Adam Fish Transcript

Clint Betts:

Adam, thanks for joining the show and talking to us about what you're working on. You're the CEO and co-founder of Ditto. How did you get to the position you're in now, in the company you're in now? Tell us about your journey.

Adam Fish:

Well, first off, thank you for having me. Really excited to be able to share a little bit about my history and what the journey has been for me to become a CEO. I would say the best way to describe my background is very nontraditional. I run Ditto. It is a software platform that enables software applications to connect without the internet. And so we take devices like an iPhone and Android device, and we enable them to talk to each other using things like Bluetooth and wifi. And so you don't need the internet, cellular connection. If you're just standing next to someone, you can share data directly from your device to the other. And so I say that for context because Ditto is an extremely advanced technology company. There is not another company out here that has developed technology like ours. And so it's an extremely heavy R&D-focused company.

And so you would naturally think as a CEO, I would probably have a computer science degree or something like that to be running an organization like Ditto, but that is not the case. I actually went to school to be a doctor originally and briefly went to medical school before changing my career path and following my passion into technology, which was something that I had been doing what I thought was a hobby from a very young age. And so it's very nontraditional in how I got here, but in a lot of ways, I look back on that, and to me, it was the early evidence that my path to being an entrepreneur was going to be the case. I was never going to follow the normal path.

Clint Betts:

That's incredible. Tell us about Ditto and how you came up with the idea as I understand it in the early innings of this company, what is the ultimate goal? Where are you trying to get to with this?

Adam Fish:

Yeah. Well, my background now professionally has really been about building software applications. I started as a mobile developer in the early days of mobile devices. And immediately it became very obvious that with mobile devices, you've got the challenge of having to ensure that data can get to that device reliably. But in the real world, when you're carrying around devices that use wireless connectivity, you run into all these potential issues that could prevent that. And so previous to Ditto, I had worked at another company called Realm, and we had built software to connect mobile devices to the cloud. And that's how the vast majority of applications work is: that you interact with your device, and if you want to transmit data to another person or another device, you have to send that data from the device to some other server or a data center that could be hundreds of miles away from where you're actually at. And then that data has to be transmitted all the way back to the other person's device.

And so when starting Ditto, we thought, that doesn't make a lot of sense. If my device has a radio that can talk to your device, why can't I just send it directly to you? Why do I have to go through the internet, go to a server just to come all the way back to talk to someone that's maybe like 10 feet away from me? And so that was the genesis of the idea behind Ditto. And when we started the company in 2018, the theory behind it was that mobile devices today are now incredibly powerful computers that can do things like this. But when I got my start building mobile applications back in like 2010, in the early days of the original iPhone and Android devices, those devices couldn't do this. And so this is a new capability that exists, and Ditto is enabling that for lots of different applications that can now work more reliably than ever before.

Clint Betts:

How are you thinking about artificial intelligence just in general, and how are you implementing that into Ditto?

Adam Fish:

Yeah. It's a fantastic question because it gets to the heart of what we believe is going to play out over the next 10, 20 years. If you look at the history of computing ... If you go back all the way to the original computers; they were big mainframes. And the way you interacted with them is that you actually rented time on those computers. And so, in a lot of ways, it resembles what we think of as cloud computing today. Where you're connecting to something remotely, and you're renting time from it. And that was the case because at that point, that was the only way that you could have processing power was a giant computer that took up an entire room. But as we figured out how to shrink that computing power down, what happened was the advent of personal computers in the '80s and '90s. Well, that trend from big computers to smaller computers basically reversed in the early 2000s with the advent of mobile devices, PalmPilots, and then iPhones and the like. Those devices were so underpowered ... The original ones. That you needed something like a big computer again. And so that coincided with the rise of cloud computing, and that's really played out over the last 10, 20 years.

Well, today, in 2024, that's a very different situation, whereas I was mentioning, your modern iPhone is now usually the most powerful computing device that a person owns. And so now there is so much capability that can be done on the device that you don't always need to go and talk to a server anymore. And so it's like the PC revolution happening again, where processing power is moving to the edge away from the data center. And that is going to play out in a major way with artificial intelligence because, as you can see now, there's a massive race to try to get enough GPU and processing power to be able to run these models.

And in a lot of cases, there's just not enough GPUs to go around. But the reality is in your mobile device, you have an incredibly powerful GPU. And so I think what's going to continue to happen is software is going to figure out more ways to leverage running those AI or machine learning models on edge devices and so that it could be cheaper and have lower latency for end users. And so we see Ditto is going to be a crucial piece of that because, at the end of the day, how you manage the data on a mobile device is essentially what we solve. We figure out how to store the data and transmit it around across edge devices and into the cloud. And so that's going to be a key challenge as AI continues to evolve and spread into our mobile devices.

Clint Betts:

What are some interesting use cases you've found, or clients, or those who are using Ditto's platform currently, partnerships you've made, or, again, clients you've had that really show the power of Ditto?

Adam Fish:

Yeah. Well, we've been really fortunate to work with some incredible companies. The first industry that adopted Ditto was the commercial airline industry. So today, we work with companies like Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, where Ditto is embedded into the software that the flight attendants are using. So if you've been on a flight recently, you'll notice that the staff, the crew are all using mobile devices. And so they do a lot of things with that mobile device. They track safety issues, seat assignments, meal inventory information. Basically, everything that a flight attendant needs to do their job is on that device. The problem, though, is that if they want to share data with the other people in the plane, like the other flight attendants or maybe the pilot, they still have to rely on the internet of the plane. And as we all know, that's pretty unreliable. And so, with Ditto embedded into their applications, a flight attendant can make a change on their device, and it can immediately be transmitted to all the other devices in the plane over things like wifi and Bluetooth. And so, at that point, you don't even care if there's internet in the plane. And so this improves customer experience, operations, and even safety.

And so that's where we got started. But our biggest vertical to date is now actually not in the air but on the ground with restaurants and retail establishments where Ditto is being used to connect devices within stores. A key customer of ours is Chick-fil-A, where they are using Ditto to connect all of their mobile devices within their stores in the same way that those flight attendants. It's exact same mechanism that is happening just on the ground where mobile devices are sharing data from device to device over Bluetooth and wifi. And this ensures that an order taken from the drive-through can show up in the screens in the kitchen as quickly and as reliably as possible so people can get their food on time.

Clint Betts:

What about healthcare or something along those lines? I could see this using being used in all sorts of different verticals in really interesting ways. Have you found any cool healthcare partnerships or that type of stuff that has led you to believe like, wow, this is really scalable in all sorts of industries, if not all industries?

Adam Fish:

Absolutely. Ultimately, we view Ditto as a technology that can be used in any application. At the end of the day, just think about it: when you use your mobile device, you are reading data and writing data as you interact with any application, whether a consumer and enterprise application. And so that's what Ditto does. We manage data on edge devices and move it around wherever it needs to go in some pretty unique ways. And so that means it's applicable to solving any problem where you've got to be able to reliably store and transmit data. And the healthcare industry is a place where we see incredible opportunity also just to have a major impact in a personal way as well. And so we recently announced a partnership with a company called ShareMyHealth that is doing children's nutritional screenings around the world.

And so these are typically in rural areas where cellular connectivity is not guaranteed. And to paint a picture of what this looks like. You might have a family that would show up to these screenings where there would be multiple tents set up, such as in an arena or a school facility. And each one of those tents are going to do some sort of different health screening. Maybe blood pressure, check weight, things like that. And traditionally, the only way to be able to coordinate the data across all these different locations as the screenings are being conducted would be pen and paper. And so with Ditto, now all the workers can use mobile tablets, and they can input the screenings as the children move along. And everyone, regardless of internet, will be able to ... All the healthcare workers can see all the information about a given child. And so this ensures more accurate data collection and ultimately can improve the well-being of those children.

And so starting a company, building technology like Ditto, that's extremely a hidden technology in a lot of cases. We're not building a consumer application that a lot of people are going to interact with. It's amazing to see how people ultimately implement Ditto and the impact that it can have around the world. And so very proud to be able to say that in a small way we're having an impact on children's lives around the world.

Clint Betts:

With the product and with Ditto being able to use in basically any application in any industry, how do you decide where to spend your time? How do you decide which industry to focus on where to start?

Adam Fish:

It's a great question because I think, as most entrepreneurs figure out, that the best product is not a guarantee of success. Usually, distribution and how you go about selling your product is a major factor in the success of the company. And so that's something that we've been really thoughtful about with Ditto because even though Ditto is a technology that could be used anywhere, we can't, as a small company, support any and every use case. And so the way that we think about it is on, I like to say, two axes. So, if you imagine a graph, an X and a Y axis. I think of our business on the two different sides, where the X axis is all the different ways that Ditto could be used, all the different verticals, and use cases. And that's never-ending. There's a long tail to all those use cases. But there are certain verticals that we have major success in, and that's where we really focus our sales and go-to-market team. And so that's in a lot of ways the Y axis if you're visualizing this.

And so right now, those big verticals for us in airlines and retail and increasingly in other places like manufacturing and healthcare. And so, the great part about Ditto is developers can just come and try the software out. And so that naturally pulls us into new verticals without much effort, but we focused our sales and marketing on the verticals that we have success on. And so that's how we stay focused, but at the same time, let the company grow into more and more use cases.

Clint Betts:

What does a typical day look like for you? I'm curious.

Adam Fish:

Well, I've got two young kids, so that usually now defines a lot of how my day plays out. Back when starting the company, I didn't have kids yet, so it was much easier to just do whatever as needed. But now I've learned to have my day be a bit more structured. And I try to be very thoughtful around that in making sure that in the mornings I spend time with my family and then likewise in the evenings. But reality as an entrepreneur, there's only so much that you can control. And we work with a lot of major large customers and, so I'm typically on the road a lot as well. And so, I don't know if there's really a typical day per se, but I try to have a strong balance between making sure I'm there for my family, but at the same time, doing everything as needed for the company.

Clint Betts:

What have you learned about leadership, and how have you grown as a leader, particularly since 2018 when you co-founded Ditto and became the CEO?

Adam Fish:

Yeah. Well, previous to Ditto, I actually had started another company. It didn't really take off. It was just a very small company. But one of the lessons I learned from that was that when you start a company, even before you've hired a big team, it's useful to be thoughtful about how you want that to play out. And other entrepreneurs and founders had given me that advice, and it feels strange, but I took it to heart because in 2018, even before we had hired anyone, it was just myself and my co-founder Max working on building the first version of Ditto. I wrote a document to myself saying these are the values and the way that I want to build the organization. And I just thought, if this takes off, I'm going to look back on this and appreciate it. I define that in the early days. And that has been true.

I very much believe that as a software company, we don't build anything with physical equipment or have to maintain inventory to create our end product. The only thing that creates our product is our team, the people behind it. And so we are very focused on making sure that we build and maintain an incredible team. And so I think of this as if you optimize the input of the organization, which for us is mainly the team, then you're going to achieve all the outcomes that you're hoping to achieve, such as revenue goals or product quality goals and the like. And that was really the ... Paraphrasing of the note that I wrote to myself. I was like, okay, focus on building an incredible team and the values associated with that. And I had a belief that if I did a really good job with that, then I'd probably achieve all the other goals of the company as well.

Clint Betts:

What have you learned about building a team, leading a team, particularly around culture and values, and how to implement those across the entire team? And I guess part of that question is how you've solved or thought about this whole work from home, virtual entirely hybrid, all in person debate that continues to happen amongst all sorts of leaders in companies?

Adam Fish:

Yeah. Well, I guess the first thing to note there is Ditto, from the start, was a remote organization. And so it wasn't a COVID-triggered thing. We decided that we're trying to build some really incredible advanced software that no other organization had done before. And so we want to be able to hire the best talent wherever they exist. And so it wasn't a ideological debate; it was just more pragmatic that if you could hire everywhere, then you're probably going to be able to get the best talent. And so that has ended up being a fantastic decision because our team has such incredible talent, and we've got folks all around the world almost kind of every time zone, even though the company is based out of the San Francisco Bay Area as a headquarters. And so as, thinking about that and thinking about what matters to a remote organization, I think culture in how you manage a team is incredibly important because you can't just rely on informal interactions that might happen in an office. You have to be much more thoughtful and, I think, proactive in how you work together when you're interacting primarily over Zoom and other collaboration tools.

And so that goes back to how I thought about building a team, which is that in my note that I was writing to myself in 2018, I defined that I really wanted to build a high performing team. And to me, I broke that down into really just three core attributes, which was trust, communication, and continual improvement. And those are the core values that we've really tried to focus on hiring for and cultivating. And now, as the company has over a hundred people, And I think if you don't focus on that ... A lot of entrepreneurs, I think, make this mistake. You can get by in the early days when you're a small team, where the small nature of the team means that everyone has shared values and works pretty well together. But once you get over 50, 75, 100, there's this phase change that happens. And we've recently gone through that where you start to have more of the big company dysfunction that happens as everyone just doesn't know everyone. And if you have not set up the culture of your organization before that happens, that's where things can really go awry. So we've been really thoughtful about this from the start, and it is something that we work on every day as well right now as the company continues to grow.

Clint Betts:

I know you're a remote team, but could you have started this company anywhere other than San Francisco or Silicon Valley? And just to give you some context behind that question, there has been ... And you've probably lived through this. Of course, you have since 2018. Where it's the mecca of tech probably around that time. And then, particularly during COVID, there's supposedly this mass exodus to places like Austin or Miami or New York, maybe. I don't know. It seemed like Austin and Miami were being thrown around the most. I wonder what your thoughts are. Is it still the best place to start a company like yours?

Adam Fish:

Well, this is a personal question in a sense because I didn't grow up in California. I lived there for the majority of my life. But my family's all in the Midwest area of Ohio and Kentucky and stuff. And so I've seen growing up that reality of a lot of these communities with manufacturing leaving and stuff like that, the challenges that have been faced, you could say, kind of in the middle of the country versus the coast. And so I love the idea that technology continues to spread and makes it possible that people can build technology companies in all different places around the world. And I think that is a trend that will continue to spread. So, I don't think you absolutely need to be in Silicon Valley or a major city to build an incredible company. I think there's a lot of examples now of that changing, but I think the details get a little bit murkier when you look at what type of company you're trying to build. There are still big network effects in the San Francisco Bay Area that benefit deep technology software companies, but that are hard to reproduce and find elsewhere. That's typically more on the middle management and leadership side just because there's a longer history of people that have worked and built technology companies here. And so there are people that just have more experience building and running and scaling those organizations.

We've noticed that where some more of our leadership is in the Bay Area here, but when we think of hiring software developers, that is definitely not something that you have to have gone to Stanford and are in the Bay Area to be an amazing software developer. That could be someone anywhere in the world because you can learn and teach yourself in the same way that ... I was a self-taught developer from a young age. And so I feel like I'd be telling myself that I can't do this if I said that great software talent is found everywhere around the world. And so that's where I think it just depends on the type of organization. There are still network effects in certain areas, but that doesn't mean that every company has to be based in the Bay Area.

Clint Betts:

What about from a funding or raising money venture capital standpoint? I imagine it's pretty useful from that perspective. Although, as you said that, even that has spread out across the country and across the world. But it still seems like for a company like yours, the best place to take money or to raise money would be right where you're at.

Adam Fish:

Absolutely. It still is. You could see it in the data that the amount of money that's still being raised in the Bay Area and especially the other side of it is the exit outcomes are still heavily concentrated there. It is shifting, no doubt, but it's going to take a while to completely break those network effects because Silicon Valley is ... I don't know. Eighty years old or so now. This got started in the '40s and '50s and so there's just this massive history of computing that's based here and all of the associated aspects of that with venture capital. And so you can't just unravel that overnight, if potentially at all. And so for the type of software that Ditto is building, the types of investors that we want to work with, it definitely makes a lot of sense to be in the Bay Area. But I'm happy to see that continue to spread into new areas because, like I said, as someone that didn't grow up around here, it would make me very happy to see technology continue to benefit communities everywhere.

Clint Betts:

Who's a leader or an example of a leader that you admire currently, whether in Silicon Valley or anywhere?

Adam Fish:

One of the top leadership books that I've taken to heart that goes into my thought about building teams and the focusing on the input to get an output is the book, The Score Takes Care of Itself. It's a leadership book that really talks about how building ... This is a book about running a football organization. And so the idea being that if you focus on the fundamentals of what it means to run a football team, both the actual athletics around it, but beyond that as well, just the organizational components, well, if you get those right, then the score should take care of itself. And so that's been one of the things that I've taken to heart and thinking about building Ditto is that I think great leadership means focusing on the fundamentals, get those right, and those outcomes that you're hoping for, those will play themselves out if you've got a great team around you and people that are motivated. And so I've seen the success of that now five, six years into the business that we've hired incredible folks. We have a big mission on what we're trying to achieve with Ditto, and you put those two together, and you just work hard on it every day, and the score will take care of itself.

Clint Betts:

That's fascinating. By the way, we'll put that book in show notes for people. What a great recommendation there. I wonder, as CEO and as a leader, your thoughts on this idea that you have to pay attention to things that are happening outside of your company, which probably or maybe wasn't true 20 years ago. What's happening in culture? What's happening in the geopolitical Realm? Immediately coming to mind is something like a war in Ukraine. All of a sudden, you have to think about that as a leader, whereas I'm not sure that that was the case in previous eras. How do you feel about that? The fact that not only are you leading a company, but you're also part of this culture and expected to at least have some sort of take or understanding of what's happening in the world?

Adam Fish:

It tough. I definitely have joked that as an entrepreneur, with all the things that you have to do internally and the challenges that you face, just trying to build your company out. It would be nice not have to think about the macro world just because it's a lot. I don't know if that's totally different, I guess, as I've thought about that question than years back. I think the reality is we just have so much information bombarding us on a daily basis now because of the internet. Rise of more media and stuff like that. That I think that's the driver of it. It's not so much that the geopolitics or events are really that materially different than the challenges that we faced years back. It's just that it's so easy to know about everything going on, and that's challenging. There's no way to be able to digest all of that.

But it's definitely, as a leader, something I'm extremely sensitive to, especially as we have a global team and we face things like a global pandemic. The last five, six years has been like a never-ending set of global and macro situations that you do have to keep an eye on, whether that's inflation now and how that might play out in our business to other things like all the different geopolitical situations. I don't know. My advice with entrepreneurs is just try to balance trying to think too much about that. At the end of the day, the most acute problems with your company are going to be the things right in front of you. The larger macro situations are problems that'll likely affect much, much larger companies at a later stage. But on people basis, that's obviously something that you can't ignore those things. It's affecting the lives of everyone at the company.

Clint Betts:

Adam, I can't thank you enough again for joining us. We end every interview the same way, and that is at ceo.com, we believe the chances one gives is just as important as the chances one takes. And I wonder when you hear that, who gave you a chance to get you to where you are today?

Adam Fish:

Yeah. Actually, I've had a handful of incredible moments where I would not be where I am today without a very small list of individuals. I got a shot working at actually of healthcare venture capital firm in Kentucky because, as I mentioned, I actually went to medical school briefly in Kentucky. And after the first year, I interned at a venture firm called Chrysalis Ventures there. I actually got that job by pinging people through Twitter back in the day. Begging them to hire me because I really wanted to go pursue my software technology background. And I thought that was a perfect place to do it because they were a healthcare - and technology-focused venture firm. So they had never hired anyone with my background, but they gave me a shot. And ultimately you can carry that all the way through to where I am today. And so I'm very grateful to all the individuals there. A lot of them are people that I still stay close with today. And there's countless other people that I could point to. I am a big believer that hard work, luck, and some help along the way is all the pieces that come together for success. And my story's definitely been an example of that.

Clint Betts:

Adam, thank you so much. Best of luck on everything. Please come back too. I could again talk to you for a very long time, particularly around this technology that you're building. So appreciate you coming on, man.

Adam Fish:

Yeah. Thank you for having me.


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