Make sure you are solving a real problem. Do you have the background to create the solution? Do you have the right people around you that can help you achieve that goal? Do you have the financial resources or can seek out those resources? Are you willing to accept that things will not go according to plan?
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Wu.
John Wu is the CEO and co-founder of Gryphon, a cloud managed network protection platform powered by machine learning to keep families safe online. He is an executive with over 23 years of experience in wireless and IoT at global companies like Novatel Wireless and Motorola. One of the key inventors of MiFi mobile hotspot — selected by Time Magazine as one of the top gadgets of the century. John holds 25 patents with others pending.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
My parents like many Chinese immigrants, who came to the US back in the 80s, wanted to provide a better life for the family and a better education and opportunity for me. We landed in New Jersey. They worked hard to send me through school and I was able to get a graduate degree in electrical engineering from UIUC.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
We had launched the MiFi mobile hotspot and it was so successful that it disrupted Steve Jobs’ demo. You can see the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znxQOPFg2mo
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The people that I most look up to are my parents. They basically left everything they were familiar with in their home country to provide a better opportunity for their child. My father went from being a doctor to washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant. That took a lot of courage and grit.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Things are only impossible until they are not!” — Capt Jean-Luc Picard
I’m a proud Trekkie, and it was impossible at the time to think that a little boy from a village in China would be doing what I’m doing today.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Trust — building trust among your team, your customers, and your vendors is critical to any business. When COVID hit, we had to rely on our vendors to keep delivering and work with us on the supply chain.
Grit — as a start-up, you need to be prepared to hear a lot of “no”s
Honesty — when things are not going according to plan, you need to be honest to your partners and yourself. For example, for us, physical retail was not working so we changed course and focused on online instead.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?
With the explosion of connected devices in our lives, parents are having a difficult time managing their kids’ internet, hacking is on the rise, and screen time addiction is reaching new heights.
How do you think your technology can address this?
We are using technology to help provide tools to deal with the problems that technology is causing in many families.
Gryphon is a cloud managed network protection platform that uses machine learning to make the internet safe for families. Gryphon is a mesh wifi router that is easy to setup and use with the free app. The protection is made complete with Homebound, an app that routes traffic back to Gryphon to protect mobile devices.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Gryphon was invented because of an incident with my daughter where inappropriate material accidentally came up when she was searching for princesses during the time when Frozen had just came out.
How do you think this might change the world?
We want to provide tools for parents to better manage their digital world so that kids can develop a healthy relationship with technology, and they can be better prepared to positively impact the world they will inherit.
Gryphon does give parents more control, but it’s only a tool and healthy dialog is still very important.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)
- Make sure you are solving a real problem
- Do you have the background to create the solution?
- Do you have the right people around you that can help you achieve that goal?
- Do you have the financial resources or can seek out those resources?
- Are you willing to accept that things will not go according to plan?
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Because you will find your purpose when you do. It’s just a matter of taking that first step.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Jerry Yang — as an Asian American growing up in a culture that I had a hard time belonging, he was someone that I looked up to as role model and as someone that I identified with. He was a successful tech entrepreneur that created a service that almost every knew and he blazed the trail for the rest of us that followed.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.