CEO of Mind Katalyst, Carnellia Ajasin, talks about the road to IT entrepreneurship and what she misses about the IT trenches. Find out how Mind Katalyst helps its customers in the emerging technology field and Carnellia’s advice for those just starting in IT.
Worked in IT since High School with BCBS (Blue Cross Blue Shield) as a System Analyst. She then worked at Ernst & Young and Cap Gemini. Afterwards, she spent a few years at Oracle and started her own business after that stint.
Loves to learn and stresses you have to learn to repackage yourself so you can keep moving forward.
Big take away in her career so far? At BCBS, she felt really stagnant and bored. Most coworkers were there since High School and been there for over 20 years in some cases. They didn’t want to really develop any further. In some cases, these were people who wanted to coast into retirement. Every 6-months to a year, there were initiates popping up to redevelop the same systems. But this wasn’t enough to maintain Carnellia’s interest long term.
She decided to go to one of the big 6 consulting firms. There, she worked on short term projects. Thee lasted from 6 months to a year and she was able to learn new technology. It was an opportunity to mix things up and sowed the seeds for her eventual IT Entrepreneurship.
What does she miss about working in those types of firms and environments? Stability and access to larger teams and budgets. With E&Y, they had debrief meetings which were useful. Also, she misses the collaboration and name recognition with E&A. As an E&Y employee, your reputation proceeded you. So, you had your foot in the door in well-known companies. In your own business, there is no name recognition at first. Carnellia was insecure about being in her own business at first due to these perceived limits. As a result, the business didn’t do as well at first because she thought her name wasn’t big enough. But, with her husband’s support, she came to the realization these companies were hiring her to do the work because she knew what she was doing. So, this acted as a confidence booster for continuing with Mind Katalyst. But it took a bit more work to get her company going.
Mind Katalyst was started so Carnellia could do new things and she had to push through it as it was a challenge. Being on global projects in E&A at the time, she was traveling all over every 2 weeks for a year. This took a toll emotionally and physically. When she became engaged and married, she thought she could continue with the same work lifestyle. But, she wanted more control of her time. Starting her own business seemed to make the most sense as she needed a balance. In true IT Entrepreneurship fashion, she had a need to solve a specific problem and starting her own business was the right move.
Mind Katalyst began forming after some time off with her children. She is a problem solver and thinker and loves the dynamic space of IT Entrepreneurship. She started the business in eLearning platforms and consulting for larger businesses. However, it wasn’t much fun, but she stuck with it for 3 years. One day, they had a client who had an idea for an app in the machine learning space and Carnellia was tasked with working on this. This was the start of what Mind Katalyst would evolve into. Prototype testing and pitching of this first client product were performed and the client received the funding.
At that point, Carnellia decided this was what she wanted to do with Mind Katalyst. VR, machine learning, AI, etc. She developed her own processes and used lean to adjust her documentation. This could then be repeated for other customers. It was exciting and it all centered around helping clients create new products as they relate to emerging technologies.
The business has further evolved. Carnellia is now working on become a VC fund for clients. This came from the need for some clients who wanted more realistic terms for financing. So, yet another area for learning and devleopment for Mind Katalyst and Carnellia.
The technology field touches a lot of elements which makes Mind Katalyst an excellent environment for Carnellia. It’s social and it’s financial. It’s an equalizer for her time and interests and provides a lot of help to her clients. IT Entrepreneurship is truly the best area to keep her interest.
In the business, the biggest obstacle is a lot of clients are not technical. They don’t have a background in tech. They have an idea and look for help from Mind Katalyst to develop and care for their idea and product. These non-tech customers don’t understand (an often don’t respect) the process of software development. They want to use a napkin to define the entire project, but that does a disservice to them, their product, and the process. Some clients are different and want to learn about the process and others just want it out there ASAP and don’t really want to be weighed down (or at least they see it that way) by any processes. Getting the customers to realize the process is there to help them with their product launch success is challenging. These processes can take a few months or over a year, so it can be frustrating for customers. So, educating people around the process can be challenging.
Process is key
In application development and in speaking with the customer, the process is agile and lean. They run in 2 weeks sprints which is an agile standard. This is to help the client see how these sprints can help them adjust their product based on the feedback gathered in the sprints. An MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is developed during this process and is tested with a few end users. Information is gathered in the end user testing to determine how the product is used. Essentially, what they like and don’t like. Sometimes this feedback doesn’t sit well with clients as they become married to certain functions of the product and feel they don’t want to change a function. However, this is where the process helps to get the product developed to a state which will most likely be leveraged by customers. This helps in the pitching session which follows as they then have feedback and proof of concept to show their clients.
Carnellia has 9 years for experience to fall back on and to help her customers. How does she recommend to interact with non-IT people? Carnellia believes education of the IT development process to clients is key. She didn’t start out that way at first. In the beginning, she more took them through the process but didn’t explain why the parts of the process were important and the value. After trial and error, she came to the determination it’s a better approach and opportunity to educate clients on the process.
The Money Pit
Some people see this all as a money pit. ‘I’m paying for this process I don’t want to use and I’m paying for the support of it afterwards when I just want to have it made and placed out into the world. Why do I have to keep putting money into it?” That comes up from some clients from time to time. All of it directs them to the concept of education, but it doesn’t always work out with all clients. Carnellia excepts not all clients are going to be receptive to being educated…even if it’s for their own good. She has had some clients leave due to this but, then come back because they realized her process was better for them overall.
Some clients want to develop an app and then use the earnings from their app to retire to Bermuda after a larger entity buys out their app. Often times however, that is not the way it works.
One story she shared is having clients who see technology as a way to hit the jackpot. When Carnellia explains what technology is used for, it’s usually taken well enough. She had to defend herself as being the developer for one client as the VC wanted to use their own development team. Carnellia was able to successfully retain the development of the product after explaining her background and knowing the details of the product goals.
Mind Katalyst is currently working on blockchain, AR, and machine learning. Also getting into the car sharing space, financial technology, and EdTech with VR. Working on one project for IOT where it’s a hardware device working with an application which is exciting.
As long as Carnellia is in the emerging technology space, she is happy. She runs into customers where they won’t understand up front how emerging technologies can be used for the products. That’s where Mind Katalyst comes in as well to see how emerging technologies can be leveraged for their product. She loves educating herself on what’s coming up next.
Best advice for someone starting in IT? Be open and be open minded. Try various things and see what excites you. Or, maybe you are a traditional developer. Or you could be a collaborator and developing products in the medical or entertainment industry. The sky is the limit, so be open. Keep in mind, IT will change. Be open to change and love to learn. If you don’t love new things, then IT might not be the best field for you. But, keep IT Entrepreneurship in mind as an option.
Prior Episodes mentioned
- Episode 11 with Jesse Clark
IT/Geek Speak this episode:
- VR – Virtual Reality – Reality but through googles or a screen. A computer generated environment that can look real or very much not real. It’s intent is to make you feel like you are immersed in a place.
- Machine Learning – allowing machines to learn how to improve tasks on their own
- AI- Artificial Intelligence – Computer software designed to essentially “think” and generate possible outcomes based on the data it is given. Usually shown running amok in Sci Fi movies. I for one welcome our robot overlords
- AR – Augmented Reality – Reality, but augmented? Aim your smartphone camera at something. If you have the right software installed, your phone display will show any number of different things on your screen around that thing you pointed at. Same can happen for some VR goggles, or stand cameras.
- EdTech – Education Technology – Leveraging technology for education
- Blockchain – yeah, this one could take a whole episode to explain. Give this a try.