CTO Wisdom with Mike Grushin | Beyond the Program

May 21, 2024

CTO Wisdom with Mike Grushin | Beyond the Program

Welcome to CTO Wisdom. In this series, we interview technical leaders who have stepped into executive positions.

Today’s guest host, Eric Brooke, speaks with Mike Grushin, Co-founder and CTO at Next League.

About today’s guest: Formerly a founding partner of OMNIGON and Chief Product Officer at InfrontX, Mike is a co-founder and CTO at Next League. He leads the global Technology team, working with partners to analyze their challenges and opportunities while designing the technical solutions to achieve their business objectives. Mike has extensive experience in executive-level positions, including COO, where he oversaw company operations, and CTO, where he was responsible for developing and managing technology and product services. Mike played a critical role in the commercialization of InfrontX products and services.

In addition to his role at Next League, Mike is also a co-founder of ProFolios.ai, a SaaS Platform that empowers students and seasoned professionals to create “a professional presence that they are proud to share”. Mike and his wife are grateful parents to their 3 sons and live in Boca Raton, FL.

About today’s host: Eric Brooke has a rich and varied leadership career – leading up to 21,000 people and Billions in revenue, throughout 14 countries. In their career, they have been an Executive six times (e.g. President, CEO, CMO, and CTO) and a Board member of multiple organisations. Eric has been a CTO of scaling startups from 0 to 120 engineers. As an adviser and mentor, they have helped multiple other startups scale both in Canada and the US. As well as supporting multiple startup incubators such as 1871 in Chicago and TechStars.

Sign-Up for the Weekly hatchpad Newsletter: https://www.myhatchpad.com/newsletter/

Transcript
Tim Winkler:

Hey, listeners, Tim Winkler here, your host of The Pair Program. We've got exciting news introducing our latest partner series Beyond the Program. In these special episodes, we're passing the mic to some of our savvy former guests who are returning as guest hosts, get ready for unfiltered conversations, exclusive insights, and unexpected twist as our alumni pair up with their chosen guest. Each guest host is a trailblazing expert in a unique technical field. Think data, product management, and engineering, all with a keen focus on startups and career growth. Look out for these bonus episodes dropping every other week, bridging the gaps between our traditional pair program episodes. So buckle up and get ready to venture Beyond the Program. Enjoy.

Eric Brooke:

Welcome to CTO Wisdom. My name is Eric Brooke. This series will talk to leaders of technology at organizations. We'll understand their career, what was successful and what was not, and what they learned along the way. We'll also look at what the tech market is doing today. We'll understand where they gather their intelligence so they can grow and scale with their organizations. Hey, Mike, how are you doing today?

Mike Grushin:

Hi, Rick. Thank you very much for having me. I'm doing fantastic.

Eric Brooke:

Awesome. Could you give me your elevator pitch about who you are?

Mike Grushin:

Uh, the way that I think about myself is like, where do I bring the most value? So with now 26 years of experience around technology, And for the last 10 years or so being an executive founder role, uh, probably the most value I bring is by bridging that space between technology and business. So I'm pretty good at explaining technology in a way that business people understand it, and then understanding enough about the business goals and outcomes, because that's what usually drives the technology, not technology itself, and then explaining those things to the technology team. So they understand why they're building something and what are the outcomes we're looking to achieve.

Eric Brooke:

Okay. Awesome. Could you tell me a bit about your journey to technology?

Mike Grushin:

Uh, certainly. Uh, my family came to the United States from Ukraine, uh, early 90s. I was 16 years old. So I still have a chance to finish American high school in Brooklyn, New York. Uh, for those of you from that part of, uh, part of New York City, uh, they'll know the high school. It's called Lincoln. Uh, then I went to Stony Brook University in Long Island. And I went into that university as a pre med and part of that, my journey altogether was that my parents were highly educated, but they were educated in the Soviet Union and they did not know much about capitalism or United States. Or what the options were, and this is before the modern internet, you didn't have the YouTube university, so the options were very limited, accountant, engineer, lawyer, or a doctor, right? So I went as a pre med, but then I took computer science 101. And I remember it was right around Thanksgiving, we had to build our first HTML page with Netscape 1. 0. And I pretty much did not go to sleep for over 48 hours. Uh, marquees and all of the fun things that you think back to 95. Um, that's what I spent just staying up and playing with it. And that got me into computer science. So I graduated with a computer science information systems degree. But I started working in 98 way before I graduated. So I was doing night school while working full time helping the immigrant family.

Eric Brooke:

Awesome. Tell us about your first job when you got to being a developer and engineer.

Mike Grushin:

Uh, so I wonder how many of the younger people even know what Java applets are. So I started as a Java, a junior Java engineer. At that time, uh, Java applets were the way to deliver software across platform. And we were building the company as I joined, we were building an e learning platform, learning management system, uh, at in 98, they started a little bit earlier in 96, 97, that was a cutting edge technology. Uh, and I stayed with the company for nine and a half years, right. And you're rising through the ranks to director of technology, CTO, having multiple stops, obviously along the way.

Eric Brooke:

Awesome. So what was it like when you first became a manager? What were the things that either held you back or helped you from stepping from a software engineer into that first manager role?

Mike Grushin:

Uh, so it's a very common pattern for companies and the company was small. So when I started, I was employee number 12. By the time I left, we were about 65, 70 people. It was acquired by a much larger entity, but that was after I left and I was just an employer. I didn't have any ownership in that company. So in a small company, the beautiful part is you learn a lot. The more challenging part, there is no established professional growth, professional, um, education. So you just learn, and if you're fortunate to have great managers, which I did, You learn from that. And then if you do well enough, if you're smart enough, usually what happens, they ask you to manage people without necessarily school or within a professional environment, teaching you how to manage people. So it just worked out that the two people that I was asked to manage were my friends. So somebody that I went to college together, I brought them in and I started managing them. So we had a good, great relationship outside the work. And at one point, one of my friends says, let's go to lunch. I have to tell you something. Thank you, Seth. And then slightly different words. I remember the words is here's so like, you're not a very nice person to work with. We love you outside of work, but at work, you're just too hard. You like, everything's black and white. Everything has to be your way. So I remember that from early days. And then the company also had this wonderful executive coach to the whole company, this person, Tom Daler. I would like to acknowledge him. He's still an important part of my life, part of next week, the company that I'm a co founder of right now. Um, so I've been benefiting from his, uh, knowledge and mentorship since early 2000s. So the company I worked for, the first company, Elon company, they recognized that There's potential on me, but I'm not being nice to other team members. They made him available to me as a business coach. And I remember learning the not so easy thing for me, how to delegate, how to manage up, how to manage your peers, how to manage people that report to you. And that was a journey. And as part of that journey, we would have weekly meetings. And one of the agenda items on that meeting, and I'm very happy to share this because there are quite a few versions of me in the world of technology. So the agenda item was how can Mike be less of an asshole at the time? There was a slightly different ending to it, but the content is the same. And then over the years, we would joke that Mike graduate from the, is he, you know, how can he be less of that? Um, and that was the process of me learning the meaning of the word Empathy and emotional intelligence between being an immigrant and I didn't speak English when I came to country when I was 16 and ending up in Brooklyn, New York, I didn't really speak start speaking English until 19 years old when I went to Stony Brook because not familiar with Brighton Beach, where the Russian community is originated, you can think of Chinatown, but the Russian speaking version of it. So between not knowing that many words in English altogether and. There is a general stereotype. If you have high IQ, doesn't matter computers or doctor or whatnot, the EQ is usually not that high. The beautiful part is what I learned over the years, is emotional intelligence can relatively easily be taught. That's what personal development is all about. That's what leadership coaching. Um, that's what Tom Baylor has been teaching me and my co workers and colleagues over the years.

Eric Brooke:

So that's great to hear that journey in terms of learning about emotional intelligence and empathy. Are there any examples that you caught in yourself? Like your friend obviously gave you some great advice and it's sometimes tougher to work with our friends. Um, then with necessary non friends, were there any other specific things that you can remember back from that time that you changed in your behavior?

Mike Grushin:

Uh, a few of them, so I can just call out the ones that, uh, I remind myself quite often and I remind others. I should not be the smartest person in the room, right? The expression goes, if you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room, right? So the idea is that I want to be surrounded by people who know more than me. Smarter will know me that that's an interesting conversation to have, but if I know more than everybody else within my team, that's a problem because I become a bottleneck. I also think about my leadership style. What I aim to do is servant leader. So my job is to unblock any blockers and to serve my team so that they can work and deliver whatever the project we're working on. I also learned, which is not easy. Is to speak last in the meetings and that allows people that report to you feel comfortable to share and then you mean, like, as a leader, I benefit from everyone's ideas before I speak, because if I speak, that will prevent others to raise ideas, because the manager, the boss spoke, there's nothing else I should be adding to, right? Maybe there's this dynamic, um, the other, the other aspect or the other lesson is, um, I am looking for people that report to me and I'm the same thing that, uh, to my partners, uh, business partners within the business, I'm not looking to come with a problem, I'm looking to come with a problem statement, a couple of options of how it can be solved, and then the recommendation, right? So there's a pretty, uh, common, well known, like the standard, like one, three, one, like, what is the problem statement? What are the three options you consider of how to solve it? And what is your recommendation? And now the person who brings that to me is. They're not just looking to me to solve it. They already went through the process of thinking through. And if they're good at their job, they probably will not even come to me. Because they was like, Oh, there's no reason to come to, uh, to bring this up. Unless it's something big or financial or technology challenging. Um, so those are probably the top recommendations I would make.

Eric Brooke:

Thank you very much for sharing those insights. Okay, so continuing your career journey, um, when did you start managing managers?

Mike Grushin:

Probably when we started the professional services company. So the journey was that junior Java developer, then started to manage developers. Within, within that, uh, journey within that first company, I started to manage, uh, so there's like back end developers and then front end developers and, well, desktop app at the time. So like I would manage those people and then manage others. So I had a little bit of experience, but it was early on. It's when we started, uh, so the current company I, I, I work for, uh, co founded is called NextLeap. So we work like we're a set of technologies. Designers, product managers that deliver strategy, consulting, build and maintenance. Of complex technology solutions, specifically in the sports industry. So if you, if anybody is a sports fan of NASCAR or PGA tour or USGA, um, Chelsea football club, so like the first couple of names we currently serve them, like we're partners with them, we deliver software for them, and then there's plenty of other. Well recognized names that we served before because the company started 2008, but the way it started is it was four friends that decided, okay, we're somewhat tired and we want something new to do. Let's start this and it wasn't focused on sports. We kind of evolved into that. In the beginning, I was a developer, and then I had to learn how to be client facing person, right, which I was not as much within the product world because there was a commercial team. I was in a sales engineering role quite often, but not working directly with clients on delivering, um, just by myself solutions. And then as we grew, so we went from four people to 20 to 40, like we had a pretty decent growth, even though we started in 2008, right after, right, right before the financial crisis, but because we ended up in sports, like sports does okay, no matter what situation is with financial situations happening in the world, and then it was, as we started to grow, I continued to focus on the solution architecture and tech leadership. I had amazing partners. Um, that handled the, all of the business side, the commercial, the account management. Then as we grew, there was a need for me to start interfacing with clients. And that's meant that I had to start overseeing project managers and tech leads and solution architects. I would say probably in the last 12 years or so, 10 to 12 years.

Eric Brooke:

And through that transition, what are the things, just very much like in your earlier journey, you had some transitional points or things to change in your behavior or things to evolve? Do you remember what those kind of things were as you were managing other managers?

Mike Grushin:

I do. At one point, my team, so this is the time that I was still coding. Um, I like to call it like it's a, it's very rewarding. We can talk about that. Well, why is it rewarding? What do I enjoy about it? Because a lot of people that code, they like, um, at one point I, I, I sensed it. And my team told me that I became a bottleneck. So I would take on certain tasks that I thought I would do a better job with because I could talk to the client. I would understand what they want and then go and then just do it without having to create a ticket and requirements and everything else. But I started to run out of time during the day. Right? I think that speaks to your question about what does that mean? It started to fall into. Maybe I didn't even know that word. The servant leadership. I recognize that my job is to enable my team. Right. The words that I also learned at the time is leverage. Like, my job is to find leverage, how to multiply my time by using our amazing teammates to focus on what they're good at. So we had an amazing project manager, product manager, back end, front end developers. So where I best served is by talking to customers. I had to learn how to do that as well, hear them active listening documented in such a way that our technical team can take it and run with it and then make sure that it actually works the way it's expected. So, this, uh, the answer to your question is I had to learn how to start on this path of servant leadership versus just doing things. And that was a pretty long journey of being comfortable with delegation. And I still remember this lesson probably for, from 20 years ago. Yes, it's not going to be as good as you make it, but this is good enough. And that's not an easy thing for us technology people to be okay with.

Eric Brooke:

Awesome. Thank you for sharing that. So, um, one of the things you've talked a lot about is you've also been a founder several times in your career. Um, when you think back about the difference between like an employee and a founder, what are the things that come to mind?

Mike Grushin:

Um, a lot of people look at Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg. And I think about like that's an entrepreneur, that's a very specific type of person that is able to do what they do for most other entrepreneurs that I know, and I've met it's a bit of a roller coaster. Yes. It's exciting. Um, it's also exciting to have a child, which is very difficult. So having a company where not only let's say if you have one child, then that child relies on you to provide food and shelter. When you start a company and you ask people to trust you to join you on this potentially amazing journey. But if you, if people study the statistics, startups. Not only 9 out of 10 don't make it, it's like 97 out of 100 don't make it, right? Most companies don't make it to 7 years. There's like something like less than, I think, 4 percent make it to 10 years, if I remember the statistic right. It's definitely less than 10%, and I think 4 percent that make it to 10 years. And I didn't know these things, right? And then there's, there's a beauty in not knowing because then you just do the work, right? Running with your head down. So that's kind of like, so I did not know, I didn't understand much about the business when we started the previous version. I'm, I'm very fortunate that two of my partners in that business, they were savvy businessmen. And they were able to figure out finances and margin, and I had to learn how professional services companies work. So we, when we, when I was told by people who are not more knowledgeable than us, that it's pretty amazing what we're building, like in the beginning, it felt like, why are you saying this? We're just doing good work. It's only then I realized how unique of a situation it is. So entrepreneurship is super hard. So the people, you know, my, my, my, my partners that I work with, I've now worked with them, like from 2008, right? One of them I worked with even before and most marriages don't last as long. Most relationships don't last as long, and we decided to start another company. So that just also tells you how unique that relationship, that partnership, um, and at the core of it is all relationships. And that's where emotional intelligence continues to play an important part, where Like, like any relationship with your children, with your significant other, you as business partners will go through some difficult times, and you have to find your way through it without being unpleasant to each other.

Eric Brooke:

So I guess in some ways you get very good at conflict resolution, conflict management.

Mike Grushin:

You have to, um, and in many cases, what you want to do is actually a conflict prevention by Over communicating by not holding on to some bad feelings, just talk about them, right? And in most cases, because we also now have a history of the relationship that we have, we know that we went through battlefields, like, to make sure that we, you know, save each other and survive in this, in this difficult journey. So there is no, I don't think there's any topic that we can't discuss.

Eric Brooke:

It's

Mike Grushin:

great. And then that confidence and that relationship, people feel it. Right. And we were very fortunate that this new version next week, we're about 100 people now, probably 75 to 80 percent of these people came from the previous company. Like there was a couple of interesting situations. Why, why it worked out this way. Um, and we're super grateful. That all of these folks decided to trust us once again. And we also acknowledge ourselves for building the culture and do all the right things that these people decided, like, you know, some of them became good friends over the years, right? Some of them have been with us for 16 years. I'm on 10 plus. Um, so that's the relationship, conflict resolution, conflict avoidance, um, expectation management, right? Being transparent and team. This is hard, but we've done this before together, and every one of you can impact the product that we provide, and the reason why our partners, we don't call them customers or clients, we try to call them partners, there's a specific meaning for it, but the reason why they stay with us for 6, 10, 12 years. Is because we are easy and nice to work with and we produce amazing output in a very challenging technology landscape because of the number of devices, the number of different connectivity. So there are a lot of complexity and we make it easy for them.

Eric Brooke:

Awesome. So you're a CTO now. When you reflect on your role as a CTO, how is that different to the other roles? What are the things that you're often thinking about, um, for your team?

Mike Grushin:

And for your listeners, I would also answer it in a, like, not just like within my experience, like when I, when you think about CTO or chief technology officer, there's a chief technology officer for Chase Bank. There's a chief technology officer for a startup of four people, right? So that definition will mean different things are different. Points, even if my work, so let's say we decide that in a couple of years, we want to do something else, like I'll be a CTO, but I'll probably be, I will have to figure out how to be hands on. Um, so today in my, when I would engage with customers, my role is a solution architect. So, as a solution architect within professional services, the job of a solution architect to be business technologist. So I understand a lot about technology out there. Some of us are more hands on than others. Some still write code as much as I would like to. I don't. And within that role, that's what solution architects do. Like bring together, find the best and easiest way to achieve most of the functionality the customers want, right? So one of the compliments that one of our clients gave us over the years that we as a team, we find a way to deliver 90 percent of functionality for 50 percent of the cost. Yeah. So that's a pretty, uh, um, you know, good compliment to live up to. So your question about like, what, what's, uh, what's different in my CTO path. So like I was a CTO when we were 40 people and I was hands on developing and executing projects. And then when we were able to grow and hire more people, my role is. Then and now merge, uh, migrated more into, are we implementing best practices across all projects? So if we learn something on project A, how do we configure CDN in the best possible way? That knowledge should not just be in that particular project and the team. It has to be well documented and everything has to be get educated. So I don't, uh, became more of the best practices, education, uh, hiring practices, um, and then if there is a complex project, making sure that I'm plugged in and whatever knowledge I have that I can benefit and then also making sure that our, so delivering in the world of sports is pretty different from other things that I know. So we as technologies, we've been around for 20 plus years. Um, we kind of went away from waterfall or like that was a journey from going from waterfall delivery to agile. So there's always the next sprint. That is not true in sports entertainment. Like Oscars happens when Oscar happens and assets, you know, Superbowl Daytona 500, whatever it is early on, we had to learn how to deliver against days that don't move. And it's not a very common reality for most software developers. Like I said, it wasn't common for me because by that time, learning from Amazon and, um, uh, Netflix, you just kind of went into this agile, uh, continuous delivery model that is not the case with our types of clients. So we, as, as CTO, I, we had to create processes to make sure that we don't overpromise from technology perspective and that we deliver on time something that will work at the scale that our clients expect.

Eric Brooke:

So you've become professionals in establishing an MVP to a deadline. Is that a way of thinking about it?

Mike Grushin:

Um, the short answer is yes, but now we can get into an interesting debate and conversation that, um, in my view, the word that the acronym MVP now means different things to different people. So I remember, I forget if it was LinkedIn founder or somebody else smart that said that. If you are not embarrassed by what you ship, you're shipping too late. I don't think that that's the world that we live in anymore. I think it has to be full feature and especially for our customers, it cannot be MVP, right? If we are taking an existing platform, like think about any major league, think about like any, Uh, team, we can't release it without a leaderboard. We can't release it without some amazing integration of video highlights into the video player, because that's what the fans expect. And that's what's expected of us because that's what we're good at.

Eric Brooke:

So could you give some examples? Cause you're absolutely like a large number of companies use agile in a continuous loop. With some deadlines, usually for contracts or big partnerships, they will probably have something there. But the vast majority of the work isn't what are the things that you've learned from establishing having a deadline if you like

Mike Grushin:

the way that I probably would explain for those for the audience members that don't don't know this world as well. Um, I had to learn this that most of the world is divided into companies that ship products. And the other part of the world is our companies and individuals that provide professional services. So anybody, if somebody comes in to fix your fridge, to software development, like that's the world of professional service. And within professional services, the more complex something is, like building a house, or building, um, a completely new, brand new digital experience. We've been, we as a society, we've been building homes and houses and apartment building and, and the cities for 10, 000 years or so, and you would think we would be good at it. But if you talk to anybody who's built a home or who's gone through a major innovation, deadlines are never met or very rarely met and usually over budget, right? So we had to figure out how not to do that. And. That is a very complex formula. It's an art based on scientific approach to it. So within that delivery of the project, we have a next week project life cycle that we've developed. And we educate everyone who joins us, you know, or we remind ourselves when we. Build a proposal within the proposal. We will be specific on what we expect that will be included and what will not be or if the client wants us to integrate the third party that we're not familiar with. We're saying we don't know we're going to allocate this many hours. And if it goes bigger, like if it takes more energy and more time, we'll have to talk about it. So that's the expectation management, which is also to me falls into the emotional intelligence empathy. Nobody wants to be surprised at the end, like, Oh, we just, we didn't know. And now we're late on a deadline. So for us, it starts from the proposal that includes estimations. So based on our now 16 years, what's called 15 years of experience, we approximately know how many front end developers, mobile developers, back end developers, CMS developers we need in order to launch a digital experience of different type of complexity. And we are very transparent with our clients when we are providing this, we're telling them this is what our expectation is. And if two months before launch, you have a big partner come in and expect something else, which always happens. We are not accounting for that. We will have, we will do our best to address your business need, because that's what we're in business of solving business problems and delivering guest outcomes, but we just don't expect that today because we don't know. So we figured out and we're pretty successful at of delivering guests those dates by having a very strict process. Of even when we are doing designs early on, like it's so easy, like if the project has to be delivered nine months later, it's so easy to spend way too much time on the homepage design and requirements forgetting that there is now also data integration and video integration and 27 partners that need to pull the date. So we have to be strict saying we need to be done with this in this time frame in order for everything else to work.

Eric Brooke:

Awesome. So I heard in some ways you time box things to give like using the experience of your team and your company, that you've built a number of things learned from that experience. And also you avoid, um, scope creep, um, from adding things or negotiate it as per needed in the time of the business.

Mike Grushin:

We do our best, right? So the other thing that I mentioned is our clients like working with us. So if you're too straight saying, like, you can't do this, or we're going to charge you to do a change order, then that's not a, it doesn't provide for the relationship that we have now. But it's, uh, it's the job of a project manager and account manager to make sure that these things happen, because otherwise. Yeah. It's much better to push back somewhere in the middle of the project than to deliver bad news at the end that we're not launching before a big event.

Eric Brooke:

Absolutely. Okay. Thank you for that. So when you think about success, what does success look like for you and what has helped you Be successful.

Mike Grushin:

So I do think about the word success quite a bit. Um, like generally, I think that every single word matters and I choosing the right words and pausing and thinking, like, is a good idea. So when you ask success, like, in my personal life, in my professional life and combined.

Eric Brooke:

I think they're interrelated, personally, as I'm sure you do by actually asking that question. I was erring more to the career, but I think, um, so if we focus on that, but like, if there are aspects from your personal life that you think are intrinsic with that, then feel free to talk about it.

Mike Grushin:

So for me, what's, what's very important is. The relationships that I have, and that is with my family, with my colleagues, partners, friends, clients, business partners, um, Because that's what makes you successful personally and professionally, right? We are social animals, like, that's the part of evolution. You can't take it away from us. We like being together and learning how to be good in groups with others is a very important part, right? So, The success to me, like a big part of it is learning that about emotional intelligence and empathy and how to, um, like the basics of psychology, understanding why you feel a certain way when you have an emotion and how to deal with it and then understanding that helps you understand others. The other part, I love the ability to combine my professional cues and my personal, and I know a lot of people will think about the work life balance. And to me, the work life balance, the image that comes up is somebody walking a tightrope across two mountains with a long fall, and there's very little movement, right? Like you want to stay as still as possible. That is not the reality of anybody's life. My wife and I were very fortunate. We have three active boys, and sometimes there's a game in the afternoon. Sometimes one of them gets sick. Sometimes we'll go on vacation. And I think about it if I get where I picked up this analogy, I think about juggling and the reason why juggling works for me as an analogy is because if I have a big delivery for the client or there are some conferences or whatever sales meetings, I will go and I will not see my family for a week or longer. And that means that I'm prioritizing, I'm juggling my work, um, you know, juggling balls more so. And I'm actually letting some of my home juggling balls fall to the ground. And it's okay to do it once in a while. But if you start dropping balls too often, they'll start breaking. So it's finding that, uh, right, uh, Jungling balance, right? So there's also a balance there that allows you to do both without causing too much damage to each part, right? If there is a, if I were to not participate in happy hours or team building activities, and then, you know, only spend time with family outside of work, then I'm also damaging my professional relationships or not. They sell damage. I'm not doing justice. Like as a leader, as a co founder, so to me, the success is a combination of all these complex things while also continuously learning. So there's an acronym, KEMI, continuous and never ending improvement. So I look at myself as a, uh, a very curious, never stopping learner.

Eric Brooke:

How do you learn? What are your preferred learning approaches?

Mike Grushin:

It's a combination of consuming content, so from YouTube videos, like Friedman or whoever, Joe Rogan, like any type of like eclectic content, uh, as you know like that. Um, I do value going to conferences, so I'm actually, I'll be heading out to NVIDIA AI conference on Saturday. Um, And it's been a while since I've done a professional conference because like we started next week two years ago and as you start a company, it's very busy. But the way I look at these conferences that I know that I will, it's very rare that I don't take away three to five really impressive interesting things. And for me, my time, which is also, uh, an expensive commodity, given the family life and work life and the money that we're going to spend going, I mean, going to conference is well worth it. Usually in most cases, because then I'll bring something to my team. I will educate them on whatever I learned. I'll make some connections. I'll find some product. That's been my historical kind of experience so far. Right. Like I, and this is Nvidia. It's will not be bad. Yeah. Um, and then having. Interesting conversation, just like this, right, with people that come from completely different backgrounds, technology, and not even technology. I think it's a different backgrounds and technology, but also people that don't come from technology. So, being from the fact that I was born and until 16 years old, I was in the Soviet Union. I live in the Soviet Union. Soviet Union was an atheist country. Like, you know, religion was not a thing. So learning about spirituality, being open to it, that came in my late 30s or early 40s. And that also contributes to that overall success.

Eric Brooke:

Awesome. Um, thank you for sharing that. What is a problem that you're trying to figure out at the moment as a CTO?

Mike Grushin:

I don't think that this will be, the answer will be very surprising to you anywhere else. What does AI, the way that we understand it today, or what it will be in the next two, three, five years, what does it mean for our business? What does it mean for our clients? What does it mean for sport? Because we need to understand that. What does it mean for my kids? What does it mean for education? Uh, what about jobs? Like what does it mean for my job? Right? So the immediate problems, uh, or the immediate things that I'm working on is, okay, this is part of what we do today. Yes. The way we discuss this within the company, there are a couple of interesting things that happened from the technology perspective in the last 25 years, right? The Internet, the Web 1. 0, then I would probably point to Amazon Web Services, like as another, not evolutionary improvement, but revolutionary improvement. And then it was iPhone and 4G, right? And I'm specifically putting them together because. iPhone by itself without 4G would not be successful, you know, video delivery and content delivery, uh, on the go. And then blockchain was supposed to be that, but I don't see it the same, like the revolution, it was, uh, from the outside of decentralized finance, which I don't know much about. Uh, for, uh, for us in our world, I will look at blockchain as a specialized database. AI is certainly feels like a revolutionary thing, but today it's, uh, the way we think about it, it's a productivity tool. How can I be faster and more efficient in getting to the business outcomes that our clients want? How can we be. Um, better at marketing and sales in order to generate more, um, revenue and profit for us because we are also, we care about philanthropy. So we have a relationship as nicely the relationship with a couple of entities, the United States Olympic and Paralympic committee. We now have a contract with them for the next couple of years. And we've committed half a million dollars to, from, you know, from what, you know, from our side to the athletes. That's where I found out a large percentage of them lives on the power to the United States Olympic level. Athletes don't do well. So this money is going to help them. And then we're doing the same with others. So this, the opportunity of AI is for us to be more profitable, which will allow us and I'll quote my very good friend and business partner, our CEO, Dave Nugent. Profit is where the fun is and fun doesn't mean boats and just like celebrations, which is an important part to come together, but it's also giving back. Right. And that's another variable in how I think about success. Like, are you giving back? Are you making a world a better place?

Eric Brooke:

Okay. Um, when you think ahead for sports and where we've got to with this version of AI, do you have any thoughts about what you think may happen?

Mike Grushin:

So a lot of thoughts come to mind to your question. So from the video production side, like a sports production, um, they're already companies. So one of the famous one is WSC that is using, like it used to have algorithmic creation of highlights from a full, let's call it a football soccer match. So from 90 minutes, Even a number of years ago, it was able to create highlights across the overall game, or highlights for a specific player. And it was a combination of, I remember discussing with our engineers, it was a combination of just pure data processing, so they know that there is a red card. So they knew that five seconds before and five seconds after, like there was something interesting happening, let's clip that. They, they listened to the audio stream. If there are fans going crazy, there's something interesting happening and then starting to apply machine learning models, AI models, like, I don't know what's underneath. So that becomes, um, you know, very interesting. So, you know, some of our partners, PGA Tour, USGA, every event that they run, it's 150 plus players that start and then over the 4 days, obviously a winner emerges. If you're not in the top 15, 20 players, you're probably not going to be on TV. But if I care about the player from my hometown, now with this technology, there is a separate feed just for that player. So now more players get the visibility. So like this has been happening before. That's not, not anything new. Um, you know, in the world that we're thinking about and where we're helping our customers think through, like, what does it mean for them? Leagues and in Europe, teams have been making money by selling their intellectual property, like licensing their intellectual property, which was video. What does AI mean for them in terms of data? They are the ones that own the data. Nobody else has as much depth. And history, what does AI, uh, how can AI help monetize that? Um, and the interesting part in today's version of AI, the scientists are saying that there is today's implementation of LLM. It's not that simple. It's not that easy to make sure that it doesn't hallucinate. So the, our partners, they have to think about. Making and make sure that whatever the answer that is provided by whatever LLM, whatever AI technology they implement has to be accurate. I don't know if you've heard about the Air Canada chatbot incident. So for those that are not as familiar, so there was not, not a very unfortunate situation. This gentleman through chatbot interacts with Air Canada, and he explains that he has a death in the family, and he has to urgently change his ticket or book some ticket. And if there's Air Canada provides anything, um, like any assistance. And the chatbot, which was AI powered, says, oh yeah, buy the ticket, then contact support and we'll refund you or give you a discount. Okay, he does what he's told by this chatbot, he contacts support and support says, that's not our policy. And then he sues the company, sues Air Canada. And the court said, okay, chatbot was representing Air Canada. And that means that whatever it says has to be upheld. So we're coming to this interesting world of legality, intellectual property, voice, um, video, deepfakes, it's, it's interesting.

Eric Brooke:

It is indeed. Thank you, Mike. Um, so my last question for you is what do you do for fun?

Mike Grushin:

Uh, going back to the topic of relationships. I love spending time with people I know well, or with people that I'm learning. About and I'm building a relationship with I am genuinely a very curious person, so I try to find interesting aspects of anything that I interact with like that. That means like meeting new people, finding out about their history, um, to playing with gadgets. Like I'm a technology person, right? And a gadget means some type of a tool or a physical gadget, right? Microphones, video cameras, podcasting equipment. Um, and then the other part is spending time with my family and friends. And my boys are now 16, 14 and nine. So we're out of the diapers and right there. So, you know, they take care of themselves and now we have interesting conversations. We built STEM toys, we built, uh, um, Lego. So there's a, uh, Concord that we built with my nine year old. Um, all of it. I very much enjoyed it.

Eric Brooke:

Awesome. Mike, thank you very much for sharing your experience, wisdom, and insights today. Really appreciate your time. Thank you.

Mike Grushin:

All right. Thank you very much for having me. It was a lot of fun.

Tim Winkler:

Calling all startup technologists. podcast, but don't know where to start? Well, here's your chance to shine. We're thrilled to introduce Beyond the Program, our exclusive mini series, and we want you to be a part of it as tech leaders and mentors. You'll get the exclusive opportunity to become a guest host right here on The Pair Program podcast. Share your expertise, insights, and stories with our audience of startup focused technologist excited. We knew you would be to be considered head over to my hatchpad. com backslash contribute, fill out a brief form and submit it our way. Let's co create something amazing together. Don't miss this chance to elevate your voice and expand your personal brand. Visit my hatchpad. com backslash contribute.

LET’S DISCUSS YOUR HIRING NEEDS

Build a custom hiring solution to grow your product, data, and
engineering teams.