Break down problems and then focus most of your energy on the first steps. Make those pieces of the solution the most elegant and effective. It sets you up for success later.
Brian serves as CEO of Torch.AI and has more than 20 years of experience leading mission driven, high growth, technology-focused companies. Torch.AI helps leading organizations leverage artificial intelligence in a unique way via a proprietary enterprise data management software solution. Today, Torch.AI supports clients like H&R Block with fraud detection and mitigation, and the U.S. Department of Defense with machine learning-enabled background investigations for all federal employees, supporting the determination of an individual’s trustworthiness and security credentialing. Prior to Torch.AI, Brian launched or acquired several companies all focused on technology enabled services and data connectivity. His companies serve nearly 1,300 clients and have been recognized as Small Business of the Year by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Brian has been featured in Forbes magazine for concepts around data encapsulation using blockchain technologies. He received the Defense Innovation Award at DITAC in 2017. In May, Brian will give the commencement speech for the 2019 class at his alma mater, Northwest Missouri State University, where he earned a degree in communications (minoring in Philosophy). He has raced numerous Ironman competitions at an elite amateur level in the US and Europe, ranking as high as No. 1 in the world for the class. He lives in Kansas City with his wife of 20 years and two teenage daughters.
Where did the idea for Torch.AI come from?
We saw this huge gap in the market. Teams were failing to fully realize the benefits of machine augmented intelligence. There are a couple key reasons why, a few even anthropological, but the basic premise is that the plumbing isn’t getting enough attention. You need to be able to handle streaming data, enrich it in real-time, and distribute it, securely. Our marketing slogan is “machine augmented trust at scale”. Trust of data, systems, machine models, people. It certainly has resonated. We are now the world’s foremost data orchestration and integration platform for trust. The name of our company was also inspired by Plato’s Republic. Specifically from the sixth book, the analogy of the sun.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’m kind of a nerd. I learned that to compete at a high level in endurance racing, I needed to be super disciplined about my schedule. So I block it everyday and have a routine I lean on. Consistent behavior over time…..etc. So I’m up at 5 almost every day. I work for 90 minutes clearing priorities. Then I have some family time and then do some training. By blocking my calendar, I make sure I spend the most time on the high priorities: my people, strategy, partner relationships, finances. Then I let the normal chaos of life and business ensue….but am pretty diligent about slotting those items in between the priority blocks.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m a creative. So when I have the glimmer of an idea, I go way down the road to the end…..I need to picture what I’m going to build including some of the brand artifacts, I need to understand deeply the customer’s problem and the desired end state….THEN I back into the systems and the workflow.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’ve become increasingly interested in organizational anthropology. The deluge of data, combined with accelerated technologies puts enormous pressure on people and organizations. What it all boils down to often is how people are working together and the relevant behaviors that drive successful outcomes.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
This one is easy. Consistent effort over time. Whether it is training for a race or building a business, developing good habits that evolve the possibilities is the key.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Man……enjoy the journey. I do much better today, but life moves so fast. I’m so lucky to have made many special memories and friendships that I lean on today. What I’ve found is that those super stressful hardships never end up being as nasty as they seem, and they actually often enable a new, much more fruitful path.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Cultivate a dark side. Ha ha…..
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Find a partner and invest in them. For me, I have several business partners and enjoy really high quality relationships with them. But the partnership I have with my wife is super special. Without someone like her in my life, I wouldn’t be able to be as effective as I am. Because I have a strong base, I can be creative. I can take enormous risks. I can be me.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Parlay! I have never sat back and thought to myself, I’ve made it. Cause I haven’t. This is a journey, one that will be long if I am lucky! I’m insanely curious so when I get to get close to a customer problem, I enjoy breaking it down. Then if it intrigues me, I make a bet that I can fix it…… A good friend of mine says “magic happens when you marry talent with a big challenge”….and he is right. So I find these problems, the bigger and harder the better. And I look for a way to solve it as elegantly as possible. Then I make an investment in developing that capability.
In my business today, I try and get our most talented people as close to the customer and the problem as possible. Scaling that is hard sometimes. But that is the right move. The right strategy. The problems Torch.AI solves today are big, hard problems. It takes a special mission focus to truly help these clients evolve.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
This is totally cliche, but there aren’t any failures. I’ve messed up so much it makes me laugh. I’ve had several business failures. Never went bankrupt but saw the risk on the horizon a few times.
I’m one of those guys that doesn’t quit. Once, at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, I sustained an injury and was bleeding very badly at the start of the marathon. A couple days later I was in an emergency room. But when I was racing, I kept pushing. It wasn’t a fast time that year, but damn it I finished and didn’t quit.
If you are wired like that, then you become resilient. You evolve. If you have fear, go work for someone else. Life is too short.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I started my career using data to do fun things in auto racing, then healthcare, and now to protect our country. Today there is a deluge of data, and exponentially increasing data sources. Harnessing this and then finding broken workflows seems to be a bottomless bucket of opportunity.
One area that is ripe for revolution seems to be Human Resources. There is a fundamental disconnect between pay, incentives, benefits, and investments in culture and the ROI for the company. There is no reason for this.
I see a huge opportunity to create a live sustained feedback loop, using public and first-party data, for a scalable agile HR methodology. I’ll get to it someday, unless you guys beat me to it.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought one of my clients a hilarious oxford shirt while on a business trip in California. I won’t tell you what is embroidered on it!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I’m still looking for it. When Microsoft acquired Sunrise, they killed it. Outlook for IOS is awful. But I have hope.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
It’s a book that I read in my 20s but just gave out a few copies to my team: The Game of Work. Basically, it addresses the psychology driving human performance and the value of gamifying KPIs.
What is your favorite quote?
“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” – Gen. Patton
- Block 12 Weeks: Block out time for priorities every week, and do this for 12 weeks. Then reassess. This allows you to be both strategic and tactical with your effort.
- Don’t quit: Once you have given up once, it becomes a habit. So don’t do it.
- Break down problems: break down problems and then focus most of your energy on the first steps. Make those pieces of the solution the most elegant and effective. It sets you up for success later.
- Parlay it: Once you have tasted success, parlay it to create a sustained reality. Whether it is a reference you can use for life or a solution that has multiple applications, you can build exponential value for yourself and your family by leveraging it.
- Read “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” to help your team be more effective in this rapidly advancing, complex world.