Dave Keene and Ed Cox - Founders of everyStory

I try meet with everyone I can who can push us forward, and I typically ask things such as “Tell me why I’m thinking wrong? Tell me how I’m thinking wrong?”

Dave Keene developed everyStory in 2013 after he was diagnosed with colon cancer and feared that his young son may never remember hearing his father’s voice. Keene wanted to create a private, collaborative platform that allowed users to capture and preserve stories over their photos using audio recordings safely in the cloud. Now a father of two, Keene is cancer free and passionate about providing people an innovative way to save their memories, voices and photos. A veteran of the video game industry, Keene has worked for years specializing in commerce and content delivery. Prior to founding everyStory in 2013, Keene served as the senior architect at the Sony PlayStation Network and built microtransition platforms for Trion Worlds and Rockstar Games. He looks forward to seeing others adopt everyStory to share life’s special memories.

Ed Cox is the CEO of everyStory and has nearly a decade of executive leadership, corporate development, fundraising, and commercialization and company exits in both public and private companies. Most recently, Cox served as an executive of a NASDAQ company before joining everyStory as CEO in January 2015. Cox earned his Masters of Science in Management from Warrington College of Business Administration at the University of Florida where he also earned his undergraduate degree in Telecommunication. Cox has always had a love for family history and storytelling, but the need to preserve those stories was heightened last year by the birth of his child, a baby girl, within months of the unfortunate and untimely loss of a close loved one. When he was first introduced to everyStory, he immediately knew he wanted to jump on board and help make the product available to everyone. Cox believes that the personal touch of being able to record audio and gestures onto photos is something that can have a lasting impact on others and is a remarkable way to connect to past and future generations. He has a genuine passion to make everyStory the ultimate platform for the world to tell their personal stories and truly make memories last forever.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

Dave Keene: Three years ago I was diagnosed with colon cancer, and as I laid in my hospital bed, my greatest fear was that my son wouldn’t remember the sound of my voice. I wanted to leave so many stories with him and provide life advice, but I feared he wouldn’t actually remember hearing any of it. I wanted to tell him how beautiful his mother looked in her wedding dress, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to do that as he was looking at the same picture that I was when it prompted me to say that?” I looked around for services that would let me easily record hours and hours of audio – over pictures – and I didn’t really find anything. I found several options that would allow me to do short-form, one- or two-minute stories, but nothing that would let me do long archives of memories. I thought, “Well, I guess I’ll build it then, I’m a technical guy.” Then I proceeded with the idea and got some of my old co-workers together and we built what is still to this day the backend, the archiving, all of the cloud-based services for everyStory.

Ed Cox: I was first introduced to Dave a year and a half ago, and he told me about everyStory. I got it right away. Before my grandmother died a few years earlier, I had (ineffectively) tried to record her. Also, as Dave was telling me about his own experience, unbeknownst to him a couple things were happening in my life that made his story really impact me. One, I was about to have my first child, a baby girl, only a couple of months from then. Two, within a month of meeting Dave, I also lost my father-in-law, who was a close friend and an amazing storyteller. Sadly, he lost his fight with colon cancer, so the impact of Dave’s story and the app was immediate.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Ed Cox: I try to start with reading my Bible before the day gets too far along. Then I exercise, shower and eat breakfast with my wife and baby daughter before I head to the office. I always try to call my dad on the way in, too. He is not only a great source of wisdom but also provides motivation to keep me going through my day. By the time I get into the office, my brain is pretty clear.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Ed Cox: One way is by obsessively attacking them. Most of my ideas come late at night or while I’m showering, and more often than not, they’re ideas on how to position a product or how to sell something, push something, etc. Then I strategize about it for the rest of the evening and I immediately go online to research how we could implement and execute the idea. Next, I start emailing to team. I don’t expect the team to answer late at night, but when they come in the next morning they will see several emails from me with the idea, what I think we should do about it, and how I personally think we should attack it. Once everyone has been able to review things, I bring the team together and we determine if it is a good and executable idea. Then delegate duties.

Dave Keene: I’m a technical guy, so I bring ideas to life in a technical way. At first there’s the brainstorming phase, where we sit down and think about all the possibilities around the idea, and try to refine it down to just the things that we want to do that keeps the essence of that idea. What is the minimal amount of work for the maximum return on investment? Once we know what that is, the technical building starts, and the first step is to model out the problem, to take all of the words that we have said about the problem and turn them into a logical model of how those entities relate to each other. That then becomes the entity relationship diagram or the database schema that models out that problem. For instance, for something like referral codes, we talked a lot about how we wanted the referral program to work, but eventually we had to break it down into a strict series of relationships. For example, a user has a referral code, a new user consumes a referral code, when they consume a referral code they get a reward – there’s this very structured set of relationships we create. By establishing the relationships this way, the rest of the programming and design becomes much easier because now we have a skeleton to on which to hang the remaining components.

What is one trend that really excites you?

Dave Keene: I’m really excited about broadband penetration. I think the types of services that we are going to see built in the next 10 years are unimaginable today as we move from a broadband norm of five megabits per second to 100 megabits per second or even a gigabit per second. That will be transformational. Over the last 10 years, America has typically lagged behind when it comes to high-speed. I think that as we start to catch up and build out that infrastructure, we’re going to see amazing things. Companies like Netflix or even everyStory wouldn’t exist without a certain degree of broadband penetration, but the next wave of truly high-speed Internet services is going to be awesome.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Ed Cox: The joke, I would say, is that I drink too much coffee, and the other is I’m an obsessive asker of advice. I try meet with everyone I can who can push us forward, and I typically ask things such as “Tell me why I’m thinking wrong? Tell me how I’m thinking wrong?” I am someone fortunate enough to genuinely, really like people, so I can talk to almost anybody about almost anything. This allows me to engage with people, especially when what I’m looking for is not connections, not wealth, not investment – I’m looking for advice. Because I already know what I know, and I want to know what they know. Every single time you can really connect with people on a genuine level, you’re going to be smarter for it, and that’s priceless.

Dave Keene: I was part of an acting troupe in college. We did improv across Canada traveling in a small van. One of the rules of improv is you always say “yes, and….” You never say “no.” So, one habits I’ve tried to always keep in meetings or brainstorming sessions, is when an idea comes out or when someone says something, instead of dismissing it right away because it’s not something I agree with or because it’s not on my agenda for that conversation, I always try to say “yes, and….” I try to figure out how to build on other people’s ideas in order to bring the best possible idea to fruition during the conversation. Obviously, this doesn’t work all of the time; if an idea is completely orthogonal to what the current conversation is about and we’ve got a limited amount of time, I say “yes, and let’s talk about that later.” However, in general, I try to never say “no” to ideas or proposals right away to ensure we’ve fully explored all possibilities before putting them to rest.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Dave Keene: I’ve been extremely blessed in that almost every job I’ve had, I’ve loved. However, working in the video game industry for a number of years let me see some departments and some groups with people who didn’t love their jobs, and I learned a lot from watching them operate. One pattern I saw over and over again was when groups didn’t run as a meritocracy, people were unhappy. Decisions were made based on the popularity or seniority of the person presenting the idea, rather than the merit of the idea itself. That resulted in frustration from many of the team members and ultimately failure of products. I’ve always tried to cultivate a culture of idea merit. We discuss all ideas (hopefully weeding out bad ones quickly), and we try to go with the decision that the group has decided is the best idea, regardless of whether it came from me.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Ed Cox: I know this might sound cliché, but I don’t think I would do anything differently. I think the mistakes that we’ve made thus far have been non-lethal, at least from a business standpoint, and I think it’s unfair to say that you could learn the lessons without making the mistakes. If you can make mistakes that don’t kill you, then you should make those mistakes. Here’s something, in general terms, I wish I could change: I did not become someone who believed in coaching, mentoring or getting advice from others as early as I should have. I would have liked to have had that mindset even earlier in life, because I believe I could have avoided mistakes had I taken that approach earlier.

Dave Keene: When I was younger I worried too much about financial security, when I really had nothing to lose. Now that I have a family, a mortgage and more responsibility, I’m actually taking larger risks, which is odd. I wish that I had been less risk averse earlier. On the other hand, I am able to make better decisions with age and am able to execute much faster on those decisions, so although I am doing riskier things, my chance of success is far higher.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and you recommend everyone else do?

Ed Cox: Exact same thing I said earlier: find people and ask them for advice – find smart people and ask them for advice, ask them to tear down your idea, ask them to tear down the way you’re looking at it, ask them to tell you about competitors you don’t know. Asking this of people doesn’t cost you very much, and the more you can do that before you’ve launched your product, before you’ve launched your company, before you quit your job, the better your life is going to work out. We have a tendency to try to protect our ideas because we think the idea is the key safe zone. What we have to do instead is to try to get people to attack the idea, try to get them to tear it down, and either we are going to strengthen the idea and make survive, or we are going to find out that the idea cannot survive. If the idea can’t survive criticism then it certainly can’t survive execution. When the difficult questions start to come up like investor questions or launch questions, you never want it to be the first time; you want to have all of those questions answered at the beginning.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Ed Cox: I don’t think there is one strategy that helps grow all businesses. I think what you have to do is incessant research. We have a digital media product; we have a consumer digital media product, so we spent months researching online while asking ourselves: “What were the most successful consumer digital product companies, and how did they grow?” It turns out they grew about 20 different ways – they literally grew 20 different ways. There’s not one way to do it – everything’s social media, everything’s print, everything’s personal relationships, everything’s cold calls, etc. I believe that it is about evaluating what worked for others and which of those things can we actually do. Some of the ideas that you think are going to work, are going to work – you just don’t know which ones.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome it?

Ed Cox: When I was the COO of a film technology startup, we tried to raise an enormous amount of money. The biggest failure we had was thinking that what we needed was simply money, and a lot of it, to create the idea. Then instead we focused on raising money and not the product. Every goal was tied to raising money. None was tied to actually building the business. Essentially, we had a business plan and a request for a big bag of money. We were just too focused on the fund raising.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Dave Keene: This is an idea I’ve had for a while: crowdsourced news source bias tracking. I think it would be really cool if someone made a service to allow users to record their opinion on online articles, specifically about the biases that they think are at play, or the characteristics of the articles, journalists and publishers. For example, I could see the top articles of the day, not only their titles, but also whether or not the world at large believed this person was being truthful, felt that they were left-leaning or right-leaning or if they had a bias against technology – and the list goes on. In addition, I could group my fellow users by cohort, and see only the news articles that were up-voted or down-voted or promoted by views and standpoints like mine or opposite. I think the real value of a company of this nature wouldn’t be in capturing the eyeballs of the people who were surfing the site, or “game-ifying” the collection of sentiment. It would be more in selling that information back to the news outlets, so they could get instant feedback on all of their reporters, articles and where the biases lie and whether they’re truthful or not.

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

Ed Cox: I spent more than $100 buying a pen for a close friend who had accomplished something really remarkable in business. He is a tireless worker. He had always done extraordinary things, but he had never had the opportunity to have something like that. To have him be able to have a physical symbol of his success in the palm of his hands, especially a tool like that, was well worth the $100.

What software and web services do you use, and what do you love about them?

Dave Keene: everyStory is built completely on Amazon Web Services. I think AWS is a game-changer for small startups. Ten years ago, to build a web service, you needed to have a farm of computers, backend services and databases before you had even proven your idea. All of that has gone away, and now you can wave your hands in the cloud and get it for a couple hundred dollars per month. You can scale without breaking your back. I remember when we launched games like EverQuest 2, we would partition out these massive, I mean massive, clusters of servers to handle what we predicted the day-one load would be, all the while knowing that within a year we would be starting to shut down many of those computers and reconsolidate. You don’t have to do that anymore. You can scale in the cloud and only accept the charges while you’ve got the load, and that’s amazing. In terms of software, I know it is kind of passé now, but I’m a big fan of building web services on java. The frameworks and the amount of functionality that you can include with an open-source project from somewhere is awesome, and the JVM has moved leaps and bounds in terms of its speed and efficiency. I’m playing with functional programming languages, I love the idea of not having problems or bugs related to a state laying around. I’ve been playing with Scala and Erlang on the side, but in terms of building something fast and stable, and being able to have a large team of contractors work with you on it, java wins, hands-down. On the front-end, we use JavaScript, and Angular in particular, to build our web applications. Our iOS application we are writing in Swift, mostly because it’s so much closer to the other languages that we write. Plus, I think Apple’s going to do a good job of supporting that language in the next couple of years.

What is the one book you recommend our community read and why?

Ed Cox: I absolutely recommend people read “The Book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi was the greatest samurai who ever lived,. Towards the end of his life, he retired, painted watercolors and wrote a book, which turned out to be a book on game theory: the “The Book of Five Rings.” It’s a great book for two reasons – one, it has really practical advice, and two, it’s a fun book to talk about. It has a fun backstory to talk about.

Dave Keene: Good database administrators remind me of a samurai. They sit around and practice on developer DBs, and ruminate on problems, but they aren’t constantly coding and freaking out like many developers do. When things go crazy in production and you need a single perfect query to fix corrupted data or something, the DBA pulls out the metaphorical sword and cuts once, just once, and fixes the problem. You don’t want a DBA who has to hack at a problem.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Dave Keene: This might be relevant to technical co-founders, but early on, I was influenced by Kent Beck, the father of extreme programming and a big proponent of test-driven development. The things that really stood out to me early in my career from reading his books were the concepts of test-driven design and continuous delivery and specifically, the radical honesty that he suggests for estimate and risks. Kent pushes for developers to openly share all of the risks that come inherent in the work they’re doing and share them with the people who are ultimately responsible for the return on investment for the work that’s being done. Often developers will come up with an estimate based on almost no data and then crunch to hit that date, sacrificing quality and features along the way. Radical honesty includes management in the risk of not understanding the full requirements (which empowers them to correct it).
Another big eye-opener for me was reading the white paper “Out of the Tar Pit” by Ben Moseley and Peter Marks; a paper about eschewing local state from large systems in order to increase stability. That’s led me to start playing around with pure functional programming languages.

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