Pop Quiz, Monday with Robert Slater

Robert Slater

The Pop Quiz, Monday is a fun little exam that we love to give to savvy business owners. The examination is not a surprise after all since the interviewee already knew about the questions in advance. However, we can always pretend and have fun with the scenario of a young entrepreneur sitting in class nervously biting on their pencil. They are ready to take a pop quiz on a chapter that they were supposed to read the night before. Instead, they played Metroid all night on their SNES (Oops, this was me in high school). The real purpose of the pop quiz is that this is a fun way to introduce business tips from real-world experiences that you can not learn in a classroom. We want to thank our entrepreneur for being a good sport and volunteering their time to answer a few questions to help our community grow from their knowledge.

I want to introduce you to our guest today who will be taking our Pop Quiz Monday.

Can you please tell everyone your name?
Rob, but most folks just call me “Slater.” Except for my parents, they’re Slaters too.

Robert Slater
Photo credit: Robert Slater

What is your job role?
At 10XTS I am the COO. I think that stands for a rare breed of engineer that doesn’t code but manages money and timelines.

At Slicklabs I am the Ninjaneer. Titles like “Founder,” “CEO,” and “President” didn’t really fit because our org is set up to be relatively flat. As in many small businesses/startups, I wear many hats, primarily “chief problem finder” where I scout innovation circles to find opportunities for smart & creative people to solve hard problems.

Tell us about your company?
10XTS is a blockchain company out of Cincinnati, OH developing a regulatory-compliant blockchain platform to build and trade real-world tokenized assets. We’ve stayed away from the crypto side and, instead, focused on how to bring the technology to the US in a way that disrupts secondary markets, yet still abides by the regulatory rules and practices we have in place. We’ve built our MVP and are out taking it to investors while providing blockchain training to the teams who are, or will be, in the tokenization space.

My other company, SlickLabs, is an innovation services company out of Dayton, OH made up of former Air Force Research Laboratory engineers. We fancy ourselves as a “Skunkworks as a Service” since we support innovation initiatives for medium to large scale businesses who need “stuff” designed, built, and delivered … fast and possibly “under the radar.” Together, we build custom software and hardware for our clients, but we specialize in building remote sensors/controls for data applications (Buzzwords == IoT, AI/ML, Chatbots, Edge Computing, Distributed Computing).

What do you love most about your job?
That’s a tough one, but if I narrow it down to one thing, it’s able to work with motivated and creative people who solve hard problems. It took a little while, but we’ve created a place that brings a few of the brightest minds together to solve some of the toughest issues through the application of technology.

What motivates you to get up every day and go to work?
Simple, interesting problems. I have always loved using basic math & science principles to solve tough problems. A passion for these courses led me to become an electrical engineer and a passion for creating solutions led me to start my own companies. In fact, all of my core businesses were set up to find and solve new problems. Right now I am focused in Reg-Tech/Fin-Tech with 10XTS and Healthcare/Energy with SlickLabs. Creating a business to solve interesting problems seemed like a pretty good business model to me!

How do your co-workers inspire you?
The people around me are some of the best in their field. This is absolutely by design, and I got this idea/strategy from my Air National Guard unit. The people of my unit are some of the most aggressive, motivated, and professional people I have been around. When I build my companies, I find folks that bring that ethic to work all day, every day. I often say I would rather rein someone in than push someone forward – and when you have those folks around you, it’s hard not to be motivated and inspired.

How do you have fun at work (team building, pranks, etc..)?
Being a huge nerd, some of the most fun I have is hearing folks talk about new ideas, processes, and concepts. I love thinking about ways to bring those to life, putting a plan against it, and working to execute that plan.

What are some of the challenges of your job?
I know the majority of this interview has centered around how amazing the people are and how they motivate me, but ironically, people also present some of the biggest challenges, whether that’s in the military or civilian world. My businesses are still in the startup phase, so having a lot of smart and creative minds leads to a lot of smart and creative ideas. So figuring out what we can do versus what we should do can be a tough thing to decide on without a little rigor in the critical thinking process – which sometimes goes against the grain of very smart and creative people.

What are some lessons learned from a past project that you can share with us?
Oh wow … I feel sort of like the Edison failure quote here: “I found 10,000 ways that didn’t work,” but that may lead you to believe I found the one that did, which is not true. Throughout doing projects large and small, there has been one common denominator in my lessons learned: Expectation Management. My toughest experiences have been due to me not setting clear expectations and roles for the customer and/or my people. As a leader, the instant I did not treat a program as a system (everything interconnected from basic tech to crazy egos), I was going to be in for a long, hard road ahead. As I always tell my colleagues, “Technology is easy, people are hard.”

What advice would you give to someone who is starting in your industry?
Again, I believe wholeheartedly that “tech is easy, people are hard.” There is plenty of money out there if you can solve a customer’s problem, but there is not a lot of recurring revenue if your team cannot perform harmoniously together and with the customer. There are a lot of books, tools, and courses out there on this topic, but I have yet to find one that doesn’t stress the hiring process and culture definitions of your business. It’s tough, especially in the beginning when you’re just trying to get your first buck, but it’s absolutely worth putting some thought into your business’s culture: who you want to be and who you want to work with. But even with this advice, I don’t think it will help much, because I believe it is something you can only be aware of, you have to adapt your way of business to these situations. So maybe the best advice is to expect failure and one of my favorite quotes from Charles Kettering:

“Failing is one of the greatest arts in the world. One fails toward success.”

Thank you for taking our pop quiz today. You get an A+ for effort. You can learn more about our interviewee and their business by visiting them on the web:

https://10xts.com/ (product, XDEX = https://xdex.io/)

Author: Ricky Singh, MBA

Editor of The Startup Growth.

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