November 30, 2013

For as far back as I can remember I have had nothing but opportunity however I can’t remember ever truly making the most of those opportunities until now……………..

I guess I can begin with school. It was always suggested I could be a better student if only I applied myself more. Certain things just came easy to me so I figured I was good to go and my mind always wandered to thought so I didn’t always focus myself correctly. 

But when I did focus on my opportunities in school great things happened. For instance I got great grades first year in high school (With exception to Spanish but I’m not sweating that). All 90 and above. You think I would have learned right there that applying yourself to the fullest made sense. Nah! I decided I was better than the opportunity of a private school education and wanted to be with my “friends” in public school (This isn’t a debate on public vs. paid schooling. Opportunity is everywhere!). Tangent, I threw the quotes around the word friends to suggest your friends are your friends no matter what. I had friends all over and I should have realized then that true friends will support you in your life. Yes, even your freshman year of high school.

So I, against my parent’s better judgement (At this stage of my life they couldn’t stop me anyway), decided I wanted to be with my friends. Well temptation to be cool won over and out the window went the focus on opportunity. By not seizing the opportunity to get good grades in my Sophomore and Junior years I ruined the opportunity of some of the most important educational years of my life and possibly the opportunity to play baseball (My first true love) on my high school team.

The second time I saw the light and applied myself was in the second half of my Junior year of high school. It made sense at the time as I began to see the real world approaching so I hunkered down, got decent grades and went off to the summer.

Let it be known I’ve always worked and have had a work ethic (And one hell of a competitive fire) but even my younger work years were spent trying to be cool, whether to impress girls or friends, that I didn’t seize what the true potential could have been.

Wrapping up the opportunity of high school. I nailed my senior year much like I nailed my freshman year. End result, played baseball and made the honor roll. Why this lesson didn’t translate I don’t know.

I decided college wasn’t for me. I had this pipe dream I wanted to be a cop. Well, let’s make it clear others decided I was only capable of going the civil service route so I figured being a cop was the best route to take. I enrolled in a local community college and it didn’t fair well in the least. My heart wasn’t in it. I was a part of the cool crew, I could bullshit my way around anything and threw the two years of more education in the trash. I walked away from a criminal justice degree, moved to liberal arts, played softball, and dropped out.

I still think college is a choice and not necessarily critical but looking back on it all I would have gone away. If not for the book education then definitely the life education that you can pull from it. Being away from home, learning to survive without the crutch of your parents. How can you say no to that?

So again another opportunity wasted for me. It was off to work I go. And the fun begins………..

I can’t tell you there was much opportunity for me in the restaurant industry. I was great at what I did, waiter, bartender, busboy, etc…It was a bridge to the party after work so for sure I excelled there. To have cash in hand everyday and appear successful, you bet I kicked ass! The opportunity was in what I wasn’t doing. Saving my money, building trusting relationships, building values, building my network for the future, looking for mentors. I’d go back to correct some of this any day. It is so important to understand these five life lessons and so many more. These are five of many opportunities you just can’t screw around with and it took me forever and a day to understand this. Let this be lesson one if any lesson of this writing.

So in walks the woman who will become my wife. College educated and professional (Not to mention extremely easy on the eyes). Ok she didn’t just walk in, she walked back in. After popping in and out for a couple of years. So in my wife walks, randomly on my birthday, at a time I was just about as confused about my direction as ever. Opportunity at this point was nowhere to be found until I was asked to leave the one restaurant I achieved and earned more than I thought possible. Best thing to ever happen to me! Just took me 12 years to realize it. I had NOTHING to offer this woman. I offered her a vision of what I could be and I was very convincing. Here was my opportunity. I didn’t know I wanted to marry her but I knew I wanted to be better for her. I almost pissed this one away too.

From the heartbreak of being let go by the restaurant (A story for another day) and a pitstop at one last place I decided that it was time to take control of my life and get out there in the real working world. 

First gig, I spent eight months going door to door selling insurance indemnity policies to mechanics and bodega owners (A necessary boot camp). I was declared rookie of the year. I was determined. I was on my way. I fucking hated every second of it! It was commission only and the thought of going into the field made me shake so after a few “no’s” I shut it down for the most part and did enough to earn a little but didn’t really take on the full potential of what it could have been. I needed out when I should have gone all in. It was boot camp, I am glad I went through it.

Opportunity knocked again. This time it was in the form of a huge organization. The biggest and baddest in it’s industry. The cream of the crop in fact…Opportunity was everywhere. You remember those five life lessons from above (Save money, build network, build values, find mentors, trusting relationships) I focused hard on them for a bit but got greedy, burned bridges, took advantage of who my internal connections were and ultimately parted ways with the company. Many opportunities lost here and I kick myself in the ass for only coming away with a few sales plaques and memories of being at the top of a few ranking reports. Remember I have always had a work ethic that kicks in for survival so I used it when necessary and when I have used it, applied myself to the opportunity, I have excelled. High fives feel good. Feeling good feels good. Being successful feels good. So why did I only excel in survival mode? I didn’t know the answer but I was learning

I moved on, burned all of the opportunity and took a position I never should have taken. This part is quick. I saw the opportunity, I went after it like a crazed madman, I showed up early, I cold called the shit out of my territory, I hated it, I never felt so alone in all of my life, I was treated like an outsider, I pushed hard to make good connections, I asked questions, I had a chip on my shoulder and it showed. We amicably decided we weren’t a fit for each but I left 437% of plan and regardless of anything else I know I busted my ass for that opportunity. At least the work side of it. I still didn’t have a network, I mismanaged money, maybe a couple of mentors, crappy values (At least work wise – I had become a Dad (Another post another day)), uneasy relationships.

Moving along. I was interviewing regardless and landed with another major player in it’s respected industry. I was hired because they needed cold callers and I could sure do that! This was the opportunity I needed. I was going to crush this opportunity. I had built up my ability to sell (So I thought) and that was all that mattered. Cold call the crap out of the areas I was unleashed to do so, set up the right internal connections, and BOOM…Let the good times roll. Until the entire financial system in America collapsed. Ok, not an excuse just the reality of the situation. Karma caught up with me here as it took 14 months before my first deal happened. This was the opportunity I wanted / needed. I did everything you could here. Nothing moved. It was a head scratcher. I ended up securing President’s club as a reward for my hard work. Some of it was earned other parts incentives. However my network was building, I began to see the light regarding money, I started to build trusting relationships, realized I had mentors and picked up a few new ones along the way, the values were coming together. It was getting exciting. Changes happened and then opportunity really came knocking.

I received an offer to take an absolute flyer and accepted a position with a company that on paper wasn’t what I ever would have looked at unless it was put in front of me. I couldn’t be happier I, along with my family, that I made this choice.

I was given another crack at opportunity and I decided I wasn’t going to let it go this time. I had a lot to figure out. A new industry, terms and language that was as foreign to me as the owners of the company. A new culture that I had to work with everyday, true money management, how to correctly pay taxes, how to expertly network, who were my mentors now. Time management. Holy shit! 

This was the opportunity of a lifetime, for me, and I buckled down and said I am going to embrace this, own it, and not screw it up because I may not get an opportunity like this again.

And the second I made this choice, the choice to absolutely own this opportunity was the second life got really friggen good!

I look forward to tomorrow and the possibilities that come with it. I look forward to the unknowns and the issues that can come up because I know I put in enough effort to have issues come up. I know that if I put the correct energy into this opportunity a lot of great things will happen. The process can be interesting at times but the belief in what I am doing as an individual is greater that any belief I have ever had in my life and the belief in the delivery of the company is the greatest it has ever been. I’ve seen the capabilities and it fuels me to be a brand ambassador to my opportunity.

This is a snippet to my story and there is a truckload more. I know there are so many people out there like me. They know it is in them to be more than they are, more than people say they are. They are presented with opportunities but not taking full advantage of them for whatever reason.

I am not sure if anyone will read this or maybe some will.

Opportunity is everywhere and we all have a golden opportunity to take full advantage. It can be done. I am not 2+ houses, multiple cars in the driveway rich but I am on my way to what I believe is success and that is because I made the choice (Took a while for sure) to embrace a golden opportunity to do things I always dreamed possible.

I hope there is some level of value in here for someone out there. 

Take advantage! 


Event Recap: The Secret to Scaling a Tech Organization

October 14, 2013

On September 25th, 2013, I  attended the event, The Secret to Scaling a Tech Organization, presenting Gilt CTO, Michael Bryzek. This event was hosted by the New York Technology Council.

25 years ago, innovation happened in large research organizations handled by centralized bureaucracies. As a result, in those days, scaling technology was a slow and arduous process. But with the advent of the 21st century, the rise of the internet has changed this system. The bureaucratic model of managing innovative organizations, especially those that deal with technology, can no longer meet demands of the 21st century global economy. With social and economic paradigms shifting towards decentralization, how can today’s large scale businesses and organizations scale technology to meet the demands of today’s 21 century economy while still being innovative and efficient?

Michael Bryzek, CTO of Gilt, uses his organization as an example of the solution to this question. Gilt is a unique approach to online shopping where customers are given a limited amount of time (36 hours) to access discounted top brand products. This way, brands remain exclusive and customers get discounts on brand name goods.

But how does Gilt scale to accommodate not only the flexibility required for its market but also its overall growth? The innovation and efficiency required to create the systems that facilitate search engine optimization while exposing new brand products to customers on a daily basis under the umbrella of discreetness requires a new type of organizational model.  Since innovation is what drives the growth of start-ups, according to Bryzek, the secret to scaling a technology organization lies simply with the concept of trust. The ability of an organization to create an environment that cultivates innovation is tied to how individuals can interact with each other, as he says, “trust is an important ingredient to scale, recruiting, and innovate within any organization… Behind a company are people and if true trust is created within an organization, then people create great things.” In order to create the environment for innovation, the workplace setting must be merged with an environment where people can interact naturally.

Gilt’s organizational model is decentralized and rather than building bureaucratic hierarchies, they focus on fostering autonomous groups of specialists that are organized into teams. The problem with centralization and organizational hierarchies, according to Bryzek, is its slow speed of innovating ideas. When Gilt attempted to innovate (innovation is defined as not merely having an idea but also executing that idea) using a centralized model (a grand list of ideas), it could not keep up with the speed of the market because it took too long to come to a consensus on what idea they wanted to prioritize. As a result, the people at Gilt wanted to change this and focus on defining a strategy that quickly honed in areas that they want to invest in.

Under this new organization model, the prioritization of ideas must rely on KPI (Key performance indicator (metrics) KPI provides two advantages for an organization, in that, it fosters a debate on what matters to that organization and it provides a metric that justifies the prioritization of an idea. Within Gilt, the metric (such as how many people searched on Google and registered on Gilt in 30 days), will quickly drive the debate to the fundamental things that are important to the organization because an idea is tested empirically, for example: if Gilt had to decide on whether or not they should prioritize on developing a program that helps optimize the discreet searches for brand name Black dresses on Google or, they would check how many people searched on Google and registered.

However, the teams at Gilt aren’t merely a group of professionals divided into specialized positions in the organization. But what Gilt employs are teams of “smart and autonomous people. The teams are organized on the psychology of “people working together” where the members of the team decide what each other does based on what they learn from each other. Furthermore, going along with the paradigm of decentralization and autonomy, each team are afforded ownership of what they produce for Gilt (pieces of code and etc.) This way, if there is a problem with a certain program or platform, the teams that worked on them take notice and quickly fix it.

Therefore, the key to scaling in the 21st century is not to create innovation through centralization but to create the decentralized environment that cultivates innovation. That and a whole lot of trust!

iTechArt Event Recap Data Driven NYC #18

October 9, 2013

On September 17th, I attended Data Driven NYC, an event hosted by Bloomberg Beta and organized by Matt Turck with presentations by Fred Wilson, co-founder of Union Square Ventures, financial data companies: Etimize, Quandl, and Kensho, and featuring spotlights on Paris based data start-ups: Yseop, Datailu, and OpenDataSoft.

The event started with a “fireside” chat with Fred Wilson, the co-founder of Union Square Ventures on the topics of preparatory data assets and how networks have evolved to make such data defensible.

“What are some examples of preparatory data assets and why do they matter?” asked Matt Turck to start the “fireside” chat.

Fred Wilson answered, “We came to realize that the only defensibility that you can get with data is the defensibility around your own data.” The problem of preparatory data assets revolved around the defensibility of that data.

“If you are getting data assets from somebody else, they can always give it to someone else…” Wilson continued, “Even if they are bound by exclusive contracts… you will pay through the nose for that data. So, unless you own your data, you don’t really have defensible data assets.”

Therefore, Wilson believes that the defensibility of data lies within networks. The tremendous amounts of data formed within networks such as Twitter for example, provides advantages since “its users contribute the data.” Data such as search queries, user connections, and content creation leverage the data since it comes from within your own system.

But how do you keep the data in your network?

Wilson first uses a story to highlight the indefensibility of software and the power of the data asset, “Three entrepreneurs start a company and create new enterprise software. They sell their software and start their companies. However, Bloomberg beta hires two programmers to knock off this new software and sell this software for a cheaper price hence cutting into the profits of the major software companies. Then a group of hackers create an open source version of the software which ruins both the software companies and the programmers from Bloomberg Beta. Therefore software alone can’t contribute to the defensibility of data.

For Wilson, networks are the intersection between software and data because what networks provide is connectivity. And connectivity is a major component to the defensibility of data.

Edmodo is an example of how the connectivity of networks attributes to the defensibility of data. According to Wilson, what Edmodo accomplished was, by using facebook’s social networking programs such as the newsfeed, it enabled teachers to communicate with each other for free. Communication “allowed teacher to connect to each other and share lesson plans, homework, tests, and etc. And all of this was free.” By the virtue of using Edmodo to connect with one another, data created by teachers are “living within Edmodo”. Therefore, the network effects will be around “the content created and shared within the platform” And since, now content lives within the system, the most important data (conversational/transactional) stay within the network.

Jean Marc Lazard, CEO of OpenDataSoft, made the first spotlight presentation.

Lazard explained OpenDataSoft as a cloud based platform that condenses big data technologies into a cost effective and easy to use data management system. The platform can collect all kinds of data from any sources and reformat the data into the user’s requirements.

Marc Batty, chief custom officer at Dataiku, made the next spotlight presentation.

Dataiku, according to Batty, is a data science application/platform that collects raw and external data in order to evaluate and predict trends in business processes. The platform uses the data collected to update and re-configure itself via machine learning technologies.

John Rauscher, CEO and co-founder of Yseop, made the final spotlight presentation.

Rauscher explained Yseop as a software centered on artificial intelligence that removes the human element from administrative tasks. Yseop uses data to automatically perform lead generations, up-selling, cross-selling, writing reports, and post meeting summaries. As such, it makes administrative tasks far more efficient since with Yseop, a company’s sales teams can spend more time on customer interactions and less time on administrative tasks in order to close business faster.

Leigh Drogen, CEO of Estimize, made the first financial data presentation.

Estimize, according to Drogen, is an open financial estimates platform which facilitates the aggregation of fundamental estimates through public and private crowdsourcing. By sourcing estimates from a wide range of individuals, Estimize provides both a more accurate and more representative view of expectations compared to only sell side data sets which suffer from biases.

Abraham Thomas, Chief Data officer at Quandl made the second financial data presentation.

Quandl, according to Thomas, is a search engine for quantitative data that makes it easier to use and find all numerical data on the internet. Quandl accomplishes its search inquires through the millions of indexed numerical datasets from around the internet as Thomas explains how Quandl is used, “When you click on a particular dataset listed in our index, Quandl goes to the original source of that data, extracts the most recent version of that data, cleans it up, and gives it to you in whatever format you want.”

Daniel J. Nadler, chief executive officer at Kensho, made the final presentation of the evening.

Nadler explains Kensho as a platform that combines high-speed search algorithms and machine learning to create a new class of predictive analysis tools in finance. By combing high speed search algorithms ad machine learning, Kensho tackles the two biggest challenges surrounding financial analysis on Wall Street today; scale and automation.

About Me:

I have has consulted with dozens of next-generation technology start-ups across the United States in information management, human resources, and custom enterprise and mobile application engineering essentially leading to next stage funding rounds and acquisition.

About iTechArt:

iTechArt is a leading custom software engineering company focused primarily on establishing and operating remote, fully dedicated, teams for product development and customization, proof of concept and software prototyping, application modernization and re-engineering, QA and testing. Since 2002 iTechArt has been successfully acting as a trustworthy and reliable technology partner for dynamically growing technology start-ups.