Authority Magazine - The Future is Now
As part of their series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, Authority Magazine interviewed Jake Miller, co-founder and chief architect of MetaCX. View the original publication here.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was in fifth grade, my uncle gave my family our first computer, an Apple II. I really didn’t know what to do with it at the time. The only program we had to run on it was AppleWorks with a word processor, spreadsheet and database. What was a 10-year-old going to do with a word processor, spreadsheet or database? At the time, I actually didn’t understand exactly what each of those things was, but it didn’t stop me from experimenting. From a very early age, I’ve been incredibly curious about how things work.
I created my first database that was a simple collection of numbers assigned to shirts and pants in my drawer. That was it. Then I’d query a shirt and a pair of pants randomly, and that’s what I’d wear for the day. At least this is how I remember it. It was novel probably for just a couple of days. But the point was, I was fascinated by technology.
This fascination led me to explore computer technology at school in the following years. I spent half of my day at Central Nine Career Center, a trade school where I could learn at my own pace. The computer labs were becoming more prevalent, and there were even programs like the Cisco academy to do hands-on training. The .com boom had opened the door to many web development opportunities, and I had the idea to create a company called KartSync that would synchronize catalogs and inventory between companies. I was too young to understand the first thing about business, funding and product development so that idea never fully materialized. That experience, however, made me realize that product development would be my career path.
I’ve always applied the perspective to the world about “what if.” What if it worked differently? What would be the advantages or disadvantages? Will the novel approach unlock more value? This approach almost always yields a better way to do something. If the better way to do something means creating something new, what better way to do that than building a business to deliver on that vision.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I started my first business when I was in college. It was a consulting business called MeSync Technologies. I developed custom data-driven applications. The computer technology curriculum at the time was not interesting to me because I was already building databases and writing applications. I decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in English where I could concentrate on linguistics. I like to think of linguistics as the science of language. Surprisingly, there is a great deal of conceptual overlap between computer science and linguistics. The premise was that by way of a liberal arts education I would be well-rounded and more capable to creatively tackle problems. I credit this decision to a competitive advantage. Early on though, I had planned to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. in computational linguistics but quickly found opportunities to build cutting-edge enterprise software. I have continued to follow this path.
As an aside. I’m more excited than ever about what the research companies like Google, Nuance, Facebook and MIT are doing in the field of natural language processing. We’re going to see huge leaps in the application of this research in the next 5–10 years too. It is truly an exciting time to work in tech.
Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
In today’s B2B business world, value chains are complex, and successful initiatives depend on cooperation between several organizations. Imagine a B2B scenario where value realization depended on carefully coordinated value exchange between three or more parties.
Value — tangible or intangible — is a concept that can not only be formalized but can be strategically managed leveraging technology. The characteristics, profiles, dependencies, people and context are real, quantifiable and manageable. Organizational boundaries are starting to be bridged by technologies like Slack, where shared channels make it easy for two different organizations to communicate within the same channel.
MetaCX has built a next-generation B2B outcome management platform — combining the idea of formalized value, in a shared collaborative space, along with real-time analytics that demonstrates value achievement ongoing.
How do you think this might change the world?
We’re leveling the playing field between organizations and bringing people together. Collaboration today is done via a lot of channels. What we believe is missing in enterprise relationship software is a place to establish, formalize and collaborate in the context of business goals. As our CEO Scott McCorkle says, the purpose of business is to exchange value. Yet there isn’t a great place to track and measure this — QBRs are conducted in slide decks. We hear customers say things like, “we create charts and visualizations to support our QBR updates, we show them in a slide deck, and the customer never looks at them again.”
Beyond that, the days of siloed organization IT are going to go away. I predict that over the next five years, we will see a major wave of information sharing contextualized by the goals cross-organizationally. We have to rethink how we architect platforms to be secure, protect privacy, help organizations normalize the information they want to share, limit it to need-to-know information, and actually share it.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks of this technology that people should think more deeply about?
It’s not exactly a drawback, but I think it is important that a system that automatically surfaces performance metrics requires transparency, which might be intimidating to some companies — metrics have to be consumed in context. The fact that value that should go up is actually going down might not be in the control of a supplier, and the context about why will be important.
Also, I believe enterprise systems will continue to become more real time. I was talking with Pernille Rydén, dean of education IT at University of Copenhagen, about the idea of real-time systems and the ability for us to track in real time the cascading effects of changing metrics in a network of companies. She asked me the question, “But should we?” Her point was that the more and more technology we bring into our lives, the more stress we create — the more pressure to pay attention. It throws off the equilibrium of ourselves and leaves us less time to spend in “flow,” a type of deep immersive thinking. This is the mental space where strategy and creative approaches are born. I think there is a lot of wisdom in this thinking. We’re going to see an economy of 40-hour workweeks decline to fewer hours over the next decade as technology helps us to not only become more productive but also require less time to achieve the same output.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
Our CEO and co-founder Scott McCorkle, co-founder Dave Duke, and I have worked in the enterprise software space for decades combined and had the realization that management of relationships was one-sided when, in fact, the value that customers get from organizations is within the products they use.
To solve this problem, there needed to be a product to bridge this gap between buyers and suppliers — a shared space to establish shared outcomes and monitor proof of performance metrics.
Regarding proof of performance metrics, one of the things we really wanted to do was build a real-time, event-driven platform to handle IoT scale data. It’s a bit counterintuitive for a startup to build a large technical footprint early, but from day one, we have been adamant that the predecessor of existing enterprise software would require a ground-up architecture. Our analytics platform is unique in that it accurately reflects the state of all metrics and milestones across the entire ecosystem in real time. At surface level, this sounds straightforward, but chaining the outputs of metrics and cascading those updates across a system for the present, past and future values is a tall order.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
We need a mind shift in how companies approach working together. This is no small feat, but in order for the adoption of the technology, organizations have to realize that digital transformation includes formalization of the shared outcomes between them and their customers, investors, vendors, partners and associations. This success plan will need to be memorialized and stand as a source of truth about the goals of the relationship.
We need perspectives to change from loose, unformalized, non-tracked customer goals to be managed in a formalized, semi-structured way. Beyond formalization of business objectives, formalization and surfacing qualitative and quantitative metrics in the context of those goals, in real time, requires a different way to think about proving performance through analytics.
The good news is that we’ve found most companies are ready to make this shift; there just isn’t a product that does this very well.
A larger number of digital transformation initiatives fail. At MetaCX, we have a methodology that companies can use to structure their transformation.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
As we engage with our customers, we use our own product to document and establish QBR reviews, measuring success in the context of outcomes. We’re also working with partners and vendors through bridges as well as building an ecosystem of successful players. Ultimately, organizations that collaborate together will have an advantage. Organizations are extensions of teams; they are a team even if it is a cross-company.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Early on, a teacher named Marty Miller, of no relation, showed confidence in me. I wasn’t particularly successful in traditional classrooms because my curiosity always took me off course, and I was fine with that because I was fulfilling this insatiable desire to think differently.
Teachers are often under-appreciated, and having instructors that facilitate the space conducive to a student’s learning style is paramount, in my opinion, for students to succeed — beyond standardized tests.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
When I worked for Salesforce, the employee resource group called Outforce hosted an event where students from across the state of Indiana visited our campus to have a one-on-one conversation with LGBT+ folks and allies. The purpose of this event was to help these students explore possible career paths in the software industry.
I was paired with a transgender girl who was very quiet and timid at first, but once she was comfortable, she started to ask inquisitive questions about my career path, my likes and dislikes of my job, and what my day-to-day work life was like. By the end of the conversation, I wasn’t sure if I had made an impact or not. Afterward, when we were wrapping up, I was approached by this young lady’s mother. She said, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.” I was taken off guard by her sentiment because I didn’t feel like I had made a great impact on her daughter. Then she explained to me that they live in a very small town in northern Indiana where her daughter has no LGBT role models, and day-to-day life is generally difficult for LGBT folks — particularly for a transgender child and their families. She continued on that her daughter having the opportunity to speak with a professional that is out, open, and able to be their authentic self had a big impact on her daughter, and she had not seen her that excited about talking to someone before.
This was humbling and also such a great feeling. From that point on, I realized that there are people watching, young adults are watching, and I could be a role model and maybe even inspire these young people to know that it gets better.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.
1. Stay steadfast to personal values.
Define your own personal values, and ensure that the work you choose, the people you spend your days with, and your company share those values. These are a handful of the values I’ve defined over the course of my career.
- Family — My husband and son come first, no matter what.
- Being valued — Co-workers acknowledge my work and see the value I provide and vice versa.
- Creativity — Thinking outside the box and using cross-domain input result in unique, novel and valuable solutions, offering a competitive advantage.
- Time is the most valuable resource — Working smarter, not harder, is a must not only for me but an expectation I have of my co-workers.
- Excellence — Giving 110% toward achieving success and expecting those around me to do the same.
2. Keep solution complexity and cognitive overhead as low as possible.
Most folks think keeping scope limited is the most important thing one can do to make product development easier. In fact, it is low complexity and low cognitive overhead that make for robust applications that can be composed and added to over time.
3. Find a mentor.
Most folks are willing, even excited, to share their experiences and coach.
At one job I had, I wasn’t sure if I aligned with the company culture or not. Even as one matures in their career, having a group of people that have experienced conflicts or situations that you are encountering are tremendous sounding boards. Ultimately, my coach said that it sounded like I just needed someone to give me permission to leave. She added that over her career, one of the most powerful things she learned was that even if one is successful in their role, if they feel “icky” or out of place, it’s not worth sticking around. The most successful people she knows know when to quit and aren’t afraid to do so.
4. Understand your work style.
You need to know your own working style and understand how other people communicate and work. This leads to effective communication and creates space for empathy.
I was at a company where I found it difficult to work with many folks. I felt like I spoke Greek much of the time, and it turns out it was because my personal work style was quite different from most folks. I’m quite direct and to the point, which can sometimes come off as dismissive and harsh. My tendency to be fully objective to measure and evaluate situations also tends to overshadow the need to build relationships with colleagues. Ultimately, forming relationships and tweaking my own approaches made a great difference in my effectiveness.
5. Finally, and most importantly, be your authentic self.
When I started my first job with all strangers, it was a software company that was growing exponentially. I was really intimidated by the fact that I’d be working with so many engineers from great schools, but more importantly, that most of them were men. Being a gay man, I was afraid that if I were to come out, people would think of me differently and treat me differently. I never lied — that’s one of my core values — honesty; but in my head, it was a sort of don’t ask, don’t tell sort of situation. If someone asked about my personal life, I was fairly dismissive of the conversation and quickly changed the subject. What’s so ironic about this is that when same-sex marriage became legal in Indiana, my partner and I, both working downtown, ran to the city-county building to apply for our marriage license. It just so happened that we were the first couple to arrive and the first same-sex couple in the state to be married. This put our faces on the cover of several newspapers and even a photo of my husband and I holding hands and kissing on network news. I was a little terrified to go back to work. But when I arrived, several of my colleagues were sitting in a conference room to celebrate and had even collected gifts for us. It was a huge, huge moment for me personally that helped me to better connect and be open with people. I could be my authentic self. And what I felt more proud about was that then I could be a role model for others that may not find themselves in a situation where they can be so open. From that day on, I proudly say “my husband,” not partner, because that is what it is. A phrase so common to most can be a powerful affirmation to others.
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. :-)
I’d like to see our culture of long hours as heroic efforts disappear. I’d like to see technology help people be more productive in a short amount of time. That saved time would be used for people to pursue personal endeavors, hobbies, and spend more time with their loved ones. Life is short. The purpose of doing business is to build value through value exchange. That is the driving force behind the software we’re building, and I believe it will help make people more successful.
I’d also like to see boundaries between organizations’ technology and information become much more fluid. I’d like to see the internet be a true digital space where how we work, interact, and the information we share is represented in this space and augmented using artificial intelligence. There has been a cliché over the past decade and that is “to blur the line between the physical world and the digital world,” usually in reference to digital transformation. I don’t think that has fully been realized. That is because software has always been rooted in one-sided architecture. IT organizations build systems and employ products intended to serve internal use cases rather than having a collaborative architecture mindset.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This is something a dear friend of mine Heather John told me several years ago, and I doubt she even remembers. It goes something like this: “At different points in time, feel the need to either consume or create. It’s important to do both.” That is to say, take in what people say, take in others’ experiences, study, learn and read, because that is all necessary to be able to create — whether it’s a novel, a painting, a business, a product or a new skill. My takeaway has really been to deliberately know when I want to consume or when I want to create. This helps me be more mindful of how I spend my time.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
For decades, enterprise software has been built to serve a single company — not to bring suppliers and buyers together to focus on true value creation. Traditional features and functionality monitor the side effects of value instead of measuring real impact. Value is a thing. It can and should be defined, managed and measured.
MetaCX optimizes the flow of value across the entire enterprise value chain, connecting vendors, customers, partners and teams in a shared system of record for value creation.
MetaCX provides a co-owned digital space called a bridge where buyers and suppliers can come together to define and collaborate on desired business outcomes. The bridge keeps all parties accountable and focused on the goals, milestones, metrics and action plans necessary to unlock value creation.
To track and prove performance against the desired outcomes documented in a bridge, the platform supports multidirectional data sharing. Suppliers and buyers are able to instrument any application, system, or digital endpoint and surface insights from these sources as a means to monitor value creation and delivery.
By providing a neutral space for data sharing, MetaCX mitigates sensitivity to data access and control and ensures that neither the supplier nor buyer feels at a disadvantage. Regulatory concerns are addressed by only using anonymous, aggregated data on a platform with strong cybersecurity and privacy controls.