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 say is we can be best in the world at gathering data at scale at a cost and price point that no one else could hit. You're listening to over the Air Iot connected devices and the journey, brought to you by vary. In each 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'd known when they started. Welcome back to over the air, IOT connected devices and the journey. My name is Ryan Prosser, CEO vary, and today we'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 be here. I really appreciate the invite. So so, Matt, you're running things out. Utility, for those who don't know, give us a little background. We're going to get into life and I talked about the philosopher piece. We dive into that a second. For now, what are the folks at home needs to know about utility? Yeah, of utility, but we really are as a data company. So we excel at getting really hard data that no one else in the world can get. Part of our mission is to change the world with data that matters, and so the way we do that is we have a very unique solution that involves unique clouds set up and as well as a unique piece of harbor, and so we think we can change the way that people consume and look at data based off of implementing our solution at scale. Matt, you know, one of the things that I think is most impressive about futility is you and I. Well, I don't want to say it's so impressive and then talk about how we share the viewpoint on this, but I think one of the things I discovered in the pre 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 and how you guys think about executing at a high level, particularly through the Lens of hardware? Yeah, well, so the first part of execution. You're never going to get around people right, and so you know, I love talking about people and having the right people. There's a saying that I really love from the Maori Culture. I can't say it in Malory, but it's a question and answer statement and it says what is the most important thing, and the answer is the people, the people, the people. So if you want to execute, you got to have the right people, and the right 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 two things internally, API, which stands for assumed positive intent, which builds trust within a team, and then the second thing that we always look at is people 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 rather than 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 we talked about internally and it's called its efficiency of communication. Right, when you have trust, if you go back to like Patrick Lynci, only when you have trust in a team you can you can get to the right answer faster and execute faster if you can communicate directly. And so those are some like the more philosophical, less technical things that I think drive and an attitude of execution across the whole business. One of the one of the items that I know you and I share a philosophy on that is kind of at odds with what 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 all these 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 really suck to deal with. From through the...

...blends of their breaking break they break culture. You know, at very we are a high end iot consultancy, so like we're working with clients a lot, and so, you know, being able to work effectively with people in three hundred sixty degrees is critical for us. But I think it's underestimated for all companies. I mean there are no 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 and Google and some of these other companies and said no assholes, which is not just zero tolerance for it, regardless of talent level, and then we're going to find the best people that aren't assholes, because it's just not conducive to like getting really hard technical, cross functional things done. You guys view that the same? A lot of other companies don't. Can you talk about where that lands in your value system? Yeah, so it's funny because we know that every company they have, almost every company has a set of core values and for a lot of companies they're just they're writing on the wall. But we actually hire, fire, award options, give raises based off of our core values, and I'm not going to go through all of them, but actually one of our core values is don't be a blank and jerk, and it's the actually the Emoji for, you know, the f word or whatever you want to say, because what we call those people in our culture actually is we call them toxic a's and they might be able to deliver one project or two project, but what they do is they you might have some people that, and I don't want to categorize people as but they might be a MINUSS and you might have five a minus, and that one toxic a drives your a as people out of the business, and then are you better off? Right that? Liz wiseman has a great book called Multipliers, and those people are typically diminishers and they diminish people around them rather than multiply the people around them. And so our philosophy is no, no, jerks. If I'm going to spend twelve, fourteen hours a day, I want to be around 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. And so 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 people stay at work longer, they work harder on their projects if they enjoy the people they're working with. You know. So that's my philosophy. I think we share the same thing, like and, like you said, and it may not be the the prevailing attitude and big tech, but I think also, like in the bigger company gets, the more that they do look at their employees as a factor of production, almost like a piece out of a machinery in a factory, and morally. I don't look at my employees or the people I work with that way. It's sad that it seems like it's an inevitability as organizations grow that they look that way. But if you can keep 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're going to have a place where people really want to work and they'll give all of 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 building seriously, I think, as you guys do with the team with like let's put the building the right team topic to the side. Talk to me about the 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 that look like for you guys? What, how along the way have you determined, you know, if you're building the right thing, how to tweak bonus points, 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 the company as the COO several years ago and we had a completely different business model and, without going completely into it, it took four years of iterations and failures to get to this which we think... going to be game changing for our tech and it's a modular computer that can connect to almost any kind of sensor. Right now we're using them in energy, but we might use them in air quality and but it started with putting the product out there, as painful as it might be, and taking your lumps and taking real feedback from customers, right, and understanding. And if you think about like a purely software play, that's a lot easier, right, because you can send updates and you can update over the fly. When you have a piece of hardware and you put it out there and it's not functioning properly, you can't just update it, you know, on the fly. So I think that the developments like cycles and making sure that everything is hardened in the iot space and is really one of the things that, at least upcoming entrepreneurs that have never done hardware before, they'll learn really quickly that you can't take a lot of the pure let's just a Sass company philosophies and throw a throw something out there and and just say Oh, yeah, the market, you know, the customer will adapt to it or will send updates to it. Just doesn't work that way. You have to get the form function of the product and you have to think of the attitude of the Clayton Christenson, how we talks of jobs to be done. Right, is it doing the job that the customers hiring it to do? And it's been a it's been a kind of a long road. But the funny things we look at the competition of where we're playing and the markets were attacking and we feel like, and this is an arrogance, but we're pretty far ahead, even against some really big players in the market because of our hyper focus and our team's quick development cycles and our ability to take feedback and talk to customers and take that critical feedback and put it 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, my Cteo, Michael Aston. I mean he worked for years for Motorola at the with the first IOT product, the cell phone, right, and so he'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 guys have got just colossally wrong it in your journey? It's hardware. One hundred percent of our guests have something. You know. What's something you can share with the folks at home that think they're the only person out there that's had a 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 which one is colossal. Man, one of the things that we did that was pretty painful. If you've ever iterated on hardware, it's very expensive to change the 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 this is innovative, the mechanic, you know, the mechanical to construction, and then you spend six months to a year building it and then it comes out and you show it to a customer and they say, well, why didn't you do it this way? And so it's not one colossal failure. I think it's learning to iterate more incrementally across the product, like with our hot drop. We think it's a super advanced refined product, right, but we personally know ten different things that we would change on it right away. And women we have millions of dollars invested into this product. And so I always equate it to if you've ever like, you know, given a speech or your 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't know, as long as it's not like a complete failure. And so I know it's not one colossal failure, like this product is a absolute success and it's going to drive our success, but there's a ton of little failures in it on things that we would absolute asolutely change if we had maybe not try to develop it so fast or incrementally developed and shown and included the customer more or the end user more. Do you think that? In you guys as journey 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 know whatever. As you look at like some of the I again we'll just keep using the word failure. Why, sugar coad it? Some of the Times you 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 approach to core competencies that you would never outsource. You Got Utilities, got to be excellent these things, and then there's other areas that you recognize as being, you know, extremely important, but you're never going to catch up to where some of the other outsourceable experts are at. How do you think about that? has there been a time where that's bitch you in the butt and you guys tried to be too good at too many things when maybe that was an opportunity to outsourced or firmware or something like that? So we I'll back up a little bit. We have an excellent, let's call it an executive team coach that he's an implementer of our internal operating system, which goes to operational excellence. We have an operating system that we actually run the business by. 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 in our quarterly meeting, our our half quarterly meeting is what are we doing today and can we be best in the world at it? Right, it keeps you humble first of all, and then it keeps you focused on that core competency. So we one of the things that we say is we can be best in the world at gathering data at scale, at a cost and price point that no one else could hit. You know, at scaled data is not noise that's out there. It's signal for people to make real decisions that are 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 concept from, you know, the book good degrade is, you know, what can you be best in the world at, and that's what you should go out so one of the things that we've tried to do for a long time is 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 to be best at the world in visualizations. So, you know, we've decided to basically outsource that piece of the business because there's other people and it's actually impacted our whole business model. We've gone to a partner model because we know that there are analytics providers out there that a that have the in customer that they just need that first mile of data at scale that they're not getting and they already have the most beautiful visualizations or insights, and so it's actually being humble about what we do best in the world that is actually driven a change in our business model how we're going to market as well. I'm going to do a hard pivot now because we're getting fought into the program and I promise the 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 show that 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're reading three things, while so you're reading two things I've never heard of and then you're also reading, you know, something that I've either read recently or and reading that I love. So we love your book list. Give us rattle off some like greatest hits that the that have informed your approach to leadership may be in straightforward ways. A good great may be in like not at all 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 about my process is one of the things that I make sure is that I never have more than three books in process. Some people like to have a ton spread over. That's my limit is having three and I usually try to have one that that's enjoyable, like a fiction, one that's that builds me, builds my 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's a spiritual and personal you know, and so I felt like that's been a good balance that I've had. I mentioned... a really good book I like is 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 Ron Ryan Hall a day right. I'm actually a value investor at heart. So a lot of the old school warm buffet books. One of my favorite ones is tell me where it's written by escapes me now, but it's tell me where I'm going to die, so I never go there. And it's a quote by Charlie Munger, one of the one of the people that I follow closely 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 to think of some other Oh, one I'm reading right now is what got you here won't get you there, by Marshall Goldsmith, and it's actually an F and I recommen it's a fantastic book about being a leader and having introspection and actually trying to see yourself and invite other people to tell you by yourself as a leader. And if you have the courage to do that, you can, I think you can, become a great leader. But a lot of people they don't want to. They don't really want to know what other people think about him. You know, there's actually you know I'm religious, so there's a great book called Jesus the Christ that I think incredible. The Rational Bible I mentioned to you. It's to take on old scripture from a bunch of 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 year while I'm hiking in the mountains alone. Atlas shrugged has been a foundational book for 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, and I 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 about the works of fictions. He said you lie yourself one work of fiction. Do you hold yourself to any bar of quality? Like, are you you know? Are these like the old classics? Are you like dude? Just give you a good old fashioned like no intellectual challenge, detective story, just something I can zone out to. So there's a great book by Joseph Campbell called a hero with a thousand faces, and I don't know if you've read that before, but it's when a raid Dallio's favorite books and what he realized is 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 some journey that he goes through trial and tribulation and he grows from it. What Joseph Campbell realizes through all cultures that stories are have been told through the heroes journey 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 Lucas took his film classes at USC and Star Wars and Indiana Jones were inspired by Joseph Campbell and the Heroes Journey. So that's why I know I didn't know that. Yeah, easy. So I love the Heroes Journey, like I it's funny because I had a had a health scare and when you talk about the heroes journey, everybody's, I think everybody always is so narcissist think that they think, what's my heroes journey? Where am I at on the journey right? 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 saw the 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 the good one, a good way to look at the world is look at where everyone else is on their journey and look at the people playing in their heroes journey and trying to get them to hero status, you know. But like pontificate, probably a little too much philosophically, but that's you know, I'll I'm man this episode could quickly, I think, spiral out of control and turn into a different podcast, alter other. But you know, one of the challenges that I love most as CEO is really, I don't want to say forcing, but like pushing the people a around me to see their place in 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 know what 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. I know from speaking with you, you know previously, that's something you have a lot of passion for as well. Can you talk a little bit about the extent to which that resonates with you, and that's reflected in the culture you guys have built. Yeah, I actually have like a it's kind of a five prompt approach of what my job is as the CEO. One of the greatest things about being the CEO is being the chief accountability officer, and not from 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 them to grow and then watching them grow on their own journey. To me that's super 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, but one of their coaches sent out something that said hard coaching if actually like one of the kindest things that someone can do for you. Right, and I holy wholehearted believe if the intense there and there's trust. So pushing people hard and holding them accountable is exactly what employees and even your peers need right and I need it, you know. I have people that push me and hold me accountable and I wouldn't be as effective without it. So now we're going to slowly bring things back to work and the professional sphere. So Matt the philosopher King, you know, has worked to build people around him to build this culture. What's next for you guys? You guys have come a long way in a short period of time. What can folks expect to see from utility 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, capturing this data and then using this data. I think we have a hardware product that'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 very disruptive to the energy industry from a standpoint of collecting data at scale, at a price point that's a factor's factor of ten, multiple cheaper and easy to install. What? Well, the one thing we love about the energy industry is there when it comes to meeting and understanding energy footprints at the source of the energy there there hasn't been a ton of innovation over the last thirty four years. A meter as a meter and we're thinking about it completely different and so you're going to see, I'm predicting you're going to see a big shift with the product that we bring out. I mean our competitors are, you know, the honeywills, the GE's, the just large meter manufacturers that the only 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 day that kind of data you can do a ton of things with and you can be you can add way more value to the world. And we everybody seen the 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 the iceberg. But because of the cost and scale, we think that our partners and customers are going to be like, oh my gosh, I can do this and this, and we don't even think we have come up with all the things they can do. We know that we're going to iteratively learn from them in their business with our product and go deeper down the iceberg that's underwater and 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 in that 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 the if 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 time and again like if it's not ten x...

...better, it's not going to be good enough. Is March Improvement Right and right? Well, don't take the risk to go try it, right? They don't take the risk. That's right. Yeah, so you guys are running a tight ship, you know, doing amazing things. I always love to ask because it seems like a players 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 Zealand actually, called tether teather dot io. We work with them and know so you know we work with them, but they're CEO, super innovative and there I love their mission. There's an Iot product that deals with air quality and we're partnering with them, but I just love on that little island how bold they are and how they are with their mission. is to. It's basically they're saving people's lives in New Zealand. There's a lot of health issues that deal with how wet it is there and the air quality inside these Ho homes and they're too. Brandon is incredibly passionate about the mission there and I just think he's going to conquer that island with what he's doing and we're happy to be there with him and and but I think his passion is going to spill over and incredible CEO, very smart, small, really talented team with a great mission. And so I loved tether out of New Zealand. Awesome. Matt, I know you're a tick tock power user. For folks that enjoyed the episode here today, where would be a great place for them to keep up with you and continue to follow along on the story. Is that I mean? Is that the definition of a loaded question right there? I'm not a huge social media guy, so, but linkedin. You can find me on Linkedin and check out our stuffs, always evolving. Utilitycom Matt Barber on Linkedin and utilitycom Matt, thanks for being on the show today. I think you 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 to the end, first of all, you're one of the very few, but you'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 me five 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 supposed to be asking for five stars every time. I'm going to continue to bring really great people on this show, like Matt. We're going to put together really awesome episodes with no ads. You guys, subscribe or don't. If you 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 to be 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 for you. I like it all right. Let's do a dry run here. So all right, folks, thanks for a baby being here today, and Matt with a few closing words. All Right, so Ryan doesn't want to pound his own chest, but his podcasts are incredible and if you want it to continue without ads, please subscribe. Give him five stars. He's going to keep bring an interesting people on, more, way more interesting than me. And Hey, give this guy to love, because what he's doing is pretty awesome for the Iot community and I love his company and I love what he's doing. It worked this time. Matt, you've got all the charisma in the world. I'm not sure all my other guests will be able to writele but I appreciate it. So, for those of the audience here is the social contract between you and I. I will keep trying to put on the best possible episodes I can. If you or someone you know would be a great guest on the show, reach out to me on Linkedin. Let's get you on. I love having interesting conversations with interesting people from the connected device IOT world. That is my only request. Occasionally, will we have a guest as good as Matt I might ask them to plug me at the end 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 managers can change a pivotal moment for your business into your competitive edge varies. Close Knit crew of ambitious problem solvers, continuous improvers and curious builders know how to turn your ideas into a reality on time and up to your standards, with a focus on mitigating risk in maximizing opportunity, will help you build an Iot solution that 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 Air Iot connected devices and the journey. If you enjoyed today's episode, make sure to hit subscribe in your favorite podcast player and give us a rating. Have a question or an idea for future episode? Send it to podcast at very possiblecom see you next time.

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