Paul is the co-founder and CEO of PataBid, a software company that focuses on artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions. He started his career as a mechanical engineer but ended up overseeing IT departments in most of the companies he worked at. Paul eventually pivoted his career and dove head first into founding his first software company. After a successful exit, and a much-deserved break, Paul was asked to help form and build PataBid.
His career has seemingly come full circle as he recently took the opportunity to use some of the engineering drawings he created over a decade ago to help train PataBid’s latest AI.
Where did the idea for PataBid come from?
Paul Burris: The AI behind PataBid was built by my co-founder, Melvin Newman, and it was a result of spending hours each day searching countless tender sites only to be often caught off guard by finding out about a tender opportunity at the last minute, or worse after it had closed. The earliest system was created just for his personal use but soon others started to ask how he knew about every tender before anyone else. When he showed them what he had built they wanted to use it, so Melvin asked me to build a business with him and we called it PataBid. ‘Pata’ is a Swahili word that means ‘to search’ or ‘to find’.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Paul Burris: I spend my mornings taking care of any routine company tasks or whatever is in my calendar for that day. There is usually a conversation or two in there with my co-founder, but to be honest we’re in communication with each other throughout the day using various instant messaging platforms.
I try to keep any client interactions until the afternoon since it’s easier when dealing with time zones. I happen to be in the Eastern time zone so afternoons here allow me to talk to anyone East to West during their office hours.
I keep productive by asking myself each day if I did something that mattered to the business. That is how you measure productivity. It’s far too easy to get lost in meetings or calls or researching ideas, which do help the business but they are not tangible. If I can make a client happy and get some good feedback to share, that’s tangible. If I can obtain or process more documents so the AI can have an updated training set, that’s tangible. Even if it seems small, I try to do at least one tangible thing a day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Paul Burris: Most of our ideas come from our experiences or the experiences of our clients. That is to say, we’re not as big on dreaming up the next cool idea as we are on listening to the frustrations and needs of others and formulating a solution. Sometimes one of these solutions ends up requiring us to build something that hasn’t been done before, but that’s all part of the process of innovation.
Once we have a general idea of how to solve a problem, we break everything up in order to create a proof of concept (POC). This is the hard part because we always want to show something polished and with as much functionality as possible, but a POC is hardly those things. Once we strip everything out that we’re comfortable with, we get to work. If the proof of concept turns out to be successful then we go through this process again with a more polished product in mind.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Paul Burris: I’m very excited about how smart devices will help automate tasks in our lives. As an AI company, we’re all about automating processes and smart devices definitely help us do that in our personal lives. Right now there is a bit of a security concern with smart devices but hopefully, that gets solved soon.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Paul Burris: Just start, keep iterating, and keep starting over and over until it works. Sometimes you can plan too much, and I was once told that most entrepreneurs get stuck planning to plan to start. Get a rough idea of how to do something and then just get into it. It’s probably not going to work the first time and things are going to break, but now you have a trial and an error, which means you’ve learned something, so go fix that and try again.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Paul Burris: Self, I know you won’t like to hear this, but sometimes results are going to take time. The good news is you will get results, it just might take a little longer than you hoped when you started. Keep going, keep pushing forward, all that work will turn out to be worth it. Just keep going!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Paul Burris: There are probably more people that will start to agree with me now since COVID-19 has forced many businesses to work from home, but I’ve been an advocate of an office-less business for a long time. We had an office for my first business and that was fine but eventually, people had to work remotely, at least temporarily, and we learned that worked out great. We saw a reduction in the number of hours people were spending in the office with an increase in code being submitted. It turns out that while the office was great for talking with your colleagues, working from home or a coffee shop was great for getting some work done. I encouraged this with our developers at the time and productivity went up.
Fast forward to PataBid and we don’t have an office. Everyone works from home and life is much better. There are copious amounts of tools available for discussing ideas and white-boarding or whatever it is we need to do, remotely.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Paul Burris: Use your own product. We develop AI-based software and we use it daily. We actually develop AI tools just for our internal uses, but we use our customer-facing product every single day. It’s not just a means of catching a bug or error that we do this for, but sometimes it takes using something for a while in order to realize an aspect that is frustrating or could be done better. This helps us understand what our clients experience every day.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Paul Burris: Have the best customer support. It’s nice to be complimented on our customer support, and the low churn rate is a great bonus, but it is something that has helped us grow over time. When you take the time to listen and address your client’s issues while being honest about how long it will take and if it’s even possible, they begin to open up to you. This means you start to have a deeper understanding of their business, their workflow, their way of doing things. All of this information is key when you’re coming up with a solution or designing a new product, because now you not only have your own experiences you fully understand but the experiences of your clients who have opened up to you about how they work. This results in better and more well-rounded solutions and products, as well as far more recommendations from that business to their peers, which results in growth.
This is a more grass roots method of growth, and it does take time to cultivate, but having clients who are happy to keep paying you and recommend you to others is hard to come by these days.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Paul Burris: In my first business, I failed at time management. This usually results in not getting enough done but for me, it was the opposite. The time I allocated to focusing on the business kept creeping its way into the rest of my life and pretty much took over. I ended up working to be busy, not to be productive. Once I realized what was happening, I began to prioritize everything, both professional and personal, which resulted in becoming a productive entrepreneur, not just a busy one.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Paul Burris: I think an app that lets people in a neighborhood help each other out, or trade services would be a good idea. For example, you could help your neighbor pick up a large item with your van and they could help you clean the leaves from your gutter. Not sure how to monetize this but I think it could be a good idea.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Paul Burris: I bought a new mouse, the Logitech MX Master 2S. It is much more comfortable than my old one and the infinite scroll is a nice feature.
My co-founder, Melvin Newman, feels his recent purchase of a mouse is superior since the Razar Naga Trinity has some 30 odd buttons and is Linux compatible, which he claims dramatically improves his productivity.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Paul Burris: We recently setup WireGuard and it has been wonderful to have local access to our systems when we need it, no matter where we are. As we’re an office-less business it’s made things much easier and nicer for us.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Paul Burris: I would recommend Zero To One. It contains lots of relevant ideas for entrepreneurs.
What is your favorite quote?
Paul Burris: “Wise men speak because they have something to say, fools speak because they have to say something.” – Plato
• Failure is just a learning experience, keep going
• Treat your clients like royalty and they will do the same
• Do something tangible every single day
Originally published on Ideamensch.com