I believe there is a “challenge of confidence.” Most men are overconfident, at least in a fact-paced professional setting. As men, we think that we belong and have earned our success. Doubts rarely cross our mind, at least we wouldn’t show them. This definitely helps in getting through the door and in getting ahead — justified or not. This is different for women, some of which tend to be more cautious or openly doubting. In a highly competitive environment there seem to be fewer who have this same sense of entitlement. And while it shouldn’t be the goal to instill any falsehood, there is a lot of work that we can do to help women realize that they do belong and need to be assertive; role models, storytelling and coaching are all tools that can help foster this.
As a part of my series about “The Future of The Quantum Computing Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing André M. Konig.
André is the publisher of the Quantum Tech newsletter, author of a bestselling book on digital transformation, host of Weekly Quantum World Detangled, and frequent speaker on Quantum Tech. He has been featured in the New York Times, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Popular Science, on live TV and stages from Las Vegas to Seoul with up to 40,000 in the audience.
Since 2018, he has been the CEO of Interference Advisors, the leading data provider & analytics firm in Quantum Tech; Chairman of OneQuantum, the Quantum Tech community organization and parent of Women in Quantum; and Managing Partner of Entanglement Capital, an investment fund in Quantum Tech.
With 25 years of business experience, André has been a strategy and technology consultant to many Fortune 500 CEOs in both Europe and the USA, as well as to owners and operators of mid-sized services and manufacturing firms, often leading co-investments, consolidations and turnarounds.
Prior to his current role, he co-founded three startups — spanning Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Digital Transformation, NeuroHealth and SaaS — and mentored hundreds of others through General Assembly, the German Accelerator New York, and other entrepreneurship programs.
André studied Quantum Computing at MIT (certificate) and holds an MBA in Economics from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a Masters in Business from ICN School of Management. He speaks English, German, French and Italian, has competed in national small boat sailing championships and trains in Krav Maga at the Green Beret level. More info at www.andrekonig.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
My upbringing was largely characterized by moving from city to city, school to school, and apartment to apartment. When I was 9 years-old, my dad, who at that time worked for the German Postal Service, came home and said he had received two job offers: One in Sudan and another in Brussels. Not knowing either of those two places, I looked them up in my large print atlas to find out that Brussels is a lot closer to Frankfurt than Sudan. I thus ended up at the European School in Belgium with kids of leading politicians, high dignitaries and other important people. Coming from small-town Germany and not speaking any foreign language, this was a huge change for me. It was also a big change for my father, who was making his career in his early 30s, and my mom, who was lost in the Belgium suburbs without friends or any local language skills.
While I certainly cannot complain about the circumstances or conditions of my upbringing, I did have to learn from a very early age how to strive and survive by myself and how to do so in a foreign environment that was ever-changing as I could rely on no one but myself. Eventually, my dad’s job took us to Luxembourg, back to Brussels and finally I returned to Germany the day after graduating from high school at age 17.
Starting University in Germany to study economics I quickly realized that most kids were 3 to 4 years older than I, but somehow much less experienced and goal-oriented. While my childhood might have been personally challenging, and it certainly was for my parents and their relationship, I only then understood that it had afforded me a grand opportunity. I was fluent in three languages, had seen most of the European countries and developed a mindset of adventure, independence and ambition.
After a short two years I moved to France to finish my schooling at an elite private business school and ultimately found a high-powered job, at least that is how it felt to me as a 21 year-old working for an exclusive management consulting firm in Paris, right off the Champs Elysee. A few years later, it was only a small step across the pond for me to Chicago, where I eventually graduated with an MBA in economics. I then moved to New York where I stayed for 15 years, pursued my career in consulting, and ultimately started my entrepreneurial journey.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
As a young kid I found myself mostly reading comics, especially the ones by famous Belgian authors, such as The Adventures of Tintin or Asterix and Obelix. I was fascinated by their individuality, their will to survive and strive, as well as their originality. I think this influenced me greatly as I grew up in this foreign environment that was new to me, by offering me a safe world in which to live.
As I grew older and started my higher education, one of the first books I remember is A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young, written in the 1940s. I was struck by the utter simplicity, — it was barely 40 pages yet it outlined a very simple methodology with which to come up with new ideas. This initially sounded crazy to me but as I explored the content and framework, I came to appreciate that a simple process rooted in a proven methodology might eventually outperform your own intellect and creativity.
Another book that stood out to me a few years later was Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy. Many consider this book the bible on how to present content, not just in an advertising context but in the larger business environment. For me, this was an epiphany, as I had to accept that it is not just the idea that counts but also how you present it to your audience.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Our family crest reads “ambition et perseverance” and I find that these two virtues are what, at the end of the day, truly make the difference between success and failure. If you do not have the ambition to go above and beyond, which might be good or bad, then you will indeed never reach the stars. And if you don’t have the perseverance to stick it out against all the odds, then you just won’t get very far.
And I don’t know if this is a real quote or just an online meme, but I once read that there is no point to complain about things that you can change, and there is no point to complain about things that you cannot change. This is a phrase that has taken on a lot of meaning for me over the last few years, as, with older age, we all tend to strive for more personal fulfillment and happiness, knowing that life won’t always go your way.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the quantum tech industry? We’d love to hear it.
In a previous entrepreneurial venture, one of my largest clients was one of the bulge bracket Wall Street banks. Its Global Head of Technology, and my direct day-to-day contact, once sat me down and said that if we really wanted to change the world, artificial intelligence wasn’t going to cut it and we needed to start to think about Quantum Computing. Having worked with him for three years at that point, and knowing that there’s no point in arguing with him, I dusted off my old physics books, took to Google, and ultimately ended up at MIT taking every certification course in quantum mechanics and quantum computing available. This was the beginning of my Quantum Tech journey and the birth of my first venture into this spooky field.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
Newly equipped with my new diplomas, a lot of quantum knowledge and a freshly incorporated business, I scored an invitation to a private two-day seminar hosted at the University of Chicago by the Chicago Quantum Exchange. It was truly scary to me as I sat there in the morning listening to the high lords of Quantum from places such as the DoD, the National Science Institute, leading academics and scientists. I quickly recognized that I had no clue what I was doing there.
I was relieved when lunch finally came about and I stood in the buffet line with a sigh of relief knowing that my biggest problem would be to pick between a turkey and a beef sandwich. All of a sudden, the gentleman behind me taps me on the shoulder, and when I turned around, I was faced with a big smile just inches away from my face. It was Professor Dr. Awschalom, the head of the Chicago Quantum Exchange who was at the very top of his field and revered by most other attendees in the room. As I started to sweat profusely, he asked me what I thought about the presentations from that morning. I nervously responded how amazing and enlightening they had been but that, frankly, I had understood maybe 5% of them. He started to laugh at me and responded, “Young man, so you really think you understand half as much of it as I do?” He winked at me and walked away to shake hands with others in the room..
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I, no doubt, make many mistakes every day, and the life of an entrepreneur is filled with roadblocks and failures and, on a good day, learning experiences.
Once I was part of the (very large) entourage for Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE. We were preparing him for a live TV interview, during which he also planned to announce his new book — one that I already had a copy of and was very excited about. As he was sitting on stage, and I was behind it, I noticed what seemed to be an advertising break — what I thought was a chance that I wasn’t going to let pass unused. I grabbed my copy of the book, leapt onto the stage and very firmly asked him to please dedicate my print version. Of course, we were still live, on air, which created panic and confusion and my career suffered a six-month bump. But I still have his dedication in my book!
Today, I do feel lucky to have the benefit of 25 years of experience, half of which I gained in management consulting, where I learned rigorous processes, data-driven decision-making and the value of frameworks. This was followed by 10 years of entrepreneurial craziness and mistakes that were not only funny but, alas, sometimes fatal.
That said, I cannot remember a particular embarrassing moment in the last 3 years, other than the occasional Zoom mishap during Covid-19 lockdown, which, I’m sure, we all have to deal with.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
That is a very true statement and I’m lucky to always have had mentors and partners in my life and career that supported me.
The first person that comes to mind when looking at my quantum journey is the formerly mentioned gentleman from Wall Street who shall remain anonymous. He was a trusted advisor and a champion of mine in my previous artificial intelligence venture, and to this day, we speak twice a month. He is the person that I turn to to discuss the big picture, and the challenges that we have to overcome. He continues to be my trusted advisor and has also become a good personal friend.
The second person to call out is my partner in mission Denise Ruffner, the president of the Women in Quantum chapter at OneQuantum. Denise and I met early on at a large Quantum Tech conference and we stayed in touch ever since. Back then, her responsibility was the development of the quantum ecosystem at IBM. Not only did she afford me access to the entire IBM team, but also opened up her large network to me. We quickly became partners in our respective quantum journeys and today are tied at the hip in our mission to have Women in Quantum make a worldwide impact.
Lastly, I want to call out one of my employees, Farai from Zimbabwe. A leader is nothing without followers, and a CEO ultimately is only as good as his team. I am lucky to have found him as he is the heart of my team and quickly transforming from a follower into a leader in his own right.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At OneQuantum, our mission for 2021 is to roll out as many new chapters as possible and make them as successful as imaginable.
Our vision started with the Women in Quantum chapter, which has become a tremendous success with thousands of attendees, dozens and dozens of renowned speakers, and a truly global, highly engaged audience.
Today, we have many other chapters such as a start-up chapter and international chapters, including OneQuantum Africa, OneQuantum Nepal, and we are in the process of launching several more regional and topical chapters.
A chapter’s success is dictated by a motivated and dedicated chapter president with an organizational ability to engage and animate the local audience. Every ecosystem is different in their needs and expectations, hence we cannot simply roll out a standard blueprint. We truly need to rely on local resources and their day-to-day hustle to make this work.
What is exciting for me is that these communities are truly platforms for local folks who work in Quantum Tech or are interested in the field, but do not have existing networks, pedigree, or the necessary diplomas to be considered by default. We are able to help them through our expertise, contacts and events as well as with mentorship programs and stipends as much as our resources allow. This brings quantum tech not to the masses but at least to all corners of the globe, far beyond the ivory towers.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The quantum computing industry, as it is today, is such an exciting arena. What are the 3 things that most excite you about the quantum computing industry? Can you explain?
First, and you might have heard this before in other technologies but this time it’s really true, quantum technology is going to change the world as we know it. Theoretically, and increasingly practically, quantum technologies have the potential to usher in a perfect world that we only know from sci-fi movies. Being part of this, from the very inflection point of this technology, is utterly exciting.
Second, there is a big shake out happening in quantum tech in 2021. We currently track about 400 vendors and startups in the space, many of them led by fantastic teams of scientists. The simple truth, though, is that the vast majority of them will not survive. We are the very top of the gartner hype cycle and that roller coaster is about to turn the peak and crash into the depth of reality. While this might get unpleasant for many, and for the industry as a whole, ultimately it will be a good thing as it will crystalize the technologies, vendors and use cases that we need and believe in.
Third, for the first time in my career, I feel like I have really found my flow. The learning never stops but looking back at my past it seems that everything was preparation for this moment. I feel confident in our vision, business model and capabilities to execute on it — it is ours to lose in terms of building a thriving business. While this may be an illusion, just as my quantum confidence was in the sandwich line back at the Chicago Quantum Exchange conference 3 years ago, I am super excited about what’s ahead.
What are the 3 things that concern you about the quantum computing industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?
We just touched upon that “quantum winter,” one of the biggest buzz words on the scene. Personally, this is not something that I am concerned about but it will obviously make fundraising, customer acquisition and growth more difficult for a period of time.
I am very concerned about hype. Having worked in new techs before, I saw many of them being ruined by so-called “experts.” Someone who was a digital expert yesterday, all a sudden became a blockchain guru only to then write a book on A.I. We are seeing some of the same in quantum tech and for a young, fragile field like ours, this kind of attention, pressure and ill will is very damaging. We work hard to bring data, facts, benchmarks and analysis to the market with our QIS Data Portal but it takes more than one person to do this job.
What concerns me most is the lack of “big thinkers.” My sense is that many of the large vendors and users are bound by existing business models and boards of directors that make true breakthrough innovation difficult. To usher in the “Tony Stark” future mentioned previously, we do need a Tony Stark — and I currently don’t see her anywhere in quantum tech. To change this will take a combination of guts and significant resources, two things that don’t necessarily go together well.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
No. We went through an exercise where we counted the executives of the leading companies and we found a total of 782 in leadership positions. Only 66 of them were women.
When I posted this analysis to my LinkedIn page I was amazed by the number of views (75K) and comments I received. I was also shocked by the nature of many of the comments. Men, including some in leading positions at large corporations, made fun of our analysis, making the most atrocious comments.
It became clear to me that there is a real problem, which goes beyond the fact that women might be fewer in number to study physics or to pursue a demanding career. There are plenty of them and they are amazing. The issue indeed is that the field in itself is closed off to anyone and anything that doesn’t fit the mold — and that mold is the old, white male.
What I am super grateful for is to see the support that we are getting from the community. Our next summit has over a dozen sponsors, including some of the biggest names in quantum tech. I speak to them every day and their concern and desire to address this is genuine. Just today, one of them asked me how can we build a quantum computer if we don’t have diversity? We need different ideas and new perspectives.
So, things are definitely improving and we are doing our small part to make this happen, but I think it will take a concerted effort of communication, outreach, promotion, coaching and mentoring to make the playing field level.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in the quantum computing industry that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
First, I believe there is a “challenge of confidence.” Most men are overconfident, at least in a fact-paced professional setting. As men, we think that we belong and have earned our success. Doubts rarely cross our mind, at least we wouldn’t show them. This definitely helps in getting through the door and in getting ahead — justified or not. This is different for women, some of which tend to be more cautious or openly doubting. In a highly competitive environment there seem to be fewer who have this same sense of entitlement. And while it shouldn’t be the goal to instill any falsehood, there is a lot of work that we can do to help women realize that they do belong and need to be assertive; role models, storytelling and coaching are all tools that can help foster this.
Second, there is work to be done with the men. I am constantly surprised at how often I get negative feedback, especially on social media, to our Women in Quantum project, by angry men hiding behind their screens. I am unclear as to their motivation — fear, boredom or amusement? — but we need to work with men to set examples. We need to show positive examples of those who are fair and inclusive and negative examples of those who are being jerks. Discrimination for any reason can never be tolerated and needs to be called out, without creating tensions that shift the balance to either extreme.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
That there is a difference? Ultimately, my hope is that we can dissolve the Women in Quantum group because there won’t be a need for it anymore. We are all equal and “different” is good. Personally, I get bored with people like myself — I would much rather get a different perspective, new approach or opposing opinion, as this is how breakthrough innovation is delivered. Women are just normal in that process and that is how it should be.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience”. (Please share a story or example for each.)
To me, leadership is a constantly evolving process, it is never the same and always has to be adapted to the context, goals and people. There are, however, a few key ingredients that have stood the test of time in my personal experience.
Vision and mission — you need to articulate what you are doing and why. This needs to be clearly spelled out for everyone, and repeated daily to be ingrained into everyone’s mind.
Values — these should not be written down. I remember at one job I had over a decade ago my welcome package included a framed printout of our company values. They were great values but staring at them on my desk every day, and then observing reality at the same time, produced constant amusement. As a leader you need to live your values and demonstrate them, and be firm in doing so.
Engagement — a big part of being a good leader is to serve. You can’t expect others to follow you if you are being a general. That might work on the battlefield, it does not work in the boardroom. A good leader puts her team front and center and sees to their success, which is created through regular, personal engagement and support.
Execution — undoubtedly the biggest struggle is daily execution, especially in the details. I firmly believe that everything else without it is just smoke and mirrors. You can be the perfect leader with a fantastic vision, awesome values and amazing team but if you fail to get stuff done, then it’s all nothing but a mirage.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to hear where you heard about my enormous influence, I feel like I owe someone flowers and chocolate.
At the end of the day, I am an economist of the Chicago school with a strong sprinkle of behaviorism. As such, I believe the best way to do the most amount of good is by making sure that as many people as possible make as much money as possible. Money is the proxy — it’s not about spending on stuff, it’s about security, healthcare and freedom to pursue your dreams. Imagine if we could raise the average net worth of the bottom 20% (4,825 dollars) of the population by 10%. Over the last 5 years this has been going down by 2% roughly, so an extra 500 dollars makes a huge difference for them. Now imagine if we can actually move them up to the next quintile, where the average net worth is ~24K dollars — absolutely transformative for 65M Americans.
What does it take to do that? Education and mentoring — and I am not talking Harvard and Techstars but the simple foundations of a basic education, financial decisions and the support to put someone onto the right rails.
Hence my movement would be about basic education for the least fortunate amongst us, something I used to do through volunteering at a shelter in NYC and “career coaching” for the homeless. I, myself, need to commit to it again.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Hallo Peter (Thiel), wie geht’s? Let’s chat about how we can use quantum technologies to address this wealth gap through a transatlantic alliance of next gen leaders. We need to erect a new lighthouse for the world, built on technology and shining a light of opportunity, openness and fairness.