During the day, the one thing I have to continually remind myself is to always follow my personal priorities over the never-ending stream of demands coming from outside the organization.
Kuty Shalev is the founder of Clevertech, a New York City-based firm that designs, develops, and deploys strategic software for businesses that want to transform themselves using the power of the Web. With a background that includes a Big 4 accounting firm and an MBA from Columbia Business School, Kuty is able to provide a critical business foundation for his clients’ technology ambitions. He partners with them, bridging the gap between business and technology by acting as their technology department.
Where did the idea for Clevertech come from?
About 20 years ago, I was spending my days and nights working as a manager for PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York City. After a few years at the firm, management decided to sponsor me to attend business school at Columbia University. My traditional career seemed to be on a strong upward track, and I was thrilled.
The dot-com era was an exciting time to be a Columbia student, as they had just completed a cutting-edge project to install grommets for Ethernet across campus. After a few months in school, I kept hitting a brick wall when trying to complete assignments and tasks that were network-centric, which are typical in business school. Frustrated with the difficult communication between my student cohort and faculty, I started programming a basic Web-based solution to address my complaints in the middle of a lecture.
Not long after, my website was ready, and students started using it in waves. The next thing I knew, the story was featured in the paper, and Columbia University IT called me in for a meeting, asking if they could keep and maintain the code after I graduated. Not seeing a use for the website back at PwC, I was happy to have it live on at school. A few weeks later, as I checked my student account at the bursar’s office to make sure I was OK to graduate, I saw a special journal entry on my account that debited the entire amount of my tuition back to me. It was at that moment that I decided not to go back to PwC, and Clevertech was born.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
“Being productive” has changed over time. At one point, I thought that the longer I worked, the more productive I could be. These days, I’m a strong believer in very structured days being the catalyst for productivity. I wake up around 5:30 a.m. and use the next couple of hours to think, plan for the day, and do some quiet reflecting without any screen time. I do the same thing to unwind at night, from about 8:30 p.m. on.
During the day, the one thing I have to continually remind myself is to always follow my personal priorities over the never-ending stream of demands coming from outside the organization. Doing this allows me to focus on what’s important for my business and lets me not worry about chasing email all day. Doing that would only see me drown in a sea of others’ requests.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I believe that we are all driven by the desire to create. It’s a large part of being human. Personally, I enjoy creating with speed. The need for speed and the need to create are big pieces of who I am. I look to create things with utility, and the best way I’ve found to do that is through the concept of a minimum viable product, as commonly discussed in the lean startup world.
Essentially, you have to boil an idea down to its essence and launch it quickly in order to prove its viability and utility. If the idea doesn’t work, then we missed the core concept, and we take a step back, reassess, and try again. For us, success isn’t about being perfect every time, but about failing many times and being able to learn from each experience. We apply the same lessons to our client engagement.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
We live in a country where capital is treated better than labor. We also live in an age where creating new capital is getting cheaper and cheaper.
Once you have an understanding of this, you can stand back and use politics to advocate for better treatment of labor to fix the inequality, or you can invest your social capital and time into creating new financial capital. This societal shift is something that gets me very excited, and as somebody who gets to work with fellow entrepreneurs every day, it’s something I get to see play out in real time daily.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I measure the most important thing and learn from it. As an example, I recently started paying attention to how many pages I read in a day and measuring this number as a personal KPI. Once I started doing this, I immediately noticed how much more I was reading and subsequently learning, which made me better as a person.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Accounting at PwC was tough. I had 20-hour days that simply drained the life out of me. My manager loved to give me the worst tasks — anything that was monotonous, arduous, and boring became a task that was assigned to me. I hated these tasks, and my method of dealing with them was to find ways to automate the pieces of my job I disliked. Tasks that were budgeted as weeks’ worth of work would get done in days. I ended up learning that the worst jobs can bring out the best in a person and highlight where he should be going.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would have started asking people, “What can I do for you?” instead of “What can you do for me?” much earlier. The moment I started viewing clients, vendors, potential hires, and others I encountered through that lens, my business really hit its stride and started growing.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I strongly support taking time away from technology to be alone and think in the morning and surrounding yourself with friends and family in the evening and on weekends. Family and friends are central to success for me, as they’re always there to pick me up when I fall, and they’re quick to tell me to stop talking about business when I should be relaxing, clearing my mind, and having fun.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
I support the open source community. At Clevertech, we contribute to open source regularly and just released cleverstack.io and a new release of visualcaptcha.net into the open source world. It’s our way of helping others and giving back. This has resulted in new business opportunities we wouldn’t have gotten any other way, ranging from people who saw our work and came away impressed enough to call us to talented developers who asked to join the team.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
A few years ago, one of my top developers left. This was somebody I’d viewed as my right-hand man; he was somebody I thought was integral to my future success. The failure to keep him was both devastating and a wake-up call. I ended up hiring four people a week later to make sure that at least one would be good enough to replace him. And guess what? I ended up with two who drove the business forward by leaps and bounds. In the end, I learned that a business is about its core DNA, values, culture, and sense of purpose, not about any one person, however talented he may be.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
At Clevertech, we strongly believe in the concept of remote work, and there are a whole slew of opportunities that come along with that trend. Employers are looking for gamification and enhanced reality experiences for remote staff. As the knowledge economy continues to take hold in more global economies, the need for these tools and services will only increase.
Tell us something about you that very few people know.
I recently earned my scuba diving certification, and I love the peace that comes with being underwater. I’m in the midst of planning my next dive.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Two tools we love are Asana and InVisionApp. Asana is an amazing productivity tool for teams. We use it daily across the management team to distribute tasks, assign them to staff, and keep track of progress in a clean, uncluttered fashion.
InVisionApp is a great tool to help our clients experience things visually. The software makes it incredibly easy to display mockups for people and clients to interact with in order to get quick feedback. The software makes it a seamless experience for people to view concepts and comment directly with our designers.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’d recommend “The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety” by Alan Watts. As an entrepreneur, Watts’ book hit home especially hard for me. He is a proponent of the philosophy that we spend too much time trying to plan the future and too much time lamenting the past. Because of this, we miss living life in the moment by trying to make sure the next moment is a pleasant one. Although it’s not a traditional business book, the lessons ring true for me across my business and helped me become a better entrepreneur and leader for my staff.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
• Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School Professor
• Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup”
• Ash Maurya, author of “Running Lean”