Nick Schiffelbein

Take chances. Not the cutting corner type of chances, but don’t be afraid to put yourself out there to experiment with things and ideas because you never know where they’ll lead. And if you don’t take some chances, you might just miss the next big opportunity.

Nick Schiffelbein is the chief technology officer for LOCATE Inventory in Orange County, California.

Schiffelbein attended San Clemente High School and Saddleback Community College before graduating from the University of California-Irvine with a degree in computer science in 2009.

Schiffelbein’s father, Mark, was a long-time director of information technology at Saddleback. He taught Nick and his two twin brothers, Zack and Jake, to write web pages when the boys were just eight years old. The three of them learned it in one afternoon.

Schiffelbein officially entered the computer field at the age of 14 while working at the Student Services Center at Saddleback College. He was originally hired to work in the game center, but once his superiors discovered his talent with computers, they quickly re-assigned him and the young teenager was soon creating web pages and flyers for the SSC.

In high school, Schiffelbein parlayed his computer-savviness into a data-entry position with Coast IRB, a company which oversaw clinical trials. He had dabbled in programming at home with Linux and open-source software, and he quickly excelled at this position. It wasn’t long before the company’s CEO asked him to work as a programmer, and he created a data-entry platform that allowed for multiple users. It was during this time that Schiffelbein started to tinker with his own programming skills that he would later use to create LOCATE.

Schiffelbein continued to work throughout high school, which helped him save enough money to go to college. At UCI, he took two elective courses that furthered his quest down this path, one in computer forensics and another in computer vision.

Upon graduating from UCI, Schiffelbein landed a job in the mortgage industry. The company did audits on behalf of mortgage insurance companies to see if fraud had been committed during the loan process that would preclude the company from collecting on a default loan claim. This was excellent timing economically as the results of the 2007 crash were just bottoming out and claims were soaring. While at this job, he met Scott Parrott, who would become an important mentor. Parrott took Schiffelbein’s creative mind and offered a structure with which to apply it for building applications. He offered standards he had used in the past while writing specifications for large scale software, and the two brainstormed about long-term functionality while building roadmaps to get there. Schiffelbein ended up writing an application to manage post-closing quality-control audits that were newly instituted after the crash. The company sold this software so he decided to move on to something new.

This led him to FishBooks Pro, which ultimately became LOCATE Inventory several years later.

Schiffelbein has constructed three large applications and a few smaller ones. LOCATE, however, is by far the largest application he has written.

Away from the computer, Schiffelbein’s hobbies include flying, reading, watching movies, working on home renovation projects, good food, and relaxing behind the wheel of his cars. And as a youth, Schiffelbein played the cello and studied French.

Where did the idea for LOCATE come from?

That would actually be my brothers (Zack and Jake – both of whom work for the company) who came up with the idea. They had thrown around the concept of creating an inventory-management platform or system early on while we were still working as consultants and they came up with this idea over lunch one day that we would call it LOCATE. If you think about it, it’s a brilliant name for an inventory-management system because that’s what it does, it helps you keep track of everything and locate it, so that’s the name that we used.

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

I like to get emails out of the way in the morning so I usually use that time to get caught up on things. We usually have the most support tickets to go thru in the morning as well so I’m usually very active on the support side communicating with customers. We have a number of east coast customers who are three hours ahead of us so usually, right off the bat I’m playing catch-up there. We’re early-lunch people so I’ll usually grab a bite to eat and then the second half of the day I’ll typically focus more on developing features, catching up with the team, and working on any larger issues if there were any from the morning.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I spend a lot of time talking with our other developer Andrew Cole. He and I spend a lot of time bouncing ideas off one another. We just go back and forth trying to build up an idea and usually that back and forth conversation helps escalate the idea into something that usually turns out better than we originally thought. That’s always the goal of the conversation is to figure out ‘how far can this feature go.’ Then once we figure that out, we’ll typically work backward, starting with what do we need to implement now. When you reach that point where it’s really clean and clear, that’s when I know that the idea’s ready to begin implementation.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’ve been trying to leverage more machine learning. I’ve had some experience on and off with it, but I’m definitely no expert in it. I took some classes in computer vision in college, but with machine learning, there’s problems and hurdles that that industry and technology needs to overcome to become useful in day-to-day operations. The largest example is its black box nature where you feed data in, ask a question, and then you get an answer, but there’s no way to justify the answer. That’s one of the challenges I see with anybody implementing it, is that it’s just magic and that’s really the only explanation, and any kind of computer scientist will always want to back his or her numbers. If someone can solve that problem, it will completely change the adoption rate of machine learning for trend analysis and things like that.

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

I’m not a big social media guy so I kind of steer clear of that. I’m also an avid user of ad blocks and paying extra for services to not have advertising so that’s definitely time saved.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would probably tell myself to take more chances. There are definitely things I held back on because I wasn’t confident in following thru on them in terms of just some projects and general life things. I was a very reserved person and have been my whole life, but I probably should’ve put myself out there more often and maybe followed thru on some projects I’d dreamt up.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

The biggest one I kind of always fighting with people on is ‘all new tech is better than old tech.’ I absolutely do not agree with that. A lot of people think that everything new is better and faster than what already existed and LOCATE for instance is living proof that that’s not always true. A lot of people use the latest databases without fully understanding why those databases were created. New does not mean better. I prefer to build on what I trust and what I know works, and slowly adopt new things.

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

From a coding perspective, it’s definitely consistent and doesn’t cut corners. And also, do the hard thing, because it pays off in the long run. A lot of folks try to band-aid or code the minimum when creating new features or trying things out. With LOCATE, everything was built out to a logical conclusion. We’ve built some very solid standards on how far to take things and that has allowed us to continue to build reliably on our own code because we can trust that everything is in place.

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

Listen to your customer but never do what they say. Typically, the customer is trying to solve the problem that is right in front of them at the micro level. You can use that to help guide what you do, but very rarely is the customer exactly right on the way to solve a problem. As a coder, you need to think larger scale, almost like ‘how do I apply this to all my customers and how do I make this something that benefits multiple customers and not just one.’ Sometimes taking that one step back helps create something that no one even knew that they needed.

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

That would be March 2017 when we first launched LOCATE. We got our first big customer on, the software had been in development for just over two years at that point, and we did tons of internal testing, but there were bugs everywhere. We had some trouble with scaling and things like that because we had never had more than three or four people on the software and what we thought was going to work from an architectural perspective wasn’t, so that month was pretty rough. We also had a lot of features missing that we were unaware of so we were kind of flying by the seat of our pants at that point. Unfortunately, there was no magic fix so we just kind of had to grin and bear it. We ended up logging a lot of 18-hour days to try and fix it. It seemed like we were putting out hotfixes just about every night, and then new releases and features every week for a while. It was a blistering pace, but we knew if we were going to make this work, we had to put in the work and figure out how to solve the problems that we didn’t know existed.

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

One thing I’ve always thought about doing, and this references back to a previous answer, is rather than simply blocking (website) ads, why doesn’t someone create a service that will replace ads with something educational. Rather than an ad, why can’t I pay you to hide that ad and use that space to serve me educational content. For instance, if I was wanting to learn a foreign language, you could teach me a word when I went to a random webpage. It would be a way to have those constant nagging ads turned into a constant reminder of your educational aspirational goals.

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

I just bought plane tickets to go to Paris with my family so that was a good investment although it was considerably more than $100.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

The most helpful and beneficial is Circle CI. It’s a continuous integration service that’s used in LOCATE every time we update the code base and we push up our code to the cloud for storage. Circle CI checks it out and runs all of our unit tests and if anything’s wrong, it’ll actually notify us so we can be aware of problems before they would even go thru to testing internally. It saves a lot of time and it’s a very reliable service. It’s probably the most helpful one that I use.

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

’12 Rules for Life’ by Jordan Peterson. He’s a clinical psychologist from Canada. The book covers twelve general traits one should strive for in a meaningful life. Each trait is explained from several perspectives with various anecdotes. For example, one chapter talked about getting you to stop focusing externally and more so internally so you could spend more time and energy focusing on your own goals. Other chapters cover self-pride, respecting others, and discipline. Many of the traits are ones you are taught as a kid, but the book does a great job of outlining their value through stories.

What is your favorite quote?

It’s kind of cheesy because I don’t think it’s even attributed to anyone but it’s always been ‘what would you attempt if you knew you would not fail?’ I actually had that printed on a brick and placed at the Tesla Science Center a number of years back.

Key Learnings:

When it comes to computers and technology, especially with coding and programming, there are no shortcuts and the devil is in the details.

Take chances. Not the cutting corner type of chances, but don’t be afraid to put yourself out there to experiment with things and ideas because you never know where they’ll lead. And if you don’t take some chances, you might just miss the next big opportunity.

When dealt a difficult blow, the best way to overcome it is thru hard work and discipline. Be willing to work hard, put in the extra time and make sacrifices to get it right. That’s a great way to maintain customer loyalty.


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