Charlie Burgoyne of Valkyrie: “Rethink your assumptions”

Rethink your assumptions. Maintaining an open mind to new market needs, new challenges, is incredibly important; whatever you set your mind to may be up for change. Pivot quickly. Be willing and ready to react to new needs and be proactive in anticipating and delivering on those needs. I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlie Burgoyne […]

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Rethink your assumptions. Maintaining an open mind to new market needs, new challenges, is incredibly important; whatever you set your mind to may be up for change. Pivot quickly. Be willing and ready to react to new needs and be proactive in anticipating and delivering on those needs.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlie Burgoyne is the founder & CEO of Valkyrie, a science-driven consulting firm that solves organizational challenges using artificial and augmented intelligence. Burgoyne leads a highly trained team of scientists and strategists, who together combine cutting-edge data engineering with applied science to create custom solutions that optimize operational decision-making capabilities. Previously, Burgoyne held a variety of roles, including principal director of data science at Frog Design, director of data science at Rosetta Stone, vice president of R&D for a government contracting firm specializing in cybersecurity and machine learning, a research physicist for the DOE and NNSA and a research astrophysicist for NASA in conjunction with George Washington University.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

What brought me here is a certain curiosity about the world around us. I started my career as a research astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; after that, I worked as a nuclear physicist for the US Department of Energy, where I was involved in developing a number of technologies to identify and mitigate radiological weapons. From there, my interest in new scientific applications of data science and machine learning continued to grow. Across industries and sectors, I saw that there were unsolved challenges and a real need for new solutions. And that’s how my company, Valkyrie, was born. Since then, we’ve worked with organizations across healthcare, global banking, government, and more, to help them drive transformation, optimize efficiency, and operate to their fullest potential.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

That’s a tough question to answer. Valkyrie has highs and lows, but it’s never boring. Ironically enough, it’s not the science that comes to top of mind, it’s the team. Yes, the team delivers incredible results but watching each Valkyrie develop, struggle with a problem, own it and grow from it is so inspiring. I love seeing the potential in a new hire and helping that Valkyrie achieve their potential.

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?

There are two, my mother and Winston Churchill. My mother was an academic, studying quantitative methods in political science and she taught me a lot about how to question the world around us. She is a very curious person and I attribute a lot of my success to the fact that she instilled in me curiosity and a responsibility to maximize my potential. Churchill is also a role model for me. His example of honor, tenacity and grit are hallmarks of great leadership and qualities I hope I’ll be remembered for as well. He was certainly a controversial figure, and my admiration does not go without caveats but it’s undeniable that Churchill was one of the few saviors of Western Civilization, standing up against one of the most brutal regimes in human history. His life story and accomplishments are awe inspiring.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

An advisor in undergrad once told me that “In all things you are either progressing or regressing, nothing is static, act accordingly.” You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that came from a rocket scientist, as it may be the most physics-y advice one could receive, but his point was truly impactful for me. I constantly evaluate the major dimensions of my life, identifying ways in which I am growing or regressing as a human. His advice negated any chance I had at complacency in my career, as the moment I detect stagnation or regression in my environment I begin to change my trajectory. I’ve found that the same is true in my home life. I’m not a good father or a bad father, I’m either progressing as a father or regressing as a father. The advice, while obnoxiously immutable in my brain, has undoubtedly been the source of much of the happiness in my life.

We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Some people describe us as a modern-day Bell Labs. We’re a research institute solving tangible industrial challenges across different verticals. I wanted to bring together some of the brightest minds in the country to harness the power of AI and data science for the greater good and solve some of the biggest problems in modern business and society. Excellent scientific work has more to do with the way a scientist thinks about a problem, than the tools they use to solve it, so in addition to experts in AI and machine learning, we employ data scientists, strategists, mathematicians, biologists, chemists, physicists, a range of diverse and well-rounded thinkers.

Often, companies come to us and say, “we know AI has a potential impact on our business, but we don’t know where to start and we don’t know if we have the right data.” At this point, we can bring on our strategy and science teams to create an execute a plan that’s aligned with their business goals and outlines the code and data we need to get there. Our clients often understand their business can transform with technology and bring us on because every organization requires a unique approach. They know the results that they want, but they don’t know the data and models they need to get there. This need is across every industry. Through our work, we’ve helped banks reduce their default rates by half, redesign business models for telecommunications companies and predict which assets investment firms should buy.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What makes Valkyrie stand out is our commitment to harnessing AI for the greater good, as well as our ability to help companies truly unlock their competitive advantage through data science. I’m committed to mentoring entrepreneurs and supporting young companies, and I’m committed to supporting the Austin community in meaningful ways. For example, the Valkyrie Virtue program offers nonprofits pro-bono access to our data science services.

Our team is passionate about helping organizations that are working towards the greater good of Austin access strategic insights that help them better serve the community. In 2020, our team donated at total of 836.5 pro-bono hours, or about $223,175 in services. We also launched an annual Women in STEM scholarship fund, partnering last year with the Hispanic Scholarship Consortium to give a $10,000 scholarship to a local student currently attending Texas A&M University.

When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?

What drove me is a desire to question assumptions, a need to understand problems and create solutions that make a difference in the world.

What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?

That curiosity, that need to always question, probe, research, understand, solve, is always there. It fuels me and my team on a daily basis. It helps us find meaning and growth through our work. These are core elements of what drives us as scientists.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We recently partnered with Global Medical Response, the largest ambulance company in the world, to develop COVID-19 modeling tools and resource allocation plans to expand the ways they provide care. Our team of data scientists is developing dashboards and predictive insights on emergency service requests, staffing structures and focused modeling on regional and seasonal deployment trends, allowing GMR’s leadership to make informed, real-time decisions. These models will help GMR prepare for events ranging from COVID-19 experience, changes in emergency service requests and specific regional demands to improve emergency transport and patient care.

In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

Financial services has been a really powerful vertical for Valkyrie. It’s an industry that is scientifically sophisticated and has served as the foundry for many amazing technologies. We are positioning a lot of our internal efforts towards new investment operations but will share more details on that later this year.

Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are five things you wish someone told you before you started your consulting business?

When you’re starting a business, you’re either progressing or regressing, and it’s important to be cognizant of which state you’re in as a business owner. When you’re progressing, you’re challenging your past approach to growth and stepping outside of the box, whether it’s from a comfort or innovation perspective. The biggest red flag for regression is when the word ‘maintain’ permeates your vocabulary. If you’re just trying to ‘maintain’ success or repeat last quarter’s numbers, what you’re really saying is that you are failing to produce creative ways of accelerating growth.

When it comes to progressing, here are five core things I’ve found most vital:

  1. Rethink your assumptions. Maintaining an open mind to new market needs, new challenges, is incredibly important; whatever you set your mind to may be up for change.
  2. Pivot quickly. Be willing and ready to react to new needs and be proactive in anticipating and delivering on those needs.
  3. Seek people who challenge you and challenge the status quo. Different, diverse perspectives will always strengthen a team and strengthen the outcome. Find the best talent, nurture them, and empower them.
  4. If it hasn’t been done or solved before, try it. You’ll learn from it.
  5. Stay curious.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I’m increasingly frustrated by the misrepresentation of scientific findings, the partisan manipulation of data and insights that occur on both sides of the aisle. Science needs to be above that and the rigor by which science is performed needs to be reinvigorated. Simply put, we need to train better scientists who are committed to delivering unadulterated results. It’s the responsibility of society to engage with those results productively. A “Pure Science” movement would have a dramatic impact on civilization, addressing the real problems we’re dealing with and mitigating the partisan noise around research.

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