Conviva CEO Bill Demas: “There’s no substitute for being an involved dad”

For me, there’s no substitute for being an involved dad. Being there for my kids in the moments that matter, to support and guide them through their successes and their challenges, is important to their development of confidence, independence, and future contributions to society. As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make […]

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For me, there’s no substitute for being an involved dad. Being there for my kids in the moments that matter, to support and guide them through their successes and their challenges, is important to their development of confidence, independence, and future contributions to society.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Bill Demas, proud dad of two boys, and the CEO of Conviva, the leader in real-time streaming TV measurement and intelligence. In his business life with Conviva, Bill works with customers like HBO, Hulu, Turner, CBS, Sling, Sky, DAZN, Univision and a host of other streaming TV providers to improve the viewer experience across every second, every stream, and every screen. As a four-time CEO, Bill was tapped to lead Conviva in 2018 because of his demonstrated track record of building high-performance teams and successfully launching disruptive technologies. His experience as a parent and his role as a CEO are inextricably linked as each shapes his approach to the other.

Bill is also a mentor, angel investor, and advisor for multiple technology companies. He has been recognized by Goldman Sachs as one of the 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs and by Ernst & Young as an Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and degrees in computer science as well as organizational behavior and management from Brown University. He is also an aspiring tennis player and a long-suffering Kansas City Chiefs fan.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in Queens, New York in the chaotic 1970s. My dad was the child of Greek immigrants and my mom emigrated from France. This wasn’t that unusual in the incredibly diverse neighborhood and the massive New York apartment complex I lived in.

Growing up, money was tight and my dad worked long hours. As a kid I craved stability and structure that I didn’t find at home. School gave that to me. I saw school as a path to the choices and opportunities that much of my family didn’t have. In a lot of ways, the time I spent on my education defined who I became. In those years I learned to bring order to chaos, embraced the power of mentorship, and developed a lifelong focus on learning.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

When I was growing up, my dad’s core job was in IT. He would rave about the power of the IBM mainframes and the automated reports they could run with these tan punch cards. Of course, today, a smart phone has more power than these huge data centers, but it was amazing at the time. They didn’t call this “disruption” back then, but that innovation and my dad’s love of computing stuck with me. I majored in computer science and have built my career largely around companies leading disruption at the intersection of technology, media, and data. That’s why I ended up running innovative organizations like Turn, Shopkick, and now Conviva.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

The great thing about my job is there is no typical day, there’s not even a typical week! As CEO at Conviva, the company defining the new standard in measurement and intelligence for streaming TV, I focus on a mix of leadership, operations, technology, customer, sales, marketing, and company recruiting objectives. I’m also not someone who sits at his desk. Most of my time is spent face-to-face with employees in Foster City and around the world, talking to customers like HBO, Hulu, Turner, CBS, Sling, Sky, DAZN, Univision and others, and being hands-on in the development of our technology and business. I’m also very deliberate about making time for my family. That means dinners with my sons, playing chauffeur to them, and being involved in their sports and activities.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

For me, there’s no substitute for being an involved dad. Being there for my kids in the moments that matter, to support and guide them through their successes and their challenges, is important to their development of confidence, independence, and future contributions to society.

As a single dad, raising boys, sharing and articulating emotions takes on heightened importance. Daily check-ins on how we’re feeling and what we’re thinking have become part of our regular routine.

I’ve found spending time and being open with each other is critical to my sons’ self-esteem and demonstrates that they’re valued and special. It’s been proven time and again that without that, children don’t really understand what love is or what it means to feel emotionally safe.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is important to make time to spend with your children?

First, it’s a joy and reward for me. To see my children’s eyes light up when I play with them, teach them, or learn from them warms my heart and gives me meaning, satisfaction, and purpose. Second, the presence of a parent or responsible adult can make all the difference in a child’s life from the happiness of their childhood to the kind of person they become as a grown-up. Children are our legacy and the future. Why wouldn’t you invest in them?

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

Personally, I believe both quality and quantity are important (as is avoiding becoming a helicopter parent). For my two boys and me, here are some of the ways we spend quality time together:

  1. Travel: What I love about travel is it creates memories that last a lifetime. You get to enjoy the trip itself and then the re-telling for years to come. Being in a new environment and experiencing new things together is excellent bonding time. We are fortunate to do one international and one domestic trip every year. Some of our favorites have been the Galapagos, New Zealand, Belize, Australia, and Alaska.
  2. Sports: We play tennis, basketball, backyard touch football, and ping-pong together. We also sit down as a family to watch our favorite teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Golden State Warriors.
  3. Dinnertime: We eat together most evenings which is a great way to share our thoughts about the day.
  4. Child-led activity: I let them pick an activity and we do that together. That could be building something, going on a day trip, or playing a game.
  5. Chauffeuring time: I find I learn the most about my kids’ thoughts when I am driving one of them somewhere. They seem to open up more in the car on the way to or from an activity than almost any other time.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

When everything in life is a priority, where do your children fit in? How do you allocate the right amount of quality and quantity of time with them? Here are some strategies I have found to work:

  1. Schedule time in your calendar with them at the beginning of each week as you would for any other important meetings. With two boys, I schedule time with them both individually and together, and make the most of it.
  2. Eat meals together. Dinner together is a top priority for my boys and me. We all sit at the kitchen counter, no electronics allowed, and discuss what we liked or didn’t like about our day. Some of our favorite meals are quiche, chicken parmigiana, Chinese food, and Thai food. Topics range from school and sports to things going on in the news.
  3. Critically evaluate what is essential and let go of the things from your daily life that are a lower priority than your children.
  4. Find meaningful ways to connect work and family life. As someone whose business is all about the streaming TV experience, I regularly watch movies and shows with my boys.
  5. Invite them to join you in activities that you might otherwise do by yourself like grocery shopping or projects around the house.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

A good parent inspires their children to be the best versions of themselves, ultimately who they were meant to be. This has to be done with love and support while not letting them get too far off track. As a CEO, I lead from the front but as a dad, I lead from behind.

For example, when my younger son was 3, he would call out to me in the middle of the night. Like any dad I’d get up to check on him even though I’d just come off of a 20-hour day and was sleep deprived (in addition to being a single dad, I was running a very fast-growing start-up at that time). More often than not, it wasn’t an emergency, it was questions out of left field like “Are cheetahs extinct?” The knee-jerk reaction in my head was “You’re waking up your sleep-deprived dad for this? Go back to sleep.” But deep down I knew we were creating a long-term connection. If I had treated those moments like they were trivial, I would have missed the opportunity to help him develop his curiosity and understand how he makes sense of the world.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

One of the things I ask them every night before they go to bed is “Who can do anything he puts his mind to?” The answer is “Me.”

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

Success is ultimately having a positive impact on the people around you. We are all interconnected. Because I am a CEO dad, I bring both of those things to work. I encourage, mentor, and offer personal support to my employees to grow in their careers and make time for their families. Leading by example and listening to what’s important to them, I make it truly OK to do both. It’s inspiring to contribute to the development of a future generation of compassionate leaders.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

I’m a voracious reader, but a single book that epitomizes my parenting philosophy is Parenting from the Inside Out. That said, for me it feels instinctive and natural to be a dad. I consider it a calling.

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

There are actually two quotes that sum it up for me:

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” — Anais Nin

“Every man is born an original, but sadly, most men die copies.” — Abraham Lincoln

People are capable of much more than they think. I would not be where I am in life today if I didn’t have the courage to be true to myself and persevere in trying times.

You are a person of great 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’d like to inspire the “Think Time” movement. Whether you sit quietly for five minutes, take a walk, or let your mind wander while doing a repetitive task, giving yourself permission to take these quiet moments alone with your thoughts is crucial.

As it says in the opening three lines of the Dhammapada:

“We are what we think

All that we are arises with our thoughts

With our thoughts we make the world”

Everything in life is how we frame problems, opportunities, and challenges. When you allow yourself to rise above the stress of the day, emotions, your calendar, and your to-do list, it’s easier to truly analyze and objectively assess what’s important. From this place of clarity and focus come the lightbulb moments that can define your purpose and change the world.

What does the ultimate success of this movement look like to me? This is not about the “you can have it all” platitude, this is about dads like me making a conscious decision to be a parent first, confident that they can still achieve professional success.

Thank you so much for your insights! This was so inspiring!

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