After several of our companies were acquired, we wanted to give back to humanity by helping everyone lead happier, healthier and more productive lives.
Victor Chapela is the Founder of Suggestic, a digital health company helping type 2 diabetics through precision lifestyle and nutrition interventions that leverage genetic data, mobile sensors, crowd sourcing, and A.I.
Victor is a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience. During this time, he has founded and sold three technology companies. His main expertise lies within the areas of artificial intelligence, machine learning, risk modeling, and information security.
Where did the idea for Suggestic come from?
Suggestic is the natural next step to our life stories. We are serial entrepreneurs, we have worked with deep Artificial Intelligence and we have implemented complex solutions in highly regulated industries. After several of our companies were acquired, we wanted to give back to humanity by helping everyone lead happier, healthier and more productive lives.
We believe that by creating a symbiosis between collective human intelligence and machine intelligence we can discover new complex causal relations between the food you eat, your activities, your genome, your microbiome and your health. These new findings cannot be achieved with our limited brains; there are too many variables and non-linear relations. That is where machine learning can augment humanity. As individuals, we state our goals and preferences, wear sensors and give feedback to the system. In exchange, our platform learns from each of us and from the similarities and differences with everyone else. This enables it to find the best paths to healthier, happier and more productive lifestyles.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
For me, a typical day is full of emails, video conferencing, phone calls and browser research. Occasionally we get together for face-to-face meetings but that is becoming less common. I make it as productive as possible by defining lists of tasks that I want to accomplish during the day or week. They are separated by topics and I try to go through those with the top priorities first. Nevertheless, I never get in the way of a genuine interest or question. Researching allows me to increase my understanding and sometimes gives birth to some very interesting ideas.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Bringing ideas to life is an iterative process. There are many aspects to any given idea. In other words, there are many small ideas that are part of a bigger idea. My main task as a CEO is to prioritize which parts of this puzzle seem to be the most important for the short or long-term goals. You can normally only build one part at a time. This synthesis and selection process is perhaps the most difficult and most important part of creating a new product and company.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
There is nothing more exciting to me than the advancement of artificial intelligence. It will change humanity and the world forever. We will be able to see the greatest change in the world since the advent of civilization. Everything will shift for the better or the worse. I am an optimist and believe in the natural resilience, order, and symbiosis of a collection of chaotic systems. Therefore, I am excited about the possibilities that AI will bring to the world.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
My ability to focus obsessively on that which interests me.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
After the merger of one of my first companies, I was asked to stay as COO for a short period of time to stabilize the integration and lead a couple of large projects that we had. The next six months were living hell for me. I learned many things after the fact. The main ones being: 1) most mergers fail because even though they may sum up strengths, they multiply weaknesses, 2) never merge your company as a way out, you will be better off selling it, and 3) never try to have a long-term focused visionary reporting to a short-term focused bureaucrat.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would have learned to say no sooner in life. Too many bad things happen if you are trying to evade confrontation. On the other hand, because of that trait and many others, I came to be who I am. It is through mistakes and overcoming your personal challenges that you become stronger for the next time around.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Prioritize. The one thing you will find yourself doing repeatedly is prioritizing everything. You prioritize every decision, every feature, every conversation and every task. It is the only way to make any progress. By prioritizing you are not only defining what is important, but you are also defining, at the same time, what is not. Moreover, it is what you decide NOT to do that sets apart the mediocre entrepreneurs from the great ones.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
There are many that have proven useful throughout the years, but one particularly counter-intuitive strategy I have used has been to say no to potential investors, no to potential customers and no to potential suppliers, providers or employees that you do not like or feel comfortable working with. I would normally think that business is business and a good sale or a good price are as good as it gets. However, in service oriented companies, and I would argue every other kind of company as well, if you cannot get along with other people you interact with, you will eventually end up losing a lot of money or countless nights of sleep. It is hard enough to manage all the relationships and stress you accumulate as a CEO. Whenever you have a problem, and you will certainly have many, believe me, you will always be better off trying to fix it with reasonable and friendly board members, customers, employees and suppliers. It is hard enough to be an entrepreneur, to bring potential enemies into your own home.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Hard to say because every failure is really an opportunity in disguise. At the very least, you learn from it. In my case, the lower I have fallen, the more I have learned from it.
Having said that, failing is an enormous emotional burden, it does not feel like a learning opportunity. You lose faith in yourself, you become depressed. When I had to start all over again after closing one of my companies (and after having thought I was set for life), the one thing that helped me most, paradoxically, was having no other option than to overcome it.
I was deep in debt (I had been taking equity instead of salary for a couple of years and had reinvested into other businesses that were also failing) and my second child had just been born. I was depressed and had no idea how to get out of it all. A good friend of mine and former partner offered me work. Then another one asked me to help him. It is interesting because they both paid me less than what I expected or needed. That is the best help they could have given me. I could not stay with them for long because it was not enough, but on the other hand, during that next year, hard work slowly rebuilt my self-esteem. One day you wake up and you have the courage again to start all over with a new venture. There is probably more to it, like discovering your own mortality, searching for purpose in life and learning to value your own achievements. That is a long story. In short, having a job that kept me busy and helped me feel useful helped me in many ways that were only apparent many years later.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Artificial Intelligence and machine learning will increasingly allow for massive personalization. Many consumer-oriented industries will be completely transformed. I believe this can be applied to food services. Either for food delivery (à la Grub Hub), food preparation (à la Blue Apron) or a new type of personalized restaurant that prepares food for you before you even arrive.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I went out for dinner with my wife and kids. We laughed, talked a lot and had a great time. We regularly go out. My family has always been my safe harbor. If they are well and happy, I feel I can take on the world.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
It has become very popular now, but I personally love Slack. It has given an order to all the corporate data flow without clogging our email. It is much better than any other type of corporate communication.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. As a serial entrepreneur, I was awed by Ben’s story and the decisions he took to make his venture successful. He went way beyond what most other entrepreneurs have ever done. It is full of useful advice and one of the few books you should read more than once in your life if you are an entrepreneur.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Peter Thiel – @peterthiel
Elon Musk – @elonmusk
Victor Chapela on Twitter: @vchapela