I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Rogers, a Harvard-educated serial entrepreneur and founder of WorkDone.AI, a Digital Workforce / Corporate Memory platform which arose from the culmination of decades of experience consulting to large multi-nationals to reduce operating costs, streamline operations, and increase competitive advantage. By leveraging our patent-pending Expertise Capture technology, organizations can seamlessly train software agents to automate transactions between major SaaS platforms while permanently retaining the corporate operational best practices. WorkDone is a public benefit corporation with the social impact objective of assisting humans put out of work by AI to move forward into an abundant future. Joe has over 2 decades of experience in starting & growing technology and consulting businesses.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
My parents are both from the south — my father was from Tennessee, my mother from Louisiana — and they met in Santa Monica, California back in the 50s. I was born and raised in southern California, went to Harvard for undergrad, and I’ve been self-employed since graduating. I am currently on my fourth tech company, and seventh overall.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Back in the early 90s, I regularly had experiences which were unexpected, and sometimes off-putting. The first one that comes to mind happened during a project with South Carolina Electric and Gas in Columbia SC, the state capitol. I was onsite with a few consultants from my team back then: a Jewish kid from New Jersey, an African with short dreads fade — and a Mexican-American from Denver who had hair down to his waist and always had his shirtsleeves rolled up so you could see his tattoos. They were all excellent developers.
One day we went to lunch down the street from the picturesque capitol building. As we entered the restaurant, everybody stopped talking. It was straight out of the movies. We proceeded to sit down, and the waitress didn’t so much as ask but growled out “what do you want to eat.” We were super-aware of the sort of less-than-friendly vibe, but we were all living in LA and visiting the south, and damned if we were going to be intimidated.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
WorkDone stands out in that it fundamentally changes the way enterprise software development has worked my entire career.
With the integration of machine learning, analytics and business process management, we now have the unique ability to allow individuals to create software based on how they work, as opposed to being forced to work how the software dictates. I’ve worked on multiple projects across three continents, and this actually is the most powerful one yet — the user who trains the WorkDone automation agent doesn’t have to do anything differently, they just keep doing their job, and our technology learns from the user.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
As it happens, WorkDone isn’t just changing the way that all of us work, it’s specifically breaking new ground for how process automation consulting works. I’ve spent most of my career billing time — if I wasn’t working, I wasn’t getting paid. WorkDone is the complete opposite, where the customer transparently self-automates using our technology and pays an economical subscription. It’s building a service and supporting that service for our customers, which is like night and day for me. It’s refreshing, I must say.
Additionally, we are making it possible for customers to retain valuable operational knowledge, so it is not lost when people leave the company. This way, new employees can be trained from the stored corporate memory of best practices on demand. WorkDone has solved the age-old problem of retaining knowledge even when employees leave. Lastly, WorkDone is a public benefit corporation with the social impact objective of assisting humans put out of work by AI to move forward into an abundant future.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I’m laser-focused on culture. In my past as an ECM consultant I’ve been on the inside of many different work environments around the world. I’ve seen places where people “work” till late at night doing absolutely nothing just so they can be the last to leave the office, compared to places where people work less than 40 hours per week and get twice as much work done as typical full-time workers. They have flextime, work from home, have a life, yet they’re super productive.
It’s important to realize that chances are extremely high no employee will be doing this job the rest of his or her life. For most workers, jobs are just jobs — including senior management. Instead of setting up the false expectation that you’re all a family that’s going to live and die together and be buried in the same coffin, instead ask from the beginning: what do you hope to achieve here? Where do you want to go next? Then help them build that career path, even if it is at a different company. When a person leaves they can provide ongoing value as an alumnus singing the organization’s praises.
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?
My entire career is the result of a two-day temp job. I took a year off before my senior year in college, came out to LA, crashed on my friend Steve’s couch, and this temp job ended up turning into my career over 20 years later.
Brian Schlosser was a sales guy back then — we’re still friends — and he noticed the afternoon of the first day that I knew what I was doing. He told his manager, a guy named Lewis Carpenter, that “Joe knows his way around a PC, we need to hold onto this guy.” And those two just gave me opportunity after opportunity, where I kept sticking my neck out and doing stuff where I had no idea what I was doing and it kept working out.
Brian gave me opportunities to work pre-sales for large insurance and financial services prospects. This was in the early days of client/server. I was green to the business side, but from the technical side it looked good and helped the prospects envision the benefits the technology could provide. These prospects became customers spending millions of dollars.
Not too long after that, I began building my consultancy Innovative Document Imaging. My first hire was Eddie Hartman, who would later become one of the co-founders of LegalZoom. He still refers to me as his mentor. He’s had a lot of success and I’m super grateful to have him as my mentor — the tables have turned!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have a side interest I call Executive Reboot where I help high-performance individuals — usually C-suite types — to achieve alignment between their heads and their hearts which is extremely powerful when leading and communicating. In my opinion, everyone performs best when their jobs are in alignment with their skills, when their teams are in alignment with each other and communication is direct and heartfelt.
We’re taught from day one to develop our intellect. And yes, our brains are wonderful tools and definitely help us to get work done, however there’s another consciousness aside from our physical consciousness which is based around our heart, our non-physical heart. It’s similar to intuition, which is what most people are familiar with, but it goes much deeper than that. Problems arise when the brain and the heart are not in alignment. The brain can rationalize almost any idea no matter how bad (no shortage of historical examples of this). However, if we “follow our heart” and keep our brain in alignment then decision-making outcomes improve significantly — I speak from personal experience.
If an executive is running an organization and trying to guide people to achieve a set of objectives, and that person is out of alignment, it is readily apparent to all in their verbal, physical and energetic communication. However if the executive’s head and heart are in alignment, then everybody feels it deeply within and will follow that person to the ends of the earth. The organization becomes unstoppable because they feel purpose.
Can you share the top five lessons that you have learned from your experience as a “Black Man In Tech”?
I always used to worry about how I was perceived. So I would say my biggest lesson is: Don’t care what people think.
There’s no shortage of cases where I’m fairly certain I did not win a deal due to my skin color. You never know for sure unless the prospect comes out and says “I’m a racist, so we won’t be choosing you as our vendor,” which never happens, but you can kind of tell.
Not long ago my consulting company submitted a bid to an organization where we were already engaged, doing good work, and the client was pleased with our performance — two of their team members had gone so far as to say they wanted to award us their next RFP. It was in the bag. There was only one competitor and their price was 3 times higher than ours. For some reason, the competition won the project. After requesting an explanation (government agencies usually select the low bidder), they overreacted with a threatening letter from legal affairs. Pretty fishy if you ask me. Sadly, I will never know what really happened.
This type of experience has been common enough for me that the idea of expending energy towards challenging every slight, real or perceived, would consume all my time. I generally choose to walk away and focus on the next opportunity. My time is too valuable and I’m a big believer in karma.
Of course this isn’t always the case — there are plenty of good people out there who actually do treat each other fairly. It doesn’t matter where I’ve been in the US, and I’ve visited all 50 states, I frequently end up becoming good friends with the employees onsite at various clients.
The context changes entirely overseas. A client in Malaysia once told me that they liked the fact that I was a person of color — they said Caucasian consultants would often show up onsite acting like they owned the place. I treated them the way I wanted to be treated and they appreciated it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
I wouldn’t mind having breakfast with Neil deGrasse Tyson. I’ve always been a space buff and he makes the cosmos accessible. I know he has evolving opinions on AI as well. I’d like to discuss with him the pros and cons of presenting oneself as an astrophysicist, as opposed to a “black” astrophysicist.
Originally published at medium.com