Richie Etwaru – Author of Corporate Awesome Sauce

I find reading to be like the human version of a copy-paste of a file on a computer. In many ways, you can copy from  the author’s head, and paste onto yours. It really is an “awesome hack” – yeah, I am sticking with that.

An agent of change, Richie is an infector of thought for which there is no cure. His career has been defined by cognitive jujitsu that places people and companies in powerful positions that drive creativity and success. He has been a COO for technology at a large financial services company, a divisional CIO at a large investment bank, a co-founder of startups, a head of innovation of a billion dollar software company, and sits on a few start-up advisory boards.

He is irreverent, unorthodox and skilled in navigating complex organizations yet manages to articulate his vision with single focused communication combined with a charismatic style.

Born in South America, he was raised in New York. He holds multiple international patents, and is a champion for innovation.

Simply put, his success is defined by his authenticity—a contemporary worldview that Etwaru believes is more than simply essential, it’s downright sexy.

Where did the idea for Corporate Awesome Sauce come from?

I was very lucky to get promoted early in my career, and to have the employment experiences that led me down a path to accelerated wisdom. As a result, I was asked frequently for advice on how to replicate what I had done. Until about two years ago, I never had good advice/answers; I basically gave the easiest advice/answers I could find.

I would suggest folks work on their passion, get good mentors and take calculated risks. After a few events (which I detail in the introduction of the book Corporate Awesome Sauce) I ran tired of giving useless advice and providing answers I could not stand behind, and I began to take inventory (write down) what I really did. A few months later, I showed it to friends, editors and publishers, and they thought it was good enough to help people if published, and here we are.

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

First I thank the inventors of the snooze button, three times, which accounts for 27 minutes of the morning of most weekdays. My snooze lasts for nine minutes each. I travel quite a bit, 1/3 of my days are spent in transit, 1/3 are spent in meetings, and 1/3 are spent doing what I call awesome stuff. I draw, I write, I play with digital toys (my drone is my favorite lately) and then in the 4th 1/3 of the day (yes, I get 133% out of every day) I study. I am in the middle of a PhD in leadership and organizational design.

I stay productive by practicing what I call hyper-focusing. While I operate in hyper-concurrency, when I focus on a single task it is very linear, and autonomous. Then I stop, and pivot to the next task. I try not to multi-thread my tasks. Single hyper-focus, then on to the next. I never focus on more than one thing at a time, but I do many things in a day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I draw them. I can draw any thought I have. Drawing helps me to see what I am cooking up, and helps others see the crazy that I am stewing in my head.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Artificial Intelligence. There is not enough real intelligence in the world. There is such a deficit of real intelligence, I will settle for a little bit of the artificial type if we can make it. I’m intrigued by the confluence and convergence of AI, robotics, and 3D printing, to print my own friends. I could not be more serious.

I want to print the parts, assemble them using robotic innovations, and have them come to life using artificial intelligence; then go out for dinner with them.

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

To be a productive and successful entrepreneur you have to know products, design, and in many cases business management/leadership. All of these skills are “seller centric.” To differentiate, you have to resist your nature to be seller centric, and lean into “customer orientation” or what I call buyer centric behavior.

I deliberately force myself to be “buyer centric.” Let me say that differently, I am biased to my buyers/customers – and this forces my “products, design, and in many cases business management/leadership” seller centric skills to take the back seat to customer orientation. To me, it is that simple.

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

I worked in the deli of a Keyfood super market in Valley Stream, NY for a year. My job was to slice cold cuts and cheese, weigh the slices, put the slices into a plastic bag, drop on a scale, adhere the sticker with the price to the plastic bag, and smile at customers.

I learned one very important lesson from this job while I was 19 years old. Stay in college.

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

I would read more. I did not start reading until I was about 28, and the first book I really read was “How to Become CEO”. Since then, I read every chance I get, recently I read “The Last Lecture” for the fourth time. You will find that most keen readers will read a single piece multiple times.

I find reading to be like the human version of a copy-paste of a file on a computer. In many ways, you can copy from the author’s head, and paste onto yours. It really is an “awesome hack” – yeah, I am sticking with that.

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

I like to be the patron saint of the word “why.” It stems from my study of epistemology. I believe, and I practice vehemently, that all knowledge is in a temporary state, all truths exist because we collectively agree as a civilization that they are truths, and any reality can be changed or challenged.

For example, the sum of two and two is four is seen as a revered truth. It is difficult to debate against, but this is a truth that we agree on. With seven billion humans on the planet, if I can convince four billion humans that the sum of two and two results in five, it can become a truth.

This is dense, and difficult to swallow, but I accept nothing as true forever, and everything as debatable, negotiable and/or changeable. At the core, I ask why. Why do we believe this, why does it exist, and why do we think it cannot happen. It nauseates many, but self selects the great in everyone.

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

I think about pilots quite a bit. As an entrepreneur the thing that I have learned is that we have two blind spots. The first is we don’t know what we don’t know, and many human kinds suffer from this disease. The second is that we have no idea how huge the blind spot is of what we don’t know that we don’t know. We don’t know, that we don’t know a heck of a lot of stuff.

And so winning, is about ontological humility. There is always more to learn about your product, your competitor, and your customers. I’ve learned to pilot everything.

I piloted chapters of Corporate Awesome Sauce on blogs on Huffington Post, Forbes and LinkedIn. Yes, you can pilot a chapter!

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

The biggest barrier I had was at License Monitor, Inc. – essentially what I failed to do was to select the right partners to start a business with. Most entrepreneurs will tell you that your idea, your funding and your execution is as important as the partners you selected to build a business with. In the end I learned that it was more important for me to pilot small things with my potential partners to make sure that we were aligned both in integrity and intelligence, before we started to execute on company creation and product innovation. I have since learned that people are more important than products, processed and profits.

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

We should stop making smart watches. Start making 
“smart-backs” of existing watches, so that I can retrofit my watch collection outfitted with dumb watch backs, with smart-backs that have sensors and compute capacity.

I am NOT giving up the ability to wear my beloved watches, in exchange for a mini Apple iPhone on my hand.

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

There is a restaurant called Paradise Biryani in Somerville New Jersey, USA. They make an appetizer called a “Goat Pepper Fry,” get it extra spicy, and you will understand what I am saying.

I buy templates and stock media. PowerPoint templates, WordPress templates, and tons of stock media from iStockphoto. These purchases can really differentiate your work professionally, for limited investment.

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

One of my favorite software is SmartDraw. It allows you to draw anything easily, without being a Photoshop Ninja.

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

Let me be biased. Please. The book Corporate Awesome Sauce is an inventory of 12 things we can do to improve our careers. The type of stuff in this book has rarely been written about, and very different form the run of the mill self-improvement books. It is short to read, and somewhat entertaining as well. Anyone who reads this book, and does not find value, email me at [email protected] and I will PayPal you back the cost of the book (and shipping if your purchased the hard copy).

If you do not want to read Corporate Awesome Sauce, read The Last Lecture from Randy Pausch.

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

This is a very difficult question for me to answer. The truth is that there is no single person, or top three, I learn from everyone and everything. For example one of the things I learned in life is that wearing a hat in extreme cold weather helps keep the human body warmer than a glove and a scarf combined.

I learned this from a homeless man named “Low Down Larry,” on the corner of Sutphin Boulevard and South Road in South Jamaica Queens, the ghetto at the time, and where I spent some of my teenage years.


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