From CEO to Student

We made a big announcement today at Automated Insights. I’ve decided to step back from the CEO role after founding and leading the company for 10 years. Replacing me is a successful CEO that’s grown a variety of technology companies in the past. I’m taking on the role of Executive Chairman and will continue to be involved with company strategy and advising the new CEO.

Earlier this year, I started looking for a COO, but when I met Marc Zionts, I re-thought my plan. We’ve always had what I describe as an opportunistic culture at Ai. There is more art than science when it comes to hiring (especially executives), and often startups can do best by being open to opportunities as they see them. Marc was one of those opportunities. Given Marc’s positive attitude, great work ethic, and experience scaling companies, I thought he’d be a great fit to take Automated Insights to the next level. The company couldn’t be positioned any better. After launching Wordsmith last year, we’re seeing record growth. I look forward to seeing Marc‘s impact.

But that’s not all. I’m happy to announce that I’ve been accepted into the UNC Computer Science Ph.D program where I will be focusing on the latest research in artificial intelligence. I’m thrilled with the prospect of going back to school and becoming a student again.

Anyone that knows me will attest that I’m huge Tar Heel fan despite never going to school there. The main reason I started (the precursor to Automated Insights) was to help answer questions I had about UNC basketball. My interest in the university is the main reason I took on an Adjunct Professor position teaching the Sport Analytics class at UNC Kenan-Flagler as well as serving as Associate Director for the Center of Sport Business under Debby Stroman.

In the Fall, I start the Ph.D program working with Professor Mohit Bansal. Mohit joined UNC last September and is one of the leading researchers in the NLP space. I’m excited to dust off the books, get back to programming, and start contributing to new research in the field.

Five years ago, I never would have predicted that I’d enter a Ph.D program after Automated Insights. However, the AI space has exploded over the last few years. Unlike other disciplines within Computer Science, universities are right on par with major tech companies (Google, FB, Baidu, etc.) in terms of doing cutting edge research in AI. In fact, we are in a mini-bubble with companies scooping up CS Ph.D students as fast as they can find them.

Back to the Future Again

This will make the second time I’ve taken a break in my career to go back to school. In 2004, after working at Cisco for several years, I attended MIT where I got two Masters degrees. Back then, I wanted to learn all I could about starting and running a company, and it was a great experience.

Now, I look forward to pulling out the pocket protector and digging in with Machine Learning, NLP/NLG, and robotics. It will be quite a departure from startup life, but I have a tendency to do something new just when my job gets really good. I left Cisco not long after I was named a Distinguished Engineer, which is as close to a tenured position at a company as you get. And now, just as Ai is in the best position it’s ever been in as a company, I’m handing the reigns over to someone else.

Ten years is a pretty good run at a startup. I sure learned a lot and made a lot of friends along the way. Now I’m off to my next journey. Who knows, if I continue to be opportunistic I may just find my next startup idea by the time I’m done with the Ph.D.