“Hire the least number of best people.” Every company says they hire the best people, but that is tautologically false. Many times, the best people are costly, and they should be! So instead, you want to hire the least number of the best people to get the job done.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jake Loveless, CEO of Edgemesh.
Jake Loveless is a man who has spent his life trying to figure out how to make things go faster. After a 15-year Wall Street career running high-frequency trading teams, he switched gears to co-found Edgemesh. Edgemesh is a web-acceleration company that helps hundreds of organizations deliver faster websites for more than five billion visitors a month. In this interview, Jake walks us through his professional career, from how he started working in a trucking warehouse to working for the Department of Defense to Wall Street and then founding Edgemesh, and the lessons he’s learned along the way.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
It’s been a long and winding road. I started my career as a mathematician, focusing on what’s called “heuristics,” but now called machine learning/data science/AI. My first job was working for a large moving and storage company, where I built systems to optimize logistics routes. The problem was that sending a truck from New York to California costs the same amount if the truck is full versus empty. At the time, nobody had dug deep into optimizing these routes. However, with a little bit of software, we quickly became the de facto scheduler for “booking routes.” One day I borrowed a suit, went up to the CEO of the moving and storage company, and said, “we can make a lot more money scheduling trucks efficiently.” She hired me on the spot. It goes to show that you never know where innovation will come from in the organization.
Then I joined a company called Appian, where we built the largest internet portal in the world at the time — the Army Knowledge Online. AKO was a massive system with web-based email, deployment orders, inventory, and all sorts of information. That was my first taste of high-performance computing and web development, and I was hooked. Then I co-founded a startup called Data Scientific that performed automated analysis for large-scale network systems (mostly The Department of Defense.)
Finally, I came to Wall Street and joined Cantor Fitzgerald, where I had a long and varied career, mostly running automated trading systems. Cantor was a fantastic place where you could stretch and try new things. Everyone was expected to build up the business, which enabled me to try all kinds of new ideas. I started with automated trading, which became high-frequency trading, which grew into a quantitative analyst team. It was always about speed — every microsecond of performance was worth real money, and it was challenging. The thing about making things faster is, you’re never done. It can always go faster.
So prior to Edgemesh, I had 20 years of working with massive data sets and insanely latency-sensitive systems. However, after a long career on Wall Street, I was ready for something new. So two colleagues of mine — Randy Lebeau and Eugene Rokhlin — and I decided that nobody was working on automated, client-side web performance, e.g., using the browser’s innate capabilities to accelerate websites in new and exciting ways. So we sketched out Edgemesh 0.1, and a few months later, we had a working prototype. It was one line of code for the customer to install, but the impact was ~30% faster page loads.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Speed is an enhancing drug, meaning, making a website run faster elevates everything about the site. Conversion rate increases. Customer satisfaction increases. Advertising effectiveness increases. Everything gets better. However, traditionally, making your website run faster meant incorporating massive infrastructure or code changes. At the time, everyone was focused on the server-side. Nobody was really looking at how to make the client itself more efficient.
It turns out, unlocking the performance opportunities on the client-side — meaning the browser and the device — can make any site run 20–50% faster with just a single line of code. We’ve had customers who were nine months into a “website optimization” project and then tried adding Edgemesh’s one line of code and obtain better results in 5 minutes.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was at Data Scientific, we had our first big sales opportunity with the Department of the Navy. Our software was functional but hadn’t been tested at any significant scale yet. However, I said, “let’s demo it live!” The way the software worked was you connected to a network, and it would dynamically identify every piece of equipment connected to that network (laptops, servers, routers, printers, etc.). It would return their version, vendor, and even software that was installed on the remote hardware. It was the first ‘agentless audit system.’
For our sales meeting, we arrived 30 minutes early at the military base. In preparation, I plugged in the laptop to the network and hit “scan,” and it starts scanning. It turns out it had crawled the entire network (called NIPRNet) from Maryland to DC, to adjoining DoD networks like the other three-letter agencies — all the way to Okinawa, Japan. A few minutes later, some gentlemen came in, took the laptop, and I had to spend a few terrifying hours explaining how we “hacked the Navy.” Of course, the software did precisely what we said it did, and ultimately we won the contract, but in hindsight, it would have been a good idea to make sure our product capabilities were clearer to the customer before we did a live demo. Reflecting on that experience, I think it’s critical to help customers understand what your product does, how it does it, and what information it collects.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I’m fortunate that I have had several mentors throughout my career, and each one helps provide some profound guidance. Some people collect money; other people collect people. In my opinion, always be the person who collects people. It pays off in the long run.
I have had tech mentors who continue to help me be a better engineer and hone my craft. Arthur Whitney, the inventor of the K language, is a great example. Arthur always wants software to be smaller, simpler, and faster. We recently worked with Arthur to build a website. He was relentless in his push for simplicity and speed, and we ended up reaching a level of software we rarely hit — it was near perfect.
I also think it’s critical to find character mentors who help keep you grounded and yet simultaneously lift you up. My friend Bryan Cantrill said it best: “Engineering is about managing the duality of arrogance and humility. I mean, how arrogant do you have to be to put a man on the moon.” The arrogance gets you to do it, but the humidity is what gets you through it.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
The tech industry fetishizes “disruption.” It is how our companies came up. Time and again, we have “disrupted” entrenched players with these leaps forward in economics. And that’s what it is: economics. These moments of technological revolution, at least the ones that succeed, are economic revolutions. The cloud made it possible for companies with small balance sheets to enter and compete in global marketplaces. It unlocked an entire class of software that could be; rapidly developed, rapidly tested, rapidly scaled, and rapidly failed without requiring the massive upfront capital risk that comes with owned infrastructure. When disruption is motivated by delivering long-term economic value to society, that’s a good thing. There’s a Wall Street saying that you need to be “long-term greedy” to be successful. It means you don’t want to kill your customer relationship by taking advantage of a momentary opportunity.
Take the autonomous truck. Logistics is a massive industry, and labor cost is a material factor in the economics of running a trucking business. Disrupting that by introducing autonomous trucks would deliver some economic value — but what is the long-term impact? If you are a moving company, you are a part of a community. If you take that economic value (employment) away from the community, what is the long-term impact of your relationship with the customer (the people you move). Who is the customer? Do you have loyal customers or just people who pay you money? When companies stop fostering that loyalty and trust with their customers, is disruption good? I think it’s always helpful to ask three simple questions: who is the customer, how does this help the customer, and what are the long-term impacts of this new efficiency on the system as a whole. Remember, be long-term greedy.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
1) “Hire the least number of best people.” Every company says they hire the best people, but that is tautologically false. Many times, the best people are costly, and they should be! So instead, you want to hire the least number of the best people to get the job done.
2) “Giving staff leverage results in compounding returns.” Every day, everywhere in the company, I ask, “how can we do that more efficiently?” A big part of my job is to find ways to eliminate things that waste time and find ways to amplify a teammate’s skill. Are our sales staff doing prospecting? Is engineering spinning their wheels with questions they want to ask the customer? Can we integrate that into sales and support calls and record them? Better yet, can we automatically transcribe them so we can search?
3) “Don’t. Ship. Garbage.” There’s this Silicon Valley mindset that you want to rapidly innovate and get the minimum viable product out as fast as possible. There are merits to that, but you need to have a baseline quality level permanently ingrained in engineering. Don’t ship products to customers that aren’t good. It’s that simple. In the triangle of cost, time, and quality, never sacrifice quality; it never pays long term.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Today’s customers are seeking faster server-side performance for their stores. The solution that has come to market is “Headless eCommerce,” where customers need to re-code their entire website from scratch to run on these new, fast, “edge served” platforms. However, what company wants to rebuild its entire website? It’s a considerable risk, it’s a massive amount of time, and it can result in a company then having two systems — a backend platform and the new “headless” addition.
For the past five years, Edgemesh has focused on making the client-side experience of the web faster in an easy, non-complicated way and we plan to apply the same approach to the “Headless eCommerce” space. Coming up, Edgemesh will be launching a solution to this space that gives customers all the performance benefits of running a “headless store” without any pain. Best of all, with our new solution, customers can still work with whatever backend platform they use today. Stay tuned!
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Ken Iverson’s “Notation as a Tool for Thought” is something I re-read almost every year. It’s dense, and it can crack your mind at times, but it’s extremely powerful. Iverson is one of the pioneers of computer science, and the syntax he designed in 1962 changed the way we think. The language he wrote was simply called “A Programming Language” but was shortened to APL.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” I believe if you are going to do something, commit to it. If it’s worth doing it at all, then it’s worth doing it right. Right now, I’m trying to be a better sales partner. It’s worth doing, as the sales team can always use another partner. So that means dedicating time, every day, to do it. It means reading everything I can, talking to everyone I know who has done it, and focusing 100% of my energy on that problem.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to find a way for software to enhance critical thinking. By that, I mean, how can you analyze the information you are presented in a detailed, long-term, motivation-aware manner. Going back to our holistic medicine example and social media, it would be powerful if there were a digital angel on your shoulder who could help you identify where this information came from, why it was sent to you, and what are the benefits for both parties were you to engage with it. Honesty, or truth, is just information devoid of manipulation.
How can our readers follow you online?
The best place for updates is the website at https://edgemesh.com. We are also active on Twitter @edgemeshinc and @loveless_jacob.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!