Thomas Hazel is an avid inventor and serial entrepreneur. Over the last 20 years, he has been at the forefront of communication, virtualization, and database science and technology. Prior to founding Deep Information Sciences, he was Chief Architect at startups Akiban and Virtual Iron. Thomas is also the author of several popular open source projects, one of which is a database he sold to Oracle. Thomas has patented many inventions in the areas of distributed processes, virtualization and database science. He holds a degree in Computer Science from the School of Engineering at the University of New Hampshire, and founded the UNH and Deep chapters of the Association for Computing Machinery.
Brain cycles are the most critical asset we possess. Even the best parallel thinkers end up on mental bandwidth overload if they continue to noodle on too many things. You need to create space in order to innovate.
Where did the idea for Deep Information Sciences come from?About six years ago, I was working on a highly data-intensive project, but database issues were holding us back. The database couldn’t perform anywhere near the speed and scale we needed. I was pulling my hair out and needed a break from thinking, so my wife and I went to get a beer in Boston. I remember drinking an amazing Guinness when I had an epiphany for a whole new way of approaching databases. I sketched some math on a few napkins and felt a bit like Doc Brown in Back to the Future, when he hit his head on the sink when hanging a clock then awoke to invent the base for the flux capacitor. Although my wife gave me grief for my new version of “not thinking,” I was consumed by the idea. That was when I began to completely reimagine, and then ultimately reinvent, the science underlying databases.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?I look at every challenge as a possible opportunity to solve something in a unique way. During the work day when I’m running engineering, I focus on communicating my thinking to the team and rallying them to execute according to our vision. Every day is about selling my ideas to Deep’s engineers, management team and investors. On nights and weekends, I’m constantly researching what the market needs and prototyping different ways to meet those needs.
How do you bring ideas to life?When I see a problem, I research it intensely to see if anyone else is trying to solve it. If not, and if I believe there’s value in addressing it, I test my idea with industry thought leaders to get their input. If it has legs, I start to prototype. Now at Deep, we have a great team so I spin it by them for different perspectives. It’s amazing how you can get great twists to different ideas if you include a diverse set of viewpoints to augment and validate or even challenge the core of the idea. Only through the trials of fire is a hardened idea forged.
What’s one trend that really excites you?Deriving meaning and value out of the exponentially increasing data is incredibly exciting. Add in the Internet of Things trend that is giving a data “voice” to physical objects and you get amazing possibilities. The correlations derived from non-intuitive datasets done at scale, from historical, predictive and event-processing standpoints, will lead to unreal discoveries and change how we live. I’m really excited to be part of shaping that future.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?I focus when I need to focus, but let my mind play when I need it to do so. However, the one thing that really brings it together is the ability to shut off my mind. The most interesting insights come to me when I’m not looking for or expecting them.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?I can’t say that I’ve ever had a bad job. Because of my entrepreneur mindset, I don’t see any job as horrible. I rethink the scenario and try to make it into the best possible job. There’s always an opportunity to make a job better and turn it into a valuable experience.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?I would begin thinking in an entrepreneurial mindset way earlier in my life. Understanding the business mechanics behind starting-up and funding companies, finding the right people, and realizing that I can’t and shouldn’t do all of it are key. I also would start honing my creativity and my ability to persuade people far earlier, like back in junior high school. I also would pay greater attention to my younger self. I look at my son and listen to him all the time. Yes, most things are typical kids’ stuff, but every now and again out of the mouths of babes comes something inspirational to me. I think that paying more attention to earlier ideas through my teens and college years could have led to all sorts of new ideas and directions. We should not be so quick to write off the young.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?Brain cycles are the most critical asset we possess. Even the best parallel thinkers end up on mental bandwidth overload if they continue to noodle on too many things. You need to create space in order to innovate. If an idea is end-of-life, I let it go. I find something new. I tell colleagues, if you have been involved with a venture for years and it is played out, let it go. You need the capacity to be inspired around new things that you can be passionate about in order to drive innovation. Of course, it is far easier said than done in many cases.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.A classic problem with entrepreneurs is they want to control everything. That doesn’t work if you want to really grow a business. You can’t do the big ideas alone anymore. You need help from the best talent you can find. They may not always come from “match-made-in-heaven” places, but hiring A+ people is the best strategy to grow intelligently. Taking a chance on someone with a fire in the belly, but maybe not the full resume can ignite a passion for the project that makes them believers. Believers will move heaven and Earth to make something work. I bring in superstars and allow them to be superstars. You need to give people ownership and believe in their ability to be masters of their job.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?This is a tough question because I don’t see failures as failures. Every day there are ‘micro-failures’ where things don’t go the way you expect. Each one is a data point, a way to learn not to do what was done, and an opportunity to create a new way. That being said, earlier in my career I had founded a company that was doing well, when I had a promising idea for a new venture. Instead of leaving the startup so that I could pursue that idea and allow the other leadership team members to take over the original company, I stayed and saw it through to completion. I didn’t listen to my own advice about letting go when the time is right.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?Think-as-a-Service. It uses machine learning to learn about you so it can begin thinking like you. For instance, a self-learning solution could take information from my Facebook and LinkedIn to begin creating associations for me. It could uncover new resources and information that I truly value and that—if I had done the research myself—I may have discovered.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?I spent it going out to dinner out with my family to give back some of the time that my entrepreneurial ventures take away from them.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?Atlassian is a great online software development and project management tool for entrepreneurs in the tech space. You can do a whole development project through this web service without having to hire dozens of people and spend millions of dollars.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. It tells you what it takes to be a superstar. In essence, if you don’t put in the time, you can’t create unique associations and insights. Associations are the key to invention.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and Nikola Tesla are my three big influencers. They each had to think differently and, when they did, they changed the world. Their inventions started not through experimentation, but through logic. They solved things through thought and then applied their learnings to the physical world. In terms of go-to-sources, Wikipedia is my bible. It gives me the ability to walk knowledge. I can learn what other people have identified as relationships and associations very quickly.
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