Build Better Tech brings you into the room with technology leaders at influential companies, talking about how to do hard work really well. We'll have upbeat conversations about how they've leveraged excellent tech as business strategy to craft their companies' futures, and we'll share both war stories and proudest moments, all with an eye towards doing great work and building great teams.This show is for everyone seeking to build better in their own work world, regardless of technological expertise, interested in hearing from the top leaders at companies they love.
Zoom CTO Brendan Ittelson
Brendan Ittelson loves solving problems for people and enabling them to accomplish their goals. He loved it even as a kid when he was tapped to troubleshoot tech issues around his school so often that he started a “Tech Squad”, and it seems to me that he loves it more than ever now, as he serves as the CTO of Zoom. He took the helm in the early days of the pandemic, thereby stepping into a role important to all of us who have relied on Zoom to stay connected in trying times. It was a great pleasure to speak -- how else -- over Zoom.
Brendan's Developer Keynote from Zoomtopia 2021: Innovate with the Performance, Scale, and Reliability of Zoom https://zoomtopia.com/ondemand/?video-id=Su8cVCmz
Topic Time Stamps
1:15 - What was it like to step into the CTO role at Zoom in April 2020?
3:00 - Were you aware of the weight of the role Zoom would play in the pandemic?
4:10 - As you were talking with your customers in those early days, what did they say that they needed?
5:18 - How important is the customer function within an organization, and what are some ways to be great at it?
7:25 - What have been some of your most meaningful experiences in working with your customers?
9:10 - With a much larger, much different user base now, how has the implementation or architecture of the product changed?
11:10 - What were some of the surprising use cases that you heard about for Zoom and what was it like to hear those?
12:40 - What questions or concerns that people building technology don't think about enough, or that people think about too much?
14:25 - How do you foster innovation while still prioritizing simplicity?
18:30 - Do you have a catchphrase or mantra that you're known for within the organization?
19:40 - What are some things about technology that you are watchful or concerned about? What are things you see that make you optimistic or excited about the future?
22:30 - What's the biggest challenge you're working on right now?
23:30 — The moonshot vision for what Zoom will be in 2050.
Pull Quotes from Brendan:
On the focus for Zoom as the pandemic set in: "We were looking at, How can we "deliver happiness" and connect the world in such a critical time? We were so humbled to have technology that could help people connect and collaborate."
"Having the pulse on your customers and truly understanding them is key to sustainable business."
On getting valuable feedback from customers: "A lot of it is meeting individuals where they are, not where you are. What channels are you providing for customers to reach out? How are they engaged? How simple is that process? it's really looking at how you can do that and make that a seamless experience for the end user and be able to scale and processing that information."
"I fondly remember hearing about people getting married over Zoom, those personal experiences, and in most personal moments being able to connect and experience things at a different level even in this time when so many of us felt disconnected. It was just so empowering hearing that."
"Technology is amazing. There is so much that you can do and there is a natural inclination to build these complex systems. But the most complex system is actually the simplest system because you've actually gone through all the use cases and whittled it down, and refined and perfected that so that it is extremely easy to use, understand, and scale."
"The key thing for innovation is being able to step back, remove all the constraints, and have fun thinking about problems."
Dr. Luc Julia: Creator of Siri, CSO of Renault, Former CTO of Samsung, Inventor
Dr. Julia is one of the most accomplished technologists I'll ever be lucky enough to meet. He is well known as the creator of Siri, but he has driven innovation in some of the biggest companies on the planet, making contributions so significant that he was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (the highest French order of merit) by his country of origin.
We cover tech culture in France vs. Silicon Valley, the necessity of listening to the weird guys, using discomfort to spark innovation, and the fatal flaws of "big data". Plus: what does Siri have to teach you about flirting in nightclubs?
For more Dr. Julia, check out his book, There is No Such Thing as Artificial Intelligence, and follow him on LinkedIn.
1:45 - Luc is an inventor. Picture little Luc building his first robot in France at the age of nine, and dreaming of being a researcher when he grew up.
3:05 - Tech culture and education in France vs. tech culture in the United States. What's the difference in how these two cultures view failure? Silicon Valley as a Gold Rush.
7:10 - What are some of the ways good leaders foster innovation in large companies? Dr. Julia tells stories from Samsung, Apple, and other industry leaders, and explains the primary mechanism for innovation in those types of environments.
11:45 - Dr. Julia tells a story of failure and success: Live TV on smart phones (shoutout to Nokia) goes nowhere in 2002. 2007 brings the iPhone and user numbers go from a few thousand "weird guys" to 15 million in a couple of months.
14:30 - What advice would you give a CEO who wants to embrace innovation and fight the impulse to be conservative? Find the guys who seem weird, build multicultural, cross-functional teams, and push them out of their comfort zone.
17:20 - Life at SRI International (Stanford Research Institute), and why those teams were so special. Also, Siri's origin story! Dr. Julia takes Colleen back in time to meet a cricket... A CHIC one.
26:20 - Siri gets a personality! How did she become the "person" she is, and how does she use "artificial stupidity" to charm her users out of caring that she doesn't know the answer? Turns out she's got the same moves as you and me in a nightclub.
31:45 - There is no such thing as artificial intelligence. AI is just a tool in the hands of humans, and it's only as accurate as the data that fuels it. AI is neither going to take over the world or save the world on its own: we as people have to be the ones to build and apply it effectively.
39:20 - What are some of the things that keep Dr. Julia up at night? And why does he turn down selfies?
43:17 - Three domains Dr. Julia is most excited about for near-term technology gains.
Imperfect Foods CEO Philip Behn
Imperfect Foods delivers fresh, delicious produce and other groceries to your door for up to 30% less than what those same groceries would cost you at a traditional store. They do it by recovering apples that are too giant, carrots that are too twisty, lentils from a surplus harvest, or olive oil with out-of-style packaging — in other words, food that would otherwise to go waste.
Philip Behn joined Imperfect Foods as CEO last year, and is carrying forward their mission to reduce food waste and deliver great value to each customer they serve. He brings a long career in food retail, along with a personal passion for serving customers.
Press play on this episode, and then go find and follow them on social media immediately — you’ll be glad you did. In addition to their excellent mission and product, their brand is exceedingly charming.
Topics by time stamp:
0:40 — Philip’s background, and what he brings to his role at Imperfect Foods. What are some practices he uses to keep his teams focused on the customer? (Including examples!)
6:30 — An agile, experimental approach within large companies: Some examples from Philip’s Walmart and consulting experience.
10:48 — What’s a digital factory? Philip and his team do what had possibly never been done before in any major retailer, and it changes culture.
16:07 — Philip previews a potential TED talk on the future of food retail, and why now is the perfect time for Imperfect Foods.
21:47 — How does a mission-driven company like Imperfect Foods keep an eye on the risk of doing more harm than good?
24:56 — Imperfect does supply chain differently: ugly foods literally don’t fit in at supermarkets.
28:30 — Traditional grocery stores: who designed the self-service grocery experience and why? Plus, the ways in which big retailers have mastered tech, and the ways in which they can’t compete.
34:00 — How Imperfect Foods customizes your shopping cart for you, and balances staples with new foods.
38:15 — Imperfect Foods as a Silicon Valley startup: What’s typical and what’s unique
41:20 — Once just produce, now many other groceries: What was 2019 about, and where is Imperfect Foods headed next?
Vitamin Shoppe CTO/COO Andrew Laudato
Andy Laudato has an incomparable level of experience in retail tech. In addition to developing groundbreaking customer-facing tech, he has the superpower of being able to understand the overall business and design solutions to optimize for it.
He’s a business leader first, and a technologist second. Accordingly, he has recently stepped from the role of Chief Technology Officer into Chief Operating Officer at Vitamin Shoppe.
Topics by time stamp:
0:45 — Andy and technology at Pier One: Where they started, and how did he lead the tech team to have a greater impact (apparently winning Halloween is a good start!)
8:04 — Leadership as a CIO: What’s at the heart of it, and what’s unique about leading in tech as opposed to other areas?
10:25 — For developers: how do I know if I should stay a developer and pursue growth as an expert, or pursue growth as a manager and move up that way?
14:40 — Advice for non-technical people working with development teams
17:32 — What makes the best teams?
21:15 — 4000 years of retail, in 2 minutes or less. As a tech leader, who is Andy’s customer and what makes them brag about his team? Plus, Andy ribs Colleen about still writing checks.
28:35 — Andy’s prediction of what retail tech will be in 2050 (think Minority Report, but in a good way?)
38:35 — What’s 2020 about for the Vitamin Shoppe? Plus, Andy talks about reducing online order time to reach the store from 45 minutes to a matter of seconds.
43:39 — Great advice for both tech and business-oriented people early in their career
46:10 — What does the Vitamin Shoppe do better than anyone else in the world, and what does that mean for its tech?
Former Dave Ramsey Head of Digital Products Jon Shearer
Jon Shearer served as head of digital products at Dave Ramsey, creator of Financial Peace University and numerous other products designed to teach healthy personal financial practices and get out of debt. This was during Ramsey’s migration as a company from a content producer and radio show, to a digital-first brand that can meet people where they are and support them practically.
Jon talks about the highs and lows of leading a digital transformation, and how great technology had immediate impact on the company’s reach and revenue. He also gives great advice for navigating the recurring struggle between tech and business.
Topics by time stamp:
1:06 — What is digital transformation? How to ensure that you don’t get in your own way, and kill the very idea that could be the new life of your business.
6:25 — Jon’s journey at Ramsey: where they started and how they evolved.
12:19 — Leadership, aka, how to scale your team under you, why leadership in tech is different from other areas, and how to help other leaders understand tech within the organization.
22:48 — How to create a culture where technology and commercial sides of the company understand each other, and work really well together.
40:09 — What Jon is focused on right now: Advising and mentoring in leadership “wherever people are present”.
Jammber CEO Marcus Cobb
With the advent of streaming services, the rise of creative and gig economies, and a lower barrier to entry to release content, tracking credit and getting paid fairly for creative work is really difficult.
Jammber is a fast-growing financial tech company in the music space, on a mission to become the way that creatives around the world get paid, faster and more simply.
Marcus Cobb is Jammber’s founder and CEO, and brings his formative experience as a developer to create products that are industry leaders in excellent design.
Topics by time stamp
1:00 — Jammber 101 and Marcus’s story: how does a developer turned CEO think differently than other CEOs? Marcus also talks about the best teams he’s ever been a part of, and good advice from questionable sources.
12:15 — Jammber’s origin story: Where passion met market demand, and how to make zeros and ones into something beautiful that serves people. Also, how much complexity goes into creating a simple, clean user experience?
19:25 — What to do when it’s hard to know what to do with your product. Or your whole company. Or life, for that matter.
28:24 — Why Marcus is on his path to becoming tech billionaire… And wants it more than the average person.
35:06 — Jammber’s moonshot vision, and what happens next.
Amazing podcast about technology! It covers not only the tech culture and creation process, but also many fun things. You get to know the personality of the guests, which is great. If you have not listened to this podcast yet - I suggest you begin as soon as possible!
Great Host. Great Insight
Pair a great host with insightful guests and you get the perfect recipe for an amazing podcast. A must listen if you are into business and tech!
Pragmatic interviews with outstanding leaders in the tech industry. Definitely adding this one to my rotation!