Introducing Clarifai's Mobile SDK - On-device machine learning whether you're online or offline

We’re excited to announce that the Clarifai Mobile SDK is now available in limited preview for every developer! The Mobile SDK enables on-device machine learning and puts AI in the palm of your hand, online or offline. Yes, that’s right – Clarifai’s Mobile SDK is the first to enable on-device machine learning, meaning both training and inference. Apply for access now!

Machine learning (the process by which computers can get smarter through data examples instead of explicit programming) requires massive computational power, the kind usually found in clusters of computer servers in massive datacenters (ooooh, the cloud). This means that machine learning technology is usually only available to those who can connect to the cloud.

Not anymore! Clarifai’s Mobile SDK gives users the power to train and use AI in the palms of their hands by installing machine learning capability directly on their devices, bypassing the traditional requirement of internet connectivity and massive computing power. After all, these days we have tiny supercomputers in our pockets – our mobile phones. Starting with an iOS SDK, Clarifai is on a mission to make user experiences uniquely personalized on any device from your cellphone to your toaster, anywhere in the world.

With the power of Clarifai’s Custom Training which enables machine learning algorithms to learn new things from a handful of examples, Clarifai’s Mobile SDK allows mobile devices to learn from and respond to their individual environment and user, thus creating the ultimate personalized user experience. Clarifai’s technology enables a whole a generation of new product categories, transforms interactions between businesses and customers, and improves workflows across all industries.

AI everywhere, for everyone

Half the world still doesn’t have internet access. So how does the other half of the world benefit from the recent advances in AI if they can’t connect to the cloud? Clarifai’s Mobile SDK levels the AI playing field and makes it possible for anyone to leverage the recent advances in machine learning, no matter who or where they are or whether or not they have internet access. i-Nside is a Clarifai mobile SDK launch partner who makes endoscopic tools that can be attached to mobile phones to diagnose ear problems, assisted by visual recognition AI. These tools are used to help augment doctors in underserved areas that often have low internet connectivity.

AI in real-time, every time

The rise of technology has given rise to today’s culture of instant gratification. Consumers expect instant and relevant results, online or offline, whether they’re searching for a product or uploading a picture to a dating app. Whether you want to improve workflows, automatically moderate content, or power visual search and recommendations, Clarifai’s Mobile SDK enables developers to build smart apps that are able to learn the preferences of individual users in real-time with zero lag.

AI in your pocket … and in your car … and in your coffee maker

What began with the “smartphone” has now trickled down into many other devices – “smart jewelry,” “smart watch,” “smart coffee maker” – all of which combine to make the “internet of things.” Now, imagine a generation of AI-powered “smart” devices that are no longer reliant upon internet connectivity to learn and improve on their own. And, when you do decide to re-connect these devices to the cloud, they can aggregate their learnings together and redistribute that combined knowledge back into every device, making every device a little smarter. That’s the power of on-device machine learning from Clarifai, and it starts with the Mobile SDK.


Socially responsible pixels? A look inside Clarifai’s new Demographics recognition model

Pushing the technical boundaries of artificial intelligence often means exploring new ethical terrain in parallel. With this in mind, we took a lot of care in creating our new Demographics recognition model which automatically recognizes the age, gender, and multicultural appearance of people’s faces.

Here at Clarifai, our team pushes the technological boundaries of artificial intelligence every day. But while we’re exploring new technical frontiers, we’re also keenly aware that we’re rolling into new ethical terrain as well. In the case of computer vision, models are trained to judge an image based solely on the pixels. So, how do we build socially responsible visual recognition AI and prevent discriminatory, offensive, or biased results without any context other than the pixels?

“In the not-so-distant future, AI will power every facet of our lives, from self-driving cars to personal security to what type of ads we’re shown. You don’t want the underlying technology for things that affect your daily life to be a black box that may or may not be biased. You want to be able to influence the technology and teach it when it’s wrong. That’s where Clarifai comes in.”

With this question in mind, we took a lot of care in creating our new Demographics recognition model which automatically recognizes the age, gender, and multicultural appearance of people’s faces. I want to take this opportunity to walk you through some of the ethical questions we tried to address as a company and how you can make our Demographics model even better!

What is the right terminology for our Demographics model and concepts?

The first thing we wanted to get right with our Demographics model was the terminology we used for the things our model recognizes. Not only did we want the terms to be accurate in describing functions in our model, but also inclusive and socially conscious. While understanding “Age” is pretty self-explanatory, the concepts of “Sex/Gender” and “Race/Ethnicity/Multicultural Appearance” are a bit more nuanced.

What is sex vs. gender?

“Gender is the complex interrelationship between an individual’s sex (gender biology), one’s internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither (gender identity) as well as one’s outward presentations and behaviors (gender expression) related to that perception, including their gender role.” – GenderSpectrum.org

At Clarifai, we want everyone to feel like they can come to work as their authentic selves. The desire to be respectful of the way people choose to identify themselves influenced our decision to give the “gender appearance” part of our Demographics model the categories of “masculine” or “feminine.” Because our technology is evaluating the visual characteristics of the human face, “gender” felt like the appropriate terminology over “sex” (which is more about physiology). However, we recognize that the “gender” terms  “man,” “woman,” “non-binary,” etc. are largely an aspect of self and not something we felt our AI could appropriately label – thus, we went with “masculine” and “feminine” as descriptors.

What is race vs. ethnicity vs. multicultural appearance?

“People of the same [often] race share genetically transmitted physical characteristics. People of the same ethnicity share cultural, linguistic, religious, and often racial characteristics. Ethnicity is broader and more useful. Racial classifications have often been imposed by outsiders, and many of the traditional classifications are now regarded as questionable from a scientific standpoint. As a result, race is more vague and less intellectually sound than ethnicity.”

We’re proud to have a diverse team at Clarifai and we wanted to make sure our Demographics model represented our values. The terms “race” and “ethnicity” were more of a gray area for us than “gender/sex” when applied to our Demographics model. The term “race” is typically defined by physical characteristics, which would be an accurate descriptor for what our Demographics model recognizes, but is fraught with negative connotations. “Ethnicity” goes far beyond physical characteristics and is therefore also not a good descriptor for what our model sees. In the end, we decided to create a new term that we feel encompasses both the function of our model and our company values – “multicultural appearance.” We aligned the default concepts we can recognize in “multicultural appearance” with the US census rubric.

How can our Demographics model be used in the real world?

At Clarifai, our core mission is to understand images and video to improve life. When we build new visual recognition models, it is always with the idea that our users have the same intent – to improve life. However, when we’re talking about things like age, gender, and multicultural appearance identification technology, we realize that not all the real world use cases are positive ones.

Ultimately, it’s about intent and we have a lot of faith in humanity. We’re building an open platform where developers all over the world are creating the next generation of intelligent applications. It’s not our business to limit what developers create and we choose to believe that most people will use our Demographics for good – like bringing attention to female representation in tech or bringing an end to human trafficking.

How do we enable the community to make our Demographics model better?

Continuing on the previous point about our faith in humanity, we also see opening up training our Demographics model to the community as the only way to ensure we have the best, most accurate, and most unbiased model around.

We’ve always given developers the ability to send feedback to our model via our API and now we’ve made it even easier for everyone to contribute. Our live demos on our site now allow you to teach our systems how to improve without a single line of code – simply test out an image in our demos to see what the results are and if they’re not what you expect, you can correct them! Public feedback is only as good as the participation and we trust you to provide us ethically responsible feedback. We will carefully incorporate this feedback into future versions of our models to improve their overall quality.

We truly believe that the diversity of users on our platform and the perspectives you provide are the only way to build the best AI platform on the planet. Our AI is not perfect and there will be missteps along the way, but we hope by giving you the power to teach our AI how to see the world, we can ingrain real knowledge in artificial intelligence. We welcome you to join us in our mission to understand every image and video to improve life – start here!


Announcing 30 million reasons to be thankful

Clarifai’s about to become $30 million better thanks to our Series B funding round led by our new investors Menlo Ventures and existing investors Union Square Ventures, Lux Capital, Qualcomm Ventures and many others. In this blog post, our CEO Matt Zeiler talks about this round of funding and what it means for our customers.

robotloveEvery day, more of our world is optimized through artificial intelligence. Self-driving cars, baby monitors, shopping recommendations, personal assistants – AI is well on its way to augmenting every part of our human experience. As a result, our lives have the potential to be better than they ever were before, with machines completing rote tasks and freeing up our time to engage in higher order pursuits.

Clarifai was founded in 2013 exactly for that reason – to solve real-world problems with AI, starting with visual recognition. We’ve always believed that AI can augment human intelligence to transform how businesses and developers build apps and create user experiences. Fast forward to 2016 and our mission to understand every image and video to improve life is close at hand. We’ve gone from a single computer in an apartment to offices in New York and San Francisco, from a handful of data scientists to a stellar team of engineers, researchers, and business people, and from winning the top five places in the ImageNet competition to making billions of predictions per month.

moneyrainWhile we’re very proud of these achievements, we’re just starting to scratch the surface. Raising a large $30 million Series B allows us to innovate further on our products, accelerate our already rapid growth, and expand our services across the globe.

We’re excited and humbled to be given this opportunity, and we give thanks to our customers and partners for making this possible. It’s been an amazing journey and we’re proud to be taking it with you.

We’re thrilled to add Matt Murphy to our board and Menlo Ventures to our investor team. Matt Murphy brings a wealth of experience in growing cloud infrastructure and AI-first SaaS businesses to Clarifai. We’re also excited that Albert Wenger from Union Square Ventures and Zavain Dar from Lux Capital have signed on for another round with us to continue to provide their insight and guidance as part of our board. The vote of confidence from our existing investors inspires our team to achieve even greater things!

So, what does this mean for our users? This new round of funding represents an opportunity for Clarifai to focus on our long-term objectives of building AI products that enable you to build smarter, hack faster, and scale better.

brainsOne of the biggest reasons for our fundraise is to continue enabling anyone in the world to train and use AI. We’ve recognized the importance of diversity, not only in our workplace but also in our data, and we won’t be satisfied until everyone can teach computers how to see the world from their point of view. Custom Training is just our first step toward AI personalization and fostering diversity in AI.

Another core focus of ours is to continue to build AI tools, like Visual Search, that give non-tech companies and small and medium businesses the same competitive advantages in AI as the big tech companies. We want to enable you to harness the power to deliver a great user experience without having to worry about the underlying technology.

Fundamentally, we want to teach computers how to see the world like humans. Recognizing objects is one piece of the puzzle, but by itself, it’s not very “human.” When people see the world, they don’t just see objects. They see complexity, context, and relationships that make up a greater understanding – an understanding that differs from person to person.

So, when we’re building artificial intelligence tools at Clarifai, what we’re really thinking about is human intelligence and how we can amplify it to help solve real-world problems like:

  • Understanding every image and video
  • Seeing what’s in every piece of user-generated content
  • Protecting marketplaces from every illegal listing
  • Moderating every piece of unwanted or offensive content
  • Making every search and recommendation better
  • Saving every home from energy inefficiency
  • Addressing inequality in every society
  • Preventing crime in every community
  • Diagnosing every disease
  • Detecting every sign of global warming

And, there are a million other applications for our technology that we haven’t listed because, hey, we’re only human.

We’re excited to continue this journey with you and thank you for being a part of our family. We’ve built only the tip of the iceberg on our roadmap, and there are more challenges to overcome and fun to be had in the immediate future. With $30 million, we’ll be growing fast, and we want you to join our team!


CEOpinions: Why we build products that put the power of AI into everyone's hands

In this month’s “CEOpinions” blog series, our CEO Matt Zeiler shares his vision for Clarifai’s new Custom Training and Visual Search products and why it’s important to empower people of all technical skill levels to train and use AI. Catch up on the full “CEOpinions” blog series here.

 We started doing “artificial intelligence” back when the concept of AI was still a matter of science fiction. Today, AI isn’t just a terrible movie with Jude Law and that kid from The Sixth Sense, it’s a reality.

customtrainingOver the last few years, we at Clarifai have immersed ourselves in the world of visual recognition AI. We created and mastered groundbreaking new technology, partnered with thousands of businesses and developers to create AI-powered solutions, and learned vital lessons from real users and customers that we’ve used to make our product better. You could say we’ve been neck-deep in deep learning. Along the way, we helped a medical imaging company bring state-of-the-art care to people in areas without adequate access to doctors. We helped an online commenting company make the internet a safer space. We even helped a wedding company make its users’ wedding days even more special.

We’ve learned a lot since our company’s inception in 2013, and we’re excited to announce the culmination of our hard-earned expertise in two exciting new game-changing products — Custom Training and Visual Search.

What are Custom Training and Visual Search?

Custom Training and Visual Search are two products that unlock the power of AI for anyone — businesses, developers, and consumers — no matter what their technical skill level.

Custom Training is a concept we’ve been excited about ever since we started working with our very first customers. We launched our company with a “General Model” that understands 11,000+ concepts from objects to emotions to ideas. As we gained traction, we discovered that many of our customers had needs beyond a one-size-fits-all general model. They needed models that could recognize industry-specific concepts like food,travel, weddings, or Not Safe For Work (NSFW) content. So, we started building those “Domain Models” with our years of expertise and team of data scientists. But, we knew that no matter how many models our team built, it would be impossible to address every single unique customer need out there.

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Our new Custom Training product puts training AI models in the hands of our customers, so they can personalize our visual recognition AI to see the world as they do.

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We’ve put a lot of time and research into distilling the complex problem of training an AI model to understand new concepts into an easy-to-use product that is orders of magnitude faster and easier than traditional methods. Now, instead of requiring 1) a team of data scientists, 2) special infrastructure, 3) tons of code, 4) thousands of data examples per concept, and 5) weeks of training, Custom Training allows anyone to “teach” AI a new concept in a matter of seconds using less than ten data examples.

Custom Training is orders of magnitude faster and easier than traditional methods of “teaching” AI.

oreo-customtrainingWith Custom Training, we make it easier and faster for companies and developers to make AI work for them. Not only that, by putting the power to “teach” AI in the hands of everyone in the world, we’re helping AI learn to be more diverse and unbiased, understanding the world from different and more nuanced perspectives. But, Custom Training is just one piece of the puzzle. Another piece is our new Visual Search product.

Visual Search enables businesses and developers to easily tap into AI-powered search so they can browse, find, and recommend images by keyword, visual similarity, or a combination of both. It’s easily the most powerful way to connect users with exactly what they’re looking for at exactly the right time. With just a few lines of code and a fraction of the cost, developers and businesses can leverage the same powerful technology that gives giant tech companies like Amazon and Pinterest a competitive edge in their own apps and workflows.

Using Clarifai, any developer or business can leverage the same powerful technology that gives giant tech companies like Amazon and Pinterest a competitive edge.

visualsearchUI

What can Custom Training and Visual Search do?

We gave some developers an early preview of our new products to see what creative, useful, and fun hacks they could come up with. We expected that the infinite creativity of our burgeoning developer community paired with the ability to make AI see the world from their point of view would be an explosively imaginative combination, and we were right.

visualrec-slowFrom figuring out the best seat to catch a fly ball at an Atlanta Braves game to training the AI to understand dating preferences to cataloguing the New York Public Library’s historical documents to building smarter shopping recommendations, we were impressed at all the use cases that we ourselves had never even dreamed of. And that’s why we’re so excited to set our products free in the wild — to put the power of transformative AI technology in the hands of everyone around the world, and see what amazing things people create.

Clarifai puts the power of transformative AI technology in the hands of everyone around the world.

This is just the beginning. We feel grateful for the thriving developer community centered around our AI technology and we are working hard to make Clarifai the fastest, most accurate, and easiest-to-use visual recognition AI on the market. We’re learning everyday and we want you to learn with us, because this technology is the cornerstone of the next generation of smart apps. We want you to join us as dedicated students of AI, so we’re giving away 50,000 FREE API credits to anyone who wants to try our new Custom Training and Visual Search products — sign up here and go wild!


CEOpinions: How to prioritize your day when everything is important

In this month’s “CEOpinions” blog series, our CEO Matt “Pokemon Go? More like Pokemon No” Zeiler shares his life hacks for prioritization and efficiency. Catch up on the full “CEOpinions” blog series here.

At a young company like Clarifai, everyone is too busy, whether they’re an intern or the CEO. When you have a million things you need to do, it’s important to find a way to prioritize them and, more importantly, make time for them. Here are some ways I juggle all the things I need to do on a daily basis so that I can stay sane and happy.

Make your calendar work for you

giphy (3)I think of my calendar as the digital guardian of my time – if a chunk of time is blocked off, it’s protected. My days tend to fill up with meetings, so I try to block off Tuesdays and Thursdays for coding. Anyone at Clarifai can see my calendar and when I’m busy or free. I also use a great time-saving tool called youcanbook.me for all external meetings for people outside of Clarifai to book time on my calendar, which saves a ton of back and forth for everyone!

Consolidate similar activities every day

giphy (4)While multi-tasking can be useful, it can also be a drain on your productivity. Every time you switch activities, there’s a mental context shift that needs to happen, and it takes time for you to readjust. I like to block similar activities together to minimize the time I have to spend transitioning from one mindset to another. For example, I’ll try to schedule all my meetings back to back so I can do other work for a long, uninterrupted period of time, rather than have each of my meetings spaced out by a useless thirty minutes.

Exercise your body as much as your mind

giphy (5)Nothing is as important as good health – getting upset at my health and fitness is something I do not have time for as a CEO. So, I try to exercise every day no matter how busy I get. To maximize efficiency, I’ll run home from work one night then run back to work the next morning – don’t worry, there’s a shower in our office (a must have for any office in my opinion)! If you start to exercise every day, you’ll build it into a habit where the thought of failing at keeping it up really bothers you and forces you to continue being healthy, which is a good thing. Trust me. If you fall behind, you’ll get upset at yourself and your health, something you do not have time to think about as a CEO.

Commute time = email time

giphy (2)I don’t know about you, but it seems like every time I reply to an email, ten more take its place in my inbox. I try not to respond to emails during the day so that my day remains proactive rather than reactive. Instead, I use the time I commute to check and respond to emails. This allows me to focus on my own work I need to get done before putting out other people’s fires. If anything requires my immediate attention, people let me know through Slack, phone call, or face to face, not email. When I get to my inbox, it’s color-coded, so I can scan quickly: fires are red, @clarifai addresses are blue, code related stuff is green, and investors are yellow.

Happy employees, happy CEO

shakeitoffDespite the previous talking points harping on how I try to use my time efficiently, I have an open door policy and drop everything when an employee comes to me with a problem. I try to make myself as available as possible, and proactively schedule CEO one-on-ones every Friday afternoon where people rotate in for thirty minutes at a time. After all, a company is only as successful as the team that’s building it!


CEOpinions: Tips for winning at basketball and business

In this month’s “CEOpinions” blog series, our CEO Matt “Michael Jordan of Canada” Zeiler talks about his former basketball glory days and the parallels in running a company. Catch up on the full “CEOpinions” blog series here.

It’s always fun for me to learn about people’s passions outside of work – like our legal counsel’s pro-skiing history, or our developer evangelist’s obsession over chairs, or our general manager’s penchant for doomsday prep, or our marketing director’s secret gamer identity. So, I thought I’d use this blog post to share my passion outside of work and what it’s taught me about running a company. What am I talking about? Basketball, of course.

Practice > talent

giphy (9)I’ve played basketball since I was a kid. In high school, I was pretty damn good – not NBA good, more like kid-in-suburban-Canada good, but still. I could never dunk a ball, to my endless frustration, but I practiced hard and played to my strengths. Even though I couldn’t do the flashy slam dunk, I still managed to score 77 points in a 125 to 75 point win for our team. This parallels my approach to business – flashiness only takes you so far. Great execution, especially when it comes to the less sexy aspects of running a business, is the key to winning.

Practice individually and as a team

giphy (10)In basketball, individual practice is just as important as team practice. Steph Curry spends seven hours a day practicing on his own to perfect his skills. At Clarifai, we have plenty of team practice in the form of hack days and day-to-day task forces, but I try to encourage everyone to grow on their own, too. Whether it’s a conference or a seminar or an online course, everyone should be continuing their education and honing the skills that make them great at their jobs.

The team that plays well together works well together

giphy (11)When a coach is picking his starters in a basketball game, it’s not always about having the five best players on the floor. It’s about having the five players that play best together. When I hire, not only do I look for the best candidate with the right skills but also their ability to fit into our culture. In business, a great way to facilitate a team working well together is to give them opportunities to play together. We do team-building exercises like fire building and Escape the Room to create bonding experiences and have fun!

The season matters as much as the playoffs

giphy (13)During the regular season, every win counts and determines your ranking in the playoffs. In many ways, the regular season is more important than the playoffs because it’s your opportunity to demonstrate a pattern of winning. The same goes for startups – the playoffs are like fundraising, where you compete with all the other startups out there for money from investors with a fixed amount of capital. But your consistent pattern of success day-to-day is what will put you in a winning position with investors and make them want to place their bet on you.

Metrics matter but they’re noisy

giphy (12)Anyone who follows sports knows that there is an endless supply of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) associated with each game and each player. It’s hard to know which KPIs really matter and which are just noise – like in the NBA playoffs, the team with the most points scored per night might not necessarily win the playoffs. Business is similarly filled with noisy stats. The important thing is figuring out the underlying signal from those stats and using that information to make your team better.

Build your fanbase

giphy (15)There’s a reason why basketball teams have logos and mascots and cheerleaders – to get fans even more excited about supporting their team. As a company, we try to make repping Clarifai as fun as working with Clarifai with creative swag, fun promotions, and community-driven activities! There are a ton of ways you can get Clarifai swag from us – all you have to do is ask (and sometimes, compete for it).


CEOpinions: Cultivate creativity and teamwork with 20% time

Welcome back to our “CEOpinions” blog series where our venerable leader and CEO Matt Zeiler drops some entrepreneurship knowledge every month – last month, Matt gave some advice on what it takes to evolve from “founder” to “CEO.” This month’s post is all about the importance of 20% time in building a creative team that works well together.

20% time is a concept made famous by Google, that employees should spend 20% of their time doing work that benefits the company outside of their regular scope of duties. I believe that 20% time is invaluable to both the business and personal development. But, it’s not just 1/5th of your week. The concept needs to be ingrained in the company’s DNA to make it most effective – here’s how we approach the idea of 20% time at Clarifai.

Get the creative juices flowing

idea20% time is great at bringing out fresh, creative ideas from everyone at the company. Without the constraints of everyday job roles and teams, people can think big and develop both new ideas and new skills. For example, someone who normally creates web apps might try their hand at making a mobile app even though they’re not officially on the mobile team. Or, a marketer might build a web page even though they’re not a designer or front-end developer.

Collaboration and teamwork

teamworkMany people work with the same teams day-to-day. 20% time allows collaboration between people who don’t normally work together, which results in some pretty amazing and unexpected ideas and a stronger company culture.

20% time also gives people who are less outspoken in group meetings the chance to work on their ideas for the company. Not everyone is a type A extrovert, so it’s important to build a culture that gives everyone at the company the chance to contribute.

Take an idea and run with it

runwithitWhile day-to-day roadmap items require consensus building and agreement, 20% time allows people to take a crazy idea and run with it. They don’t need anyone else’s buy-in or support – they can just hack together a minimum viable product and pitch it to the rest of the team when they’re done. Quite often at Clarifai, these new ideas become essential roadmap items the company rallies around afterwards.

Self-motivation is the best motivation

computermonkeySometimes, people don’t end up doing something completely off the roadmap in their 20% time. They do stuff that they don’t get around to in their weekly sprint plannings. 20% time helps people motivate themselves to do the less glamorous things like cleaning up technical debt or tightening up a budget.

5% vs. 15% time

coffeeAt Clarifai, we do something a little different with our 20% time. We have one “hack day” every month which accounts for 5% out of the 20% time. Hackathons are a part of our DNA – we love sponsoring hackathons and seeing what students and customers come up with, so it’s only natural that we dedicate one day a month to building things together with other people.

Hack days are important because they give people the opportunity to work consistently on their idea for eight hours without distraction. They also turn 20% time into a fun and competitive event – we order catered food on hack days, crank up the music, and share all our projects at the end of the day. And it’s not just an internal hackathon – investors, intern alumni, and other guests come hack with us all the time. At the end of the hack day, a winner is chosen to receive the coveted (and kind of sticky) Golden Brain!

goldbrain

The other 15% out of the 20% time is up to individuals to use. 15% time is flexible, and people can make room for their own pet projects according to their schedules. 15% time is as important as the hack day because it allows time for longer term projects; sometimes it can be difficult to flush out an idea in an eight hour hack day.

20% Time, 100% Fun

fundogAnd last but not least, 20% time is just plain fun. We’re all excited to work on passion projects, myself included. It’s a great opportunity for people to own something from start to finish and to get to know each other better. In fact, our hack days are so much fun that we’re going to start opening them up to the public this summer! If you’re in the NYC area and interested in joining us for a fun day of hacking, eating, sharing, bonding, and learning, sign up to be notified when it happens.


CEOpinions: How to make the transition from founder to CEO

We’re launching a new blog series called CEOpinions, where every month our venerable leader and CEO Matt Zeiler will drop some entrepreneurship knowledge – enjoy the first episode, where he walks you through what it takes to evolve from “founder” to “CEO.”

You know what’s hard? Starting a company. You know what’s even harder? Growing a company. Now that I’m in coming up on my third year of being the founder of a startup, I feel like I’m ready to share some insights that I’ve learned from growing my company from one person to thirty people.

Find a good mentor

yoda

As a first-time founder, it’s easy to try and reinvent the wheel when it comes to building your first business. Find a mentor who’s been through all the ups and downs of entrepreneurship already and can guide you through the problems you’ll inevitably face. As a tech founder myself, there were so many aspects of running a business that I never had to worry about when it was just me, my computer, and some lines of code. Once you factor people into the equation, though, you realize you need to figure out payroll and HR and legal and banking – which isn’t something my machine learning Ph.D. taught me. A good mentor can help fill in the gaps in your knowledge. Shoutout to Jeff Han, founder of Perceptive Pixel, for being my guiding light!

Hire people that you’d want to work for yourself

boss

People are the most important investment you’ll make as a founder. Not only will they propel your company forward, but they’re also the people with whom you’ll spend every waking moment of your workday. If you hire people you’d want to work for yourself, you’ll end up learning a learn a lot from them. You can also trust those people to build great teams around them as the company grows. Even Mark Zuckerberg said it himself, “I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person.”

Culture is greater than talent

giphyYou can have the smartest, most talented, most ridiculously good looking crew of people in the world, but if they don’t get along, it can slow down the whole team. As a founder, I’ve tried to leave hiring in the hands of my team because the team dynamic is more important than my opinion. I’ve seen both the good and bad when a team jives – when you get it right, the team is far greater than the sum of its parts!

Of course, it’s much easier said than done to hire a smart team that gets along with each other. That’s why it’s so important to get to know people on a personal level during the interview process before you make any hiring decisions. Case studies, coding tests, and canned interview questions don’t tell you everything you need to know about a candidate. Take them outside the interview environment, ask them to join the team for lunch, and do your due diligence before hiring someone – Facebook stalking is totally legit.

Let go and embrace change

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There’s a pivotal moment in every founder’s life when they have to let go – it’s the transition from being a “founder” to becoming a “CEO.” Your company is your baby, so it’s going to be hard at first. You always want to know everything that’s going on. But, as you scale somewhere between 10 and 30 employees, it will become impossible to get into the nitty gritty of all the moving pieces as you used to. You just have to trust that you’ve hired great people and rely on them to do what they do best. Good news though – if your team is made up of people you’d want to work for yourself (see point #3), relying on them becomes very natural. You’ll be amazed at the innovation that happens from a group of people who are encouraged to be autonomous, and you’ll see things you couldn’t dream up on your own.

Get a life

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Starting a company takes 1000% of your time. It can be an all-consuming monster that will take over your life. Be conscious of how you’re spending your time and don’t forget all the important things in your life that make it worth living. You know, like your family and friends. Block time on your calendar to connect with your loved ones, shut off your phone, don’t look at emails. Health is something you don’t fully appreciate until there’s a problem, so set time aside to keep your body in good shape. One fun activity I’ve started in the new year is running to and from work. Don’t worry – we have a shower at the office!

Just remember that at the end of the day, all of this is supposed to be fun!

I hope these tiny nuggets of wisdom help you on your journey as entrepreneurs, builders, hackers, and makers. Next month, I’ll talk more about company culture and how to shape it as a founder. In the meantime, you can always tweet me @mattzeiler!