Editor’s Note: Entrepreneur’s “20 Questions” series features both established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs and asks them a number of questions about what makes them tick, their everyday success strategies and advice for aspiring founders.
A devastating event helped an entrepreneur realize the mission behind his company.
April 15, 2013. The date was supposed to be a time of celebration but instead turned into a day of tragedy. At approximately 2:49 pm, as runners were crossing the finish line at the Boston marathon, two explosions occurred.
As news outlets, runners and onlookers were trying to determine the cause of the event, Damien Patton used his company’s app, Banjo, a social-media aggregator and organizer, to piece together the timeline. He not only discovered a bomb was the cause but also a new mission for Banjo.
“The day of the Boston bombings, it was so clear,” he says.
Prior to this tragic event, Banjo was mostly used for content aggregation but had to be filtered manually to follow or search for events or trending topics. But Patton realized it could now be used for so much more.
With the infrastructure already built, why not build artificial intelligence that could do what he did manually: to look at social media from around the world in real time with digital signals and make sense of them. The minute something’s happening, the Banjo app knows about it. It can assess locations in real time, gather information and create a timeline.
Which is why on April 15, 2013, Patton and Banjo’s team were able to instantaneously look at the scene of the bombing in real time and help identify people of interest literally a few minutes after the bombing occurred.
“That’s when I knew we had something no one else had,” he says.
Consequently, the crystal ball that is now Banjo came to fruition. Used by thousands of news outlets, insurance firms, security contractors and more, it can congregate and cultivate all social-media feeds and locations to show users what’s happening anywhere at anytime before anyone else knows about -- offering situational awareness and an advantage. So, not only can it help break news but also identify trends in disease outbreaks and insurance claims for natural disasters.
Moving forward, Patton sees Banjo further enhancing its algorithms and eventually building its own platform. “It’s not just about serving verticals, it’s about serving everyone,” he says.
We caught up with Patton -- who before starting Banjo served in the military, worked as chief technician for a NASCAR pit crew and was a crime scene investigator -- to ask him what advice he has for other entrepreneurs.
1. How do you start your day?
I do light movements to get my brain out of stress. It’s simple movements, yet makes the day start way better.
I then I go down to the command center in my house, which allows me to see people talking from different offices. I start the day by talking to the different teams and seeing how things are going, the metrics, etcetera. That way when I start my meetings for the day I have a full live view of where the day is beginning.
2. How do you end your day?
I end my day by watching something brainless on my iPad, like a YouTube video or some show on Netflix. I do it just to get my mind from work, so I don’t keep thinking about it. If I don’t, then I’ll be solving problems in my sleep, and I’m not dreaming or relaxing and getting my mind off things.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
I’d say The Tipping Point. People don’t realize how to push it to the edge without going overboard and not accomplishing their goals. I’d refer to it when I was getting started -- to be able to push it and find out where the edge was to find that balance. I recommend it more than anything as an entrepreneur.
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
I always recommend Lone Survivor about Navy Seals trapped in an intense fire fight. Their experience is a great reminder that, no matter how hard we think we have it or if you’re going through a tough spot in life, nothing compares to what they went through.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
I’ve always been able to stay focused. For others, it’s about finding a thing to be passionate about and zero in on it. But I just always want to win. I’m highly competitive and for me, it’s about focusing on the next step to win that challenge.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I actually wanted to be a truck driver.I thought they were so cool, and I drew them, had all the legos and tools. Now, I own racing vehicles, so I’ve had to opportunity to drive them for recreation.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
That I never want to have another boss again. It’s what made me an entrepreneur.
I’ve been led, and I believe as an entrepreneur you have to be led at some point. But once you become a leader, it’s hard -- especially with my personality -- to go back.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
More of a team thing, really. It’d have to be the sport of NASCAR. I was a chief mechanic on a pit crew, and it forever changed the way I thought of teamwork, precision and what it takes to win.So much so, I use what I learned to help operate my company. It’s how we approach everything.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
Going to war in the Persian Gulf. It changed everything around me. I came back from that first tour way more alert about the things around me. You have to be willing to take in different experiences and things happening and that’s exactly what it’s like in the business industry.
10. What inspires you?
Seeing people that have it much tougher than many of us do, whether that’s physically or mentally. They’re just not in a situation like we are, yet they come through with such a great attitude and perseverance. I’m always inspired by that; it motivates me to be better.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
That would be my building and construction company I started as a kid. My dad had his own business and working with my hands is what I knew. So, I started one and sold it in my mid-20s.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
Working in construction. As a kid and having to do a ton of manual labor, it was my first business idea, and it was successful. It taught me to appreciate all different types of jobs.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
Don’t give into temptation in chasing everything shiny and new. Have patience. It’s a marathon not a sprint.
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
There was a couple entrepreneurs who told me I should take the largest investment opportunity -- whatever the dollar amount. That’s horrible advice. It’s about the partner you’re going into business with and building the company with. The money will eventually come.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Keeping my inbox clear, so I don’t have to try to remember all the thing I saved.That way, my mind is clear for new ideas.
People don’t realize when you leave something unfinished, even emails, there’s a part of your brain that’s still thinking about it. It’s robbing you from thinking about the future and prevents you from being creative.
16. Is there an app or tool you use to get things done or stay on track?
I use a medication app called Muse. I never thought in a million years that I would use something like that -- it’s just not my personality. But when I took the plunge, it helped my mind reset and take a fresh look.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
As a founder and CEO that’s very active in running the company in all parts, there’s no such thing as a work-life balance -- and that’s my choice. I love what I do. It’s my life. I’m literally in love with Banjo and the idea behind the company. So, why wouldn’t that be all encompassing in my life? It’s not just a company, it’s THE company for me.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
Burnout for me is more about being stagnant. I have a lot of fuel in the tank for a day. It becomes its own renewable energy source as I push for the next thing.
Overall, to prevent burn out, it’s about taking work out of your mind for a moment. When I feel like it’s been a rough day or a rough week I go to the race track.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to move beyond it?
If I need be creative, I will sit on a deserted beach and listen to the ocean. In most cases, people know where to find me -- on a deserted beach in Hawaii or California. In a couple of days, I’ll be pouring out of ideas. People know when I come back, the problem will be solved.
20. What are you learning now? Why is that important?
As an entrepreneur, we’re always problem solving. They’re opportunities, not problems. My biggest thing is how to scale a company during massive growth with employees. If you look at last month and then where we are now, we need to scale better and work faster. That’s the biggest learning curve I have right now: keeping up ahead of a company. It it’s challenging . You don’t want to slow down; you want to embrace it, get in front of it and keep growing.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.