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“I would like to start a movement to aid the expansion of democracy through artificial intelligence” With Emrah Gultekin

It would definitely be the expansion of democracy through artificial intelligence, to include voting rights to animals, plants, children…


It would definitely be the expansion of democracy through artificial intelligence, to include voting rights to animals, plants, children, future generations etc. They have no voice. I understand this is a far-out idea, but I think we’ll eventually get there over the next decades and perhaps century. Our governance systems are broken and need to be upgraded. We are destroying the planet and are doing a poor job managing ourselves. We need to think outside the current paradigms to solve the problems we face today. If we take a more inclusive approach and give a voice to other members of our planet, we’ll achieve two things: 1) dilute the hegemony of adult humans, and 2) create desperately needed checks and balances to implement common policy and protect the future of Earth.


I had the pleasure to interview Emrah Gultekin. Emrah is the CEO of Chooch Intelligence Technologies Co., a Silicon Valley, AI start-up. Chooch is an AI that codes AI. Chooch finds data, codes models and trains perceptions for recognition. Emrah was educated at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and currently resides with his family in San Francisco, CA.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I became an entrepreneur straight out of college. I learned we were living in two distinct worlds. The first world, the one they teach you about, is a world of rational mechanisms and events. I always wished this world would prevail. The second world is something not often talked about, and is much harder to swallow — a world of intuition, randomness and uncertainty. I learned how to juggle both worlds to some degree at an earlier period in my life. So, when the opportunity for Chooch came along, I intuitively knew it was the right thing to do.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

My co-founder went to China with an incubator for 3 weeks, and during that period he was supposed to raise funds for the company. We were working on a deal with a major public, blockchain company in Beijing. The deal broke down after some disagreements on terms. Instead of quitting and saying goodbye, they offered my co-founder a 7 digit salary and stock!

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

Team size and prioritization are key here. There needs to be a hierarchy of values, followed by deliverables which are critical to reach the target. In my opinion and experience teams should be small, the ideal size being two to five people. You generally have decreasing returns to scale with larger teams. In case you have a very large organization, team leaders generally do well managing two to five people, even in very vertical organizations with direct reports. It’s important to keep this in mind and it doesn’t matter if you have a vertical or horizontal organization. In addition to the number of people on a team, simple, one sentence deliverables are crucial. We generally work on two to three deliverables per week. The list of deliverables don’t need to be long at all. The shorter the better. Another important aspect of deliverables is to execute. You’re never going to get anywhere unless you keep trying. We encourage people to try new methods i.e. to hack their way through a problem(s) by trial and error, especially if what they are doing is completely new.


What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?

There are lots of challenges with global teams, but that’s also part of the beauty. If you can solve some of these challenges your company will have a competitive advantage. While leading the company you’re also trying to utilize global efficiencies and arbitrage with teams and individuals. Some challenges are well-known such as culture, language and time zones. We’re all fortunate to be living in an era with video conferencing, project management and scheduling tools. There are other serious issues such as the integration of operating systems which can cause a lot of headaches. I was part of a company that grew significantly through acquisitions. The newly acquired companies were on different ERP systems and there was a major project to merge the systems over a period of three years. One of the purposes of acquiring companies is to create efficiencies and economies of scale so it makes sense to merge ERP systems or select one system and phase the others out over time. In ten years, the systems never merged, the project failed, and the company was eventually acquired.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

This is difficult. First off, make sure you recruit the right people. They need to be passionate about what they are doing, what the company is doing and their role in the company. They also need to believe and have some faith, especially in an early stage start-up. It all emanates from there. I’m not a big fan of having big teams, not because I don’t think they’ll succeed, I just know from experience everything takes longer to execute, and we don’t have time. All we are doing as a start-up is reeling in the future and using that as an advantage, so time is of the essence. Some people can communicate with each other with winks and glances, and that is really important. But for the majority, you need to whiteboard almost everything. Allow employees to create something new. Push them to their limits, like an athletic coach. You’ll be left with those who are really the A-team.

Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?

People are bound to quit, and sometimes it’s just not a good fit. In general, we need to accept the fact that companies and projects evolve over time. One of the issues with today’s economic and business models is there is less fluidity in participation and ownership than what may be healthy for the company to continue to thrive. I believe in growing and revolving ownership. If the talent is there and they take ownership of a project, process or invention, let them be — let them make the most of the opportunity and allow them to develop while moving the company forward. Also, a key thing I look at is, some people do well when there is a lot oversight, and some people do well by being totally free. It really depends on the individual, the role, the stage of the company; and it is up to the manager to discover the best way an individual works.

Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)

  1. Hire slowly, Fire quickly — This is a cliché but executing it is quite difficult. The reason you want to hire slowly is to make sure you’re getting the right person and talent. We always test the individual with a real project before making the final decision to hire. You want to fire quickly, because every second you and/or the team member is unhappy about the work, you are infecting the rest of the team and the company. It has a logarithmic effect on every aspect of what you and the company are doing.
  2. Imagine yourself to be an athletic coach/captain, not a manager — You need to push yourself and your team to the limits in order to increase work stamina and capabilities. There are times when you need to be very tough and there are times when you can relax a bit. When we are adding a feature or a new capability to our software, we sometimes hack (not whiteboard) for days on end to get to the targeted result. After a certain period, your mind and body get used to the process and you intuitively know how things may or may not work. You also get faster at what you are doing, and there is a lot of personal satisfaction and motivation in that.
  3. Understand the limits — There are limits to everything and everybody. It’s important to stay within the zones of proximal development. You want to be exposed to and strive to one or two steps ahead of your capabilities today. You don’t want to jump five or ten steps ahead although you may have an idea you’ll eventually get there. If you push a junior programmer to do artificial intelligence, chances are you’ll break the person instead of motivating him or her. Going back to the coach analogy, similarly you would not ask a junior swimmer to jump in the water to train with world champions. It wouldn’t work, and it’s usually very demotivating. You would train the person with swimmers who are of similar caliber and eventually may get to swim with the top after stages of improvement.
  4. Build internal alliances — Try and understand what your team members do outside of work. This will give you a better understanding of their values. Are they family people? Do they like long hikes? Do they like to socialize a lot? Do they travel? The purpose of this is to better gauge what can motivate them better at work and how you can associate with them and possibly add to their lives in a more meaningful way. Giving and taking are two-way streets, so build alliances.
  5. Know the details of your team’s job — One thing I’ve noticed lately is people trying to manage teams without enough technical or domain knowledge. This has a twofold effect: a) you can’t really validate their progress, and b) team members tend to have less respect for team leaders who don’t have at a minimum the same knowledge as they do. If you are managing a group of Python developers, you’d better know Python. Understand the details if you want to validate and gain the respect of your team.

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. 🙂

It would definitely be the expansion of democracy through artificial intelligence, to include voting rights to animals, plants, children, future generations etc. They have no voice. I understand this is a far-out idea, but I think we’ll eventually get there over the next decades and perhaps century. Our governance systems are broken and need to be upgraded. We are destroying the planet and are doing a poor job managing ourselves. We need to think outside the current paradigms to solve the problems we face today. If we take a more inclusive approach and give a voice to other members of our planet, we’ll achieve two things: 1) dilute the hegemony of adult humans, and 2) create desperately needed checks and balances to implement common policy and protect the future of Earth.


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

Paraphrasing from the book Mahatma Letters to AP Sinnett “…[at the time when merely one word would have saved you, now you need to traverse mountains to obtain the same result]…” This exemplifies seizing the opportunity and moment when it really exists. You have a window of opportunity for everything and it opens and shuts very quickly sometimes — sometimes in seconds. You need to develop that intuition to understand when opportunity knocks, when you must act or decide on something. Sometimes you only have sketchy data points. What are you going to do? Some people have an innate capability to do this and some people need time to develop this skill. I’ve always tried to develop and see opportunities where it was not so obvious. I now just call it intuition for short, a mix between gut (old processed data) and any new data coming in at that moment.

Originally published at medium.com

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