Why I Started Evolv: A Q+A with Co-Founder and CEO, Mike Ellenbogen
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Publish dateJan 2, 2019
I recently sat down with Mike Ellenbogen, our CEO and co-founder. We discussed his career path, what’s to come in the security industry in 2019 and Mike’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. See what Mike had to say.
Melissa Cohen: Mike, you have a lot of experience launching new companies and building something from the ground up based on a new idea. You did this with both Evolv and your previous company. Can you tell us about an accomplishment that shaped your career?
Mike Ellenbogen: Absolutely. I love building things and always have. I had a eureka moment that triggered the inception of my first company, Reveal Imaging. After new legislative requirements for airport security screening were put in place following September 11, I realized it made sense to employ smaller, less expensive systems and connect them together via a network of PCs. We rethought the way checked baggage was screened in the U.S., considering the total cost of the systems as opposed to just the cost of the technology. Ultimately, Reveal Imaging was acquired by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) in August 2010. I’m immensely proud of the work that team did and grateful for the experience – it’s really helped shape who I am today and is what motivated me to keep going and start Evolv.
MC: Based on your extensive experience in the security business, what do you think makes a good CEO in the industry?
ME: There needs to be an inclination to push beyond the conservative approach that is so common in the security industry. There are plenty of businesses out there with the “same old” security technology that’s been around for decades. I like to push the envelop and ensure that my company is offering something that solves a problem while also surprising and delighting. I think it’s important that a security industry CEO sees the world that can be rather than replicating what’s already out there or being happy with the status quo.
MC: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building either of these businesses and how did you overcome it?
ME: The core technology at both companies was/is really complicated – millimeter wave imaging is a challenging field, so is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Of course, you have to have technology that works in order to have repeatable and reliable customers that you can pursue. Leading an emerging technology company and inventing fundamentally new technology, there’s inherently a lot of pieces you have to glue together. It’s daunting and the success of the company is reliant on a deep understanding of the physics of the real world and how to appropriately push the boundaries of electronics and processing.
With any new technology or applications, there is also a steep learning curve among your teams. An engineer may be familiar with the technology, but not with the application. On that note, another challenge is finding the kind of people that can help move the physical security technology industry forward. We look for people with credibility, who have energy and creativity, and can also help move the needle.
MC: What are some of the biggest trends and themes you’ll be watching for in the security industry in 2019?
ME: We’ll definitely see further integration of AI and facial recognition into more security technologies and applications. Disparate AI capabilities will need to be packaged in a way that is more useful for customers in 2019. We’ll also see an increase in compute power at the edge, for example, more compute power within security cameras rather than via a central/integrated service. And, I know people have been saying this outside of the security industry for years, but we’re going to see expanded use of the cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS) within security technologies. While this has already started, some major shifts in this space are coming.
MC: Let’s do some rapid-fire, fun questions. How would you describe your leadership style?
ME: I like to think I present a vision of what could be to get people behind that vision – you need people to believe in the vision to engage them in getting there. Considering I’m focused on solving problems in a new way, I also recognize that it’s important for me to surround myself with people who are optimistic but real.
MC: What is your top productivity hack?
ME: I live my life multi-threaded, which I think is just another way of saying that I’m always trying to be efficient. I do a lot of different things in parallel. For example, I turn the coffee pot on before I get ready for work so that it’s ready when I leave. I take pride in maximizing my time like this.
MC: What piece of advice would you give your younger self?
ME: I always wanted to run a company and invent something – this desire was within me from a very young age. I would tell myself you need time to see the opportunities in the market, so find an industry you really love, make it your own, and word incredibly hard at it.
MC: What motivates you?
ME: Every day I’m motivated by the vision that the technology we’re working on is important and helping to save lives. As I mentioned before, I also love building new things and, in doing so, helping to bring success to the people around me.
MC: What best practices can you share for future leaders who are looking to start a business?
ME: It’s all about the people. Whatever your path, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the trenches with them, so you better like them. And of course, expect the unexpected!