[quote style=”boxed”]I’d start much, much earlier. I didn’t join my first startup until I was 34, looking back I would have done it the day I graduated from college.[/quote]
Rob Irizarry spent three decades working with hardware and software technology in the finance, garment and automotive industries, with twelve of those years engaged in pioneering multi-tenant Software as a Service for the Customer Experience market. He has been involved in multiple startups in a variety of roles and now spends his time split between investing in and coaching startups and working to improve education at all levels to help prepare America’s youth for the technology that will shape their (and our country’s) future.
Rob has worked in and with public and private sector organizations from 10 people to the Fortune 10 building systems, processes and teams in the United States, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South Africa and spent a decade living in Asia.
What are you working on right now?
My newest startup, Kudoso, helps parents and children cooperatively manage technology in their homes.
Where did the idea for Kudoso come from?
The idea came to me last summer on a beautiful Montana summer day. I looked out the back window of our house, fully expecting to see our three kids playing there. No one was out there so I went down into the basement and found the oldest watching Youtube, the middle one playing the Wii and the youngest playing a game on the iPad. This was not why we had moved to Montana nor how we wanted our kids spending time. I spent some time thinking about it and realized that, not only was I likely not alone in experiencing this problem, but there could be a business in solving it so we built a system that lets parent motivate and educate their children and provides internet access as the reward for their efforts.
How do you make money?
Parents subscribe to the service, which provides a hardware and software solution to cooperatively manage internet usage by their children.
What does your typical day look like?
After dropping the kids off to school in the morning, I divide my time between Kudoso, StartupBozeman (a non-profit organization I founded to help other entrepreneurs) and CodeMontana a new initiative I am working on to teach 1,000 middle and high school students software development in Montana during this school year.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I spend a lot of time reading books, perusing blogs on the Internet and networking to meet a wide variety of people. Based on what I learn from these efforts, I spend time brainstorming at the whiteboard and using 3×5 cards and a sharpie to reduce the ideas down to things I can execute on.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m spending a lot of time with students these days and despite the worldwide geopolitical turmoil and macroeconomic issues it is encouraging to see them engaged and particularly heartening to see them concerned about social causes in a way that our generation wasn’t. The widespread flow of information and the power of social networks enables and empowers their voice in a way that didn’t exist before.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I worked at a startup earlier in my career (before I moved to Montana) that had a dysfunctional leader. Observing the effects of his toxic behavior and seeing how it minimized the potential of the company taught me a lot.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I’d start much, much earlier. I didn’t join my first startup until I was 34, looking back I would have done it the day I graduated from college.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be a lifelong learner. Spend a good portion of your time reading, studying success and failure and working to understand the outcome in each case.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I tend to procrastinate, still working on that, but all too often find that if I had done something when I first thought if it there would have been a much greater outcome than doing it later produced…
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Parkeze – I spend a lot of time on the campus at Montana State University. Like most colleges, parking is in short supply. If I’m making a brief visit, I can use the pay by the hour lot and it is not too bad. For longer visits, I have to go to the campus police station and buy a “hang tag”. That process is slow & inconvenient, it would be great if I could go online, buy the tag, print it and put it on my dashboard. The tag could have a barcode on it so the campus police could check if it was valid. Revenue model would be a service charge on top of the parking fee, I’d gladly pay for the convenience.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
For all the benefits it has brought to society, our public education system has not kept pace with the rapid changes in the world of work and the economy over the last few decades. If we are to continue to grow as a country, the system needs to be reformed. While we still need to teach the basic, foundational elements of education, we also need to treat each student as an individual, identify the intersection of their aptitude and passion then create a path for them to succeed.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I spent ten years living and working in Asia. The first five years I was based in Hong Kong, traveling an average of 350 days a year in Asia and the middle East. In the second half of the decade I was based in Tokyo, where I met my wife.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Twitter – the world’s greatest information curating system – if you follow the “right” (for you and your interests) set of people and organizations, they’ll filter the barrage of information available today into a set of interesting stuff that you can actually consume.
Buffer – One of my core goals is to help the Montana startup ecosystem grow to its’ full potential, to that end I spend a lot of time reading about technology trends, startup communities around the world, and new business models. Buffer is a great tool for easily disseminating this information throughout the community.
Evernote – One of the most incredible productivity tools ever invented!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’d recommend Sal Khan’s book One World Schoolhouse. What he has done with the Khan academy is a model for educating our future generations & the book does a phenomenal job of discussing the issues with our current systems & what could be done to fix them.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
Brad Feld- I’m a huge fan of building Startup Communities, Brad is one of, if not the, leading thinkers in this field (besides being an amazing author, a savvy investor and an awesome human being).
Fred Wilson – I think of Fred as the East Coast counterpart to Brad, since I’m originally from that area, following him keeps me in touch with both leading edge thinking in the VC community and in touch with the pulse on that coast.
TechCrunch – Latest news on tech trends around the globe.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Daily. Listening to the stuff that comes out of my kids’ mouths. They have incredible perspective on the world, unfiltered and with the optimism and “anything is possible” attitude that we should all embrace. You just have to take time to listen to them…
Who is your hero, and why?
My wife. She puts up with all my crazy ideas, the multitude of stuff I get involved in, yet still manages to keep our world running.
Rob Irizarry on LinkedIn:
Rob Irizarry on Twitter: @robzarry
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.