We are living in a unique time where there are so many new technologies and ideas circling around. It’s important that, as these new ideas come to fruition, people and businesses understand their uses, dangers, etc. Thought leaders are more important than ever because we’re seeing a select amount of people, deemed experts in their field, that are helping the rest of the world understand how all of these new technologies work. I find it incredibly rewarding to be able to share my deep knowledge about AI and how it can help people and businesses. I am in a unique position to advise others on the uses of these new technologies. For me, this is one of the most worthwhile things I could do with my time.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rob Carpenter. Rob is the CEO and Founder of Valyant AI. Rob is a passionate technologist and serial entrepreneur driven to bring new and exciting products to market. Rob has an MBA with a specialization in enterprise technology management, has spent two years on the board of a VC fund, was named one of the top 25 young professionals in Colorado and received the Colorado Trailblazer award.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I am the CEO of Valyant AI, the world’s first face-to-face customer service artificial intelligence (AI) application that looks and feels like you’re talking to a real person. I am also the chairman of AppIt Ventures, a custom software development company with offices in three countries.
I was raised in Alaska and have a master’s degree in business administration with a specialization in enterprise technology management. I spent two years on the board for the Rutt Bridges Venture Capital Fund, and in 2013, I was named one of the top 25 most influential young professionals in Colorado by ColoradoBiz Magazine. In 2016, I received the Denver Trailblazer award.
I have presented at several conferences and events on the benefits and challenges of entrepreneurship, as well as the merits of self-funding and building a minimum viable product (MVP). I also speak on the importance of testing the hypothesis, things to consider when raising startup capital and the associated pros and cons to angel investors, friends and family, crowdfunding and venture capital.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
When I created Valyant, I did so with the intention of creating something that didn’t yet exist. My ability to think forward and look at potential challenges of the future positions me as a thought leader, at least within the enterprise AI space.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I was running my custom software development company, we’d often have people reach out to us from all walks of life looking to have software developed. This could be large businesses, individuals with an idea, serial entrepreneurs, etc. One of the more interesting ones was the manager for Emmanuel Sanders, the wide receiver for the Denver Broncos.
Emmanuel would get lots of fans sending him requests over Instagram and Twitter for signed photos, especially if they met him in person and were able to get a photo together. We brainstormed an idea and came up with a mobile app that would allow any fan to send Emmanuel a photo, and then he could use an iPad Pro to sign the photo, authenticate it with his thumbprint and send it back to the fan.
As we were getting ready to wrap up and launch the app, we had the chance to meet Emmanuel himself. He’s a really nice guy, we had a great time chatting and obviously asked if we could take a photo together. After he left, one of our employees who wasn’t a big sports fan and hadn’t been in the meeting remarked, “He sure was a nice guy, but why did he want to get a photo with us?”
To this day, we laugh and joke about how Emmanuel wanted to get a photo with our team.
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?
Back in 2011, I had an idea for an iPad app. It was a business plan generator that would walk you through the process of creating a business plan and then export a polished final version. The original development quote I received was 700 dollars and 12 days worth of work. It turned into five and a half months of grueling back and forth before I actually had a product ready for market.
One day, I was in Starbucks chatting with a friend (and future business partner), explaining the development process. Despite development being so difficult, the app ended up hitting number 32 of the highest-paid business apps in the U.S. We were getting really excited and high-fiving each other, when an older gentleman walked up.
He said, “My apologies for interrupting, but I couldn’t help overhearing that you built a mobile application for yourself. I work for Apple, I’m in business development and I have multiple app ideas, could you help me?”
As far as entrepreneurship goes, this was practically a gift from the gods. Anyone who’s started a business knows how rare it is to have these types of opportunities land in your lap. Despite what was an obvious answer in hindsight, my response was, “I’m sorry, but I really don’t know anything about app development.”
The gentlemen thanked me for my time and promptly left. It wasn’t until he was out of sight that the idea hit me to start a custom software development company helping entrepreneurs create their own apps. The conversation did get me going in starting my first major company, but that missed opportunity still haunts me.
Long story short, when gifts fall into your lap, don’t ask questions, just say yes and see where it leads.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
A thought leader is someone who has the ability to look forward and detect possible problems/solutions for the future. Generally, a thought leader has done something already (created something new or launched a genius idea) that has given them the “clout” needed to have people perceive them as a thought leader.
A “typical leader” is someone who is able to organize others in a way that aids success. This can be as “clear cut” as a political or military leader or as casual as a mentor.
A thought leader differs from an influencer in a few ways. First, thought leaders generally have a strong position or “thought” about the agenda they are pushing. They generally have experience and can speak intelligently on the topic based on their experience. An influencer doesn’t always have this level of knowledge. A thought leader can also be an influencer, but an influencer is generally someone who has taken a stiff “bandwagon” approach to a certain topic and is speaking from opinion rather than experience.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
We are living in a unique time where there are so many new technologies and ideas circling around. It’s important that, as these new ideas come to fruition, people and businesses understand their uses, dangers, etc. Thought leaders are more important than ever because we’re seeing a select amount of people, deemed experts in their field, that are helping the rest of the world understand how all of these new technologies work.
I find it incredibly rewarding to be able to share my deep knowledge about AI and how it can help people and businesses. I am in a unique position to advise others on the uses of these new technologies. For me, this is one of the most worthwhile things I could do with my time.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
Thought leadership can help a business grow tremendously. By using past experience to help solve for the future, thought leaders are well equipped to advise businesses on the best path to success in their given industry. Additionally, well-known thought leaders can attract talent and investors to the company, helping to add to the company’s value.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
Nick Bostrom, the author of Superintelligence, is one of the foremost thinkers in the world of artificial intelligence. The work he’s done and captured in his book has advanced the field of artificial general intelligence (AGI) and how we should think about the dangers and opportunities it will present. With the exception of a few cases, all modern AI is focused on artificial narrow intelligence (ANI) and how to use it to solve current problems, like self-driving cars and conversational AI. None of these areas are evenly remotely close in capability to true AGI, which is what we all think about when we discuss AI based on our experiences absorbing science fiction. Some day, when we get to AGI, Nick Bostrom’s work in how to ensure AGI is a benevolent force for good, will be absolutely critical.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
Call it whatever you want, but the idea behind it remains important. Sure, buzzwords like “thought leader” and “influencer” are over (and often incorrectly) used. At the end of the day, the idea that you can learn from someone else’s experience and recommendations remains important.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Keep it fun! Company culture is huge. I highly recommend surrounding yourself with people who keep you thinking. At Valyant, our team brings new ideas to the table every day, and I am grateful for the constant push to continue to grow and learn from them. It’s important to hire the best possible talent and keep them engaged throughout their time with you. You never know what you could learn!
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. 🙂
Universal basic income or UBI. As has been highlighted numerous times, current AI has the potential to disrupt as many as 48% of all salaried jobs in the United States in the next twenty years. We don’t need a UBI today, but we should definitely study it, weigh the factors and have a plan in place for delivering it, if AI truly ends up being as disruptive to the labor market as a lot of people believe.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Aim for the moon, lest you miss, you still land among the stars” -Unknown
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Ray Kurzweil. He’s an inventor and futurist, current director of engineering at Google and recipient of numerous awards for his inventions. The work he’s doing around longevity and recreating people digitally is absolutely fascinating. It would be an honor to have breakfast or lunch with Dr. Kurzweil and discuss immortality.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn: Valyant AI