From The Diary Of

David Lavenda


David, Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself? Some fun facts and anecdotes from your life.

I am the youngest of seven children; today the seven of us are spread across three continents; the last time we were all together in one room was 1968. Between us and our spouses and offspring, the group is comprised of citizens from 6 different countries.

Where are you from originally? What are some of your favorite memories as a child?

I am originally from a small town in Western Massachusetts, so it has been a long journey from there to a small town in Israel, where I live today, passing through some big cities like Chicago and New York on the way.

One of my earliest memories as a child was a visit from the local telephone company repairman. In those days, this man looked like a rocket scientist.  When he took out this box of tools and fiddled with the cables coming out of the wall, I was mesmerized. Looking back, to think how simple things were in those days compared to today gives me pause about what the future will look like. It boggles the mind.

How do you maintain the balance between your professional and personal life?

When mobile phones first became pervasive in business, I found it hard to disconnect. The ability to be always on was so exhilarating at first. No need to be in the office to participate in meetings; no need to be tethered to the desk to be productive. But that played out fairly quickly. It got pretty bad. I was taking calls when I should have been paying attention to my kids’ activities. Rock bottom was participating in an all-hands company call while riding on the Dumbo ride at Disneyworld with my youngest child. What was I thinking? That’s behind me.

Today, time off is time off. I don’t call co-workers or employees during vacations, weekends, or holidays and I expect the same courtesy. I see some improvement in this regard, industrywide. Most of the people I work with respect private time. 
Having said that, I still need to be flexible, to cater to customers’ schedules and deadlines. So, while it’s not a 9-5 job, the lines between work time vs. play time is now clear. That’s the key – defining clear guidelines for what is acceptable. 

What do you do to relax? Any therapy you would like to share?

Exercise is the ultimate relaxation. Not extreme stuff. No marathons. Just an hour in the gym or pool every day. I find the physical exertion removes tension. Plus, I find I come up with the best ideas when I daydreaming on the treadmill or in the shower afterwards. I dedicate an hour every morning to reading and learning about a topic completely unrelated to work. 

Lastly, I find writing cathartic. I have been a contributor to leading publications for over a decade. Over time, I have found I ‘think’ best through my fingers. As I write, new ideas and insights simply pop into my mind as a natural part of a thought process. I don’t know how it works but it does.  I can think about an idea for a long time, but it’s not until I start writing about it, do I find the insights I was searching for. It’s amazing how ideas appear to come out of nowhere as I type away on the keyboard. I wonder if anyone has ever explored this phenomenon.

They say that first impressions last and are made in the first few seconds of meeting someone. What personal attributes convey a positive first impression to you?

Humor. Hands down. There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who ‘get it’ and those who don’t. You can tell in the first 20 seconds which bucket someone falls into.  If you fall into the second bucket, we might get along, but it will never be gold.

Which people helped you to get where you are today and what did they do for you?

Some people can point to a teacher or mentor who made a huge difference in their lives by providing inspiration. I had the opposite experience; namely a college professor who went out of his way to discourage me not to pursue a career in Physics, telling me I didn’t have would it takes. I was hurt and angry at the time, but in retrospect, he probably saved me a lot of aggravation.

I feel I got to where I am through a series of seemingly random interactions with people at key junctions in my life. Looking back, it’s fascinating to see how the pieces fit together like a puzzle. Funny thing is that many of the people who had a critical influence were not people from my inner circle of contacts. Maybe Granovetter was correct when he described the strength of weak ties.

Often people find inspiration from great thinkers, writers and prolific people in history. What is your favorite quote and why is that quote noteworthy?

“It takes years of experience to become an overnight success.”  

I like this because as a society we are enamored by companies who have become overnight successes. But this almost never happens. It is only through lots of sweat, hard work, and a lot of aggravation do companies eventually succeed. We need to keep this in perspective, because it is easy to get disheartened by failure. 

Can you briefly share your professional journey?

I stared out as a tech writer in a series of tech companies to pay my way through college. Afterwards, I worked in tech support for a company that made multi-protocol routers. That entry-level job was a real education, learning about technology and working with customers.  From there, my journey pivoted to product management, then product marketing, then marketing, and then to become a co-founder for an enterprise software company. Since then, I have led a number of companies in a wide variety of verticals. Along the way, I picked up two Masters degrees; an MBA in marketing and a degree in STS – Science, Technology and Society, exploring the impact that email has had on information overload at work. 

What is your current role in the industry, and what are you aiming for in the future?

Currently, I am expanding my responsibilities to help young companies get to market quickly by ‘doing it right the first time.’ I leverage principles from the “lean startup” to help companies work with customers from day one. I am also bringing this expertise to several technical accelerators by mentoring promising entrepreneurs, from the moment they begin their journey through product launch.

Did your career turn out just the way you wanted it to?

Not exactly. I originally planned on going to university in Boston to study engineering, but through a weird series of seemingly random events, I ended up studying Physics in Israel.  I originally wanted to be an electrical engineer. In high school I was fascinated by lasers, which were just emerging in popular commercial use.  I thought that would be really cool to work with lasers and holograms. I even tried to create holograms in my basement, but I was never able to get the stability needed to get a picture. 

I really liked science and the rigor that came with it. I ended up studying Physics, but over time, I realized my forte lies at the crossroads between technology and marketing; my greatest joy is coming up with creative ideas for products and then marketing them to customers. 

What impact has your educational background had on your professional activities?

Throughout a good part of my career, I have been pursuing academic degrees in parallel. First, studying advanced optical engineering, then pursuing an MBA, and lastly a social science degree in Science, Technology, and Society.  I find that academic studies provide necessary oxygen for new insights and ideas.  What I most enjoy is seeing the similarities between completely different domains. I mean, what does Babylonian accounting practices have to do with information overload experienced by today’s workers? Actually, quite a bit! It’s true that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Especially when it comes people. Reading ancient documents, it is apparent that human nature hasn’t changed over thousands of years. Giving someone a mobile phone or web browser doesn’t change human nature.

Can you share some of the interesting projects you are working on these days?

I am fascinated by topic computing – ‘organizing information by meaningful topics’ because this represents the next revolution in organizing information so we can focus on what matters most. Because we are being inundated by increasing more documents, emails, conversations, events, and interactions with colleagues, we need to automatically classify all our information, so it makes sense. Now and in the future. Machine learning and AI present some exciting new capabilities for finally tackling this gnarly problem. 

You have had a varied career to date. Explain some of your proudest achievements?

From a business perspective, having experienced two successful exits is definitely a proud achievement.  From a personal perspective, I feel that every new challenge brings new achievements; winning “contributor of the year” for six years as a writer for CMSwire is a case in point. But the proudest moments are those where I see proteges I have mentored over the years, succeed. Maintaining relationships of mutual respect and admiration over so many years with so many people is a proud achievement. I feel I must have done something right along the way. 

What advice would you give newbie entrepreneurs about being successful?

  • Work with real customers from day one. If don’t have someone eager to buy your product (with money) from the get-go, then your product probably won’t be successful.
  • Don’t believe your own marketing fluff. It’s easy to build an echo chamber where everything looks rosy, but that light of the tunnel might just be a train coming the other way.

In the Information Age, millennial's tend to be interested in leadership roles. Do you have any advice for millennial professionals starting their careers?

  • Be flexible.  Be willing to do things that don’t necessarily fit your job profile.  Being a team player is an increasingly valuable asset.
  • Don’t pigeonhole yourself into one job role. Because there is a good chance that job won’t exist in the future. Focus on continuously learning new skills.
  • Be careful about where you place your loyalty. Most companies don’t feel the same responsibility to look out for you as in the past. Be ethical and work hard, but don’t expect anyone to look out for you.

In your opinion, what is the essential personality trait to consider when hiring an executive-level employee?

Besides being an expert in the role for which they are being hired, I believe the most important trait is to be a team player. And to be an ethical, empathic individual. It should all go together in the same package.

We are at the door of the 4th industrial revolution(4IR). Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Block chain Technology are thought to be the foremost pillars. How you foresee the future of your industry?

From where I stand, I see the power of AI in helping organize the incredible amount of information to which we are subjected on a daily basis. This will take time and there is no magic bullet, but it will eventually happen. What Microsoft is proposing with Project Cortex is a good first step.

What do you think about Executives Diary?

A great way to share ideas and learn from peers. Executives have accumulated a lot of life experience – learning from others is great part of what it means to an executive today.