My First Year Dedicated to Service
2017 was a wild ride.
I moved three times, met and learned from hundreds of new interesting people with diverse backgrounds, changed my name, built a team for my company Sage AI, learned countless lessons, and attended a week long festival where I disconnected completely from the grid and gathered inspiration.
Did I mention that I changed my name?! That's a bit of a big deal guys!
It wasn't always easy. Actually, it was quite challenging mostly all of the time.
I laughed, I cried, I wondered, I explored, life smacked me around a little bit, but in the end I furthered my understanding of life, deepened my understanding of my purpose, and began what I would refer to as my service.
Towards the end of the year the journey got so intense, that my family started to get worried about me (if you read till the end I will tell you about it).
So you want to hear about it, do ya?
Let's dive in and unpack what the year 2017 had in store for me.
Moving to LA
The fun began in February. I fulfilled a dream of mine by moving to Los Angeles, California.
Ever since I visited LA when I was 21-years-old, I knew someday I would move there.
I remember landing there with my girlfriend at the time, Jenny, I could just smell it in there air. I knew I had landed in a place that I would one day soon call home.
The weather was warmer (I'm a warm-blooded kinda-guy) and the cannabis was legal. It was basically paradise haha.
Furthermore, the consensus around the local folk seemed to be that creativity and blue sky thinking was encouraged.
Whether it was LA and the Film industry, or it was SF and Tech. People were creating and building stuff. And I digged it.
It was different from the buttoned up, finance culture I had experienced in the years prior while living in the Big Apple.
So fast forward 7 years and I finally made it to sunny California.
In the airport waiting for my flight to LA, I decided to pick up Elon Musk's autobiography. I thought it would be a fitting introduction to this next chapter of my life.
Little did I know, this book couldn't have been any more fitting for what I was waiting for me in Los Angeles.
As I walked up the stairs to the apartment (which was located a block from the beach), the first thing I saw was a door mat saying "Welcome to Mars".
I was undenyably in the right place.
By what would seem like some miracle, I felt that life had placed me in the perfect place, once again.
I walked in and was greeted by one of my new roommates, AJ, who I would describe as a force of innovative nature.
When the guy wasn't passionately talking about occupying Mars or new breakthroughs in Mesenchymal Stem Cell research, he was busy strategizing how to get a meeting with Elon Musk, himself.
A few days after meeting AJ, my other roomate, Pike "Bro Chill" Hughes (who I called Piker) walked in the door, coming home from his flight from China.
Pike is as pure of a guy as I have ever come across (pure in the sense that he didn't have a bad bone in his body).
He is a proud gent, who's day job consists of working at Tesla, and is responsible for laying down the new Supercharger Network for the California Region.
For those not familiar with Tesla jargon, the Supercharger Network is the new Electric Vehicle charging stations that are now popping up across North America, with expansion plans to cover all of Earth, thanks to the continued successes of Pike and his team at Tesla.
Needless to say, I was blown away by these two chaps.
Both younger than me, with a insatiable hunger that I hadn't been around since I was doing my 80-100 hour weeks working my way up the corporate ladder in New York.
But instead of working solely for a higher paycheck, these guys were motivated by something else.
These guys we're churning out 80-100 hour weeks off pure passsion.
These guys were living, breathing embodiments of the book I had just read on the plane ride over.
After taking a year off of my life to travel, take space to recharge, gather inspiration, and pick my life's new direction, these two guys we're exactly who I needed to meet to snap me back into 5th gear.
Becasue you know what they say...
"You are the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with" - Jim Rohn
In this case, I was the average of the 2 people around me, and the average was high, to say the least.
5th Gear is a gear that I was familiar with. After all, in my early twenties I prided myself on being the hardest worker in the room.
I'd repeat to myself, "First one in, and last one out", referring to me being the first one in the office, and the last one out. A philosphy that worked really well in the concrete jungle.
5th gear meant business was going to become life, very quickly.
And I was ready.
The professional resources that I gleaned over the past 7 were about to be put to the test.
I was prepared to use my creative mind to reach into the future and bring something undenybly valuable & impactful into the present.
And I wasn't going to settle at anything less than an epic breakthrough.
After prototyping in 5th gear in California for 3 months straight, I had uncovered a major breakthrough.
I realized that if you connect two disparate machine learning components, you can create true self-learning, closed-loop Artificial Inteligence.
Something that even Google and Facebook didn't offer, and still don't offer to date.
It was time to build a team.
At the same time that I came across the breakthrough, I was also on my last month of runway (or savings).
So I decided to reach out to my closest friends and family, and asked them to invest in my new business, Sage AI.
I was blown away at the response.
Every single one of them decided to invest.
I literally dropped to my knees and cried out of disbelief and happiness.
I was living my dream, and my family and friends had my back.
I would be tasked with leading a new tech initiative and bringing it to market.
From that point forward incredible human beings started to appear in my life that were in complete alignment with the jobs at hand.
At the time, I couldn't pay them much, but they would take a lower salary and happily take stock options, as the sheer potential of the opporunity at hand was inspiring enough.
Over the coming months, the team started to learn how to work together.
Some would come, some would go, some would step up.
But we consistently found a way to create positive experiences and outcomes. Everyone always learned and grew in their own right.
We were building a culture where experimentation was welcome, making mistakes was part of process, and transparency, a healthy / positive mindset, & bold initiative were highly-regarded.
The energy was rising..
Day by day, we were gaining more and more momentum as a team. And everyone could feel it.
We would make mistakes, but would be sure to create the space / time container to examine our mistakes, and course-correct.
I personally made tons of mistakes. But since our culture is inhernetly-forgiving, it was okay, and we persevered.
Today, we have a product. V1 is complete. You can check it out by going to our website and talking to our lady Sage.
We are officially launching SageTalk in January 2018 and have a disruptive roadmap for the product and the company. So if you're looking for an exciting startup company to watch in 2018, look no further, you can expect big things to come from the Sage AI Team.
Just a touch more about the product
SageTalk's chief purpose is to use the combination of the ubiquitous SMS / chat interface and Artificial Inteligence, to automate menial work that Customer Service agents are currently tasked with.
The current landscape for the market is that there are call centers today with hundreds or even thousands of Customer Service agents, and about 30% of the time they get asked a very basic information-retrieval-type question like, "What is your return policy?".
Questions like these are typically answered the same exact way regardless of who you ask, they are called "canned" responses, and therefore they don't need to take up a human being's attention in 2018. Furthermore, in 2018 it actually frusterates Customer Service agents when they have to repeat themselves.
Enter SageTalk. Your Friendly AI-Powered First-Responder Chatbot. You begin by asking Sage the question, she will check her brain, if she has the answer, she will respond instantly, if she doesn't have the answer she will immediatly transfer you to a live agent.
The true magic behind the product is that after the bot transfers to a live agent, Sage will monitor the conversation and "learn" so she can answer the next time around.
This automated learning based on conversational transcripts is the major breakthrough of the product.
As the months would continue to fly by, I knew it was time to take this project to the next level.
It was time to go to the mecca of Technological Innovation & Development.
It was time to move to San Fransisco.
Living on the beach and swimming with dolphins in LA was inspiring, but the number of people working in AI was limited.
You were more likely to run into Conan at a local coffee shop than someone who understood AI (true story; I did run into Conan at a coffeeshop in LA with my family).
In contrast, almost every coffee shop in SF has Venture Capitalists talking deals, or engineers talking about AI, VR, AR, Crypto, ect.
Proximity to purpose. It's key part of the process.
So, I pulled triggers and I decided to move up to the Mecca of Tech.
My uncle Charlie (and now CFO of Sage AI) generously invited me in the month prior to "soft land" at his home in Lafayette, a quaint family-oriented town surrounded by mountains located 45-minutes from the city.
I couldn't pass it up. This soft landing sounded like exactly what I needed.
The vision for the company was still formulating and I needed to get clear on what we were building here.
After all, you cannot communicate what you aren't clear on.
Every morning, I'd walk up to the mountain, and meditate.
And each day I would get more and more clarity of my vision for Sage AI.
After about three months of mountain meditation I was clear on where we were headed.
And now it would be time to communicate the vision clearly to my team and the market.
My Process of Creation
One of my friends recently asked me to talk about my process of creation, so I decided to elaborate about it a bit.
Creativity is a a very complex process in nature, and it is hardly understood, even by leading scientists studying psychology...
Emperically, most artists say, they get access to most of their creative juices at 4AM, as that's the time nobody is awake and they can get into a "flow". Whatever that means... haha (I'll have to write about flow in more detail in a subsequent post; since it's a super interesting subject in itself)
When considering the creative process in the domain of developing a new technology, it can get even more entangled, and complex.
Further, you need to be complelely okay with spending hours of time designing something in your mind, sketching it to paper, coding it, testing it, and then discarding it becuase it doesn't make any sense.
Needless to say, it takes a TON of energy and patience.
In my case, I was architecting a suite of different components including statistical language models, free-form text clusterings algorithms, user interface components, ect.
The free-text clustering algorithm is the major breakthrough and what I invented myself. We published a patent for it earlier this year.
Obviously, this process required lots of mental energy and focus.
For this reason, the mountain is great.
When you are on the mountain you are essentially isolated. Contact with others is almost completely cut off. So you can focus all of your energy on the creative process.
The truth is, if I had to interact with other human beings during this time period, the context-switching might have been to costly, and it would have prolonged the entire process. Which I'm not sure I could have afforded now looking back.
So I stayed mostly isolated for those three months.
Bringing the Vision Back Down
After playing mountain-man, I began to miss humans.
At the same time, my closest family members thought I was going crazy. From their perspective I was having "grandious" thoughts. Spending months meditating on a mountain-top can definitely shift your perspective on life, and in my case caused me to lose some of my footing.
In the process of me trying to connect with my vision, I lost touch with reality.
Coming Down the Mountain
My lovely sister, who is a doctor, was worried and consulted with her Hospital's Pyschology department. The head of the pyschology department said they might have to take me to the hospital.
As soon as my mom heard hospital, she fainted at her job.
As soon as I heard my mom fainted, I got on a plane and flew down to LA. And the following day was sitting in front of a psychologist with a very worried and caring sister.
An Appointment of Truth
This wasn't the first time I sat infront of a pyschologist.
This reminded me of a time I was in elementary school, and all my teachers, and my school pyschologist thought I had ADD and ADHD.
My mom decided she wanted a second opinion and took me to see a specialist (the best of Westchester County to this date), and what he told my mom was:
"Your son is not ADD or ADHD. Your son is a genius." - Psychologist
Am I a genius? I don't know. I honestly don't care. It's just a label.
But ADD or ADHD was definitely a mislabel, and putting me on medications would have been detrimental to my future.
When something interests me, I can stare at it for 18-hours straight. I actually get so focused, I lose track of time. Pretty sure that falls outside the realm of a deficit in attention.
But in our culture, labeling and prescribing medications is very normal. Almost too normal.
So somehow, 15 years later, I found myself in a similar circumstance. Feeling like I was being mislabeled.
But this time the labels were slightly different. I was being labeled manic and bi-polar.
And it just felt very unjustified.
From my perspective, I found it more effective to isolate myself and meditate on the mountain to get super clear and focused.
I was in a crucial period of my life, and every single decision seemed to matter 100x more than normal.
Further, a popular consensus in San Fransisco, is that that folks just tend to think bigger. It's in the air / part of the culture.
And I can understand how this kind of grandious thinking can scare family.
But the truth is that if it weren't for border-line crazy people living in San Fransisco / Silicon Valley who are exclusively thinking on a global scale, we wouldn't have the convienience of all the luxeries we we all use and love today.
But even knowing all of this, I knew I had to restore harmony with my family.
Becasuse frankly, they don't give a shit about me my visions.
To them, I am Tom. Son, brother, and uncle.
And I wouldn't change that for the world.
A Happy Ending
Some people may have dismissed their family's concerns, but I took it very seriously.
Family to me is gold and if I'm out of alignment with my family, everything else is put on hold.
After two sessions with a psychiatrist validating that I was in-fact not bi-polar, and an agreement with my family that I would hire a Life Coach (you the man, Lion), we were back on the right track.
Harmony was restored in my family, and I could bring back focus to the mission at hand.
It was time to move into the city.
A few months earlier, I had met a new friend that was very like-minded named Eric Green, in a tea shop called The Center.
Eric ironically grew up in the same hometown as me, in White Plains, NY, and went to Solomon Schecter, a Jewish private school I also attended in elementary school (Yes, where they thought I was ADHD).
He was also a startup founder, with similar views on the future.
A purposeful chap, with a passion for making a positive impact in the world through the use of technology and business.
He cares deeply about the planet too, and also wishes to see a positive, heart-connected future.
Eric was also quite well-networked, having already lived in SF for a year. So he organized a dinner with some friends, and invited me to attend.
At this dinner, we all immediately connected... and the rest was history.
Within two weeks we all moved in with eachother, and created a hacker house full of rockstars.
Everyone in the house was working on building their dreams, in a radically positive, supportive environment.
It was better than I could have ever imagined.
A group of super special people, each with diverse cultural & intelectual backgrounds, and a passion for life and their respective business that complimented eachother.
It felt like a mastermind entepreneur group, with the bonus of living together, in complete harmony.
Every day I learned something knew about how to maintain a healthier state of mind & body, crypto-economics, and anything in between. Of course I was the AI guy :)
My intelectual curioisity has never been more piqued and fulfilled, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
At Peace & In Flow
These days you can find me in beautiful San Fransisco, still living in the Hacker House. And completely at peace.
I am exactly where I need to be to continue following my heart and fulfilling my dreams.
My main practice these days, is to remain centered.
There's lots of stimulai coming at me from what feels like a million directions, and it can get quite overwhelming if I don't maintain a calm, balanced, state of mind.
I got this from my life/business coach, Lion Goodman, but I look at my job like being an Aikido master.
Or maybe just an Aikido practitioner, for now haha. I still have a ways to go before I can call myself a master of, frankly anything.
(For those who arn't familiar with Aikido, it is a form of self-defense, which leverages the opponent's own movements)
As new problems arrise, I handle them with grace.
The days of walking around with my sword and shield out, are over.
Elegance, grace, and being centered are the states of being that I strive for.
Starting in 2018, I am going to enroll myself in an Aikido dojo. As your ability to manage things physically is a representation of your mental and emotional state, and vise versa.
2017, you kicked my butt.
I got a bachelors in mountain meditation, built the foundational team of my dreams, embodied a higher-degree of personal mastery, and learned many hard lessons along the way.
I also made some great friends and comrades that I can depend on in this beautiful journey called life.
Here are a few things you can safely walk away from this article knowing:
- The first thing blocking you from your dreams is yourself - Yourself and your own limiting beliefs. Knock out those limiting beliefs and it will bring you one step closer to living your dream.
- A small group of thoughtful, commited citizens can change the world. Indeed it's the only thing that ever has - Margaret Mead
- Leadership is about clarity - Once you get clear on who you are and where you are going, it's far easier to communicate your vision and rally the comrades.
I am so thankful for all of those that rallied alongside me this year to make my personal dreams and your own dreams one step closer to reality. Here's a quick shoutout to all those who took part in this year's adventures:
- Prince (Shiekh Noor) - Designer
- Stanley Bishop - AI Architecture
- Renat Bekbolatov - AI Engineering
- Tyra Corona - COO
- Ethan Kudrow - Engineering
- Will Merchan - Design Lead
- Pat Bukala - Sales & Customer Success
- Charlie Elbaz - My Uncle and CFO
- Danny Oper - Customer Success & Sales
- Tyler Bui - Design Intern
- Rae Roth - Health Coach
- Adam James - Magic Coach
- Lion Goodman - Life Coach
- Benny & Dana Lev-Koren - Investors
To my childhood friends who believed in me and invested in the biz; appreciate it more than you know, fellas. Thank you.
To my truly amazing family, who stood by me, in the the good and the hard times. Thank you. I love you.
Lastly, this upcomming year, is going to be a challenging year for me, and for our team. We are essentially bringing a new class of product to a hyper-competitive market.
Wish us luck! We appreciate it 🙌.
I guarantee you, we will continue to build on top of our successes and continue to strive to complete our mission, to make this world a better, more beautiful and abundant place to live in, for all.
Your brother in service,
P.S - Oh, I never told you about why I changed my name. Guess you're going to have to wait to catch my next post ;)