Raul and Ariel - Co-founders of Agile Route
Ariel Di Stefano (left) and Raúl Verano (right)

[quote style=”boxed”]I think that looking for happiness as a goal is an utopia. You need it as a perfect state that you aspire to, but it is almost impossible to reach. IMHO, happiness are small, beautiful moments that you live. As the movie says, “happiness is only real when shared.”[/quote]

Thirty-four year old Raúl Verano studied computer science at the University of Buenos Aires. For the last 15 years, he has been in the IT industry programming, leading teams and managing development departments for corporate and international companies. In 2010, he and Ariel Di Stefano started Agile Route, a small development boutique in Buenos Aires focused on innovation and building a smart portfolio of software products.

Thirty-five year old Ariel Di Stefano studied business administration at the University of Gral San Martin. He’s been working in the IT industry for the last 15 years, managing IT and marketing projects in the corporate world. He partnered  with Raul Verano after working together for several years.

What are you working on right now?

Agile Route’s Shopperception. It uses MS Kinect to bring web-like analytics to brick and mortar shops, especially focused on the interaction between the shopper and the shelf.

Where did the idea for Shopperception come from?

When MS Kinect came out, we techies were thrilled. It was sci-fi at our fingertips and a real technological breakthrough. We started analyzing what to do with it and explored some marketing interactive stuff, but the real “click” came when Ariel was talking to someone in the market research industry and learned how they perform their research today: with a human observer, a paper form and a pen. We thought automated gathering of shopper behavioral data for real stores would do for retail what Google Analytics did for the web. The potential is endless. We were really excited about this, so Raul started coding a prototype right away and it evolved into the product we have today.

What does your typical day look like?

Raul: Reading emails in my phone as I wake up, drinking coffee, answering emails, drinking more coffee, making some Skype calls with prospective customers/partners/investors, drinking more coffee and  then intensive XCode sessions in Obj-C and C++. Later, a Kinect or some pre-recorded Kinect sessions, thinking in 3D, dealing with uncharted technological lands (which is the high moment of my day), a lot of debugging and thinking of ways to squeeze an extra FPS from what I’ve just done. The moments of enlightenment about how to solve a problem or optimize my code usually happen while in the shower, commuting or preparing my next cup of coffee.

Ariel: I start with a full family breakfast followed by an hour or 2 of answering emails, tweets and contact requests. Later, I focus on moving forward with open projects and meeting with possible partners or customers using Skype. Sometime during the day, I spend an hour reading and thinking strategically. My Google Reader adds more than 1,000 new RSS topics daily to dig into. After a fast scan, I have 20 open tabs on Chrome that I then read and look for business ideas in. Sometimes I find useful ideas or gems to be explored later, like Kinect analytics.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Raul: There is only one way: by doing it. It can be small at the beginning, but you have to make it work. I have an agile heart, truly. I just need a glimpse of an idea to start something and as I write code or see it in action, it takes shape in ways I never envisioned at first.  All of our products started with a seed. I don’t need to code them myself necessarily, I just need to see a little bit of it in action in order to shape it into something great. Prioritizing is essential. The first things you do always determines the next thing to be done. Building a great product is not like building a house from a blueprint, it is more like making a sculpture: you have an idea, but you discover the best thing to do after you hammer the first bits, and this stroke leads you to a state where you find out where the next stroke should be. You have to be willing to discover, reshape, undo, redo and always push a little bit more.

Ariel: You never know how or when ideas will come to your mind. For me, there is no logical place or time, but I know that the first 4 hours after having an idea are the most important. If you decide to move forward, you can spend those 4 hours drawing a mental picture (using mind maps or something similar) of what the MVP (minimum viable product) is for that idea. If you succeed, there will be a list of at least 3 or 4 core things to do and a whiteboard full of nice to have things. Then, buy a domain, set-up a small campaign with the right keywords, build a simple but effective landing page and test your idea to determine if there is a market and if you are creating value.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Raul: The way Kinect is bringing to life natural interfaces like a sci-fi movies make me really excited about the near future.

Ariel: The democratization of technology. Today any SMB can have the same tools as a big corporation. And, you have more power than ever in the palm of your hand.

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

Raul: After being the lead of the programming team that built a billion-dollar banking system, I was hired by the bank conglomerate that owned it as auditor in chief. The job was sincerely against the very core of who I am. It was controlling with rules I didn’t even agree with instead of being about doing and creating. I learned to never again go against my nature. There is no amount of money in the world that can make amends for putting your passion in a cage.

Ariel: Construction worker. After my father died, I had to work in order to support my family.  I really hated that job.

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

Raul: I’d drop ideas even faster. Since we started Agile Route a year ago, we have built a lot of products, including a healthcare website, Shopperception and 7 Mac OSX/iOS apps. I think my love for Mac devices led me to keep pushing “one more app” to the store instead of calling it a day after an approach didn’t sell as we expected. I wouldn’t do that again; I’d just let it be and try something new until we hit gold, ran out of ideas or ran out or time.

Ariel: I would fail more often. Failing is a great way to learn, but we are afraid to fail from childhood.

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

Raul: Focus. Deliver fast. If it doesn’t work, change your mind faster. And don’t fall in love with your own ideas. Don’t wait until you have “the” product of your dreams.  Release the smallest bit you can get away with and let the market guide you from there.

Ariel: Never give up. Usually the idea that works is not the first one. Learn from each iteration. People buy from people. Enjoy the journey.

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

Raul: I can give you a thousand ideas, but the most important part is always the execution. Whenever something really brilliant comes out, there are always a thousand guys saying, “I thought of that before! I should be rich, not them!”

Here is an idea: I would love to be able to shop for groceries from my phone. You could buy the same thing as last month plus/minus a few things, get charged automatically and get everything delivered to your house. That should involve no more than 5 clicks on an average month.  In Argentina, online shopping sites are still too cumbersome for my taste (and using a computer for that? pft!).

Ariel: Start selling something today. You need practice looking for buyers, setting prices, negotiating and closing sales. This is something that nobody learns in school. So grab something old from your garage and try to sell it. You will learn a lot and will gain more confidence.

Tell us a secret.

Raul: You will never be an expert in technology unless you are willing to over-specialize (and die or fade, which is the same). I’ve successfully run projects in which I couldn’t write a single line of code if I had to. Common sense can give you enough to understand how things work and to discuss them. Couple this with the humility to ask questions, you can have all the knowledge you need to successfully lead.

Ariel: People want to be loved. Always.

What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?

Raul: The list of my must-have tools involve working with other people in the same project remotely.

  • Dropbox: how did I share files before it existed is a complete mystery to me.
  • Any type of code repository with notifications to my cell phone. I am currently using CodeBase.
  • Any type of shared to-do list or backlog. I’m currently using Wunderlist.

Ariel:

  • Google Reader: It’s my main source for news, knowledge, fun and content.
  • Dropbox: I have all my documents synchronized in all my devices (laptop, iPad and iPhone).
  • Gmail: I spend several hours a day in its interface, and despite some big things missing, it works.

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

Raul: If you are really into business and technology, then I recommend that you not read about business and technology. Innovation comes from relating the things you do all the time with ideas from completely unrelated areas. It is like some kind of thought exogamy. Read things like Frank Herbert’s Dune, Roger Zelazny’s The Lord Of Light or Anaxalimma (my own sci-fi novel, although it is written in Spanish).

Ariel: I like to think out of the box and that is impossible if you read about what you already know. Just to point out one great book, I recommend What Technology Wants from Kevin Kelly.

What’s on your playlist?

Raul: Classical, including Rachmaninov, Paganini, Chopin and Saint Saens, jazz, especially Jaques Loussier and video game music. I love Warcraft-like epic music.

Ariel: Adele, Rolling Stones, Bruno Mars, Metallica, Astor Piazolla and Sumo.

If you weren’t working on Shopperception, what would you be doing?

Raul: Finding the next innovation space with Kinect, mobile/tablets or “insert your new hot tech here.”

Ariel: Looking for the next disruptive technology that allows us to build a better place to live.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

Raul: I think information excess is a waste of time and a source of distraction that can kill all of your productivity. You think you are doing something but you are not. Instead of following more people on Twitter, I recommend reducing your feed to the fewest possible sources you can.  Only open it while you are definitely not being productive (e.g., sitting in the restroom).

Ariel:

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

Raul: My kid does that for me. His fresh approach to the world never ceases to amaze me. We adults are too full of ourselves to relate with satisfaction to the things around us.

Ariel: Today. Playing with my 2 kids lets me feel like a child again and again.

Who is your hero?

Raul: Until recently, Steve Jobs was one of my heroes. Learning more about him brought him down from the pedestal, but I love that he made his own way by following his passion instead of doing what he was supposed to do.

Ariel: Small hidden heroes are all over the world. People that work 12-14 hours just to raise their kids, they are my real heroes.

What does your ideal work environment look like?

Raul: I’ve learned through different jobs that I prefer to work with the fewest and brightest people I can get my hands on. I like my ideas being challenged (my ideas are not my babies, I’d rather find the best idea than owning it) and I also enjoy nurturing others’ ideas based on their experiences and knowledge. I like challenges, innovation, creativity and uncharted territory. That usually involves working on the edge of chaos, so I prefer a result-oriented environment where people can come in late but are motivated to code at 3 AM at home if inspiration strikes. My ideal workplace is also fun; we spend too much time there to make it gloomy. People should be delighted to go to work, not depressed.

What is success?

Ariel: Success is doing what you love without thinking about it as “work.” Enjoying the journey while on it.

What would you do if you had to make a drastic career change?

Raul: I would probably be a writer. As I mentioned before, I already published a novel, but I have been postponing the second one for too many years now. I sometimes worry that it will spawn like Athena out of Zeus’ head with a life of its own if I keep it in my head much longer…

Why is it so hard to define happiness?

Ariel: I think that looking for happiness as a goal is an utopia. You need it as a perfect state that you aspire to, but it is almost impossible to reach. IMHO, happiness are small, beautiful moments that you live. As the movie says, “happiness is only real when shared.”

Connect:

Agile Route Email: [email protected]
Agile Route on Twitter: @agileroute
Raul Verano on LinkedIn: http://ar.linkedin.com/in/rverano
Ariel Di Stefano on LinkedIn: http://ar.linkedin.com/in/arieldistefano
Ariel Di Stefano on Twitter: @arieldistefano

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