Ep. #793 - Passion, Pioneers, and AI
In this episode of Startup Hustle, Matt DeCoursey and Brian Weaver, CEO of Torch.AI, talk about passion, pioneers, and AI. Torch.AI was recognized in our list of Top Kansas City Startups! Listen to Matt and Brian as they discuss using AI to instantly unlock values from data to help organizations be more efficient and productive.
Covered In This Episode
Dealing with an enormous amount of data can be a nightmare. That’s why Torch.AI is here to operationalize data faster and more efficiently.
Gain insights by tuning into Matt and Brian’s conversation in this Startup Hustle episode.
- Brian’s backstory (1:37)
- Buying one’s former employer (3:28)
- MedQOR to Torch.AI (5:33)
- Voyage to entrepreneurship (6:57)
- Dealing with data: From NASCAR to Microsoft to DoD (12:41)
- Dealing with structured and unstructured data (17:37)
- Approach to creating expertise (22:29)
- Passion and Pioneers (28:25)
- Kansas City startup community’s success (44:19)
- Quick wrap-up (51:09)
I think one of the things that I enjoy as a leader and a manager is it’s building teams. And so I think the first thing is to understand what that team really needs to do. On if it’s a team required to sort of solve a problem that hadn’t been solved before. And innovation is part of it. You’ve got to really think about the complexion of that.Brian Weaver
But what we realize is that when we put people that are passionate about solving the problems that your business needs, or has, they perform like insanely compared to someone that’s just there to do the job.Matt DeCoursey
A lot of the people that join the company join because of the founder’s ambition, and their plan for the business, right? The potential of the future. It’s aspirational. When you’re in a business like this, right? People don’t join for what it is today. It’s not a sprint. It’s not a mature business. And so when people join, they want to contribute to the future, right? They live in the future. And so I think having passion around what you’re trying to do is an absolutely critical component of it.Brian Weaver
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Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!
Matt DeCoursey 0:00
And we’re back back for another episode of Startup Hustle, Matt DeCoursey. Here to have another conversation I’m hoping helps your business grow. Big businesses and innovation often occur in unlikely places. And we’re going to talk a little bit about that today. Now, for those of you that listen to the show regularly, you know that myself and Startup Hustle are located in my hometown of Kansas City, the 28th biggest market in the US and very proud of that. Now with that, we’ve got some really ahead of the curve stuff that goes on in a lot of different industries. And many people probably wouldn’t think that one of the leaders in AI and AI startups is here in Kansas City. Now before I let you know who that is, and who I’m talking to you today, a quick reminder that today’s episode of Startup Hustle is brought to you by FullScale.io. That’s my company. And we help people build software teams, which is really, really tough to do. We make it quick, easy and affordable. Go to full scale.io. To learn more about what we do. Now with me today, I’ve got Brian Weaver. And Brian is the CEO and founder of Torch.AI, which is a Kansas City based company that does a lot of really interesting stuff, network-centric AI delivering augmented intelligence, technology solutions and digital consulting services. I’m sure Brian will take a little time to unwrap and tell us what all that means. But let’s just go ahead and say Brian, welcome to Startup Hustle.
Brian Weaver 1:24
Hey, Matt, thank you very much. Great to be here.
Matt DeCoursey 1:25
Yeah. And I’m excited. I love talking about stuff, especially things that I only kind of get so before we get too far into that, how about a little bit about the backstory about yourself and what y’all are doing over at Torch?
Brian Weaver 1:37
Yeah, no, I appreciate that. I think, you know, I was always start with I was the son of an army brat. I moved around a lot as a kid every three years was in a different place and grew up having a lot of respect. You know, for those that have served and sort of part of that whole culture. So I ended up being dropped off in St. Louis, where my father ran a program for the for the army, played tennis in Northwest Missouri State matriculated down in Kansas City. And, you know, had a couple of jobs got in trouble at work, quit that job started my first company 20 years ago, and in a way it went, right? But, yeah, I would say maybe I have a non-traditional path as an entrepreneur. So that’s probably a pretty fair statement.
Matt DeCoursey 2:28
Yeah, well, I think a lot of us do. And sometimes you become an entrepreneur, because you’re unemployable. Which, you know, is one thing when you realize that, and it’s another thing when you make that your goal? Yeah. So we’ve always, we’ve always made our goals to continue to be unemployable, which means that you’re forced to rely on yourself.
Brian Weaver 2:47
I tried to start a little company within my I had two jobs before I started out on my own. And actually, in the first job, I tried to start a company inside that company. In the second job, I ended up doing a deal for Kansas Speedway, and that company didn’t like it. So it was again, you know, sort of outside the box project. It was very exciting and fun moment in my life. But that was really the impetus to say, you know, Screw this, I’m done being, you know, it’s time for me to go and see if I can prove myself and, you know, hang a shingle and see what happens.
Matt DeCoursey 3:20
Well, I’ve got notes here that say that you bought your former employer. I’m interested in learning how that occurs.
Brian Weaver 3:28
Yeah, the it’s, it’s a crazy story. So I, I shared with you that I worked for Kansas Speedway, and it’s kind of funny. There’s a guy named Martin Minnie that used to work for the cancer development council, and my relationship with that organization is long and and I’m a huge fan of guys like Tim coward and and what those guys do. But they approached my former employer with a project at Kansas Speedway, when cancer was first getting going. And I didn’t know that at the time, but everybody in town had turned it down. And I said, Oh, yeah, I’ll do it. Again, being entrepreneurial. Right, you see opportunity. So anyway, jumped into that. It was a great success. But my employer didn’t like that. So I My job was to manage people. And I end up doing this side project and actually got reprimanded for for that and it was like this moment, where you get punched in the gut, like this emotional thing. You’re like, wait a minute, I’m proud of what I did. I created value for you and for me and for them and, and you don’t see that and it was this kind of weird disheartening thing. And so that gave me motivation to quit and start my first company. My first, my first client was KU, my second client was Kansas Speedway, my third client was tivol jewelry, and had a lot of fun, you know, working with those companies, and fast forward a couple of years and I’d had a lot of good success, especially in motorsports and NASCAR in particular. And the opportunity presented itself to acquire my former employer, and so literally sitting in the backseat of my brother’s car down in Florida on a on a family trip I did on the business and one and you know, had the opportunity to sort of buy that company and actually even later the gentleman that reprimanded me bring him back in and and have come work for me later. So it’s kind of
Matt DeCoursey 5:17
Yeah, it’s I love that it’s
Brian Weaver 5:19
a lovely story, and he’s a great man and great guy and no hard feelings at all at all. In fact, I’m his biggest fans and special person in my life. But yeah, my like I said, my, my start as an entrepreneur as maybe a non traditional,
Matt DeCoursey 5:33
now did you. According to my notes, that company was called Med core, M-E-D-Q-O-R. Now you leverage that into what eventually became Torches software platform.
Brian Weaver 5:43
So I probably started, I don’t know, half a dozen companies in my 20s. I’m a curious person by nature, I am one of those people. And I say this with literally no ego. But pioneering is sort of the word right, I see problems very quickly, and I see opportunities equally. And that’s been kind of one of the things that I’ve enjoyed. And that’s led me into all kinds of interesting things, you know, both positive and negative. I’ve got I’ve got as many war wounds as successes, for sure. Maybe more. Med Corps was a company that I acquired in 2009. So this is this is way after I sort of gotten started. There was a I was looking for a CFO, and I interviewed a guy named Mark, who happened to be the CFO of the midcourt company. And I was really interested in in hiring me. So yeah, but I gotta, I can’t start with you for about six months. I’m selling my company. And so that’s how that started. That conversation started. And four months later, I had acquired the largest and most sophisticated data, business and healthcare focus on FDA regulated medical devices. And that’s med core and I still own that company.
Matt DeCoursey 6:53
Okay, interesting. So, did you always know that you were an entrepreneur?
Brian Weaver 6:57
Yeah, probably. I mean, I was the guy that I had. You know, I mowed lawns with my friend, you know, I love working, I worked I remember, I got upset that I when I was young, I couldn’t get a job. I still remember that moment of being upset because I was unemployable because I was too young, but I love to work. And I like to be busy. I don’t like to sit still. And, and, you know, again, that’s a blessing and a curse, I guess. But yeah, I wouldn’t say I was born to be a business owner. You know, you learn that the hard way. And my joker, you’ve written a lot of books. I’ve not written any books. But if I write a book, it will be there was no brochure because when you start this stuff, you think of all these fantastic ideas you have, and, and how great it’ll be to go out and kind of forge your own path. But you realize really, really quickly that it’s hard. You know, it’s painful sometimes and you learn tons and tons of lessons sometimes, you know, the hardest way possible. So anyway, it’s a I don’t know that I set out to be an entrepreneur. I think that the concept of Startup Hustle is great, because there’s a lot of people that want to be you know, I think I always was a curious again, like I say pioneering type person and it almost happened to me just add a nature not out of self selection maybe.
Matt DeCoursey 8:14
So over the last year and my spirits, I’ve always been fascinated use the term curious and pioneering which are synonyms for innovation and discovery in some regards. So I’ve been blessed to be around really innovative people from everything I worked in the music industry for 10 years. And you know, one of my books is about the music industry. And you know, we were able to get guys like members of Dave Matthews Band to write our, our you know, the the foreword and stuff like that I’m not afraid to admit that I love some Dave man, right? Well, who doesn’t? And also, that’s anybody that’s watched the 40 year old virgin would say would say no, well, that’s just an x level shit and because like Okay, first off, you’re filling up to I mean, it’s hard to get like 20 people to show up 20 1000s a little different. You know, but with that, you know, I’ve been studying in my spare time, the the traits of genius. And without I learned that there’s a big defining line. So first off, there’s a big difference between being talented and being a genius. So being talented, is being able to hit the target that everyone can see. Genius discussion for doing genius things and here’s the thing is like, we will think of like 10 well known quote geniuses but we all do genius stuff a lot. And but it’d be good that genius begins is the is the ability to hit the target that no one even knew existed. And with that, Curiosity is like the key component because it’s that weird gets that curiosity that you know, and like I don’t, you’ll find that people that do things well don’t ever want to be called a genius. Yes, they just usually don’t anybody that’s calling themselves one isn’t Yeah, same thing with guru but but without that curiosity and the enterprising nature that goes with it are two traits that lead to high levels of innovation and lead to people doing things. And it’s really because in the end, I know I’m the same way, you aren’t afraid to take chances.
Brian Weaver 10:21
I think Yeah, you too, if you if you take care of your customers like and whatever endeavor it is, you’ll end up with some capital in the capital you can use to fuel your curiosity. Right. So I was very fortunate. You know, before the show started, we talked about, you know, how the path sort of reveals itself. And it really only isn’t until you look backwards, that you see how all those little dots connect. But, but I’ve been very fortunate to have capital to allow me to explore some of these things. And some of them were colossal failures. And some of them have been huge successes, and you string that together. But it’s almost because I’m wrong. And so fast, have fallen forward. It’s it. It’s just one of those things, I think when you’re built like that, you know, and you, you can, again, capitalize on some of that not be risk averse. And then what you learn over time is to create an environment for the geniuses that I’ve been able to attract around me. I mean, a lot of my success I, you know, I’m certainly a curious person, and very driven and ambitious. But I’ve been very, very fortunate to be able to attract an amazing team of truly genius people from Kansas City.
Matt DeCoursey 11:31
Which, by the way, is another trait that people that are involved in genius endeavors have is the ability to persuade and get other people like I need to hire people that are way smarter than me. Absolutely. Yes. I don’t I don’t I don’t I’m not that guy. I’m not that scientist, I don’t you give me rocket science. I built a rocket once when I was a kid, and it shot up the moment it came off the path and turned directly towards me, and almost took my hat off. And I realized that I would pursue other things that didn’t burn down the neighborhood. Now with that, I, you know, I, the reason I brought this up is because, you know, AI is such a, you know, there’s so much territory and everything with that is, I mean, still remains unexplored. I mean, So what made you want to get into the whole AI scene, and you know, like, because if you’re doing it years ago, you were very much and yeah, and then in the end the the people that are in that get to start the marathon at the front, you know, like, that also means you got to break, you got to, you’re breaking the win for everyone else, you’re like doing a lot of different stuff you’re making fails here and there. And you got to have a lot of resilience to get through that. I imagine. Yeah, probably.
Brian Weaver 12:41
I mean, what we’re doing today is difficult because it is it’s new, it’s this, we’re doing something that no one’s ever done before. And that is, you know, it’s not, you know, when you when you get into a business like this, you’re not building a business around creating incremental change in a marketplace, you know, you’re saying, and then I’m gonna go obliterate a market. And here’s my thesis, right? So I think this goes back to my very first company. I had actually hired actuaries from Sprint to build models around sports fans, NASCAR fans, right? And so they would, it would help me predict. And we didn’t call them algorithms at the time, you’d call them personas and some other stuff, marketing speak. And that was still in the direct mail. World, we’re not going to either of us reveal our age, I guess today. But I’m old enough to say that my first job I didn’t have a computer, right? So that’s, that’s the era. But I use actuaries from Spirit to build these models around propensities to buy and spend and renew season tickets and all that kind of stuff. And so I’ve always had a curiosity around mathematics and, and data and information, right? It goes, every single business I’ve ever been involved in, it has information at its core and mathematics at its core, not subjects that I really, you know, felt any sort of warmth and praise, within school or even coming up, it’s just something that you realize you’ve got a bit of a talent for some of that. So honestly, the punch line here is that we got into this space because of basically massive failure with Microsoft. So I had I had to accomplish this Herculean feat of signing a multimillion-dollar contract with Microsoft on on an analytic software package that we built. And though we made money, it was very difficult to be to it wasn’t very profitable, because we were the data was messy. And so it created this engineering nightmare. I mean, you know, with Full Scale what you guys are doing dealing with you deal with information. I mean, that’s that’s what that’s what you’re you’re, you know, you’re helping clients, solve problems, information problems, right. Well, the first sort of go at this with torch was was building an analytic platform for Microsoft. And we went literally quarter to quarter and it was a slog, and at some point I just recognized that this isn’t gonna work as a business. It’s the economic model the flywheels broken, there’s massive demand from the client. But we could never get ahead of the information. And so I started running around talking to people saying, you know, how do you guys solve these problems and they all look at you and the reality is they don’t solve them. And so it was then that I started looking for some some new resources. And I met a guy named John Kramer, and brought John on and to build this new idea for a new software package that we call it Nexus today. But basically, it was born out of the failure of Microsoft, and that failure was the data was too hard to use, it was too complex, it was coming at you too fast. And it was too hard to get the information that you needed out of that data. And so we decided to, to think of a way to process data differently. And we had to do it at machine speed. So the best thing you can do is use artificial intelligence and machine learning, and apply it to that problem of data processing. So that’s the, that’s the area we focus on. And, again, we’re definitely pioneers in the space and are
Matt DeCoursey 16:11
landed a lot of huge contracts. But the government discovered the platform in 2018, we won a very large contract for the Department of Defense, overhauling a big system for them using this technology. And it’s just going gangbusters ever since. And I’ve had quite a few conversations with different founders, you know, regardless of where they’re from, that are in the AI and machine learning space. And, you know, much like you mentioned that, you know, the data is there, and you can process it, you can analyze it, you can look at it. And it seems to me that the real problem that they need to solve is how to kind of like you mentioned working at machine speed, it’s how do we do? How do we get it into hands or whatever processes that give us an actionable? Anything? Yeah. You know, like, it’s like, it’s one thing to look back at, you
Brian Weaver 17:05
look at, you know, maybe data from like a cellphone carrier and like, these things occur. And that means someone’s going to end their subscription. Right? Yeah. But how do you get that? How do you get that in front of the right people to prevent it? They can’t even get to it in real-time. And that’s the that’s the people don’t realize. And you get into like things like the metaverse the concept of the metaverse, and it’s actually a an approach of how do I create kind of a Disneyland for information where it’s all structured all but it’s not all? It’s not everything, right? So there’s a limitation to that and potential?
Matt DeCoursey 17:37
Well, let’s stop for a second. Because when we’re talking about structured data, and when it comes to machine learning, and data analytics, you have structured and unstructured data now, unless you, your data isn’t structured until it’s like, basically formatted or collated, per se, like imagine your spreadsheet and it has all these columns, and now it falls in there. Now, data inherently is unstructured until you structure it. So you know, that’s and that’s the first key because you can’t really look at anything pattern aesthetic or, or whatever, if it’s just like in a zillion different place.
Brian Weaver 18:12
Yeah, in the in the average enterprise, I mean, for first, and not to totally geek out on this stuff. But I live this every day. And so I’ve got engaged, I got a bottomless bucket of nerd stuff. So So basically, there’s 2.4 IoT devices per human on the planet, right? IoT, your phone, phone thing, digital things, 2.4 4.4 per personnel, so 20 billion. So wow, you then think Alright, so there’s this de Lucia data, the volume of information is just ridiculous, right? And it’s increasingly complex. And so, again, in the enterprise, they’re only able to store and utilize 2% of the data they have. So think about that. They’re throwing away 98% Because the system’s broken. And then I shift over into your structured data comment 90% of enterprise data is unstructured, meaning is basically hard to use. It’s not tabular, it’s not it’s hard for me to use it. It requires people and tools and expensive cloud computing and storage in order to even process it. So you end up in this death spiral of messing with the information. I had a client meeting earlier this morning. And a big very, very large local company and and the folks there were sort of lamenting the fact that they can’t they’ve got a major problem. They’re actually losing business because they can’t process documents fast enough. And it’s insane. And it’s it’s we see it everywhere. And it’s because the current mode is flawed. So you go back to structured and unstructured data structured data, is maybe a little bit easier to use, but the problem is you’re blending structured data with unstructured difficult to use data in in some kind of work stream. So that means that some poor soul is labeling things, you know, Um, somebody’s opening up a document reading it, I mean in PDFs, by the way, PDFs and email are the are the two largest sources of unstructured data in an enterprise. And it’s almost insane to think about. No one’s focused on that. And that’s our focus as a business. We’re laser-focused on, on on solving that problem.
Matt DeCoursey 20:19
And I would imagine that some of the large corporations as well have different systems, different things that then create, like, it’s not all inherently the same data coming in. And like, I mean, it really is, it’s just like, just from a basic programming or building software Sandpoint like I mean, really, as is as simple as thinking of it as like an Excel spreadsheet in some regards. But then how do you populate it and, and really, and honestly, the data is is way, way, way, way, way less valuable as a business, if you can’t do something with it, that affects change,
Brian Weaver 20:56
when people don’t realize it’s like building a building, right. And you’re building the foundation of the entire building on top of some sort of information. And so you’re structuring that information. And it is just like the foundation and imagine that the date the the foundation is constantly moving, you would never build a building on top of a foundation that was constantly moving yet. What’s happening in in, in it today is that is that people are creating these massive data engineering and data workflows. And they’re built, they’re built on top of something that’s dynamic. And so the minute changes have to re engineer that whole thing. And again, that’s why I call it the death spiral. And there’s just you know, I think in the in the field of research and researching AI and ML, there’s a lot of attention paid to kind of that surface analytics, computer vision and identifying things in information. But but, you know, we are really breaking really new ground, and we’re proud to do it actually, in Leawood, Kansas, every line of code was written on Kansas ground. But we’re focused on doing research and applying these machine learning techniques to making the data easier to use, you know, before it will and does make all that stuff that flows downstream, easier. You imagine all the work that you guys are involved in, where you’ve got a client with a workflow issue. And the minute they want to add a data source to it, you got to re engineer the whole platform. And guess what that happens all the time.
Matt DeCoursey 22:29
I talk about that a lot. Now, for move on. Once again, with me today. I’ve got Brian Weaver, Brian’s CEO and founder of torch AI, one of startup hustles atop the Kansas City startups, we probably shouldn’t mention that about 90 minutes ago. And he jumped in the deep end. Yeah, well, that’s usually the way it goes, you get down the rabbit hole. And it’s, it’s it will suck you down while you’re also trying to crawl in and out of it. And at Probably so, so I don’t get in trouble with the people I work for here at Startup Hustle, remind you that today’s episode, Startup Hustle is brought to you by FullScale.io. Helping you build a software team quickly and affordably. You know, let’s talk about that for a second. Because I would imagine that, you know, so you look at AI and machine learning. And I think that there’s a strong desire for peep. I’m sure you’re at no shortage of people that want to be involved. But then you don’t you have to create your own experts. And things this young, like people reach out a lot at Full Scale. And they’ll say, I’m looking for an AI developer, machine learning developer. I mean, I have three out of 225 people that I would that I feel comfortable saying, are machine learning like the program and are they have worked in like, you know, read, they’re doing real stuff that’s like real machine learning, as opposed to what, honestly, what 90% of people are calling machine learn AI is as more like a ranking database. Yeah, like, you know, as the founder of Giga book a scheduling platform, we do begin to after you use it for a while begin to sort your options by which is the most popular. It’s not machine learning. It is just literally like it’s a simple ranking thing based on how some Yeah, that’s but that’s been a buzzword and we even came back from TechCrunch in 2019 joking like everything we said was had a joke about my machine learning algorithm will determine the best dressing to put on my salad at lunch today guys, so let me let me let me get that info back. But you know, there’s a lot to be said. So I’m curious about your what’s your approach to creating expertise and also like what do you look for in someone that because that’s a significant investment in a person. So what are you know, we talked about the qualities of or trains of genius briefly, like what are you looking for with people and what’s worked and what hasn’t? Maybe?
Brian Weaver 24:55
Yeah, man. I think one of the things that I enjoy as a leader and a manager is It’s building teams. And so I think the first thing is to understand what does that team really need to do. On if it’s a team required to sort of solve a problem that hadn’t been solved before. And innovation is part of it, you’ve got to really think about the complexion of that. And we actually, when we interview, it’s a pretty rigorous process, because what we’re looking for is the right mix of people ingredients in the team. And so we put a lot of, of effort and focus around identifying people that are a very evidence and data-driven, or people that are very structured and sequential, versus people like myself, that are more of that kind of pioneering, you know, kind of entrepreneurial, fast mover, to people that actually like to be involved in implementing the technology, right. And so we think about those four dimensions, and then you add this sort of fifth dimension, which would be emotional maturity. So when you’re looking at the person for us, you know, they don’t, the universities, unfortunately, writ large, not just in our region, but they’re not preparing people for cyber jobs or computer science jobs. Most of our lives, this has grown Exactly, I mean, 350,000, open tech jobs in the US, it’s a massive problem there unfillable, because we don’t have enough people to do. Absolutely. And the universities aren’t preparing them appropriately. And most of our people, they end up teaching themselves. And so when we think of so I say often that torch is not for everyone, you know, we do very hard things. We take the national security mission very seriously. And we need to have people that are not afraid to solve problems, and maybe ways that hadn’t been thought of before. And so when you think of that, you really do need to break, break it down. And you need to have not just one type of person, but you’ve got to have a kind of a cocktail of people that can contribute to the project. Because like me, if I run, you know, just completely unadulterated, I’ll cause all kinds of chaos and havoc, right? I need to have people with me, and I recognize this because I’m self aware. But I need to have people that are more structured, more detail-oriented, can run kind of the operation day to day, and when I get dragged down and that I’m not at my best, and there’s people that that’s their genius, right? So we have recognized very early on at torch that making sure that we’ve got the right right ingredients at the team level was like a critical thing. But at the end of the day, dude, what I want is somebody that has gumption. That’s like the one word and we use it at the company. But it’s fire in your belly. You know, passion. Yeah. And and that can manifest itself in all kinds of ways, right? Because a lot of especially software developers, and technologists are introverted. And
Matt DeCoursey 27:48
you don’t have to tell me that man. I spent a fair portion of most days trying to, to nm trover. Yeah,
Brian Weaver 27:58
yeah. And so it’s so recognizing, I’ll get clients,
Matt DeCoursey 28:01
they’ll talk to a team member. And they’ll be like, Well, she didn’t have much to say, we were less developers don’t like Do you want her to write code and assaults that didn’t solve Tech Tech technology problems? Or do you look for a spokesperson because I’m right here if you want that.
Brian Weaver 28:16
So this is the thing I think for us and I’d be interested to hear how how you guys do it here too. But I think my job as the CEO is to create an environment for those people to thrive. Yeah, right. I
Matt DeCoursey 28:25
agree. How do you do that? Well, there’s a couple different ways. So first off, going back to just entrepreneurs in general. So we’ve talked about a lot of different things here on this episode. And this has been really interesting because I really do. I would like to actually talk to you Off mic at some point about my my journey into what helps and makes people do genius things because honestly, I’m trying to figure out how I can turn it on. Because sometimes I get it and then sometimes I don’t and then I mentioned like I started my my journey into this talking to rockstars because at 947 on any given Wednesday night that man or woman has got to do some pretty amazing stuff. Usually in front of 20,000 people that are expecting them not to fail. Yeah. So you know kind of getting into that but the thing I’ve realized is that passion is that without it you don’t do genius things and you don’t do and you’re and honestly if it’s absent and an entrepreneur their enterprise is likely to fail because they’re not passing gets you through the days that suck the day is where you fail the day is the coin so I in my book million dollar bedroom I talk about a coin toss moment because every you’ve had them everyone has one at their business where things haven’t gone well and you’re like maybe I’ll just flip a coin heads I’ll do this tails I won’t. Funny every entrepreneur has had it whether you want to admit it or not, you know you’ve had in your head or in the office or whatever. Now, realistically, I flip that coin and it’s a two headed quarter. But at the same time when It’s the passion that gets you through it. So, you know, for us, it Full Scale it’s so much about. So our team becomes our clients team. But what we realize is that when we put people that are passionate about solving the problems that your business needs, or has, they perform like insanely compared to someone that’s just there to do the job. Yeah. So And with that, like, I’m talking to people where you’re like, Hey, man, you can’t work 70 hours a week? Are they asking you to? No, I’m just really into what I’m doing. Okay, so you got to Okay, rest a little bit. Now that with that, we don’t throttle that. Because because we know ourselves that, well, if I’m the same way, like I don’t, I don’t set it down until I get it right. A lot of times, you know, which leads to small bouts within Saturday, and Sundays, or sleeplessness or whatever the problem is, until I get it done, or I get it out of my head. The problem is, is I don’t, I’m not able to be present in other parts of my life, because I might be there. But I’m thinking about something else. And I’m talking to these guys, like one guy, my friend Jake, who is literally known as a world class guitarist. And he’ll he talks about wanting to complete the work of the greats. So he’s looking at like Jimi Hendrix, and trying to find the notes that he didn’t find and the things that he didn’t do, and, and he gets so obsessive with it. So is there a difference between drive and obsession? It depends who you ask, if you ask my wife, I’m obsessed, if you ask me, I’m driven. So they’re kind of the same thing. So with that, the mix of putting the you got to put if you put people in around what they’re passionate about what they’re interested in, and what they want to do. The the, the, the results are, are secondary, almost, they’re just gonna come it’s kind of like, people have asked me a lot, I’m sure you’ve received the same question from someone in life, how do I make more money, you quit focusing on money, you gotta get good at something. And money is like a byproduct to that, like, I don’t think about, Hey, man, I need to make more money, I think about I need to solve a problem, I need to create value, I need to provide a service that is that helps people sleep at night. Because that if I can, if I can sell you peace of mind, the price tag on that can be about whatever it needs to be. So you start to make people’s lives easier, or more efficient, help them sell more, spend less. And when you do that, like, I mean, the culture becomes pretty easy. Because you’ve got people that are happy, they have pep in their step, and they want maybe, I mean, do it,
Brian Weaver 32:33
I think you know, culture is what it’s in a book or quote or something like that. But it’s basically culture is what you’ll put up with it.
Matt DeCoursey 32:40
Sure, it’s not the end, but you’re doing something you’re passionate about, and that you want to do, you’re going to put up with the I mean, all of that as an entrepreneur, employee or whatever, you can’t have like a shitty combative, like hateful workplace. So sure that I’m going to Overpass, and I’m going to overpower that.
Brian Weaver 32:57
But that’s, that goes back to the My fifth little criteria. And, you know, I have I admit it, I admit that I have my moments of immaturity, right? And that’s when you get emotional about an outcome. Right? And so everybody’s got it, the difference in our income, are you passionate,
Matt DeCoursey 33:14
or are you angry?
Brian Weaver 33:18
And I draw the line, you know, never insulting and never creating any of that. But but I do get I do get, you know, fired up about things. And I think it’s because we’ve got something special, right? And so you believe in that. And, and I think, again, in a culture, and especially in an engineering organization, where like for us, we put engineers first, you know, and it’s a really critical thing. Without engineers, we’d have nothing. And they’re the people that toil every day to solve these major problems, right? And the rest of us, you know, are really benefiting from their genius. But I think creating an environment where you can be sort of vulnerable and transparent, and I can have I can have, it’s not how I used to be 10 years ago, you know, today, I tell the team, I go, Hey, I’m having a weak moment today. And I’m, you know, losing myself a little bit in this moment, because I care about this. And an ask for them to coach a little too and make sure that they know that it’s a safe environment to be able to do that they can do it, I can do it. And it’s not about them. It’s more about the job you’re trying to do. But I think in our business, where the risk of failure is is significant, right? The consequences like and especially with some of our defense work and other work that we do, the consequences of failure are grave and so there’s no room for failure period. So when you take that and again, every one of our people lives it right to and they we operate with purpose and they definitely have taken up the torch as we say Uh, but when you have an environment like that it’s high pressure, you know, and that’s why I say it’s like, it’s not for everybody. But for the people that we have they, they love it. And I think it’s a special moment in all of our lives. It’s kind of a, that’s how I see it anyway,
Matt DeCoursey 35:13
we use the term critical thinking a lot to, you know, harbor an environment where critical thinking is encouraged. And that’s simply, you know, being able to feel like you can say, hey, there’s a problem here. And these are some solutions, or maybe, you know, the it’s super cliche to be like, Hey, if you breed problem, you got to mention the solution. Well, sometimes you have to say, hey, there could be a problem here. And we need to figure out a solution. Yeah. And And honestly, that’s one of the things so when we built Full Scale, our goal was to fix the problems that North American software and tech companies had with offshoring, which, critical thinking was a huge one, because a lot of people I talked to have this horror story about, you know, they’ve got an offshore team, and they give them a blueprint, and these people with their expertise, there’s no way they weren’t building it without knowing there was a broken part of it. But right, they just said, Hey, they asked me to build it. So I’m gonna do that. That’s an absence of critical thinking. But that exists, because either culturally or psychologically, or whatever, they’re afraid to speak up because they have some fear. And, you know, some cultures are not as sophisticated when it comes to like, you know, where we might be in the US about bringing this stuff up, you know, like, they’re just simply have some issues. You look at things like the caste system, yeah. And things and it’s just not considered wise to tell your boss No. So you know, with that is, we immediately start deprogramming that. And then another thing, we, you know, we mentioned earlier that the personality type of a lot of software developers is already introverted. So the speaking of sharing is already difficult. So if you create any obstacles to that, so like, we start right away, we say, hey, look, first of all, we only hire one in 40 applicants, so we congratulate them on making it through that gauntlet. Sure. And that means you’re an expert. And so you know, the people we work with, want and value your expertise. So please know that in any and all situations, they want you to speak up. So we’d like that. And that’s literally within your first five minutes of starting the company. And I think that that’s the kind of Now on the flip side, that can be difficult, because much like yourself, I am passionate about certain things, which sometimes can be the anti critical thinking component, because people don’t necessarily want to trigger it. Now I can’t, I’m not I don’t die on my passion down.
Brian Weaver 37:38
Maybe my father, he was a army Intel guy and flew spy planes and all this cool stuff. And I remember when I got my first management job, I was, whatever, 23 years old. And he said, Hey, we tell you a lesson. Cultivate a dark side. And know when to let it out? Yeah. So they know it’s there. But they don’t ever want to see it again. It was it was a funny thing. And certainly it was a, you know, something, maybe that’s a little more acceptable the military, but I have come to appreciate the words of wisdom.
Matt DeCoursey 38:09
Well, and now that exists, but I think that if you get the right people around you that don’t necessarily have that ability or skill. They appreciate knowing that it’s on their side. In many regards. My wife just constantly gets after me for speaking up because she’s not an outspoken person. And sometimes I’ll just, you know, like, she’ll get shitty with me about it. And they’ll say You’re welcome. Occasionally, when she’s getting mad at me, I’d be like, well, you know, I know you. I know you want to be able to do that. So I’m doing that. But it’s hard. Because you know, like I said, some people, it’s just not an inherent quality.
Brian Weaver 38:48
Yeah. Well, I mean, I think when you’re a founder, a lot of the people that join the company, join because of the founder’s ambition, and their plan for the business, right? The potential of the future. It’s aspirational. When you’re in a business like this, right? It’s not, people don’t join for what it is today. It’s not a sprint, or sorry. It’s not a mature business. And so when people join, they want to contribute to the future, right? They live in the future. And so I think having passion around what you’re trying to do is a absolutely critical component of it. But again, I think you’ve got to create a bit of a decentralized organization where their voice has got weighed, because if you’re really moving fast, and you value your people, and you’re creating a great culture that takes care of those people and prioritize, prioritize their needs. The command and control model of, you know what the boss says, This is why the mistakes happen. These architecture things that you mentioned, you know, it really, ideally, you’re creating a really healthy, safe, positive work environment that gives them a reason and that comes from avoiding command and control structure and leaning more towards this decentralized structure where they at the lowest levels of an engineering team, they’re surfacing these solutions, right? It’s not just always top down, you know, hey, in this sprint do this, you know, we’re, we’re always constantly trying to figure out how to promote. And again, encourage that kind of thinking and being a team, I think that’s an app, if you’re building an engineering team. There are multiple ways you can do it. And certainly lots and lots of training and schools of thought around how to how to run project management. But I think the core fundamental thing is, is almost treat everybody as an equal, when it comes to critical thinking,
Matt DeCoursey 40:42
that’s the biggest challenge we have at Full Scale is because essentially, we have our own culture, but then we have to insert our team and to currently, you know, almost 50 Different cultures and, and how they do it. And by the way, if you run a service business, you need to make sure you adapt to what your clients do not make them adapt to what you do. And I’ll tell you, if you don’t, you’re gonna have a lot of clients. So no one wants to feel like they have to make crazy structural and any kind of changes to their business to do business with someone else. That’s not a good model. So you know, part of that, that with that, you talked about cultivating that dark side, I have literally fired several clients for not treating our people well, in and past the warning, the couple warning shots, where I’ve tried to correct it, and then they’re just like, you know, and that’s the thing is like, our my company’s biggest asset is our people. Absolutely. Without the people, I don’t win awards from Forbes, I don’t have one of the fastest growing companies in my hometown, I don’t have any of it. I’m just a guy looking for something to do without my team. So I go to that forum and like, and by the way, and that’s now and that is appreciated, especially in a place like the Philippines where quite honestly, a lot of our you know, our average developer has eight years of experience, we’re not their first job. And they’ve worked, and they’re more concerned about not wanting to come into a place with 12 years of experience, where they’re gonna end up building WordPress landing pages. So, you know, that’s kind of our commitment to our employees is like, Hey, you’re going to be challenged. And we literally say during the interview process, if you’re not up for that, just don’t just stop moving forward in the process, because you’re not going to be now with that, but for you, why don’t we want to try to hang on to those folks. Because Because I every time they quit, I got to interview 40 more. Yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s your model, right? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s and you know, it’s interesting because I get a lot of people will ask, I say, I turned down so much business, because it’s not the right fit. It’s, uh, you know, and so, sometimes I think you got to, you know, be able to, to know that and deal with that. Oh, yeah. Learn learn those lessons myself. Once again. With me today. I’ve got Brian Weaver Brian’s, the CEO and founder of torch AI, which was one of our top startups for 2022 here in my hometown of Kansas City. Now, if you listen to show regularly, you know that I end my episodes with what I call the founders freestyle, which we’re going to get to here in just a second after I remind you that today’s episode, Startup Hustle was and is brought to you by full scale.io helping you build a software team quickly and affordably. I say my shows because I’m not the only host Startup Hustle, make sure you tune in weekly with Andrew Morgans, the CEO and founder of Mark Knology, who primarily talks all about e commerce and Amazon brand acceleration. Don’t miss the weekly episode with innovate her founder, Lauren Conaway, they just got their 5000 member, congratulations, Lauren. And, you know, she’s on every week and often hosts the top startups episodes with B. So make sure you tune in for those now, as mentioned, the founders freestyle, and it’s about debt. Brian, I’ve had people, I’ve had people rap, recite poetry, do whatever. But I like to actually, the term freestyle is mainly to turn over the mic. And, you know, these, you know, here we are 44 minutes later, and there’s a lot that is said and forgotten to be sad and passed over quickly. And you really say whatever you want, or maybe there are some key points that you might want to bring back around and what would you like to say? So yeah, no,
Brian Weaver 44:19
thanks for that. I think, you know, maybe my own I’m not pushing a book. And I’m not, you know, I think sharing a little bit of our story, I think is always fun. And I think what I always enjoy people that might be thinking about starting a business or pushing forward and maybe dark time where they’re run out of money and that they still have that passion, all these things I’ve lived through painfully. If any of this gives anybody motivation, the reality is you can, you know, United States, it’s a pretty amazing place that you can have an idea with some gumption and make it whatever you want it to be. And that people will come around you and help support. And in sort of these times of need, I think you’ve got to be a good student of your craft, you got to be a good student of the market that you’re trying to help. But I think for me now, and we’ve represented some success here in Kansas City, the fact that we attracted some significant sophisticated West Coast Capital in a market like Kansas City, which we’re very, very proud of the fact that we build software that’s really trusted at the highest levels, information security and, and sensitivity. And we need to band together as this is how you and I kind of got together right, I think we need to as a group, try and help create a great environment for entrepreneurs and risk takers in Kansas City. My my so my little soapbox, my little, my free couple minutes here with you at the end. You know, I think there’s sort of this call to arms. Look at what’s happening in Kansas City, the lack of investment capital is telling. When I was first building torch, I remember, I would be talking about AI and machine learning with the way we did it, right? combinatorial machine learning analysis of data in flight and like, What the hell is that? And what do they do instead of instead of being curious, like they are in San Francisco and San Francisco, when I would go out and talk to investors, they lean forward, if they didn’t understand the art, what do you mean, tell me tell me what that means. How do you do that? How do you do this? In Kansas City, there’s this attitude like, of what I don’t know, I will demean you know, it’s there’s a fear of, of what they don’t know. And that culture here isn’t very inviting or supportive of entrepreneurs. Now, for me, I benefited though, right? Because the lack of capital and, and some of that it hardened business. So we became the fastest growing most profitable AI company, United States period, largest Series A, all that it all happened because it was hard here. Not because it was easy. Take capital to massively profitable. So when you think of that, that’s a gift Kansas City gave me. But we as a group of entrepreneurs, and guys that have been doing this for a while guys. We need to kind of come together and support each other. So maybe my offer is to reach out to me on LinkedIn, and I just want to help, I can share some wisdom. Advice isn’t worth. worth much. But the war stories can maybe help educate and avoid some disaster. But I think we do need to band together and help each other in Kansas City, we’ve got a huge opportunity. We’ve got amazing talent in this market. And hopefully torch is just an example of
Matt DeCoursey 47:44
what’s possible. If for my first sell? Well, first off, we didn’t mention you did raise $30 million in capital, which in some markets is kind of like, I mean, don’t take this wrong was kind of like another cap raise. You know, you mentioned in like San Francisco, like now here that’s headline.
Brian Weaver 48:03
Well, for a Series A the average series A and $28 million. And so that’s that’s No, nationwide. And so I think for a Series A for any data company. Yes, it was the largest, but certainly in the history of Kansas City. My understanding I was told that is the largest series A in the history of Kansas City.
Matt DeCoursey 48:21
Yeah. And it’s it’s as well, it’s there. And there’s and that’s like that in a lot of markets and you know, sick Well congratulations without any kind of filling in a blank with that. I think a couple other things that really stood out as with our conversation today is I really want to just continue to push, be curious about your own curiosity. And you’re going to try things. You said a couple things that kind of reminded me of my own approach with stuff like hey, like, people sometimes really, hey, what’s one of your biggest failures? I mean, like, I don’t know, if I have like a huge one, but I got a daisy chain of a lot of like, small to mid, like hold my beer and like, let’s, you know, like, I’ll tell you a whole bunch of them. Because my approach to entrepreneurship, I’m pretty open about defining. I tried 10 things hoping one works. I’m looking for a crack somewhere. And when I find it, I tried to shove an elephant through it, you know, and it’s a very unscientific but feel scientific in its approach on Sundays. But you try a lot of stuff and you know, like what’s your marketing strategy, test, test test, you know, see what works and what didn’t. And we were talking about that before we hit record about how some simple and subtle changes in the way we promoted the show literally doubled the download count in three months. And you’re like, Whoa, okay, so and you know, it’s you get so with that, I just really want to encourage people to not settle in to where you’re at, because settling in is actually kind of different. I mean, in some ways you’re defining and describing a rut. Like you settle in. Do arrive fall into one, like a joke, when you buy a minivan?
Brian Weaver 50:02
That’s a sign that you’ve given up on life. Maybe? So it’s the same thing with entrepreneurs is that why I haven’t bought one yet? Have you given up on life? No, I think that’s exactly right. I think you know, it, there’s nobody, nobody that successful that hasn’t had hardship. Sometimes it’s painful. They don’t talk about it. But the reality is, it’s tough to do something hard. And starting a business of any type is hard. Like, in my book, there’s no brochure.
Matt DeCoursey 50:33
I gotta tell you, I want to know, when you said that, thanks for bringing that up, actually, because that kind of I want to maybe I’ll write one and we’ll sell it as a two a two-part package. Because I want to write one just called no owner’s manual, is that describes startups like, yeah, there’s no brochure, there’s no owner’s manual. And that’s what makes them hard. Because like, literally from day one, you don’t have it. There’s not an 800 number that you get to call for your startup. It’s like, um, can I get some help with this? No, in fact, you cannot. Actually, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll start an 800 number that just gives you the toe the tough reality.
Brian Weaver 51:06
No, because I would take up all the time, and nobody wants to hear me complain.
Matt DeCoursey 51:09
Just one 800 startups is that even enough numbers? I don’t know. And it’ll just be like, Hey, man, quit whining and get back to work. You know, that’s maybe that’ll be it. And, you know, I mean, really, in the end, and I think the last thing I wanted to bring up is, you know, I appreciate the fact that your say, hey, reach out, contact me. Knowledge isn’t something that is meant to be hung on to, in fact, it’s toxic. If you don’t let it pass through, you’re gonna give it to others. What’s easier climbing the mountain yourself or asking those on top to pull you up? And with that, every entrepreneur I know, and you know, you and I are similar age. And there’s people that have helped you along the way. And I feel like I need to help others along the way. I do it all the time. Like, reach out to me. You can email me firstname.lastname@example.org. Like, I’m super accessible and love the conversation because you got to Well, you got to pass that torch, that might be it. That might just be the right place. It works everywhere. So with that, we’ll pass the torch along to another day. See you, Brian.