João Barros – Founder and CEO of Veniam

Everything that I can decide or do in less than two minutes I decide or do in less than two minutes.

João Barros is Professor Catedrático (Full Professor) of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Porto, Founder and CEO of Veniam and Founding Director of the Institute for Telecommunications (IT) in Porto, Portugal. He was a Fulbright scholar at Cornell University and later at Stanford, having held visiting appointments also at MIT and Carnegie Mellon. He teaches MBA students at the Porto Business School and co-founded two recent startups, Streambolico and Veniam, commercializing wireless video and vehicular communication technologies, respectively. Between 2009 and 2012, Dr. Barros served as National Director of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, a five-year international partnership funded by the Portuguese Foundation of Science and Technology, with a total budget of 56M Euros. In recent years, João Barros has been Principal Investigator (PI) and Co-PI of numerous national, European and industry funded projects, co-authoring one boo k and more than 160 research papers in the fields of networking, information theory and security, with a special focus on smart city technologies, network coding, physical-layer security, sensor networks, and intelligent transportation systems. Dr. Barros has received several awards, including the 2010 IEEE Communications Society Young Researcher Award for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, the 2011 IEEE ComSoC and Information Theory Society Joint Paper Award, the 2012 BES National Innovation Award, the 2013 Building Global Innovators Grand Prize (ISCTE-IUL and MIT) and a state-wide best teaching award by the Bavarian State Ministry of Sciences, Research and the Arts. He received his undergraduate education in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the Universidade do Porto (UP), Portugal and Universitaet Karlsruhe, Germany, a performing arts degree in flute from the Music Conservatory of Porto, the Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering and Information Technology from the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM), Germany and the habilitation (agregação) from the University of Porto.

Where did the idea for the Internet of Moving Things and Veniam come from?

As a scientist and professor, I had been working for more than 10 years on how to collect massive amounts of physical data in a city and transmit it to a remote location for future processing. Since the amount of geo-referenced data one can obtain by placing sensing devices in fixed locations is very limited, we decided instead to use vehicles as mobile sensors. When we realized how expensive it was to send all this data via the cellular network, then it became immediately clear that there was a real need for a wireless network of connected vehicles and other moving things that could lower the cost of internet access and massive gathering of urban data.

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

Very few of my days are typical, because I travel a lot. When I am at home in California, I wake up at 5am and work for two hours until my kids wake up. Usually I am taking care of email generated in EU and China during the US night that requires immediate attention. I also prepare for meetings. At 7am we have breakfast with the whole family. Between 8-11 am I normally have calls with our team in Portugal. The rest of the day is filled with back-to-back meetings and calls with customers, partners and investors. I try never to miss dinner with my family at 7pm. After that, I do tasks that require less brain power and read background materials that are relevant for the company. Every now and then, I watch a television series on Netflix to unwind. I try to reserve two days a week for strategic thinking and tasks that require more than 30 minutes of attention, such as financials, product roadmap, engineering plan, slide decks and marketing activities. I have weekly calls with th e management team and with our chairman. Occasionally, I go to the gym, but I need to be more consistent on that.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I talk about them to as many smart and trustworthy people I possibly can and write everything down. Then, I start crafting a slide deck and improve it over and over again with every new piece of information, until things stabilize and I know I am ready to execute.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

How the convergence of transportation, automation and the internet is going to change car ownership into on-demand mobility with shared autonomous vehicles, thereby freeing parking space and road infrastructure in cities that can be converted into parks, gardens and playgrounds.

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

Everything that I can decide or do in less than two minutes I decide or do in less than two minutes.

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

Digging holes in the heat of the sun to run electrical power cables and illuminate a German castle. I learned that I was extremely privileged to be able to get an education and not have to do that for the rest of my life.

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

I would say no to a lot more people a lot sooner.

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

Speak out immediately when you see something relevant that is wrong.

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

We deployed our technology on the ground with early adopters in Porto, Portugal, where the risk was lower than in a larger city. We only came out of stealth when we had gone well beyond the idea and could show real-world results proving that the technology really worked at scale. The PR and inbound marketing did the rest, at least for now.

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

I made the wrong call regarding the type of vehicles we should target first. A colleague from the university had good connections with the taxi industry, so working with cab drivers seemed like the best way to start. Soon we were very dependent on the person with the taxi relationship, our interests were not aligned and there was no business case in sight. We were six months behind schedule in proving our technology. We solved the problem by giving up on the taxis and working twice as hard to get the public buses, which we were able to execute in less than six weeks.

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

Build a distributed digital payment service that allows connected things (e.g. wearables, sensing devices, robots) to pay other better connected things (smart phones, vehicles, drones) to serve as couriers and bring their data to the cloud.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Ear phones that double function as ear plugs, a neck rest for long flights, a sleeping mask, a few good books on the kindle app and a spotify premium subscription make long flights seem 10x shorter.

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

I use toodledo for my to-do list, apple mail for email, excel for spreadsheets, powerpoint for slides (still the best), chrome for browsing, the kindle app to read (books are cumbersome), zoom for video-conferencing (love it every time, great screen sharing and multi-party conferencing), Google docs for collaborative editing with the team (great discussions), dropbox for file repository, spotify for music (I am constantly listening to classical music), runtastic for my runs, jefit for workouts, Time Doctor to help me know better how much time I need for certain tasks, Skype for chat, sunrise calendar for scheduling (excellent time zone display), time buddy to know if my team members elsewhere in the world are already awake.

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

Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel because it teaches you the difference between controlling and letting go.

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

Robin Chase, Om Malik


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