People who know me have been asking why I joined OnlyBoth – an early stage technology startup. That’s quickly followed by the question: what is OnlyBoth anyway? Fair questions.
First, the “what” question. Founded by entrepreneurs Raul Valdes-Perez and Andre Lessa, OnlyBoth is the pioneer of artificial intelligence-based benchmarking software. Its fusion of proprietary artificial intelligence and natural language generation technology enables companies in a variety of industries to automatically discover critical business insights from data, and to communicate these in plain English.
Now the “why” question. There are actually five reasons, ranging from the lofty to the practical. Let me explain.
Reason One: Impact. I see this as an opportunity to make a huge impact – on customers, industry, and society, as well as on OnlyBoth’s employees and partners. The bigger the impact, the more energized I get. We’re addressing a pervasive need – to know how someone or something is doing in comparison to others. Capitalizing on the combination of today’s Big Data and OnlyBoth’s software, uncovering comparative insights and triggering business improvements is cheaper, simpler and more convenient than ever. It automates a process, which has been, until now, largely based on expensive and scarce talent. And it has a potentially strong position in a large, attractive market – key prerequisites for the most successful products. OnlyBoth’s unique technology was years in the making, so it won’t be quick or easy for anyone else to create an alternative that delivers better results. So I see OnlyBoth’s technology as disruptive – in a good way.
Reason Two: Startup. The company entered the market this summer. I joined at the end of July, and prior to this, I was occasionally advising and helping the co-founders discover the market problem/opportunity. For me, joining a company when it first gets started is the ideal time to learn and grow together. I’m at my best building stuff from scratch into something of value. I’ve helped to build new businesses, new product lines, new product categories, new customers and new skills for four previous startups, as well as three multinational corporations and Carnegie Mellon University. OnlyBoth provides an opportunity to work on all of these. So the timing on this one was nearly perfect.
Reason Three: Values and Respect. I respect a lot of entrepreneurs and business people, but I haven’t always been at ease with their values. However, Raul, OnlyBoth’s CEO, is someone I believe I can work with comfortably for a long time. That’s important because it can take years to build something new that makes a real impact. A company’s CEO, more than anyone else, shapes the culture, standards and identity of an organization. Raul is very keen on doing what’s right, whether it’s for customers, employees or other stakeholders. I’ve found Raul to be straightforward and open. He has integrity, values loyalty, and has a strong customer-value orientation. He stays focused, seeks input from others, gives people freedom to use their talents, and delivers on commitments. I share those values; they give me confidence we can work effectively together. And besides, experience matters. Raul has made this journey before. IBM acquired his first software startup twelve years after it was founded.
Reason Four. Finances. As a result of IBM acquiring their previous business, the founders are in a position to finance and scale OnlyBoth by themselves. Although it’s an attractive opportunity for investment capital, and VCs are actively funding other projects in the artificial intelligence and natural language technology spaces, we can devote our energies to solving customer problems, creating value with our products, and building a solid business, rather than pitching it to potential investors. Even better, we’re not dealing with embryonic technology. The research and development of OnlyBoth’s technology started back in the late 1990s with the support of a National Science Foundation grant, and it’s now ready for market.
Reason Five. Responsibilities. I’m very excited about my new role as Chief Customer Officer. I’m leading the development of our customer base and making sure our customers get the maximum value from those products and from our relationship. But in the early stages of a startup, flexibility is key, so my role could evolve and take on new dimensions. In just my first month, I’ve had insightful discussions with over 30 people from organizations in our target market. I’m learning a lot about the customer problems, the options they have to solve them, their readiness for a new solution, and where our communications can be improved. The people I’ve met have been very generous and helpful, for which I’m extremely grateful. It’s a great way to help build a solid foundation for business success.
That said, you’d think this would have been an easy decision for me. But it wasn’t. As you may know, I’d been itching to create another startup and I spent a lot of effort exploring technology solutions to a few business problems and evaluating a number of opportunities to commercialize technology originating from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. I was actually getting very close to starting a tech business.
And then, to make my decision even more difficult, I was surprised and honored to be asked to teach at a prominent west coast university and to lead a tech company’s product organization. I will continue teaching my strategic marketing and product management course at Carnegie Mellon, but I feel lucky that Raul asked me to join when he did. Opportunities like this don’t come by often; I’m glad I didn’t miss it.