The Hero’s Journey Toward High-Level Hardware Execution


There’s a Maori proverb that goes like this:

What is the most important thing in the world?

It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

That certainly applies to high-level hardware execution. After all, there is no way it happens unless you have the right people around you.

Matt Barber, Chief Executive Officer at Vutility, joins the show to share his tips on how to get the right people into the right mindset for executing hardware well.

We discuss:

  • 3 tips for high-level execution
  • How one bad apple can ruin company culture
  • Finding operational excellence in a partnership model
  • Taking leadership inspiration from The Hero’s Journey
  • What the future holds for Vutility

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One of the things that we sayis we can be best in the world at gathering data at scale at acost and price point that no one else could hit. You're listening to overthe Air Iot connected devices and the journey, brought to you by vary. Ineach episode we have sharp, unfiltered conversations with executives about their IOT journeys, the mistakes they made, the lessons they learned and what they wish they'dknown when they started. Welcome back to over the air, IOT connected devicesand the journey. My name is Ryan Prosser, CEO vary, and todaywe're joined by my very good friend and fellow philosopher, CEO Matt Barber.Matt, thanks for being on the show. Hey, it's a pleasure to behere. I really appreciate the invite. So so, Matt, you're runningthings out. Utility, for those who don't know, give us alittle background. We're going to get into life and I talked about the philosopherpiece. We dive into that a second. For now, what are the folksat home needs to know about utility? Yeah, of utility, but wereally are as a data company. So we excel at getting really harddata that no one else in the world can get. Part of our missionis to change the world with data that matters, and so the way wedo that is we have a very unique solution that involves unique clouds set upand as well as a unique piece of harbor, and so we think wecan change the way that people consume and look at data based off of implementingour solution at scale. Matt, you know, one of the things thatI think is most impressive about futility is you and I. Well, Idon't want to say it's so impressive and then talk about how we share theviewpoint on this, but I think one of the things I discovered in thepre interview is you and I share a passion for execution. You know,we take it really seriously at very you know, we say execution is everything. We really take that seriously. Can you expand on that a little bit, like what are some of the the philosophies that you've brought to utility andhow you guys think about executing at a high level, particularly through the Lensof hardware? Yeah, well, so the first part of execution. You'renever going to get around people right, and so you know, I lovetalking about people and having the right people. There's a saying that I really lovefrom the Maori Culture. I can't say it in Malory, but it'sa question and answer statement and it says what is the most important thing,and the answer is the people, the people, the people. So ifyou want to execute, you got to have the right people, and theright people come with a mindset of execution and that come into the business.And part of that is the idea that we always say. We say twothings internally, API, which stands for assumed positive intent, which builds trustwithin a team, and then the second thing that we always look at ispeople that have the attitude of I'd rather get it right than be right.If you look at an organizations that don't execute and they don't execute quickly,I think people are too focused on being right and their ideas being right ratherthan having that humility to get to the right answer as a fast as possible. And then I say I think I would add a third thing that wetalked about internally and it's called its efficiency of communication. Right, when youhave trust, if you go back to like Patrick Lynci, only when youhave trust in a team you can you can get to the right answer fasterand execute faster if you can communicate directly. And so those are some like themore philosophical, less technical things that I think drive and an attitude ofexecution across the whole business. One of the one of the items that Iknow you and I share a philosophy on that is kind of at odds withwhat you see in the more broad tech community. We call it, well, I'll characterize it as I believe other tech companies see it. So allthese other tech companies are in on search of these quote unquote ten x engineers, people that can deliver an outsized technical outcome. But oftentimes these people reallysuck to deal with. From through the...

...blends of their breaking break they breakculture. You know, at very we are a high end iot consultancy,so like we're working with clients a lot, and so, you know, beingable to work effectively with people in three hundred sixty degrees is critical forus. But I think it's underestimated for all companies. I mean there areno companies where person it's just on an island doing extremely important isolated work.There's this concept of team and we have gone a different way than facebook andGoogle and some of these other companies and said no assholes, which is notjust zero tolerance for it, regardless of talent level, and then we're goingto find the best people that aren't assholes, because it's just not conducive to likegetting really hard technical, cross functional things done. You guys view thatthe same? A lot of other companies don't. Can you talk about wherethat lands in your value system? Yeah, so it's funny because we know thatevery company they have, almost every company has a set of core valuesand for a lot of companies they're just they're writing on the wall. Butwe actually hire, fire, award options, give raises based off of our corevalues, and I'm not going to go through all of them, butactually one of our core values is don't be a blank and jerk, andit's the actually the Emoji for, you know, the f word or whateveryou want to say, because what we call those people in our culture actuallyis we call them toxic a's and they might be able to deliver one projector two project, but what they do is they you might have some peoplethat, and I don't want to categorize people as but they might be aMINUSS and you might have five a minus, and that one toxic a drives youra as people out of the business, and then are you better off?Right that? Liz wiseman has a great book called Multipliers, and thosepeople are typically diminishers and they diminish people around them rather than multiply the peoplearound them. And so our philosophy is no, no, jerks. IfI'm going to spend twelve, fourteen hours a day, I want to bearound people that don't want to be around at this point in my career,and I feel like my peers that work here want the same thing. Andso that's the kind of culture that we're driving here. Is No toxic gays, no, no blank in jerks, and we're getting results. Like peoplestay at work longer, they work harder on their projects if they enjoy thepeople they're working with. You know. So that's my philosophy. I thinkwe share the same thing, like and, like you said, and it maynot be the the prevailing attitude and big tech, but I think also, like in the bigger company gets, the more that they do look attheir employees as a factor of production, almost like a piece out of amachinery in a factory, and morally. I don't look at my employees orthe people I work with that way. It's sad that it seems like it'san inevitability as organizations grow that they look that way. But if you cankeep the humanity and really not look at your employees as a factor of production, I think you're going to have a winning culture, winning product and you'regoing to have a place where people really want to work and they'll give allof their effort to it. So there's a lot there that, you know, I agree with. I we take at very the approach to team buildingseriously, I think, as you guys do with the team with like let'sput the building the right team topic to the side. Talk to me aboutthe building the right thing. So you guys have done some remarkable work.They're nobody gets a perfect it's never this straight linear line from starting point to, you know, boom success. It's as jagged thing. What does thatlook like for you guys? What, how along the way have you determined, you know, if you're building the right thing, how to tweak bonuspoints, if you want to throw some colossal failures out there too? Yeah, no, I mean they've been so so I came in to help thecompany as the COO several years ago and we had a completely different business modeland, without going completely into it, it took four years of iterations andfailures to get to this which we think... going to be game changing forour tech and it's a modular computer that can connect to almost any kind ofsensor. Right now we're using them in energy, but we might use themin air quality and but it started with putting the product out there, aspainful as it might be, and taking your lumps and taking real feedback fromcustomers, right, and understanding. And if you think about like a purelysoftware play, that's a lot easier, right, because you can send updatesand you can update over the fly. When you have a piece of hardwareand you put it out there and it's not functioning properly, you can't justupdate it, you know, on the fly. So I think that thedevelopments like cycles and making sure that everything is hardened in the iot space andis really one of the things that, at least upcoming entrepreneurs that have neverdone hardware before, they'll learn really quickly that you can't take a lot ofthe pure let's just a Sass company philosophies and throw a throw something out thereand and just say Oh, yeah, the market, you know, thecustomer will adapt to it or will send updates to it. Just doesn't workthat way. You have to get the form function of the product and youhave to think of the attitude of the Clayton Christenson, how we talks ofjobs to be done. Right, is it doing the job that the customershiring it to do? And it's been a it's been a kind of along road. But the funny things we look at the competition of where we'replaying and the markets were attacking and we feel like, and this is anarrogance, but we're pretty far ahead, even against some really big players inthe market because of our hyper focus and our team's quick development cycles and ourability to take feedback and talk to customers and take that critical feedback and putit into the product right. And then I always go back to my team, like we have incredibly experienced people like, I want to call it, myCteo, Michael Aston. I mean he worked for years for Motorola atthe with the first IOT product, the cell phone, right, and sohe's seen that iteration and what it takes to bring products like that to market. So You promised to me one big failure story. What's something you guyshave got just colossally wrong it in your journey? It's hardware. One hundredpercent of our guests have something. You know. What's something you can sharewith the folks at home that think they're the only person out there that's hada colossal failure year. You know, that was fell in their lap.We have a bunch and I'm trying to pass through them to see what whichone is colossal. Man, one of the things that we did that waspretty painful. If you've ever iterated on hardware, it's very expensive to changethe form factor because of the costs of molding and board layouts and all that. And you get so excited about a product that you like. All thisis innovative, the mechanic, you know, the mechanical to construction, and thenyou spend six months to a year building it and then it comes outand you show it to a customer and they say, well, why didn'tyou do it this way? And so it's not one colossal failure. Ithink it's learning to iterate more incrementally across the product, like with our hotdrop. We think it's a super advanced refined product, right, but wepersonally know ten different things that we would change on it right away. Andwomen we have millions of dollars invested into this product. And so I alwaysequate it to if you've ever like, you know, given a speech oryour you've been an actor in a play, like you mess up your lines,right, but the good ones they keep going and the audience actually doesn'tknow, as long as it's not like a complete failure. And so Iknow it's not one colossal failure, like this product is a absolute success andit's going to drive our success, but there's a ton of little failures init on things that we would absolute asolutely change if we had maybe not tryto develop it so fast or incrementally developed and shown and included the customer moreor the end user more. Do you think that? In you guys asjourney you know, one of the things...

...that we hear a lot is companies. You know, they think they have to do everything. You know,outsourcing. If you're outsourcing something, you're not taking it seriously or you knowwhatever. As you look at like some of the I again we'll just keepusing the word failure. Why, sugar coad it? Some of the Timesyou guys have not achieved success on important things. Have there been times where, I guess, more broad they would? I'm asking about is like your approachto core competencies that you would never outsource. You Got Utilities, gotto be excellent these things, and then there's other areas that you recognize asbeing, you know, extremely important, but you're never going to catch upto where some of the other outsourceable experts are at. How do you thinkabout that? has there been a time where that's bitch you in the buttand you guys tried to be too good at too many things when maybe thatwas an opportunity to outsourced or firmware or something like that? So we I'llback up a little bit. We have an excellent, let's call it anexecutive team coach that he's an implementer of our internal operating system, which goesto operational excellence. We have an operating system that we actually run the businessby. It's a cadence of meeting structures, a strategic planning and then goal setting, right and one of the things he always asks, at least inour quarterly meeting, our our half quarterly meeting is what are we doing todayand can we be best in the world at it? Right, it keepsyou humble first of all, and then it keeps you focused on that corecompetency. So we one of the things that we say is we can bebest in the world at gathering data at scale, at a cost and pricepoint that no one else could hit. You know, at scaled data isnot noise that's out there. It's signal for people to make real decisions thatare going to impact the world. The climate is going to impact budgets,it can impact people's jobs, and so constantly thinking and that's it's a conceptfrom, you know, the book good degrade is, you know, whatcan you be best in the world at, and that's what you should go outso one of the things that we've tried to do for a long timeis is do that as well as be have these incredible, beautiful visualizations.And we realize that we haven't built the company in the or the team tobe best at the world in visualizations. So, you know, we've decidedto basically outsource that piece of the business because there's other people and it's actuallyimpacted our whole business model. We've gone to a partner model because we knowthat there are analytics providers out there that a that have the in customer thatthey just need that first mile of data at scale that they're not getting andthey already have the most beautiful visualizations or insights, and so it's actually beinghumble about what we do best in the world that is actually driven a changein our business model how we're going to market as well. I'm going todo a hard pivot now because we're getting fought into the program and I promisethe folks at home a peek under the hood at Matt Barber, philosopher King. So you're voracious reader. Only person I think we had on the showthat reads even more than I do. Now, I think it's true,and you always have these great recommendations. Every time I talk to you you'rereading three things, while so you're reading two things I've never heard of andthen you're also reading, you know, something that I've either read recently orand reading that I love. So we love your book list. Give usrattle off some like greatest hits that the that have informed your approach to leadershipmay be in straightforward ways. A good great may be in like not atall straightforward ways, you know, like some works of philosophy that you've found, you know, to be impactful or, you know, really resonated with you. So one of the things that I'll just talk to you talked aboutmy process is one of the things that I make sure is that I neverhave more than three books in process. Some people like to have a tonspread over. That's my limit is having three and I usually try to haveone that that's enjoyable, like a fiction, one that's that builds me, buildsmy career, or it's about, you know, it's about the space, it's about being a CEO, being a leader, and then one that'sa spiritual and personal you know, and so I felt like that's been agood balance that I've had. I mentioned... a really good book I likeis think like a rocket scientist, you know, and by Ozon Ferrell.Love that book. I'm right now. I'm reading courage is calling by RonRyan Hall a day right. I'm actually a value investor at heart. Soa lot of the old school warm buffet books. One of my favorite onesis tell me where it's written by escapes me now, but it's tell mewhere I'm going to die, so I never go there. And it's aquote by Charlie Munger, one of the one of the people that I followclosely for Charlie's ALMANAC. So just common books that deal with like common wisdom. That's not very common. I love Howard Mark's books. I'm trying tothink of some other Oh, one I'm reading right now is what got youhere won't get you there, by Marshall Goldsmith, and it's actually an Fand I recommen it's a fantastic book about being a leader and having introspection andactually trying to see yourself and invite other people to tell you by yourself asa leader. And if you have the courage to do that, you can, I think you can, become a great leader. But a lot ofpeople they don't want to. They don't really want to know what other peoplethink about him. You know, there's actually you know I'm religious, sothere's a great book called Jesus the Christ that I think incredible. The RationalBible I mentioned to you. It's to take on old scripture from a bunchof different angles, from the Hebrew Angle, and so it's more it's more rational. I'm I actually read. I've read all of iron rand's books.Don't agree with everything, but I read at Las Shrug probably once a yearwhile I'm hiking in the mountains alone. Atlas shrugged has been a foundational bookfor me, just not that I once again agree with all the philosophy,but the idea that one person can make a dear prints and that they can. They can either continue the motor of the world going off it, andI think she tells the story from extremes right to get a point across.I can keep I can start, keep rattling. I want one question aboutthe works of fictions. He said you lie yourself one work of fiction.Do you hold yourself to any bar of quality? Like, are you youknow? Are these like the old classics? Are you like dude? Just giveyou a good old fashioned like no intellectual challenge, detective story, justsomething I can zone out to. So there's a great book by Joseph Campbellcalled a hero with a thousand faces, and I don't know if you've readthat before, but it's when a raid Dallio's favorite books and what he realizedis that the Heroes Journey. You know the Heroes Journey? Yeah, yeah, where it's like you have the hero here, there's a call to somejourney that he goes through trial and tribulation and he grows from it. WhatJoseph Campbell realizes through all cultures that stories are have been told through the heroesjourney forever. So I love a book that has a Great Heroes Journey.And I don't know if you know this, but like Steven Spielberg and George Lucastook his film classes at USC and Star Wars and Indiana Jones were inspiredby Joseph Campbell and the Heroes Journey. So that's why I know I didn'tknow that. Yeah, easy. So I love the Heroes Journey, likeI it's funny because I had a had a health scare and when you talkabout the heroes journey, everybody's, I think everybody always is so narcissist thinkthat they think, what's my heroes journey? Where am I at on the journeyright? And while I was in the hospital and having the health scare, I took that heroes journey and I looked at my caregivers and I sawthe journey they were on and I was just a player, a bit player, in their journey, and I had this kind of thought like maybe thegood one, a good way to look at the world is look at whereeveryone else is on their journey and look at the people playing in their heroesjourney and trying to get them to hero status, you know. But likepontificate, probably a little too much philosophically, but that's you know, I'll I'mman this episode could quickly, I think, spiral out of control andturn into a different podcast, alter other. But you know, one of thechallenges that I love most as CEO is really, I don't want tosay forcing, but like pushing the people a around me to see their placein their own story, you know,...

...and that they're not this passive,I don't know, passenger in life, that they have control and you knowwhat is it they're going for? What are the things they need to overcome? You know what's important to them. I personally really enjoy that. Iknow from speaking with you, you know previously, that's something you have alot of passion for as well. Can you talk a little bit about theextent to which that resonates with you, and that's reflected in the culture youguys have built. Yeah, I actually have like a it's kind of afive prompt approach of what my job is as the CEO. One of thegreatest things about being the CEO is being the chief accountability officer, and notfrom a standpoint of how you would look at like someone be in the box. It's more about letting teaching people how to hold themselves accountable and allowing themto grow and then watching them grow on their own journey. To me that'ssuper fulfilling. I mean it's one of the reasons I love to coach sports, is with athletes. I saw my son's play little league football, butone of their coaches sent out something that said hard coaching if actually like oneof the kindest things that someone can do for you. Right, and Iholy wholehearted believe if the intense there and there's trust. So pushing people hardand holding them accountable is exactly what employees and even your peers need right andI need it, you know. I have people that push me and holdme accountable and I wouldn't be as effective without it. So now we're goingto slowly bring things back to work and the professional sphere. So Matt thephilosopher King, you know, has worked to build people around him to buildthis culture. What's next for you guys? You guys have come a long wayin a short period of time. What can folks expect to see fromutility in a you know, as the months, in years roll on?Yeah, yeah, so we have an incredible team, first of all,which allows us to think about what's the future of first of all, capturingthis data and then using this data. I think we have a hardware productthat's that's going to come out out probably que two, if next year.That is I feel like in my team feels like it's going to be verydisruptive to the energy industry from a standpoint of collecting data at scale, ata price point that's a factor's factor of ten, multiple cheaper and easy toinstall. What? Well, the one thing we love about the energy industryis there when it comes to meeting and understanding energy footprints at the source ofthe energy there there hasn't been a ton of innovation over the last thirty fouryears. A meter as a meter and we're thinking about it completely different andso you're going to see, I'm predicting you're going to see a big shiftwith the product that we bring out. I mean our competitors are, youknow, the honeywills, the GE's, the just large meter manufacturers that theonly reason they manufet, they have a meter is to send you a bill. And we don't view the world that way. We think that the daythat kind of data you can do a ton of things with and you canbe you can add way more value to the world. And we everybody seenthe iceberg right where you can see the tip of the Iberg in that picture, and we think right now we're selling our product to the tip of theiceberg. But because of the cost and scale, we think that our partnersand customers are going to be like, oh my gosh, I can dothis and this, and we don't even think we have come up with allthe things they can do. We know that we're going to iteratively learn fromthem in their business with our product and go deeper down the iceberg that's underwaterand figure out businesses that in the past have been too expensive or too hard, together the data on and understand, you know, what's going on inthat industry and make positive change in that industry. X is the takeaway there. I mean that's sort of like intech. I think. I don't know theif I was an investor, that's what I'm looking for. You know, what are what is a company looking to do that's x better than,you know, whatever the state of play is currently. I've just seen timeand again like if it's not ten x...

...better, it's not going to begood enough. Is March Improvement Right and right? Well, don't take therisk to go try it, right? They don't take the risk. That'sright. Yeah, so you guys are running a tight ship, you know, doing amazing things. I always love to ask because it seems like aplayers know a players. Who else in the IOT space, you know?Are you seeing that? You think not enough people are talking about out there. Yeah, so there's a little company that we love out of New Zealandactually, called tether teather dot io. We work with them and know soyou know we work with them, but they're CEO, super innovative and thereI love their mission. There's an Iot product that deals with air quality andwe're partnering with them, but I just love on that little island how boldthey are and how they are with their mission. is to. It's basicallythey're saving people's lives in New Zealand. There's a lot of health issues thatdeal with how wet it is there and the air quality inside these Ho homesand they're too. Brandon is incredibly passionate about the mission there and I justthink he's going to conquer that island with what he's doing and we're happy tobe there with him and and but I think his passion is going to spillover and incredible CEO, very smart, small, really talented team with agreat mission. And so I loved tether out of New Zealand. Awesome.Matt, I know you're a tick tock power user. For folks that enjoyedthe episode here today, where would be a great place for them to keepup with you and continue to follow along on the story. Is that Imean? Is that the definition of a loaded question right there? I'm nota huge social media guy, so, but linkedin. You can find meon Linkedin and check out our stuffs, always evolving. Utilitycom Matt Barber onLinkedin and utilitycom Matt, thanks for being on the show today. I thinkyou has been fun. Appreciate it right. All Right, Matt, HAG tight. I got to talk to the audience for real quick. So,folks, the last few episodes, if you've made it all the way tothe end, first of all, you're one of the very few, butyou've noticed that my outro is terrible and getting worse. And here's the deal. I hate my autrop supposed to ask you guys to subscribe or give mefive stars, but the thing is, I don't want to do that.I think social is BS. Let's do this instead. And by the way, my podcast producer is going to be hearing this and dying. The supposedto be asking for five stars every time. I'm going to continue to bring reallygreat people on this show, like Matt. We're going to put togetherreally awesome episodes with no ads. You guys, subscribe or don't. Ifyou want to rate us, however, you want or don't. Ryan,so, you know, like the how like the greatest boxers of all time, Mike Tyson, they all have a hype man. Just hire me tobe your hype man. I'll ask for five stars, I'll ask yes,subscribe. You know you need someone else to come be your hype man.I know you don't like pound in your own chest. I'll pound it foryou. I like it all right. Let's do a dry run here.So all right, folks, thanks for a baby being here today, andMatt with a few closing words. All Right, so Ryan doesn't want topound his own chest, but his podcasts are incredible and if you want itto continue without ads, please subscribe. Give him five stars. He's goingto keep bring an interesting people on, more, way more interesting than me. And Hey, give this guy to love, because what he's doing ispretty awesome for the Iot community and I love his company and I love whathe's doing. It worked this time. Matt, you've got all the charismain the world. I'm not sure all my other guests will be able towritele but I appreciate it. So, for those of the audience here isthe social contract between you and I. I will keep trying to put onthe best possible episodes I can. If you or someone you know would bea great guest on the show, reach out to me on Linkedin. Let'sget you on. I love having interesting conversations with interesting people from the connecteddevice IOT world. That is my only request. Occasionally, will we havea guest as good as Matt I might ask them to plug me at theend so we're to close it there.

I will see you on the Internet. You shouldn't have to worry about IOT projects dragging on or unreliable vendors.You've got enough on your plate. The right team of Engineers and project managerscan change a pivotal moment for your business into your competitive edge varies. CloseKnit crew of ambitious problem solvers, continuous improvers and curious builders know how toturn your ideas into a reality on time and up to your standards, witha focus on mitigating risk in maximizing opportunity, will help you build an Iot solutionthat you can hang your hat on. Let's bring your Iot idea to life. Learn more at very possiblecom. You've been listening to over the AirIot connected devices and the journey. If you enjoyed today's episode, make sureto hit subscribe in your favorite podcast player and give us a rating. Havea question or an idea for future episode? Send it to podcast at very possiblecomsee you next time.

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