Tianyi Jiang Transcript

Clint Betts

TJ, thank you so much for coming on the show, it means the world to have you on here. You're the CEO of AvePoint which is an impressive company, a public company, and we'll get into that. But you have a remarkable story, particularly around the day of 9/11. I would love for you to tell that story if you'd be willing.

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

Well, thank you, Clint, for having us on this chat here. 9/11, it's an event day for most people that went through it. Personally, I was working with Lehman Brothers at the time and my office was on the 40th floor of World Trade Center One. I was actually on the way to work, I was at the Jersey City Waterfront trying to cross the river when the first building was hit. But from the New Jersey side things didn't look that terrible because the plane hit from the east side. So Jersey's looking from west side to east.

And then as I was still trying to figure out how to cross the river we saw the second plane hit the South Tower. It's an incredible, surreal experience. My girlfriend at the time, she was working downtown, and it took her till 2:00 AM to get home. Luckily everyone on my floor survived, on the 40th floor of World Trade Center One. And then everyone had to scramble to establish Jersey City as the new trade floor and operations hub for all the Wall Street companies.

And for me, it really brought a sense of uncertainty in life, and you should never take anything for granted. But also, don't need to just walk the normal path of what people typically think of as a success, work for big companies, work on Wall Street. So I decided to actually leave Wall Street and go back to graduate school at NYU. Started with business school first and then transitioned to a full doctorate degree in data mining and machine learning. In parallel, I started a company called AvePoint.

Clint Betts

Did you also get a master's of philosophy while you were doing that?

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

It's a PhD. So a PhD stands for Doctorate for Philosophy so it's not really philosophy.

Clint Betts

Oh, I see. I see, I see.

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

It's data mining and machine learning.

Clint Betts

Okay, cool. Well, that must've been an experience that completely changed your outlook on life, right?

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

Absolutely. It was unreal. Both buildings were on fire. From the Jersey City side it didn't look terribly. And then I was walking away from the river, and put my colleague into the first taxi we could find because at the time everyone's pager went off and you hear Pentagon, you hear Pennsylvania plane down. Of course, a F-15 was flying overhead, and looks like we're in a war zone. But I was walking back home and then I started to see people crying, and then I turned around and the first tower was gone. So that was an incredible experience to see something that I'd just taken for granted for all this time can just disappear in a blink of an eye. It's a life-changing experience for me personally. That what set me on my journey for entrepreneurship.

Clint Betts

And you started AvePoint that same year, right?

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

That's right. Around the same time. My very dear friend and co-founder at AvePoint, Kai, Kai Gong, we met at Lucent Bell Labs, that was my first job out of Cornell Engineering. And he, like many people, got laid off around that same time, thousands of people. He also wanted to do something different. Instead of being a cog in a large company and not knowing what happened to your own life, things are decided by the fortune of the company, he started the business and pulled me in. We co-founded AvePoint at the end of 2001. That's the start of the business.

Clint Betts

And what was AvePoint back then?

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

Oh, it was a B2B software company. Back then you had to deliver software on a CD. For the first three years we got zero revenue trying in an email backup space. And back then Exchange backup was already a very crowded space. We were just giving people free software to try and try to use. Kai was working full-time in Somerset Public Library. Everybody there knows him. He has this desk that he's always there. I was in grad school, and so at least we have some stipend as PhD students. So those were tough years. Everyone had to work hard.

We got our lucky break in 2003 when Microsoft wrote a second version of this product called SharePoint. We decided to cover SharePoint in the first version because it happened to use the same data format as the backup for Exchange. And then the second version of Microsoft did not have a migration path. Back then Microsoft's first version of software was not that great. So the second version was a significant upgrade and the data format completely different from flat file format to then SQL relational database. So that migration path is quite difficult. We were always known to be a company that bites off the toughest bone, and we decided to be the first one to actually cover that solution. That put us on the map and allowed everyone to come to us as a vendor of choice.

The story was actually quite funny. And Microsoft does TechEd, which is their biggest technology trade show every year where they announce the second version. And at the migration workshop, Microsoft said that there's no migration path because they thought the first version there were not enough customers. Of course, their biggest partner and customers like Dell and HP were up in arms because they actually used the first version.

And we were the first one to raise our hand at the trade show and say, "Hey, we actually can migrate you," and we posted flyers everywhere around the trade show. In fact, we didn't have a product ready, we developed a product over the weekend. And then the head of Microsoft SharePoint, Jeff Teper came to our booth and said, "Do you have a product?" We said, "Of course we do, we can show it to you."

Over the weekend we developed it. And then we flew over to Redmond to actually showcase the solution on a desktop, Kai had to carry his desktop tower all the way. Booking the cheapest possible flight from Newark to Seattle, double hop to get there, and then showcase to Microsoft. From then on they referred customers to us and that really put us on the map. In the enterprise B2B software segment, it's about reputation, it's about technical capabilities.

Because customers will actually do POCs to make sure that the product does what the label says on the tin. That really allowed us to become a brand. Since then we never looked back. We had eight straight years of exponential growth in the on-prem world and then we shifted in the cloud world. Now we're the largest B2B SaaS data management and governance provider in the Microsoft cloud space, and now we're public. It's been a long 20-plus-year journey.

Clint Betts

It's an incredible journey. And to get that blessing from Microsoft must've just been game-changing. I mean, what did that feel like? All of a sudden Microsoft is like "Hey, everyone uses AvePoint to solve this problem.” That must've been incredible.

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

Well, that's just the very early days, right? In the software space everything moves very fast. I often say, in the software space, a year is eternity. Yes, in the beginning Microsoft said, "Hey, there's no other vendor that covers this functionality. There's a little Somerset, New Jersey company called AvePoint that does this." But, obviously, leveraging that we have to expand very rapidly into many other things. So today we're a platform provider, right, we do the end-to-end lifecycle management of business data.

Migration is only the beginning of the journey. And then, of course, after that we also do data backup, data archiving, compliance, data privacy, and then we then get into the whole vertical solution space. It's a journey. But yes, we got our first break with one product. But in the software space, if you only rely on that one product, very quickly other people will overtake you and quickly commoditize your offering. That actually sets off a journey of continuous innovation and evolution. And we actually have to cannibalize our own product over time to time, especially this transition to cloud in order to stay relevant, in order to matter.

Clint Betts

I want to talk about the transition to cloud because that was a big, big thing. What are we thinking — 2012, 2013 that really became a thing? Were you guys thinking about it before then?

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

We started in 2010. There are things in life that are happy accidents, right? Because we were in the SharePoint space, and SharePoint is enterprise content management, it's very heavy. Customers are the government, very large banks, and manufacturing regulated industries. We had to expand globally. Before the cloud, we were already in these major markets. That's tier 1 B2B markets like Japan, UK, Australia, Germany, France, Nordics in person with our local teams and local hires.

So that was a fateful decision. And then two, it's 2010, Microsoft started to have BPaaS, which is a precursor to today's Office 365, M365 cloud, and we were investing there. And people were thinking we were crazy. Our investor at the time, which is Series A Summit Partners, said, "Hey, Microsoft," ... If you recall, back then Steve Ballmer was still the CEO. And under Steve Ballmer Microsoft stock didn't move for 10 years. There were a lot of naysayers on what Microsoft's features would be and what the cloud would be.

At that point, the only SaaS companies, notable SaaS companies, in the world were Salesforce and NetSuite. And they were also trading not very high multiples. And I think at the depth of the 2008, 2009 recession, Salesforce was trading at 1.25X revenue. If you start thinking, looking backwards, there is a lot of despair, right? Value of despair before technology really takes off. So we were in early days because we were technologies at the heart. Me and my co-founder were developers and tech people. We talk to customers all the time so we know where the real needs are, where the market trends are. So we say, "Hey, this cloud thing is real and we need to invest into it now."

I was at a Microsoft global partner conference in DC in 2011. I was on stage and telling everyone, "Hey, this cloud thing is real, and be prepared to make $1 a user a month, that paradigm, to transition your revenue." And a lot of people thought I was crazy. Because back then everybody sold software as perpetual, right? A large bucket of money, and then maintenance, right, annual maintenance, 15%, 20%, et cetera. So people are not thinking about subscription consumption-based business models.

Clint Betts

That is fascinating. Did the industry really start to recognize that you were right two or three years later?

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

No, I think it's more around 2015, 2016 timeframe —

Clint Betts

Really? Oh, wow.

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

That people start to see it. For us, we were lucky to undergo this transition as a business and as a technology platform early. If you think about it, Provo, the business transition is much harder to do for a perpetual software company because it comes down to cash flows. If you were to buy a perpetual license you buy the software, upfront payment, and plus the first year of maintenance.

Let's say the software's $100, and then the maintenance $20 each year, a three-year contract $60, right? It's a total of $160 million. $160 TCV, total contract value, upfront payment is $120. That same $160 in the subscription model would be divided by three so every year you receive $50, right? So $53. All of a sudden your year one cash-in it's $120 in the old model versus $53.

And yet as a software company, all the costs are still there, right? The people, the GNA, the infrastructure costs, all of those don't just magically go away. And the salespeople also expect to continue to make commission, right, not just their base salary. So that cash crunch is what most companies that go through this SaaS subscription are really challenged with.

So it's not just a technology upgrade of putting your software in the cloud.

And let alone you talk about DevOps continuous integration, continuous deployment, cloud operation, cloud security, that's a whole set of disciplines you have to undertake and become good at. But also from a fundamental cash flow management perspective, it's a very different problem set. So this is why it takes companies a long time to transition.

A lot of companies have to borrow money to transition, especially a company in the public world, right? Like Splunk, they went through some really, really tough times. Of course, being public it's unforgiving, right? When you do, that's a transition. Luckily we did it while private. And we never borrow money so we also exercise extreme physical discipline. To date, the company has never borrowed money, and we have a great balance sheet generating cash, so it's a very good position to be in.

Clint Betts

Did Steve Ballmer ever dance or scream in front of you?

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

We saw him dance and scream on stage. We were in the audience. If that counts, sure.

Clint Betts

He's actually an incredible leader. Did you get to know him at all through that thing?

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

Unfortunately, we were too small to matter to Microsoft at that time. But I did get to meet recently with Satya in a very small, five-partner meeting scenario. I get to meet the new leadership. Much more in tune with leaders of US, APAC, and Satya now than the Ballmer days.

Clint Betts

We've had both Ballmer and Satya at some events and both of them are just incredible leaders. Ballmer, obviously, his passion is well-known, let's say that, well-known. Hey, so cloud was a big deal and you saw that coming in 2010. At what point were you thinking hey, this AI thing's going to be real.

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

My background is data mining machine learning so it's been my passion around leveraging algorithms to make things more efficient. And we've been in the business of data management since day one. That means in access control, that means lifecycle management, who has access to what, where, when, and how do people share data? So that's always been our business. Our customer is always worried about data sovereignty, and how data is passing between companies, between partners, and between borders. So that's something that's always near and dear to our heart.

And this thing really came forward during COVID. So when COVID first happened everyone worked from home. In order to scale, enterprises had to go to cloud in a hurry. A lot of enterprises, especially APAC, that's behind North America and Western European cloud adoption, were still using VPN. And quickly realized VPN, which is virtual private networks, does not scale to everyone working from home. Going to cloud, using SaaS solutions is the only way. So there are a lot of folks who jumped onto Zoom calls, on Team calls very quickly, and the enterprise said, "Hey, we need to govern this stuff because we really have no idea what people are sharing with each other when they're working from home and when they're working remotely." That also became a very, very hot topic.

And it was also during that time, during COVID times, that we went public, right? So, of course, this AI revolution, we were not surprised at it. We'd been a longtime consumer of Azure Cognitive services and OpenStack AI for a long time. We built vertical solutions in the education space, and in government solutions, in document management, record management, and knowledge management space for a while. So this AI acceleration, it only strengthens our story of AI-ready information management. When you talk about AI, it's built on data, right, so every business is racing towards building their own proprietary data models on top of the foundational data model. And that means you need to actually leverage your legacy domain-specific data to make it more impactful.

So ChatGPT is a very powerful tool, but if you use it for your domain-specific knowledge it's like a summer intern. It's a very smart summer intern but it has no domain-specific knowledge or company-specific knowledge to really be helpful to your customers and partners internally. And what companies are doing are racing towards building a proprietary model that leverages internal decades worth of internal data, emails, files, trouble tickets, workflows, et cetera to actually generate actionable AI.

The data they use have to be clean, have to be relevant, otherwise it's a trash in trash out problem. So AI is something that we have always been very familiar with on the data mining side. And now, of course, with generative AI it adds that human element to it. We're very, very excited about it. In fact, we're here in DC, we have two days of #shifthappens industry conference that we're hosting starting tomorrow. We're going to announce a slew of new capabilities around that exact topic.

Clint Betts

That's incredible. When you hear people say, "Hey, AI I could destroy us and destroy the world,” what do you think when you hear that? When I hear that my follow-up question is always, “How?” And I never get a good answer to how that would happen.

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

That's a great question. I think there's a lot of hype around AI. So we're actually in the process of creating a research lab, an industry corporate sponsored research lab in collaboration with Cornell and New York University as well as the National University of Singapore. I actually talk to a lot of AI experts, academics in the field. We are still a long way off from sanction AI, true general AI. Today's AI is really purpose-built machines. There's really no reason it's all statistic-based approaches, therefore, you have ChatGPT answers that are just called hallucinations, right?

They're not real facts, they're statistical-based guesstimates, right? It's a tool. It's a tool just like any other tool that humankind has invented throughout history to aid our productivity. We see that leveraging AI for ideation, for automated simple tier 1 support, and internal onboarding education it's a fantastic tool. But when it comes to decision-making, when it comes to really mission-critical education information you have to have a human actor, who's an expert, who is able to really validate what the AI's generating.

Another good example is GitHub Copilot which is Microsoft's tool to help developers generate automatic routines and algorithms to ease their work. We found that this type of thing is really, really good for experts, senior developers. Junior developers, they have no idea how to understand what's being generated so it’s actually very dangerous. Not in terms of the security or those types of doomsday scenarios, they're dangers in terms of inefficiency and actually fundamental flawed routines. Because in cloud world, in the world we live in, everything has a cost. GPU has a cost, CPU has a cost, bandwidth, storage, everything has a cost.

If you're not careful the automated generated routines will be very costly and prohibitive, it will run your business to the ground. That's why you have to have experts who actually look at this stuff to make sure that it's indeed a good solution. But it's a great ideation tool. So in fact, I'm actually much more hopeful about the advent of this new technology than being depressed about it.

Clint Betts

That's good to hear. That feels good. Somebody with your background and your expertise there, that feels good. At what point did you decide hey, we're going to take this thing public? And why did you decide to take it public?

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

That's a great question. If you asked me now I would say my only regret is not taking AvePoint public 10 years earlier. But anyway, we decided to go public during the midst of COVID. When COVID first happened I was as nervous as any other business owner and anyone who is quarantined at home. And I'd been on the phone all the time with our global leaders. We're in 18 countries so we see signals across the world. Because we have offices in Asia, and they had a lockdown first and then it propagated to Europe and the US. I said, "Hey, guys, get ready, winter is coming." I still remember that town hall very vividly. And, of course, at the end of January everything's locked down.

We saw that coming and we were very nervous, but then very quickly we realized business had to move. And, of course, the government is helping businesses move with the PPP fund, right, if you remember, so the stimulus. All of a sudden everybody is using technology in the best way they know how to collaborate and work. So the use of technology just skyrocketed, right? Everyone saw the birth of Zoom effectively through that process and they went public. So all tech companies that's associated with online collaboration, teamwork, including us, became a massive beneficiary of this very disruptive scenario where it encouraged online collaboration and technology to work from home.

Because of that, our investors and our board decided hey, we should look at going public because we're a company that's 20 years old, and we should have gone public 10 years earlier, now is a good time to do that. And we have very, very predictable revenue streams. 60% of our customers are government-regulated industries so highly resilient to these types of economic or exogenous shocks. So it actually made sense for us to do so.

It started off as a traditional IPO, we put together syndication of Goldman as well as Citi, Evercore, and a bunch of other banks. As you recall, also at the time, 75% of our IPO was done via this vehicle called SPAC, right, special purpose acquisition vehicle, which is basically reverse merger. And we checked out that option and we decided to go with that option because this was October 2020. If your audience recalls, this was before the election, right, a month before the election between Biden and Trump. The vaccine was nowhere in sight despite Operation Warp Speed. So there was a lot of uncertainty and volatility, much more so than today, right?

Clint Betts

Right.

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

With a SPAC structure, we were able to pick the best tech SPAC sponsor. The key sponsors were Jeff Epstein who's the ex-CFO of Oracle, as well as Brad Hennick who made Goldman tech banking what it is today. Brad's first IPO at Goldman Sachs was actually Microsoft. So these two gentlemen were the sponsors and we decided to partner together. In a matter of four weeks we were able to set a fixed valuation which is two billion, and then set a fixed funding which is $350 million in the trust, and we raised $140 million in the private investment called PIPE. So together $490 million.

And we had zero redemption. So that certainty, that economic outcome made perfect sense in such a time of high uncertainty, so we did it that way, right? So now, of course, two years plus out, we are being recognized for our great execution and we're doing well, we got good support. It's really ultimately focusing on execution as a public company going forward.

Clint Betts

What do you think the way SPACs are being talked about now? Because I remember when they were being talked about when you did it and I was like this is a really great way to do this. And now I think it might be a bit of a mixed bag in terms of whether investors, and the public market, and companies look at that as a real option. What did you learn in that? And what advice do you have for people about SPACs today?

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

It's not just a mixed bag, you're too kind.

Clint Betts

I know. I know, I know I'm just saying that.

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

SPAC itself is a dirty word. We learned a lot from it. Obviously, as I mentioned, we did it just because it made sense for us at the time. If you actually look at the average SPAC right now, the companies that have a target and de-SPAC, I think, the average stock price right now is something like $1.50 or something, less than $2 is ridiculous, right? You have Nicola, you have Virgin Galactica, all these pre-revenue companies wanted to go public and completely ruined that instrument, that segment as a vehicle. It's not a good thing. So today we have shaken off the tint.

I remember, at the time, one of my good friends at Fidelity was telling me, "If you do SPAC, remember I said, it's a two-year scarlet letter you have to wear." Now we're past our two-year time as a public company and we are known as the best SPAC company out there, although I don't really want to be associated with that term anymore, we just want to be viewed as execution.

As a concept, it is a good one because it does give certainty, and also the investors do have the right to redeem. So a lot of broken SPACs are 100% redemption, very high redemption so there's no money to be raised. Those were the ways to help the investors from going to a bad deal. There was so much abuse it just is not a viable option anymore for going public.

Clint Betts

Well, at this point, for a company like AvePoint, it gets you public so you're public, and now none of that really matters. But moving forward it probably doesn't make a lot of sense for people to use SPAC as a vehicle, at least as it's currently constructed to go public. But for you now you're public, right? You said something interesting a little bit earlier that you wish you would've gone public 10 years before. Why is that? I don't know that I've ever heard anybody say that. I've always heard man, stay private as long as possible.

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

That's a great question. Now that we're public we recognize the benefit of being public. So it's very hard to be a public company compared to being a private company, in that you're literally under the intense scrutiny of the public market. Every three months is equivalent to doing a final project report, right, taking a final where you're being questioned by all the smartest Wall Street analysts.

We have seven coverage analyst firms including Goldman in the city, Evercore, et cetera so they all have great detailed data models on your business and everyone holds you accountable for what you say. You cannot just talk about growth projections, profitability willy-nilly, you have to back up with actual performance. And the moment that any one of your metrics are not meeting Wall Street expectations the street will penalize you with a stock performance.

And what's really important is that result, that every three-month final exam score, it's being viewed by everyone in my company so everyone feels it. Whether we perform well or not well, every employee has stock in AvePoint and they see the market reaction. So I think in that sense it's highly motivating. It's a unifying factor to have everyone in the company to work together to roll in the same direction.

When we were private, yes, there were quarters that we didn't meet our performance expectations. Yes, I got a lot of heat from the board, and, of course, our senior leadership team felt the underperformance, right? The difference in private is that only the senior leadership level receives the pressure, that feels the day-to-day pressure versus the entirety of the company that actually feels the performance of your company through the reaction of the market, that scenario you cannot be war-gamed as a private company. So that's why I appreciate it. It keeps us very, very focused, laser-focused, on the health of the business, very disciplined on the direction, and also gets the entire company to act together.

So this is why I wish we had done it 10 years earlier. Right before we went to this whole SaaS subscription because we were growing for eight straight years exponential growth, we had the revenue level to go public. Had we done that we would be able to access capital markets much more earlier and we could move things earlier.

During the transition, as I mentioned, as a private company we all decided to not take on any debt, so effectively we were very, very physically disciplined, but at the same time, we were going slower than we needed to. I think now being public, we have access to capital markets and are able to move much faster. For example, we did four acquisitions last year, we had never done acquisitions before. That allowed us to actually grow faster and in a very disciplined way. Those factors combined is why I think being public is a very, very good experience for companies.

Clint Betts

The reverse of that is people say, "Man, you have to think really short-term, you have to think in these three-month windows, you can't take this long-term view." It sounds like you are taking a long-term view. I mean, in order to do four acquisitions I mean, that's a long-term view of the company and how to integrate all that. So what do you say to that? Those who say, "Man, I don't want to be beholden to every three months when I want to be thinking about five, 10 years down the road."

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

It's a balance between long-term view as well as short-term execution and this whole performance. I think that balance is also very important. It's a very rigorous process to ensure that our business executes per Wall Street expectations. Also that communication is very important. So a new job I recognize, now being a public company CEO, is that now I have a new job in investor relations as well as market messaging to keep that transparency and the high cadence of messaging where the company's moving. And when you message this well, shareholders are more forgiving, right? So I think that's also fundamental to the success of a company.

Having said that, we, of course, are looking at the long-term health and growth of the business. I've been in this business for 20-something years and I'm in my late 40s. I'm very, very energetic, I'm more excited than ever before. We think the next decade-plus will be a fantastic, tremendous J growth curve for the company. We're in the right place at the right junction of market conditions. So we are thinking long-term, and we are thinking about responsible expansion of our portfolio to help our customers, especially in times of high disruption like this, right, Clint? You talked about AI, you talking, obviously, climate change, we have anti-globalization. There's a lot of volatilities and uncertainties in these climates.

But now for a business that can move agile, that has a global footprint, track record, history, and trust — social trust and data trust is more important than ever before because we now have tech that can confuse people and give misinformation or even tech that actually gives hallucinations as answers. These are very, very interesting times that call for leadership and responsible guidance towards AI usage. It forces us to think long-term as well.

Clint Betts

That's super interesting. What have you learned about leadership in your 20 years? In 2001 you're building this thing. You're talking about you having pagers — it's physical software, all this type of stuff. What have you learned about leadership from then to now? And maybe even from being a private company to being a public company, what is the difference in leadership there?

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

Wow, that's a big question. I think Clint, leadership fundamentally doesn't change, right? Some of the best leadership training comes out of military schools, right, West Point. And these are fundamental principles of leadership, of trust, of cohesion, of teamwork, right? Fundamentally, those things do not change. And, of course, act by example. What we discuss all the time is we do live in a new paradigm of a new generation of folks who are much more socially and environmentally aware. So we talk about diversity inclusion. We talk about having diversity in the workforce to understand the various factors that are impacting us in different countries, in different geos, and in different industries. The world is becoming more complex.

Clint, that was actually maybe the question I have for you. If somebody asks you what the future is going to be like, what the next five to 10 years will be like in 2010, your answer would be different than today, right?

Clint Betts

Yes, yes, for sure.

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

Right. By 2010 you can sort of know what things are going to be like five, 10 years from now. Honestly, today in 2023, I have no idea what the next five to 10 years are going to be like from now. Things are moving so fast, right? You talk about ChatGPT getting 100 million active users in a couple months. Things are moving so fast we have to remain very agile. So there I think the leadership change comes if you really have your fingers on the ground, have a pulse on the market. This is why I travel so much, right? I go to Europe, I go to Asia, and I stay in the US. I have to talk to customers, I have to talk to partners, and talk to our teams and really figure out where the market's moving.

So I think today, more than ever, leadership means hands-on leadership. You can't be just thinking pure strategy, armchair general, you have to know your customer. This is why tech companies with tech founders are so important. I see so many tech companies that get bought by private equity that are run by CFOs or run by Harvard Business graduates that are really just Excel masters, black belts that are detached from the actual technology and business environment. That's a dangerous thing to be. I feel leadership today needs to be far more hands-on, far more domain knowledge-specific to really matter to the company.

Clint Betts

And again, thank you so much for taking the time, this has been a fascinating conversation. I can talk to you for another three hours but I want to be respectful of your time here. At CEO.com we believe the chances one gives are just as important as the chances one takes. And I wonder when you hear that who comes to mind as someone who gave you a chance?

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

That's a great question. I would say my first boss on Wall Street. I was working at Lehman, a first-year job out of Cornell Engineering. Sorry, I was working at Lucent Bell Labs. It was '97, Bell Lab was the most common house stock in America because of Lucent which is the crown jewel of AT&T research, if you recall. I went there and quickly realized it's just another Telco, it's not a great place for young engineers to develop careers.

Two years in I decided to go to Wall Street. First interview, first job at Deutsche Bank. The manager at the time said, "Hey, you're hired" right there then. My salary in that instant tripled. I was over the moon. I don't know what to do with myself. They gave me the trust to take this kid out of New Jersey and then go to Wall Street, and my career really hasn't been the same since operating at a completely different cadence and level that deserves that salary.

What he taught me though is this. The first day I was in the office, this was World Trade Center five at the time, I had a window view of the fountain in the World Trade Center, that big globe, the golden globe, and I was feeling very smug. Because as an immigrant kid, when I first went to New York City when I was 11, I looked up at all the skyscrapers that seemed to touch the sky. And working in the World Trade Center was a dream come true, I'm feeling very smug. And he said, "Well, don't feel so good about yourself, the janitor also works in this building, in the World Trade Center."

Not to belittle the janitorial job, but what he was trying to say is that it doesn't really matter where you work, it's what you do with your work that really matters. Ever since then, I don't care where I work. I can work in a trailer park, I can work at a library, I can work in basements, I don't care. It's what I feel passionate about, and that I feel I'm making a difference, doing the things that I do. So I think that's a very important piece of advice this person gave me on my first job on Wall Street.

Clint Betts

TJ, thank you so much, that's incredible. Talking to you has been incredible. Congrats on everything you've done over the past 20 years with AvePoint. Enjoy Washington DC and this conference that you're going to over the next two days and we'll be in touch. Thank you so much.

Dr. Tianyi Jiang

Thank you, Clint.

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