Nick Edwards – Co-founder and CEO of Boomtrain

The world of startups is all about speed. Speed + the best people = competitive advantage.

Harvard Business School graduate Nick Edwards is the co-founder and CEO of Boomtrain, a personalized notification platform that connects customers to content they’ll love.

Driven by a passion for technology and media, Nick initially created Boomtrain as a platform that highlighted made-for-web video. Over time, however, the idea of content distribution became more vital to the company, so he shifted its focus to connecting audiences with AI-driven content recommendations. Using deep insights and powerful predictive technology, the Boomtrain platform delivers purpose-built recommendations, increases engagement, and delivers remarkable customer experiences by treating each as an individual.

Previously, Nick worked at Ooyala, a video technology company. He also founded The Internationalist, an ACE Eddie award-winning magazine about international politics and economics.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

My co-founder and I initially built and launched a video discovery platform. What was originally just a feature of that platform — a machine-learning engine to help us categorize videos and predict the best ones for every visitor — later evolved into what Boomtrain is today. We knew delivering uniquely relevant experiences to every person was the answer to the problems marketers and publishers face every day.

Today, we’re hyperfocused on building the most advanced machine intelligence and predictive personalization technology to deliver great experiences across channels.

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

Around 6 a.m., Emmy — my two-year-old golden retriever — is eager to go on her morning run! I try to keep up with her and get to the office early before mayhem hits. I review my game plan for the day and prioritize my to-do list. Things are always changing, so it’s a constant challenge to balance the tasks that are major but not urgent with tasks that are minor but urgent.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m a big believer in crayons… just kidding.

There are two parts to any great idea: Strategic vision and tactical execution. If you fall short in either of these areas, you’ll fail.

For the former, I’m constantly deepening my understanding of market, buyer, and customer needs and how technology alters the current landscape. For the latter, a team effort is required. I have definitely surrounded myself with highly talented people and executors. For most projects, technical or not, we use scrum to align and execute.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

How machine learning as a discipline is fundamentally reinventing entire industries. Boomtrain sits in the marketing industry and strives to better understand customers and companies. We’re just one great example of the power of this new application of technology.

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

We keep Joyride Cold Brew coffee on tap at the office. That definitely keeps me moving during the day! Also, I love trying new technologies that automate business processes and keep my schedule in check.

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

I’ve had lots of really bad jobs. The weirdest job I ever had was cleaning out dead people’s homes. But from a learning perspective, delivering pizza in high school was probably the most impactful job. As I came in contact with so many different kinds of people, I noticed the rich folks were more likely to give small tips while the poor folks gave much bigger tips. I was working hard and earning an honest paycheck; I appreciated those who identified with that.

My biggest takeaway was the power of empathy. You never know where that pizza delivery boy is going or where he has been — always be cool to him.

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

It’s a long list. Hindsight is always 20/20, and I usually try to take the time to reflect on mistakes to improve. In terms of building a business, I probably should have filled some key roles faster.

As an entrepreneur, what’s one thing you do repeatedly and recommend others do, too?

Read constantly! Fiction, nonfiction, or whatever you’d like.

Living in the world of technology, I find sci-fi books to be a great source of inspiration. I also recommend books written about (or by) great entrepreneurs. So many great minds have come before us, and they can all teach us valuable lessons.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

The world of startups is all about speed. Speed + the best people = competitive advantage.

As such, my team rapidly iterates on new ideas, finds what works, and continues to refine our work. We also measure obsessively. As we grow, this “show your work” mentality has been a big asset.

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

The first version of Boomtrain just didn’t work out. Even though this stung a bit, we recognized the market was hungry for our new product. We threw ourselves into it wholeheartedly, taking the time to relearn the market, re-evaluate our core capabilities, and attack with speed and intelligence.

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

Build a simple, intuitive cross-platform scheduling app. It should be smart and suggest times that are mutually available between all parties. It should also take preferences (e.g., keeping mornings free of meetings) and travel schedules into account, and a mobile-first design is essential.

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

It was a bit more than $100, but I’d have to say the San Francisco half-marathon last month. I try to run regularly, but this was my first big road race, and I actually convinced a few colleagues to tag along with me! It’s fun to see your city from a new perspective, and running across the Golden Gate Bridge was literally breathtaking.

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

InsightSquared has been a great investment. It has helped us make sense of our sales and revenue data. FullStory is a new tool we use that provides powerful insights into how people actually use your product. We brought Influence & Co. on to help scale our content marketing and media outreach efforts. For project execution and aligning efforts (did I mention I love scrums?), we always rely on Trello.

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

I’d like to recommend three. “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz is a no-B.S. look at how to be a CEO when everything is going wrong. “The Innovators” by Walter Isaacson is an incisive history into Internet and computers leading up to present day. And Elon Musk’s biography by Ashlee Vance is an inspiring story about a great entrepreneur and innovator who’s really pushing boundaries across multiple industries.

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

Clay Christensen was one of my Harvard Business School professors and remains the most influential business and strategic thinker in my mind. Definitely check out his “jobs to be done” ) approach.

In addition, physicist Richard Feynman was my childhood hero. In the world of SaaS technology companies, Tom Tunguz ) and Jason Lemkin ) write incredible blogs.


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