several businesses. By age 19, I had already completed two Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contracts under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. By 21, I had worked on the development of the patented manufacturing processes for ceramic orthodontic dental braces, producing over 3 million in 4 years. From there it was off to college, graduating debt free with a Bachelors of Computer Science and Master of Business Administration. This charted the course for a 22 year career in technology that ultimately placed me in a unique position of being the Agency CIO for California Department of Food and Agriculture. I remain in this area as I enjoy that state of ambiguity and challenge that innovation and entrepreneurship that a CIO role brings.

3) How can developers and members of the tech community, who are interested in Food and Agriculture get involved with the California government agency? (Eg. Hackathons, RFPs, perhaps an in-house innovation team?)

California Agriculture is a large community that extends from federal, state, local as well as the educational institutions. My best advice is to be part of that community and engage in areas that matter most to you. The Ag community host events throughout the state where people can engage on problems that impact society. This recent event is a great example. The best place to learn of events is through our Planting Seeds Blog.

4) How do you think technology and the unprecedented access to droves of information has changed the way people eat and think about food?

Data will drive the future of agriculture. Disruptive technology such as social, mobile, analytics, cloud computing and sensor technology will enable us to feed 3B more people by 2050.

As the California Farm to Fork office has demonstrated, people want to know where there food comes from. There are some great examples of how technology is enabling consumers to understand this. A website was created to highlight California farmers, producers, and school-farm connections. By providing resources to individual consumers, school districts, and other organizations, Farm to Fork promotes healthy, nutritious food, and sustainable food systems for everyone in California. Second, the California Farmers Market Finder connects people with the certified farmers’ markets in our state. I’m proud to say that this app is in the top 5 for most used apps in all of California state government.

5) What’s the best/ most exciting part about working with the California Department of Technology?

The most exciting part is the people I work with. I am well supported by the executive team and my director peers. I also find it engaging to work with our research scientist and specialists as they are excited by their field and work.

6) What do you think can be done to increase civic interest in solving tech challenges on a state or municipal level?

We need to establish mechanisms of funding and staffing innovation programs. We also need to re-focus on our workforce particularly cyber security.

7) What’s the most difficult technical challenge that you’ve ever encountered and how did you resolve it?

My most difficult challenge was to interface 31 California County accounting systems with a statewide welfare system in Sacramento. I had to design and implement the hardware and software interfaces with every platform imaginable. Computer interfaces bring significant complexity and risk to a project.  This was resolved by traveling to the 31 California counties, interviewing the IT and County Comptroller, designing an interface and then implementing onsite. Though it required significant travel, it was well worth the time and effort to meet people in person and discuss the problem and solutions.

8) Can you talk a little bit more about the animal health management initiative that you spearheaded with the state of California? What was that process like and why did you decide to tackle this specific issue?

Leveraging information technology through partnerships with agency programs is a key to success at California Department of Food and Agriculture. A CDFA IT initiative, The Emerging Threats Project, was honored as a finalist in a National Association of State CIO’s awards program. The project facilitates the monitoring of animal disease and dairy food safety for threats that can cause disease in humans, the death of millions of animals, and huge economic losses. Its web-based, GIS-enabled features provide CDFA and its partners with accurate animal population information and milk safety surveillance information at all times. Significantly, this system will not only be useful under emergency conditions, but it will also support day to day business operations related to food safety inspections and livestock and poultry disease testing. This daily use will ensure that the information remains current, and will also avoid duplication of effort and improve data integrity.

9) How do you identify problems worth solving?

Innovation is about finding a better way of doing something. It’s about connecting the dots. It’s about fulfilling a customer need. As a CIO I am tuned into customer conversations on needs.  As you listen to customers be on the lookout for opportunities, particularly quick wins. As a recent example, a customer was looking for a way to collect a licensing payment for public scales. Three weeks later, they had a demo of an in-house application that could do just that.

For CDFA it as a framework with these elements: Strategize and plan, governance, change management, execute, measure and feedback.  This is similar to a framework that we use for implementing strategic initiatives within our office.

10) What advice do you usually give 1st time startup founders?

“Fail, Fail, Fail, Succeed, Repeat”. I’ve failed many times more than I have succeeded in innovation. Failure is not pleasant, but provides us a lesson that helps us succeed in future iterations.