“You can’t work 24/7” With Jason Hartman & Dr. Ted Acworth

You can’t work 24/7 — you’ll actually have much lower productivity. Find the balance that achieves your personal maximum productivity — could be 50 or 80 hours per week — but there is certainly a point of diminishing return that will burn you out for nobody’s benefit. As part of my series about the leadership […]

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You can’t work 24/7 — you’ll actually have much lower productivity. Find the balance that achieves your personal maximum productivity — could be 50 or 80 hours per week — but there is certainly a point of diminishing return that will burn you out for nobody’s benefit.

As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ted Acworth. Dr. Acworth is a modern champion of an ancient craft serving as the founder and CEO of Artaic — an award-winning manufacturing and design company that utilizes American robotic production to modernize the creation of mosaics for use in residences, commercial properties, institutions, hospitality settings, and for public art installations. Acworth has spent his decades-long career advancing and commercializing innovative technology, as well as managing research and development for companies, universities, and governments spanning the globe. Since launching the brand in 2007, Acworth has worked with many household names around the world such as Harvard University, Walt Disney World, Dow Jones, Hilton Hotels + Resorts, and the Philadelphia International Airport.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have a background in science/engineering along with experience in robotics, optics and digital image processing (Stanford PhD, MIT Postdoc, Rocket Science at NASA). I discovered the mosaic art form while travelling in Europe and fell in love with the tile mosaic artistic medium. It’s tangible, substantial and durable.

My mother was an artist who created commercial artworks and murals. I grew up visiting her worksites, which ultimately sparked my appreciation for art. I’m fascinated by what it takes to create art — especially large murals. I was inspired to make the art form more accessible in terms of speed and cost, with a more innovative or modern approach regarding imagery.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lessons did you learn from that?

After two years of developing the robotics and CAD technologies, our first product offering marketing and selling, the Great Recession hit on the day of our very first sale. It was the day that Lehman Brothers collapsed, Sept. 15, 2008. I’ll never forget it. We got that project produced and installed. We had some other projects in our pipeline, but over the course of the next months, the market completely dried up. No one was building buildings. I learned that market timing dominates all else. No matter how smart you are, if your market takes a hit, you’ll take a hit. We had to cut back our expenses, and focused our attention on continuing to develop our technologies and products to be ready for fast growth when the market would recover,which didn’t happen until 2012–2013.

The breadth of responsibilities that a Founder & CEO faces. I was skilled at technology and innovation management, but had to broaden into marketing, sales, and a million other responsibilities. It wasn’t just my livelihood on the line, but the people who work for me who depend on the company for a paycheck. I love the breadth of challenges I face every day. I’m good at some, not so good at others. I try to find excellent people to help the company in areas where I have less skill.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

Preparation: I waited until almost 40 to start Artaic, and leading up to that time I deliberately learned as much as I could about technology entrepreneurship. I got a PhD, I developed innovative new technologies, I managed teams, I worked around startups and VC, I got an MBA. I only felt ready to take the plunge after I’d had those experiences and built that knowledge.

Persistence: Two years after founding Artaic, the market evaporated as the global construction industry ground to a halt. Churchill said something like “when you find yourself in hell, keep going.” I kept going, I kept doggedly at it, and finally in 2012 the market started recovering, designers started designing buildings, and we started winning projects.

Scientist/Engineer entrepreneurs often start with what’s called a “solution looking for a problem.” I had learned enough about entrepreneurship to know that you have to do your customer research and find a customer/market that is willing to pay money to buy your solution. Before starting any Artaic technology development, I did my market research and found a customer. Then I started the technology development.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Entrepreneurship can be all-consuming, and there are many pressures to make it that way.

Try to compartmentalize. When I’m working, I’m working. When I’m not working, I’m (mostly) not working — I spend time with my family, hobbies, volunteering, exercise.

You can’t work 24/7 — you’ll actually have much lower productivity. Find the balance that achieves your personal maximum productivity — could be 50 or 80 hours per week — but there is certainly a point of diminishing return that will burn you out for nobody’s benefit.

Try not to make it personal. At the end of the day, your company is not a personal extension of you. Plenty of brilliant entrepreneurs start companies that ultimately failed, but not because they were failures as people. You give it your best shot, and you hope for a positive outcome. Failure can come from many factors, many of which are completely out of your control. If you tried your best, then you’re automatically a success as a person, even if your company fails.

Activities that demand high concentration — for me, flying and technical mountain biking — that I don’t have the ability to think about work when I’m doing them. I don’t have the bandwidth to think about work at all. They require such focus its not even possible to think about work, and that becomes refreshing mentally.

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? Can you share a story?

The late great Ken Morse of MIT is credited with the famous saying, behind every great entrepreneur is a spouse with a steady income. So, a shout out to my wonderful wife for supporting a very rough and slow start to Artaic, which I was launching on the dawn of the recession. In addition to her own career helping to support our family, she was always a close strategic advisor on the direction of the business and especially the marketing and brand.

The great professor Dan DeBra at Stanford University, who gave me my first shot at not just my advisor and mentor during my PhD but also gave me a first shot at building a sizeable technical team on a project. A technical research and innovation. When I was ready to take the leap seven years after my time on campus, not only did he encourage me but he also became one of my earliest investors.

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

Professionally, to get Artaic more firmly established in terms of client base. The last recession was painful, and I want Artaic to have a strong foundation to be able to weather any future economic challenges. Resiliency.

Personally I would like to achieve my Instrument Flight Rating as a pilot. Raise three bright, healthy, and happy children who are kind and caring members of their community. Restore my father’s 1986 30-foot seafarer sloop that I actually helped build one summer in high school, as it was the last one off the production line as he was closing the business — after pioneering the use of fiberglass in sailboats.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

Beautiful lasting tile mosaic works of art throughout the world. What was largely an ancient and dead art form to have been revitalized and made more common for the aesthetic betterment of our built world. Renewed appreciation of this art form across the world.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

What can you use ½ of in your life? Can you use 1/2 the electricity, or live your life spending ½ time in the shower or washing dishes. Think about the water you use to brush your teeth. Would that have a massive impact on the planet? Definitely.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I don’t do a lot of posting, but when I do it’s usually on LinkedIn or Facebook.







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