Otavio Freire, Co-Founder and CTO, OpenQ
What are you innovating on right now?
Social media has come a long way. When my co-founder Jim and I originally pitched the idea of moving regulated industries to social networks, the objection was unanimous – Customers would say: This is too risky! This could actually hurt my business, what liabilities will I potentially incur? In many ways they hoped Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn were passing fads headed for the same fate as MySpace and Friendster.
Today, 77 percent of Fortune 500 organizations now have an official social team and presence, according to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. No doubt there has been incredible business uptake of social media over the last few years. Unfortunately (or fortunately) to protect consumers, markets and patients the number of regulatory organizations issuing guidance on how social media needs to be conducted has also increased. We saw this as a tremendous opportunity, to create a SaaS based social product that protects social networks from risk very much like anti-virus technology came to protect the internet. The nature of the risks is different since social media is about posts, comments, files and is also about human language, context and behavior. However, they are very alike since social media risks spread quickly (through shares) and wreak havoc on an organization. This year alone we cataloged over 100 high visibility social media fails at companies including US Airways, JP Morgan and McDonalds.
What inspired you to follow an entrepreneurial path?
While in engineering school and twenty years old I worked directly with the founder of a global billion-dollar infrastructure company in Brazil. Over his 50 years of experience this founder had come to believe that entrepreneurial skills could be taught (it’s a common misconception that entrepreneurship is an un-teachable skill). This entrepreneur set up a program in which he created and delegated to interns a profit center with paying clients to prepare the next generation of the company entrepreneurs and the only rule was you needed to make it financially successful. It was an incredibly overwhelming experience. The level of expectation was high and the learning curve was steep. I managed to learn quickly and make it work and from that point onwards I was hooked on entrepreneurship.
Tell us what you learned from your biggest failure.
Not knowing when to pivot can be a costly mistake. By operating the firm and listening to the market you’re likely to gain feedback of changing dynamics that you didn’t anticipate. Rather than just watching a sub-optimal situation unfold or ignore what you’ve learned altogether, this should inspire you to change your business model to prevent failure. Many successful business ventures have come through an unsuccessful time by calculating a new route.
“First and foremost, I think Charlottesville is a very
entrepreneurial city and I think it always has been—
there is an underlying ethos about innovation in town
going way back to Thomas Jefferson.“
How does Charlottesville as a place support or fuel your innovations?
First and foremost, I think Charlottesville is a very entrepreneurial city and I think it always has been—there is an underlying ethos about innovation in town going way back to Thomas Jefferson. There’s always been a merchant mentality in this town, a creative thinking one; all of these strengths reinforce each other to create a supportive and successful environment. The university has furthered the setup by bringing a diversity of people from all over the world to settle here. In town you will find the needed network and like-minded people who are willing to help you and also offer what is needed to succeed. This network connects startups, investors, entrepreneurs and business people to further your innovation even if these are not in town but instead part of the broader Charlottesville network.
What would you change or keep the same in Charlottesville?
If you really think about the Bay Area–it’s actually very homogeneous. If you go to your kid’s soccer game on the weekends, there’s a pretty good chance that there might be another tech executive or two on the sidelines and a bunch of entrepreneurs and everybody’s working at tech companies. Here in Charlottesville, when you go to your kid’s soccer game on the weekends, I’m the only one that is part of a “social” business for sure and there might be one other person that works in the technology industry and everybody else works in lots of other industries. So you are not part of the eco-chamber groupthink that takes place out there. Since all employees are here and distanced from the mainstream thinking it makes us approach problems from a different angle. I hope this is something Charlottesville can retain as the community grows.
What is your biggest need right now to advance your innovation?
The biggest challenge is building scale to address this huge market opportunity. How do we build from early success to reach more customers even faster? We have several needs to accomplish this objective.
What is the view from your office like on a typical day?
I am very privileged to sit with a view of the Downtown Mall and watch the four seasons unfold and various public cultural events. See friends and collaborators walk by, shout down to them and ask for a minute to catch-up. Right now in fact I see a huge photo by Joel Sartore of a baby Malayan tapir. These great photos are part of a series of photographs for the TREES exposition of the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph.