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CEO & Co-founder | Contextere

GABE BATSTONE

Gabe Batstone is the co-founder & CEO of Contextere. He brings to the company two decades of experience in implementing emerging technology across multiple industries on 6 continents. This has included innovations driving smart cities, digital oilfields, future soldiers, and industrial augmented reality applications. Gabe has worked for market leaders in aerospace, defense, automotive, and energy marketing including NAVTEQ, CAE, and NGRAIN.

Gabe serves on the Board of Directors of the Canadian American Business Council (CABC) promoting continental trade policy. Gabe also founded Teagan’s Voice, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting children’s rights following the murder of his 8-year-old daughter in 2014.

Gabe holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts, specializing in Geographic information systems, from Ryerson University in Toronto and a master of Business Administration from the University of Baltimore. Gabe is a frequent public speaker, publishes writer, and has completed postgraduate studies at the United Nations Institute for Training & Research, University of Chicago, and Harvard Law School.

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Episode #178

In this episode, we speak to Gabe Batstone, co-founder and CEO of Contextere, about doing good and making money at the same time, why raising money is a goal, not a victory, and how personal relationships pay off more than your technology.


Conversation Highlights:

What is blue collar ai?

 

"It was our attempt to strike a position where we fit. AI is a foundational technology, and it should be a part of every company.

When we talk about AI, it's about an industrial AI for the blue-collar workers who have been left behind in past technological revolutions to support those who do the hardest jobs. It's where people put warm hands on cold steel to install, maintain, repair, and inspect complex equipment."

 


did contextere start with investors?

 

"We partnered with Lockheed Martin early on and that made a huge difference in our trajectory. Being able to say, Lockheed Martin had given us over a million dollars to do some work in machine learning and AI, helped to raise money, and then BMW became an early investor. So, the narrative slowly built.

Now, BMW is an investor, Lockheed Martin is a customer, and Samsung is a partner."

 


What's your advice for young entrepreneurs?

 

"I mentor different companies and different people, and we work in innovation centers in New York City and Ottawa, and I see some of the guidance that's given to these young entrepreneurs and we're training them like a series A is like ringing the bell. That's a goal. 

I grew up and the thing was, you only rang that bell when somebody wrote you a check for a product or service you were going to give them back. Raising money just means that you weren't able to get a customer to give it to you, it's a path to get to that next step."

 

How can entrepreneurs make an impact?

 

"Doing good is the beauty of the market, in theory.
We respond to the incentives given by the public, by the shareholders to make sure that we are good actors from an environmental perspective, from an equity perspective.

So, if you want to get rid of oil and gas, don't have it in your retirement portfolio. It's that simple. Once we square the circle of personal incentives and personal bias, and our actions as consumers match what we say on Twitter, it's not that actually hard to change the world."

 

How did you become a defense expert?

 

"I certainly wasn't when I started this journey 20 years ago. I had no relationship with the military, other than respect for it. If you're dedicated to space and you are willing to build relationships, it can happen.

I only became it by having an honest, intellectual curiosity and interest to solve problems, and meet people and it grew over time. You aren't born with expertise, you develop it, and any entrepreneur of any age can go get it."

 


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Transcript

Teja: All right. So could you, could you explain the origin of Contextere, your company's name?

 

Gabe: Absolutely. So Contextere is actually from a Latin word, or is a Latin word more specifically, and we chose it for two reasons. One is the actual definition is to weave together, and something that we fundamentally believe, that when you're trying to solve real business problems, particularly in the industrial world, there is no silver bullet.

You know, it takes a weaving together of different technologies, right? AI, but also IOT, you know, and also enterprise data. And likewise, when you're weaving that together, you have to look at the different context of that situation. Right? Nothing exists in isolation and not surprisingly that word of course is the source for the English word context.

And of course, you know, in the old days we used to say, content is King. I like to say, context is King. 

 

Teja: That's awesome. So since most people are listening to this, they can't see the tagline of blue collar AI. So could you just explain that a little bit? How is that relevant to the name Contextere?

 

Gabe: You know, it was our attempt to strike a position where we fit.

You know, one of the challenges of being in AI is that everybody's an AI company now. And some of that is the marketing type that everyone's latched onto it, and says they use AI. But then I think there's actually a real piece to that. AI is a foundational technology and actually AI should be a part of every company. So then how would you distinguish yourself as a native AI company, for lack of a better term? 

And for us, it came down to our experiences where we understand business problems and where we think we have the most impact is on the last tactical mile. It's where people put warm hands on cold steel to install, maintain, repair, inspect, complex equipment. So that's our target market. 

We talk to aerospace and defense. We talked to oil and gas, to power and utilities, to agriculture, to those heavy steel industries. So what we wanted people to know is, you know, when we talk about AI, It's about an industrial AI and not just the industry side of that. But I think another piece is to the blue collar workers, to the people who actually perform those roles who really have been left behind in past technological revolutions.

If you go today and look at how a power line worker works, how an airplane mechanic works, how a person who fixes the rail, you know, works, you'll be shockingly disappointed. I would say the amount of technology that's made it from headquarters and Silicon Valley into their hands. And so for us, we were like, no, we're going to use AI too.

Support those people who do the hardest jobs, right? If nothing else, over the last year, what have we seen? Who's important frontline workers, right? Right. Frontline workers. Isn't just nurses and grocery store clerks. Frontline workers are also power line techs and building maintenance managers and aerospace technicians.

And so we wanted to do a nod to them. And a bit of our passion really is around the blue collar side. 

 

Teja: Why do you think technology hasn't made it to that, sort of, work vertical, you know, this blue collar work vertical?

 

Gabe: So, it boils down, I think, to two big aspects, one cultural and one, more of the nature of the way technology is developed.

So if I start with the second right as engineers, right. And data scientists and developers, we developed for people like us, right. Your natural thing is, Hey, you know, So we go and talk to engineers, right? So you talk to people who build the aircraft, not the people who repair it. And so when you go to get your data and figure out the problems, you don't talk to the alignment mechanic, right?

You don't talk to an ops supervisor, right? You talk to the people who sit at a desk and as a result, you know, if you had asked the same people, the same question, Right. You'd get the same answer. And so they didn't even see that problem. So the big tech companies, this isn't a user base that they're comfortable with or that they even know.

Right. They didn't know the problem exists to solve it. Another reason, that that's true, is there are a lot of stereotypes with the blue collar worker, right. But those jobs are hammering nails and simple and easy. And unless you've been on the last tactical mile and you know, I've been fortunate, I always laughingly say, you know, I've been from Alabama Afghanistan.

Yeah. So Anniston army arsenal in Alabama, where they used to rebuild Bradleys tanks and to Afghanistan supporting the Afghan national army. And in understanding the new natal weapons that we were giving them to, you know, to Turkey, to everywhere in between, you know, there's some commonalities there. One is that the workers are very similar, right?

In that those are hard jobs that require your brain. It doesn't matter what's between your hands, It actually is, what's between your ears. That makes a difference in that job. And they don't dislike technology. Right. They're quite comfortable with it, but it needs to work because they're in an environment where mission critical is common, where safety is an issue.

And so it needs to work. So they don't have a huge tolerance for Silicon Valley. Well, let's break it and see what happens. Well, you know, in the real industrial world, you don't get you just break stuff and see what happens, right? Because that stuff is a plane. That takes 300 people, you know, 20,000 feet in the air or a train that goes 200 miles an hour, or, you know, these are real, the real worlds I like to call it, which is unfair.

It's all the real world, but the industrial world has a different set of requirements. And so that's another reason the technology you didn't get there is I'd say some bias and stereotype about the users. And then just the reality of software developed out of engineering shops and labs. And that's not where you're going to find these users.

So you're never going to hear those problems. Right. That's interesting. I mean, it's definitely a great point that sort of like, you know, they call it cyberspace and meet space and meet space. You just have lower tolerance for risk because it affects human life, you know, more so than an application, you know?

And there are many applications that obviously, you know, affect human life, but that's an interesting point. So, you know, are there regulatory considerations to the pace of it? Change and innovation, or is it mainly just that the markets themselves don't allow this sort of startup mentality, software risk-taking mentality.

And is that why historically there hasn't been much technology innovation there, or it's just companies are disregarding it because like you said, they're not focused on that problem. They're not even aware that it is. That it existed. I think like many things it's, it's a little bit each, right. So certainly, you know, regulation is a part of these industries, right?

Whether it be the FAA or the military, you know, never lacks requirements or regulations or power and utilities, all of these are highly regulated environments. But in fact, in our case, that's one of them. Features that we see of the market. When we look for problems, we need complex organizations with lots of blue collar workers in complex environments that are preferably regulated because for us, every one of those features that you add or qualifications actually increases the ROI, right?

The return on investment of what you're going to bring. And so now having said that, and I suppose this is where, you know, being we'll call it, not a young entrepreneur has its advantages is, you know, that some of those challenges are really just a matter of getting shit done to be blunt. Right. Right. So yeah, you need to be security qualified.

You need to understand I tar and a bunch of acronyms that you don't. But those aren't barriers actually, that's just a process that you need to go through. And I've found particularly in the defense environment where I spent a good portion of my career, if anything, they're more risk tolerant than anyone I know because they're so outcome.

So mission focused that they will tolerate mistakes in a way that many other industries do. And their workers are right. Are Patriots who. Dedicated their lives to the country. So they're also willing to take risks in a way that maybe a union worker in an auto factory isn't and again, not to say one's better than the other at all.

Just those are different risk profiles. Those are different demographics and different passions for work. And so as a result, I think, you know, The environment is there for risks, but you certainly, you know, you've got to put your big boy pants on. This is not a fun business. This is the hard work of getting it.

And if you want to just play around and try, then no, it's not your environment. But if you're dedicated to the space and you are willing to build relationships, it can happen. Because people are like, Oh, it's easy for you Gabe, you know, you're a defense expert. So one, I questioned that, but two, even if I am now, I certainly wasn't when I went down this journey 20 years ago, right off my hockey playing Canadian, who has no relationship with the military, other than respect for it.

But I didn't know, you know, any of these acronyms, I only became it by having an honest, intellectual curiosity and interest to solve those problems, and you meet people and it grows over time. You know, expertise, you aren't born with it, you develop it, and any entrepreneur of any age can go get it.

The other thing, a stereotype that I would say about airspace and defenses. Oh, it's closed, you know, it's the old boys network and it's, you know, friends and family. And again, you know, I grew up a lower middle-class kid, you know, with nothing special going on in my life, and they welcomed me with open arms.

And if anything, I've found more people willing to mentor and hope that you've come and learn their industry than any other. I'd say aerospace and defense is number one.

 

Teja: That's awesome. And so did you have partners when you started Contextere? How did you conceive of the problem and how'd you come up with the solution?

 

Gabe: It really was born out of, you know, a long history of working on the last tactical mile that me and my co-founder Carl Byers shares.

If you had to say, you know, when was it born? We were at a conference in San Francisco and just walking along the peers, you know, looking out at the golden gate bridge and just started a conversation that ended up with talking about Contextere.

Why is all this cool technology that we know exists here in the Silicon Valley? How come it never makes it to when we're not at a conference, right? Why are the people who we care about, you know, doing those things? And from there we kind of built on the idea and we had that network of people that we could ask the questions, you know, Hey, is this a problem?

And then Lockheed Martin, was our first customer and had a long relationship that was born of experience. I'd worked on the programs since 2003 with a previous company. So you are always a trusted innovator within there. You know, a lot of this is about trust and that was the big difference. 

So being able to say, you know, you're a couple of people that Lockheed Martin has given you over a million dollars to do some work in machine learning and AI helps as you go to raise money, and then BMW became an early investor. So, the narrative slowly builds.

So now, it's like BMW as an investor, Lockheed Martin as a customer, and Samsung as a partner and people like, I don't know who this guy is, but I probably should at least talk to him and that gets you to the next phase. Right? Cause you're always just trying to get to the next phase, the next Hill to climb.

And very early on, we partnered with Lockheed Martin and that made a huge difference in our trajectory.

 

Teja: That's awesome. If we rewind 20 years back, did you start your training as a mechanical engineer? 

 

Gabe: So, I come from a GIS background. So, geographic information system, mapping guy, and a little bit of business in there.

My career started with a company called Navteq, who was based in Silicon Valley, and ended up in Chicago. They were the maps that underlied MapQuest and Microsoft maps and every map, really huge market dominance focused on the automotive. So, I grew up in that environment of a very rapid startup where we went from, you know, zero to a hundred million in a few years.

So, I got to learn a lot of things as a guy on the ground floor, just, you know, hammer and nails, so to speak. And that was a great experience. So I came from that GIS background and that evolved into more 3d volume Metro graphics and kind of evolved into virtual reality and then augmented reality. So, I'd always had this technology side to what I did. 

I like to say sometimes, Contextere's true competitive advantage, outside of our technologies, which is awesome, but it's a little bit of genuinely understanding that both Carl and I have spent our careers taking emergent technology, you know, bleeding edge technology, and getting it not only into larger organizations, but adopted in those organizations actually used. So, it's not hard to sell something once, but you need people to use it, and that is only a little bit of a technology, right?

It's also understanding procurement, it's understanding security, it's understanding culture. It's really understanding how Fortune 500, global 2000 companies, live and breathe. And you wouldn't really, to some extent.

When we take on a customer, I carry their badge. I became a part of their team. Like, how do I ensure Carrier, Carrier is one of our customers, how do I make sure Carrier gets the most value out of this relationship? Sometimes that's our technology. Sometimes it's just a phone call on something I've seen another customer do that I think would be useful for them. Sometimes it's being a sounding board, as innovation is hard, it's really a personal relationship. And, you know, I always say, well, you might be in B2B, but to me, all business is, first of all.

No business has ever written me a check. There's always somebody who signed it, right? A person decided to share their hard-earned dollars or their corporate dollars with you and you need to take that, somewhat solemn, responsibility to give back with it. And it's not just, get as many customers as you can and then, go get your series A and your B like you're on some treadmill.

To me, this is about very personal relationships with the people who work at these companies and providing value to where they work.

 

Teja: That's such an interesting point. That's certainly a mentality that I think is, I don’t know if it's uncommon, but it's certainly not aspoused broadly in Silicon Valley, you know, the high-growth tech thought market.

You know, if you look on Twitter and such, it seems like a lot of businesses are only getting customers to get sufficient traction to raise their next round. And they're spending that money on Google and on the Facebook attention auction machines. It's going from the pension funds, to the VCs, to the companies that are then spending it back into Google. So it's really interesting.

 

Gabe: It is, and that's not to say, you know, that there's any one evil, and I know sometimes it sounds like I'm calling Silicon Valley bad. I like Silicon Valley, and I spent lots of time in Sunnyvale when I worked for Navtech back in the day. I Love the area, love the people, and by and large, everybody's trying to do good work there.

You know, I think it's more a proxy, for me, I think we've collectively lost our way. I mentor different companies and different people, and we work in innovation centers in New York city and Ottawa, and I see some of the mentoring and some of the guidance that's given to these young entrepreneurs and we're training them like a series A is like ringing the bell. That's a goal. 

I grew up and the thing was, you only rang that bell when somebody wrote you a check for a product or service you were going to give them back, right? Raising money just means that you weren't able to get a customer to give it to you, it's a path to get to that next step.

So I'm constantly on top of them, like victory is customers. Victory is sales at the end of the day, and sales is not a four-letter or five letter word. Sales is an important thing because sales means somebody is giving you money in exchange for value back. And that is the purpose of capitalism, it’s the purpose of business. Your goal isn't to raise money, it's to make money.

And sometimes, you have to raise money to make money. I get that, but I think we've forgotten that the point of raising money is eventually to make money, not just raise more. 

 

Teja: Yeah, that's so true.

Well, it's so funny because traditional valuation models are based on generation of profit. But if you look at a lot of the projections that, I think, companies are raised based off of, its profit is such a far off thing, and they're just trying to drive some top level, user metric, or some top level revenue metric without any consideration of the actual profitability of the firm that would drive the valuation. It's all funny money, it seems.

 

Gabe: Oh, it drives me crazy that we are inventing all these new metrics to replace the one that matters, which is, can you get someone to give you more money for what you provide than what it costs? This shouldn't be hard, but these massive companies and a local one, you know, we're based in Ottawa, right here in Canada.

So a great local company, Shopify, doing amazing things, and I love their story, except the one part where they don't seem to be able to actually make money. And I get the idea that investing in the future is important, but I also think, at some point putting a pin in the ground to say, here's how we make money is also important.

Perhaps, you know, maybe Amazon broke the system. So, Bezos was able to be the exception who created a new rule, I don't know, but I sure hope that we can find that balance because it isn't as simple as just making money. There is a reason for investment, for growth, I get that, but I think we've gone too far away from the basic model of you need to make money at some point and making money isn't bad, It's actually the point of all this.

 

Teja: Well, I don't know if you're following the stock market or if you can call it the stock market anymore, but what's happened with Game Stop and AMC, which is like a movie theater business, Do you guys have that in Canada? 

 

Gabe: Oh yeah.

 

Teja: Okay. You know, basically there's a subreddit called Wall Street Bets that realized that Game Stop had a bunch of short positions taken on it from wall street. GameStop is a retail company. Maybe they'll go out of business in the next 20 years, who knows, they're a store company, So maybe Amazon will out compete them. But the sub Reddit basically decided as a unit to go and pump the price of GameStop, I think stock was trading at 20 bucks a share, and it's now trading at 400 bucks a share a week later. The company is maybe worth 20, 25 bucks a share, and I think the same thing has happened with Tesla, the same thing is happening with AMC. 

And it begs the question of, you know, as entrepreneurs, we want to make a valuable company and we want that company to be valuable based on the value we deliver, but if you can raise hundreds of millions of dollars based on hype or millions of dollars in a private market based on hype from an investor, the question I ask myself is, does it not behoove you as a steward of the company to go and take that capital, even if it is based on hype to then go accomplish your mission?

Do you see an ethical problem with that thinking? Because I struggle with that. That's a question that I grapple with, you know, like, can you leverage the hype to go and accomplish your goals? 

 

Gabe: It’s a balance, right? 

Because also, you know, as a steward of the company, regardless of whether you like certain market dynamics or not, in theory, you should be utilizing them great to the best interest, your fiduciary duty is to your customers. You know, similar to taxation, you should make sure you pay your taxes, but you also should make sure you don’t pay too many because your shareholders don't want you to pay more. 

We've ended up in this weird thing where it's like, and maybe it'll change over the pandemic as business's reputation, I'd say, generally has improved a bit from where it started is that, either you were in business and you were kind of evil and trying to buy a yacht, or you had to do a not-for-profit. You couldn't actually be.

I like to think that I'm a good actor as a CEO of a private company who wants to make money, but also do good in the world and that I believe our company does good. And the fact that we want to make profit and are profitable each year, doesn't somehow magically turn us bad. Capitalism was founded on that.

You get these, we’ll call it market adaptations and people who are misusing the principle and the concept, and it's really hard to spin that narrative to the broader public. You're just seen as evil.

And you know, this week I'm attending Davos where we're a member of the world economic forum. I got the invite to Davos this year, which would have been more exciting if I was in Switzerland, so the worst year ever to get the invite.

 

Teja: Oh! They’re doing it remote?

 

Gabe: Yeah, it’s remote. It’s like torture. 

So it's been interesting to hear, you know, there's a lot of talk. Professor Swab talks a lot about stakeholder capitalism and we as capitalists need to change it. So that's very inspiring and you're seeing government and business come together.

Our involvement or lack of influence, and very positive, because it's been what we found. People like us, we're a business, but we also want to do good, right? Like, I want to mentor New York city, high school students, as I do to help, you know, who are under privileged to help get into college. And I also want to make sure that we are good actors from an environmental perspective, from an equity perspective. So we do all those things and it's nice to see that you're not alone. There are big businesses and it's the air buses and Lucky's and all the people who maybe, wouldn't otherwise be associated with good pay.

I’ll actually want to do good because that's the beauty of the market in theory, Is that we respond to the incentives given by the public, by the shareholders. So, if you want to get rid of oil and gas, don't have it in your retirement portfolio. It's kind of that simple. So, once we square the circle of maybe, personal incentives and personal bias and that our actions as consumers match what we say on Twitter, it's not that actually hard to change the world. That's the beauty of capitalism.

It was good to see that most people have good intent and that we need to exploit that and focus on that and not so much on every mistake that's made and every exception that exists. 

 

Teja: Do you find that there's group think when you talk to folks that have been in Silicon Valley or part of big Fang company, do you find that there's, you know, let's say political group think? or do you find that there's a disconnection with the value of capitalism?

Because I, like you believe, you know, I'm American, but my family is from India, which is a socialist country. It's capitalist now, but the constitution is a socialists constitution, which is funny to think about, right? Because you look at it and you go, that has basically failed the world over, and capitalism is the way to lift people out of poverty.

I mean, it seems to me, folks in the younger generation tend to think that that's an approach that will create equity in the world, and it's interesting because, who knows, maybe they could be right If they run an experiment, that's perfect but I don't know.

Do you find that there's group think there or do you find that most entrepreneurs who you're able to mentor and talk to sort of understand their contribution to the world through markets and such?

 

Gabe: I think so. On the entrepreneur side, I do think that they really see and have a desire to change the world in a positive way, that they come at that honestly. I love the intent that I see from most entrepreneurs. I don't see them out there trying to figure out how to gain the market, I think that's good.

I think where we failed many of them from an education perspective and maybe just a collaboration is that we haven't done enough. And to some extent they haven't done enough to understand the why of why we do certain things, right?

So we have capitalism for a reason. It wasn't because they were like, Hey, you know, what's the best way to get rich. Other systems failed, right? The Wars were fought. You know, many lives were lost to get to the form of democracy. We have the form of capitalism we have in all countries around the world. And before you go and decide that it's wrong, or you need to fix it, you first need to understand how you got to that point.

So you make sure you don't break it worse. So I'd love to see a little more deliberation and an understanding of how we got here, before there's that rush to change things. And I think that segues a bit into Silicon Valley's got it right. We need to do things different. We need to innovate, but don't forget, there's a reason that the government has a really methodical, tiresome procurement process. And it isn't just because government workers like to go slow or they want to build a $400 hammer. Actually, there's a whole bunch of reasons that you need to understand those reasons before you change it. That's not to say you can't change it, but understand the original intent and how you evolve. So I think that's sometimes missing. 

And then the other piece is I think there's a lot of talk about the greater good and how we can fix things and maybe a bit too much bluster on how much impact technology on its own can have or Silicon Valley.

You know, a good example; so yesterday I was on a panel or watching a panel and, you know, had our deputy prime minister on it, It had BlackRock's CEO, Mr. Fink, it had Mark, you know, from Salesforce and one of the things he said, and it was, to me, just an example of where Silicon Valley sometimes gets it bit wrong is, his intent was that, from my belief, was that the pandemic has shown that business leaders can have real impact and can make a difference and that capitalism is good, and CEO's aren't bad.

Because it can be tiresome to constantly hear that your job type means that you're bad or rich or, you know, private, hungry.

But then it followed up with, and the quote showed up on Twitter too, is, to paraphrase slightly, you know what the last year has shown in the pandemic is that some of the real heroes were CEOs. And I was just like, ugh! I know what you mean, but that's going to be taken out of context very easily and probably could have been better said as you know, we've been able to empower frontline workers at our organizations, who are the real heroes.

CEOs, aren't heroes. Let's be blunt. Men and women in uniform around the world with pointy guns aimed at people who have a gun pointed at them, nurses who are in hospitals risking COVID every day, grocery store workers who are making sure I can have my craft dinner for lunch. There are a lot of people who are heroes before CEO's get in line. 

That's not to say they don't have an impact, and I think his intent was good, but it was just an example of, I think Silicon Valley has a messaging problem. Sometimes they just miss the message to the broad audience because they live in a really isolated bubble.

 

Teja: Yeah, no, that's so well said.

I love a podcast that's hosted by this guy, Jocko Willink, who was a Navy seal and he commanded forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He'll talk to his friends and people that he served with, and then I'll listen to a podcast, you know, with a fellow tech CEO, who's like, the hardest thing I ever had to do was, I had to make a product decision. If you juxtapose those two things, it's just funny. 

You can't say anything to the tech CEO, because that's hard in the context of his or her life. It's funny when you take a step back and you look at the global perspective. You're just like, wow okay, in the scheme of things, these aren't that tough of decisions.

 

Gabe: It’s a great example, and I guess I've been blessed by having, you know, my career spent so much time in those environments around the world and, you know, people are often like, well, how can we change it? And if I had a magic wand, sometimes I think I would just get an Economist, you know, the magazine, The Economist subscription for every person in the world and make them read it.

Because it just goes through the world and you just get a greater, no matter where you live, you'll get a greater perspective for the complexities of the world. If you just read that magazine or newspaper once a week. So that would be my quick fix, but you know, you make a great point. 

 

Teja: Yeah, I'm curious. So you seem very thoughtful in terms of your perspective and how your company plays a role in society. Do you select for the same sort of awareness in your company when you build your team? How do you, sort of, instill these values in your organization?

 

Gabe: It is important, and we build our team like a team. You know, which is a mosaic of people and we hire really based on traits and behaviors and desire more than skills.

You can teach people skills, you know, whether, if they, you know, know Python, but they don't do C-sharp or, you know, all those different kinds of things we feel we can resolve. And so when we hire, we focus on a couple of things.

One is intellectual curiosity. That's my number one trait I have for people. Like, I just think you have to be curious. Curious about the world and what's happening in the world and beyond just your borders. We want people to take your vacation, like go take a cooking class. Life isn't about Contextere. So there's that intellectual curiosity we think is important.

And then the second is empathy. There's no more important trait than empathy. That's internal from, you know, salespeople recognizing that dev is hard and dev people recognizing the sales guys, aren't trying to just sell anything. And empathy for our customers too.

In our case, fortune 500 customers are busy. So if someone doesn't return your email or call right away, it's not because it's not a slight against gay or it's not because they don't care about the project. It’s probably because somebody else made more important calls. So be empathetic. And so we look at the curiosity, empathy as kind of the key attributes to work.

And then we focus on what we call the compass, which is a concept I developed at a previous company that kind of focuses on our culture and we break it into a couple of aspects. So one is values, right? So our corporate values are, as I talked about, empathy, curiosity, creativity, and resilience. Those are what we call Non-negotiable, if you don't have those, you're not going to work here. And if you started without them, you won't work here for long. Those are the foundation upon which we build everything. And then in exchange for that, the environment that we commit, because there's gotta be a two-way street.

So that's what we demand of our employees and ourselves, and then exchange the environment you're going to work in is transparent, Market-driven, dynamic, and inclusive. And so that's kind of the trade-off. So if you want to work in that environment and you have those values, we're going to have to figure out the skills and, other things, because it really is a team, and we talk about it. I talk about that compass at least every month. To just keep reinforcing it, and I think more importantly, we all live it, so they see that.

You know, Carl and I both run nonprofits in addition to Contextere in our spare time. We travel around the world and we mentor and do things to really show people that it isn't a PowerPoint slide and it isn't a talking point, It's something we live and we expect them to live it. And if they don't want to live it, that's fine. Just go work somewhere else.

 

Teja: So this podcast has a listenership of 50,000, mostly developers. 

Are you guys hiring remote roles for software engineering positions? This could be a good opportunity to point them to a link, if you guys have it on your website to apply directly to you guys.

 

Gabe: Yeah, absolutely. 

We're always looking for talent. Even before the pandemic, I was of the belief, if there's smart people somewhere, take them. If that's India, that's great. If that's Africa, you know, if that's Ohio, you can't care. Smart people are the currency that you're looking for and you shouldn't care where you're going to get it.

So we're always hiring. Because of the nature of the way we team-build, you don't just go, we have a posting and hope to get someone who fits that. We're constantly, what we call, curating and meeting people and then we'll bring them on and just figure it out.

Machine learning and fullstack development tend to be the big two for us, and in particular right now, The UI/UX side of what we're doing in the mobile site is becoming more important.

So anyone who's passionate about that, and didn't think I sounded like a tool during the course of this podcast, then I would suggest checking out our website, which is not hard to find, contextere.com. My email is also easy, it's just Gabe, G-A-B-E, at contextere.com.

And if you'd like to, another saying we have is, play in traffic. So, a little bit of Silicon Valley, a little bit of business, A plus B, equals C. There's always gotta be this clear thing. Unless you're a kid, you should play in traffic. Just engage in the world around you, do things that don't always have an outcome, just be a good actor. You know, there's no bad time to be a good person.

So that kind of philosophy and an agile work environment, because I don't want to portray, it's not Disney World at Contextere. We are going all over the map, we got big customers, big demands, so it's a hard job, but I would say, It's a fun job and the people who work there are all smarter than me and all more fun.

So I think it's a great place to work in my very biased opinion.

 

Teja: Awesome. Thanks Gabe. It's a pleasure talking to you.


Gabe: No, thanks. Great job and any time. Take care.