Ep. 56 - Satisfi Labs President & COO, Dr. Rungson Samroengraja

Ep. 56 - Satisfi Labs President & COO, Dr. Rungson Samroengraja

As the adage goes, you are successful until tomorrow. This philosophy has shaped Satisfi Labs President & COO Dr. Rungson Samroengraja’s career for years, and he continues to better himself through honest self-evaluation. Rungson is a technology and analytics leader with more than fifteen years of experience in product development, design, and optimization. He has held senior level positions at Pitney-Bowes, Citi and Bridgewater Associates and launched hardware and software systems generating nearly $1 Billion in gross profits. He is a dynamic leader with extensive business knowledge and the ability to maximize the effectiveness of his team. A Six Sigma Blackbelt, Rungson is PMP certified and holds a Ph.D. in Operations Research. As COO for Satisfi Labs, he manages the human teams behind the Satisfi A.I. platform.

Dr. Rungson Samroengraja is a technology and analytics leader with more than fifteen years’ experience in product development, design and optimization. He’s held senior level positions at Pitney-Bowes, Citi and Bridgewater Associates, and also launched a hardware and software systems generating nearly $1 billion in gross profits. He is a dynamic leader with extensive business knowledge and the ability to maximize the effectiveness of his team. A Six Sigma Blackbelt, Rungson is a PMP certified and holds a PhD in Operations Research. As COO for Satisfi Labs, Rungson manages the human teams behind the Satisfi AI platform. I am especially excited to learn from you. I came back from an event called Abundance 360 where AI was on the forefront of everybody. Rungson, thanks for being on the show.

Cameron, I’m honored to be here. Thank you for having me on the show.

Tell us a bit about what Satisfi does so we understand and also even maybe give our readers a real preview as to what AI is because I think we’re all getting introduced to these terms around robotics, AI, augmented reality and virtual reality. Give us your niche on what that is.

Satisfi Labs is an answer engine that powers chat box, voice experiences, messaging apps, robotics and website forms to provide an answer to all customer questions in real time. Imagine all the best qualities and knowledge across your organization wrapped up in one digital presence that can immediately learn new things. It always provides back the perfect answer to any question. For our clients, the results are increased online and in-store sales, better customer experience, deeper personalization and higher MPS scores. One of our most common clients is in sports. We started there. Imagine you’re at the stadium and you’re walking around and you have questions about, “What can I do with my ticket? Where can I eat? What kind of things can I bring in the stadium?” That’s the sort of thing that you can ask our AI that lives on your phones so it’s like having the perfect employee available at the touch of a button.

This is where the computer is answering all of our questions and not just saying, “Siri, what’s the temperature in Florida?” It can start having a discussion with this, correct?

Yes, it can. The way that we differentiate from services like Siri or Google or Amazon is that the content that we’re providing is hidden most of the time from these types of platforms. The thing about asking when you’re inside a store, when you’re in a stadium, that’s the information that those services like Alexa and Siri can’t answer. The other important thing is that these are the answers that the business wants the customer to get back as opposed to generic search results. This is the official proved answer and also the answers are geared to who you are. Over time, your interactions with a particular client are known and so they can know your preferences or they can have special information about you, and so you’ll get back an answer that’s more relevant to who you are and you’re experience.

This is not the computer figuring it out, is it? This is more the company is putting all the answers in and then learning from the customers and embedding more questions and answers later. Is that going to have this as it gets built out over time?

That’s a way to look at it. There’s definitely a beginning point where there’s what we call a corpus of information and that body of information evolves over time with our clients’ help or just organically depending on the type of questions that get asked.

I first heard about something like this, I’m going to call it AI, I heard that Ray Kroc who grew McDonald’s, he wasn’t the founder but he took it from few locations into what we know of McDonald’s today. He wanted to have all of his thoughts and all of his answers recorded so that when he died, his franchisees could still ask him a question. He recorded that. Will that be the initial genesis of what AI might be today?

Yes, we’ve had certain clients come to us with very similar phrasing. It’s like having some experts’ brain available anywhere so that your employees could ask and get the right answer.

Does this tool obliterate coaching as we know it today? If we rolled the camera head, do you think that we can get to this stage that a business coach can be replaced by a computer because the computer can understand our ideas?

I don’t think that will happen anytime soon and if anything, this is the type of technology that helps coaches. When we talk about your businesses and the challenge is always scaling, that’s what this does. This is the ability for one coach to be able to reach 100 times larger an audience than on their own.

Give us an example how that would work in coaching. I’ve been thinking a lot about it, I’m glad I’m 53 and not 35 in the coaching space because by the time I want to get out of coaching, this will be replacing me. How do you see it as being able to leverage one-to-many versus the one-to-one coaching? How will the coach use this technology?

One example I’ll use is one of our clients that runs a large tournament. This is how the service evolved. Originally it was meant just for guest phasing for the people coming on to the tournament, to be able to get their questions answered. What they found is that their employees were using the service just as much as the guests were. There was no one repository where they could go for answers so they ended up using the service themselves. Management deployed the service on iPad to their employees across the grounds and it’s something that they’re continuing to expand. When we talk about leverage, that’s the most obvious kind, being able to access your coach or your boss at the touch of a button and to be able to say, “I’ve got this question,” it could be something arcane that maybe comes up once every week but the thing is when you’re talking about a large organization, that type of question comes up frequently. It’s just the same question answered over and over without taking human time.

SIC 56 | Self-Evaluation
Self-Evaluation: When you put good ideas into practice, that’s when you see the flaws.

 

This is the autonomous vehicles. It’s going to put drivers out of business. AI is going to put call centers out of business or it’ll replace the human component.

It will lessen the reliance on that. It’s one of those things. We always have this conversation with clients and with AI. It’s a touchy subject in terms of, are the machines coming to take our jobs? You can’t ignore the fact that AI will do a lot to automate repetitive tasks that we won’t need humans for. At the same time, I think the general positioning that businesses want to use is that AI is coming in to lessen the burden, to let people do more valuable things and focus less on the weed type work.

I can imagine a male or female sitting at a desk and their computer with a headset on and having to answer the same questions 70 times, I think I would want to kill myself. I feel bad when I’m in a big building saying, “Excuse me, where are the elevators?” The guy will say “They’re over there.” It’s the same question, I’m not worried about AI coming in. I’m excited about where it takes us. I think it was Google’s AI because there are different companies building these backbones to satisfy us, correct?

That’s right.

Was is Google’s AI that did the haircutting appointment?

Yes.

I was excited about that. I saw it at the TED conference. I said, “This is awesome.” What a cool opportunity to leverage this stuff. How did you get involved in AI in the first place or how did you get into this space?

My partners, my co-founders and I started this company about mid-2016 because we saw this opportunity. We had worked for a previous startup that was in the customer service space. The focus was on creating. The whole idea was that you could complain but complain to someone in a position of authority that could get your problem solved. That way you’d leave a happy customer and not put your complaint out on public channels. It sounded like a good idea, but like all good ideas, once you put them into practice, you see where the flaws are. What we did was we pivoted. We saw this opening for automating customer service. At the time, there was hype but not a lot of product and so we were quick to market and putting out a product focused on sports. That was the beginning of an idea that we refined. We followed the startup playbook in terms of, “Get your idea, your proof of concept out. Put a product out there. Find some passionate believers and then grow your business.” Starting with one sports team back in mid-2016, we now have over 50 teams across the five professional sports teams in the US as well as a deal with Minor League Baseball. That will be another 160 teams and then host of other types of businesses that we’ve grown into.

Did you raise money? Are you doing this all internally?

Nope, we’ve raised money. We’ve raised close to $7 million and we’re still small. We’re still scrappy. We think we punch above our weight. It’s like many entrepreneurs that go through this. You’re successful until tomorrow and then the whole business could blow up.

Walk us through your view of building companies as second in command, especially in the technology space when you’re so deep with technology expertise. How do you struggle on the people side of the business? Where do you wake up and say, “We’ve got the technology part figured out but this whole people thing is bewildering?” Where do you get bewildered, stomped, overwhelmed on the people side?

Right at that whole phase, “Why is an AI farther along because these of people?” It’s too hard. To go back to the first part of your question, I have two co-founders. Donnie White’s our CEO and then Randy Newman’s our CTO. The way those roles came about, there’s always this interesting dynamic among co-founders and it’s like, “Who gets to wear what hat?” Amongst us, part of it is humility, part of it is looking at what the company needs and being honest about what your capabilities are. That’s the theme that runs through a lot of what your former COOs have come on and talked about. Donnie, he is a force of nature when it comes to sales. He’s the great face of the company. Nobody’s better than he is. Randy, our CTO has had so much experience building large-scale expert systems in trading. For me, I’m the guy that can be the jack of all trades and fill-in the gaps, it’s understanding what is needed on the leadership and can I fill that role. We’ve evolved our roles but it’s still the same thing. It’s how we identify what needs to be done and who has to do it, who’s best suited to do it. That’s always something that evolves.

In every business, people have got ideas and we’ve got to decide which ideas to go with. How do you make decisions as three co-founders, three senior leadership team roles? How do you engage in good, healthy conflict as well, which I believe in?

We’ve always talked about this. A strong belief I have in terms of natural tension, I think that when you look at and amongst us, we have Donnie leading the company overall but having his focus on sales and marketing, myself on the operations and documentation side and also just the general numbers, the financial state and then Randy is the technology guy. In any company, and even well-performing companies, there has to be that tension. You have to have that conflict. Otherwise, you’re not doing it right. If you’re all in agreement, that’s just a huge blind spot. For us, this natural back and forth of, “We need to sell this at this price with this feature set,” and the technology side pushing back saying, “It’s going to take three times longer. It’ll cost four times more.”

SIC 56 | Self-Evaluation
Self-Evaluation: The idea of employment where people would join a large company, start from the ground up, work there for 20 years, and then retire will soon be a thing of the past.

 

How do you manage that interaction? The three of us have had long careers prior to startups. We’re all at least fifteen years of industry experience prior to this in generally large companies. We understand that there’s a need for healthy debate. At every point, you’re always trying to narrow and close on a decision and we empower each of us in certain areas to make that final call. Donnie’s the CEO, he gets the last call in almost every circumstance but he’s also the kind of leader that understands you have to know what you don’t know and you surround yourself with people that are experts in other areas to compliment you. When it’s a technology question, we’ll defer to Randy. If it’s something on the finance or operations side, they’ll give more deference to me.

You’re not going to abuse that power but you’re going to make the decision when it’s yours. They’re also going to incorporate the ideas and opinions of others as well. Walk us through how the three of you make decisions on strategy and how you then go off and divide and conquer. What kind of meeting rhythms do you use to facilitate that? What kind of thinking process do you use to facilitate that? My guess is that it’s easier on the technology development side where you have a plan, you decide on a plan and you execute, but it’s a lot more fluid on the operational side or is it?

The way I would describe it, first of all, as a small company and as three founders who have been through a lot together, we talk all the time. We certainly make time for each other at least once a week and our best planning times are on the weekends. When we’re away from the office and away from the day-to-day is when we do our best work collaboratively as a team. The general flow is Donnie has position of what we’re trying to accomplish. We then look at how do we sanity test that in terms of does that meet the overall goal for the company, in terms of the revenue numbers or the other team metrics that we want to hit. As a SaaS company, there are certain metrics that we’re always tracking in terms of our growth rate, in terms of certain costs that we’re incurring to serve our clients. We look at how we’re managing the overall trajectory of the company. That’s where I come in, that sanity check in terms of, “This has got us where we’re going, where we need to go.” Randy weighing in on, “What are the technological hurdles that we need to make that vision come true?” My mentor, Pitney Bowes, who is in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, his best piece of advice or one of the things he always told is, “My job is to tell fairy tales. Your job is to make them come true.” That’s how our interactions go. Donnie is the visionary and then he looks to Randy and myself to make that happen.

How big is your team currently?

We have just under twenty people in the US and about a dozen people overseas.

The dozen overseas, are they all in one country? Are they in one state? Are they remote?

They’re split between India and the Philippines.

Do you have any preference on hiring people that are in an office? Are you looking to have remote teams? Are you looking to have people that are fragments living home offices or do you try to get everyone into one office base still?

When you ask technology companies who should be at the forefront of processes to automate and innovate the typical workspace, we still prefer people to be in one location. We haven’t yet cracked the code on how do you make collaboration seamless when you’re in remote locations. We do have people that are remote, but it seems to be less overhead in terms of getting everybody in one spot.

We’re going to see it happen with Gen Z, the group of kids that are on the 4 to 22-year-old age group. They’re the ones who are constantly collaborating over video and over IP. They are playing games together. They’re doing Minecraft. They’ve learned how to run projects, communicate and collaborate and be remote and have healthy relationships with each other remotely. With adults, we’re sitting and saying, “I wish we could do that at work,” but we haven’t realized we could. We just haven’t tapped it in.

I have two boys, fifteen and seventeen. When I compare how they’ve grown up versus I did, the face-to-face is much less. I was out playing with kids around the neighborhood all day when I was growing up. In high school, just going out, getting a car and driving out. They’re much less inclined to do that. They’re on Discord, on various chat apps, video. They’re ready for the virtual workspace.

They know what’s going on with all their friends. They say, “What do you mean you’re going out for dinner?” We’re still talking downstairs saying, “You’re all on some game,” you realize you’re all going to go for dinner and you all just picked a location and did it. They’re all just, “This is the way we normally work together.”

Is their experience just as rich as ours? Is it possibly richer because they do different things? They have different tools at their disposal like sharing videos and pictures that we never did. Does that create a different type of life?

SIC 56 | Self-Evaluation
Self-Evaluation: Self-evaluation is a necessary pain to figure out where you are not good at and to choose to find and hire somebody to work with.

 

It was Elon Musk saying that kids today are more like cyborgs than we ever will be. They already are harshly like that. The phone is an appendage. Whereas I pick up a phone, they are one already. My fifteen-year-old doesn’t know life without the phone. I use it as a device. For him, it’s part of his world.

Anyone who works in the AI space is both. There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of trepidation in terms of how the world is going to change. We don’t know how soon it will be but for those of us that work here, we’re certain it’s going to be a drastic change in terms of the type of jobs that will be available, the type of skills that are needed. I tell my kids all the time, “You have to be ready for what this world could look like.” The type of entry-level jobs that we have, those are going away. The whole idea of a cradle to grave employment where people would join a large company, start from the ground up, work there twenty years and then retire, that’s already gone. With self-driving cars, people could potentially hop in their car at 6:00 in the morning, go back to sleep and let the car take them to work two hours away. What does that mean about current arrangement of where people live? As we said, it’s just all virtual workspaces anyway. These changes that will be happening, will radically transform various aspects of our lives in ways a few very smart people are figuring out. It just means there is a lot of opportunity for people who can get ahead of it. They’ll be new types of businesses that will be needed based on these changes.

The autonomous vehicles are going to be the start of the next Baby Boom. All the 22-year-olds that now deal with a one-hour commute are all going to be in the backseat having sex. You got all that extra time. There’s going to be a whole lot of people that are hopping in the backseat. It will be the next start of the next Baby Boom with all this free time that people got added or maybe they’ll be better at computer games. If you’re advising our kids, the 15 to 30-year-olds, since they’ve got a long career ahead of them work-wise, where should they be starting to think about? What should they be working on for their skills? How do they need to adapt? Any thoughts around that?

Look at your skills. Certainly for us as a technology company, what we value the most is our programming skills. AI engineering, those skills are in such high demand right now. For those that have the aptitude to do it, I think it’s certainly a very safe career choice. Those are the types of jobs that’ll be in demand for the next decade or two, even beyond that just philosophically. It also goes to a lot of the things that you’ve talked about, when COOs come on and talk about what makes them successful. Don’t be task focused. Change your mindset. It’s not about taking things off a checklist or just trying to get through your day. When we look at what companies will value, it’s going to be people who are goal focused, who understand what it’s going to take to be successful and then do those things. It may not be the exact thing you were told to do. Those that have that level of autonomy, that understand, it’s not necessarily freelancing and I don’t want to use something like thinking out of the box, but it’s not following a prescribed roadmap. When we talk about AI, when you talk about automation, those are the things that get automated, those simple mundane tasks. The things that will always be in demand are those higher level thinkers, problem solvers, things that we’re taking on non-standard day-to-day routines.

We’re all struggling with what it looks like because we all see it coming faster in so many different forms. I don’t think that anybody’s thought through it yet. I’m excited about it because I believe in humanity and I believe in our ability to adapt. It’s coming fast. It feels fast. Talk about your skills as a leader where we’ve had to adapt. We’re about the same age. We’ve got kids that are about the same age. I remember when I was in fourth year secondary university, I had a typewriter. I typed up my assignments. I didn’t have a personal computer. Until the year I graduated university is when I got my first AD86 in IBM. We didn’t have technology back then, so I had to adapt. I remember when I was printing out a spreadsheet one time and I had to export from Lotus 123, export into a software program called Sideways123, so I could print it out in landscape format on dot-matrix printer. That took half a day to learn how to print out a spreadsheet. How do you adapt in your career? Where are you most pleased that you learned how to adapt in your career?

Those early days where you felt there is a joy in solving these types of problems. There was no internet to go to or you no Reddit page. That’s served me well throughout my career, this idea of being able to take something, take a part of a solution, but then figure out the rest, not necessarily just using duck tape and bubble gum but that idea being able to do the small innovations, being able to not take what the established answer is and try to go outside of that. When I look at my earliest days as a consultant, I used to be a consultant for Bruce Allen, it was focused on operations and one of things that I keep working on and something that in my world today, I have to emphasize every day the ability to context switch. As you are responsible for more and more, you don’t have a luxury of setting aside a two or three-hour block to work on a problem and clear it off your plate. I find my days cut up into half hour, one-hour chunk where I’m rotating amongst the stack of eight or nine different either problems or issues or just administrivia. To be able to quickly shuffle that and be productive, that’s a challenge. Most people that are not able to focus on one particular thing for extended period of time make them inefficient. For any senior leader, especially with a wide portfolio, that’s absolutely critical.

I was talking to someone about efficiency and I said, “I learned a lot.” One of the only jobs I had was is a waiter. I remember I was eighteen years old working in this restaurant. The efficiency I had to learn from being a waiter to get my stuff done, serve all of the tables, keep people happy, stay calm, run and grab stuff from their cars so I could get an extra tip and make sure their drinks were perfect. There were so much to manage but I learned efficiency back then. I learned how to prioritize. Every time I walked into the kitchen, take something with me and when leaving the kitchen, I’d bring something out with me, I had to learn that efficiency. It’s always stood well with me. There’s so much going on in business. Is there are an area that you’re working on yourself or somewhere that you wish you were stronger in business?

For people like us, people who had significant careers and we’ve been around, I try to make sure every step of my career I found, there’s always been something that I take away, it was an incredible learning. The short time I was at Bridgewater Associates, the hedge fund run by Rey Dalio, and so many people talk about is principles. There are many things I learned about myself in terms of what I’m not good at but I think the focus on that intense evaluation, it’s painful but I think it’s necessary to be able to be honest with yourself and say, “I’m not good at this.” Successful leaders forget that and say, “I’m not good at this thing so I’m going to find somebody, I’m going to hire somebody. I’m going to work with someone who is.”

They don’t blame other people for it. They own it. They self-introspect.

That’s a hard thing for many people to do. When you ask a question, I’m proud of the fact that I’m able to juggle all these tasks but I say to myself, “I could still do better at that.” I still find that I’m forgetting details on certain areas. I wish I had post-it note that was continuously leaning on my palm or my hand.

How do you prioritize all this? How do you teach your team to prioritize all this stuff? If you know that efficiency and prioritization are key, do you take throughout the organization?

Yes, we have several mechanisms internally that we do that. We use a variation of agile so that on a weekly basis, we’re doing standups, prioritization planning meeting and trying to make sure that we’re keeping the most important projects at top of mind and always keeping an eye on what’s coming in the next week or month. My team will know. I always come in every Monday saying, “Is anything on fire?” If the answer is no, then I can say, “What’s on our list?” “We’ve committed to these set of projects.” Once we get through that, we’re also looking at what’s coming in the next two or three weeks after that. As you move up the leadership chain, your time that you spend focused on what’s important now versus what’s important a month, six months down the road, that shifts. For me personally, about 30% of my time is not focused on the now but what’s coming down the pipeline, either in terms of implementations but just as fund raising and our strategic plan.

My question was related to Ray Dalio. You got to work with Bridgewater. If you were to steal the book principles down to a core three that you most resemble those at Bridgewater, what would they be?

SIC 56 | Self-Evaluation
Self-Evaluation: Asking your people to learn and evolve in such a short amount of time but not providing sufficient coaching is a recipe for failure.

 

The part I mentioned about intense self-examination, it’s Darwinism in a corporate environment. The whole idea is that you need to understand what you’re weak at. You need to feel that pain to be honest with yourself and honest with others so that you can improve. If you don’t get that feedback, then you won’t improve and you’re of less value to the company. That would be the number one thing that I’ve taken away from it, which I would emphasize to others. Think of this in our daily interactions. You’re at a restaurant and you’re eating. How many times has it happen that you’re reading this menu, “Not that good.” 30 seconds later, the waitress comes by and says, “How was your meal?” What do you say? “It’s fine.” 99% of the time, that’s what you say. That restaurant never gets any better. I think the owner would want you to be brutally honest and say, “I’m probably not going to come back here again,” or “I didn’t like that dish.”

You touched on probably what is the key element for any true business success, the ability for the company as a whole and the people leading it or working in it to self-examine. If they do, they will grow. If they don’t, they won’t. I’ve always talked about introspection, the ability to blame oneself instead of an external factor. The strongest leaders are the ones that blame themselves for the problem instead of saying it’s somebody else’s fault or something happened or global financial crisis. Any thoughts around growing people, an area of obsession of mind? I always said, “The best leader grow people.” How do you focus on growing your team and growing your people?

There are two parts to that. There’s the first where you’re looking for the people to add to your team and we now spend a larger and larger amount of time doing that. It’s one of those things. It’s that painful tradeoff where you have to view it as a vital investment because you’re taking time out of your day. You have so many limited hours that you can spend doing something, but you absolutely can’t shortchange that. We’ve learned some painful lessons around that. We thought, “Let’s just rely on our recruiters to screen for us. We’ll interview these people.” We’ll do an hour interview and we’ll do a few sessions. Technically, we’ll hire them and so you would hire fast. That leads to the second part which is now that they’re inside your organization, what are you going to invest in them to make them better or understand how they fit.

You’re working around the need to even grow them and you’re just hiring the right ones in the first place.

As a startup in our phase, you have to hire people. We’re always fully utilized if not more than that. Every time we hire people, we’re saying, “We’re a startup environment. You have to be aware it’s not a 9 to 5, five-day-a-week job.” We’re customer focused so we always have to meet our customers and our clients are the type of people that work on the weekends. A lot of them are sports teams. A lot of them are retailers. There’s an expectation that is fair. If you’re going into a startup, you’re going to learn a ton and you’re going to grow a lot. That leads to the other part which is the opportunity for people who come into our company, “You’ll start out just out of college. Within two years, you’re managing people.” That’s something that if you went to a large company like IBM, that’s not happening for ten years. The ability to have all this concentrated learning, that’s the opportunity and that’s also the downfall. There are a lot that you ask of your people to learn and evolve in such a short amount of time and how you provide that coaching so that they can be successful. For many of them, for a good chunk of our folks, this is their first or second job. How do you make that time so that they understand that they’re either doing well or not and then to help them change path?

You’re in a fairly competitive city. You’re in New York. You’re competing against a lot of the other technology firms that are based in New York. You’re also competing against all of the investment banking world that is based in New York. A lot of the major head offices that have representation in New York, how do you compete for this war on talent especially in the engineering and IT space where everybody wants to pay more? At some point, you can’t just pay more. How do you get talent in New York?

I think like anything else, you find the right positioning for yourself and there’s always going to be someone out there whose circumstances fit what you’re looking for. We position ourselves saying, “We’re this AI startup. We’re on a hot space. We’re growing fast. You can see the list of our clients. You come in, meet with us, talk to the other folks around,” and they’ll tell you, “Our culture is open. We’re focused on continuously punching the lights out. If that’s the kind of journey you want, here is the opportunity for you.” We try to be as open as possible. We can’t compete with Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google. The other part too is I focus on who are early in their careers, who are coming out of college, either first or maybe second job and say, “I’m giving the opportunity to join. Work with me, I’ve done a lot of this stuff. I will tell you all the tricks that I’ve learned over my career and you have the opportunity to advance in a much more rapid pace than you would if you joined a larger company.”

You’re selling on the small rapid growth, the small company that as you said, punching the lights out. That’s a real culture of all A players. In the AI space, it’s got to be a key driver for you right?

Yes.

Every industry has to find those couple of things. When we were building 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, we couldn’t point to ourselves as a sexy business. We were in garbage. What we pointed to as a cult-like environment, that incredible culture. We were hiring non-technical people. You can go work for a tech company and have great company culture but all the people we were hiring weren’t tech people. We were hiring the jack of all trades, master of none, marketers, operations people, the normal day-to-day business arts grads. It gave them a chance to work in that amazing company culture. We had to find our thing. That’s what’s key. Leave us with one kind of parting note. If you were the 21-year-old starting off in your career, what word of advice would you want to have heard from yourself now? What would you be telling the younger ones?

When I look at the points of my career, I say to myself, “Those inflection points where one thing could’ve happened over another.” When I look at the places where I sailed, it was not paying enough attention to where I was weak. If I look back in my career, there are numerous places I can say, “I clearly failed.” With my experience with Bridgewater, I’ve gone back and looked at those places and be honest with myself in terms of what I did wrong. When I look at what I think the common theme was, it’s just being too overconfident, being blind in my own capabilities. As much as I think I understand what politics are and how to interact with other people, it’s something that I wasn’t that good at. I probably still am not. I would tell my younger self, “You were always great in math, you were always great in science,“ but that’s just half the story. The other half is how you interact with people and understand their motivations and why they may want to support you or, “I want to stop you.” That’s a tough thing.

I was telling one of my kids, this maybe me mirroring a little bit or taking some of my own biases and taking to pass these lessons to him but he’s worried about going off to university and where he’s going to go. I said, “I want you to know something. It doesn’t matter.” At the end of the day, he’s not going to go to Harvard or Stanford. He’s going to go to a normal college, normal university. He’s going to get a normal Bachelor’s degree and be a normal kid. I said, “By the way, so was I.” I got 62% at the only university that accepted, maybe 63%. Most of my classes I had to cheat at but I learned so much in university from being a part of a fraternity, joining the clubs, being on the ski team, socializing with other kids, living in residence and learning how to be on my own, solving problems, balancing a checkbook and playing in all these activities with these other kids. That’s where I learned. All that stuff is more important. I said, “No one’s ever going to look at your transcripts.” The reality is no one’s looked at yours since you graduated. The A’s or the A-minuses or the B’s or the B-pluses, a lot of these school system destroys the confidence in kids instead of helping us.

For the most part, 95% of the kids who go to school are not the A-plus kids. Every day, I would go and look at my grades and say, “Another 72. I studied all night and how come he got 96 and I got 72?” The reality was he probably studied all term and I studied a night before. This self-examination is hard. The other thing I think of is that we’re all just walking each other home. None of us are getting out of this alive. This is what we do to make money. It was interesting because you were struggling to come up with that answer and it was real for you. You were going introspective to see what that lesson would be and I could see the pain of you having to even articulate it more for yourself and for us. At the end of the day, every one of your employees is struggling with something now. Every one of my employees is struggling with something now. We’re struggling with our relationship, disease, child, our own insecurities and we have to remember just to hold hands as we’re going through this too. None of us are getting out of this alive and this is what we do to make money.

There’s more than just your career. There’s more than just your work. As human beings, what is it that we’re striving for? What gives us satisfaction? What gives us happiness? That’s a tough puzzle. Everyone’s journey is different for that.

I was listening to an interview, a podcast with Jim Collins and Tim Ferris. I’ve been friends with Tim for a long time and I heard Jim talk about something to the effect of, “Truly enjoying life is about spending time with people you like, doing the stuff that you enjoy. That’s what life is about.” He did say it in a much more articulate way, using words that were longer than the ones I use. Dr. Rungson Samroengraja, the COO from Satisfi, thanks for sharing with us. I am looking forward to seeing what you build with Satisfi in the AI platform. I appreciate it.

Thank you, it’s truly been a pleasure and an honor.

Thanks, Rungson.

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About Dr. Rungson Samroengraja

SIC 56 | Self-EvaluationDr. Rungson Samroengraja is a technology and analytics leader with more than 15 years of experience in product development, design, and optimization. He has held senior-level positions at Pitney-Bowes, Citi and Bridgewater Associates and launched hardware and software systems generating nearly $1 Billion in gross profits.

He is a dynamic leader with extensive business knowledge and the ability to maximize the effectiveness of his team. A Six Sigma Blackbelt, Rungson is PMP certified and holds a Ph.D. in Operations Research. As COO for Satisfi Labs, Rungson manages the human teams behind the Satisfi A.I. platform.

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