Innovators. They come in many forms. They dream big but they aren’t just dreamers. They form raw ideas into cool products with disruptive business models. They shatter entire industries and leave established leviathans running scared with their tails between their legs. The Innovators interview series connects you with the most driven people on the planet. What makes them tick? What advice do they have for tech founders? What tools do they use to get the job done? Read on to find out.
Sandy Khaund is Senior Director, Advanced Software Technologies for Turner Broadcasting‘s Emerging Technologies team in San Francisco. His role involves experimenting with new technologies and incubating prototypes for implementation by Turner’s Audience Management Platforms Team, identifying and facilitating partnerships between Bay Area companies and Turner’s family of brands (including CNN, TBS, TNT, Turner Sports, Cartoon Network, and more), and helping to lead Media Camp, an accelerator program that educates entrepreneurs and enables them to build innovative media businesses.
Sandy came to Turner from Irynsoft, a mobile education company he founded in 2009 to bring collaborative video-based learning software to mobile devices. In 2011, Irynsoft was named among the Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Fast Company, named a finalist for a World Technology Award, and selected for a Kauffman Foundation fellowship.
Before Irynsoft, Sandy was COO of Piczo, a teen social network that was acquired by Stardoll in February 2009. He also spent six years at Microsoft, where he helped implement .NET design patterns, co-founded CodePlex (Microsoft’s open source collaborative development site), and owned Microsoft’s employee blogging platform (at the time, the largest in the world). Prior to Microsoft, Sandy held various engineering and technical positions at Intel, Boston Consulting Group, and Lockheed Martin. Sandy holds three patents and has published several papers.
Sandy has a BS & M.Eng in Electrical Engineering from Cornell, a BA in Physics from Ithaca College, and an MBA from Wharton.
What do you enjoy most about your work and why?
I’m most excited by the opportunity to innovate in such a fast-changing industry that affects so many people. Television has seen a great number of changes over the last several years, but the best is yet to come. At Turner, the talented people who have been charged with coming up with the next big thing are really thinking outside the (television) box. Second screens via tablets and cell phones, DVRs, game consoles, etc. The technology that serves as the foundation for the innovation in the entertainment industry opens the door for some truly amazing experiences.
Where does your entrepreneurial passion come from? What drives you, inspires you, excites you?
I can’t draw. I can’t sing. I can’t cook. The computer has always been my primary outlet for creativity and I learned from an early age that there was money in this. When I was 11, I was writing games on my Commodore VIC-20 and the school’s TRS-80 computers, then selling them to classmates. I was so excited that you could take nothing but an idea and turn it into something that people were willing to pay money for.
What has changed since I was younger is my thrill over the broad impact these innovations can have. I’ve been enamored with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs since my college years and, while they’ve clearly profited from the innovations they helped foster, they’ve also inspired me to appreciate how software can change the way the world lives and learns. With the last company I started, I came up with an idea, and two years later, hundreds of thousands of people have used the software from my previous company to better themselves through online education. There’s something incredibly fulfilling about that. Working with Turner Broadcasting, I get to figure out new ways the world will enjoy Conan O’Brien, Charles Barkley, and Anderson Cooper. It may not seem as noble, but it clearly has an impact on society. As long as I have the opportunity to change the world and leave a legacy my children can be proud of, I’d gladly spend every waking hour I’m not with my family invested in that.
Someone reading this wants to start a tech company. What’s your best advice for them?
Prepare yourself for the long haul. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to be prepared for the setbacks. It’s a roller coaster and even the most successful entrepreneurs need to maintain a balance of staying strong and showing confidence in their convictions, but also continually questioning their assumptions and looking for ways to be better. Always look to learn. Humility is a godsend. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll get excited over opportunities that quickly fizzle. You’ll meet people that will later ignore your e-mails or not call you back. And you’ll have people tell you your “baby” is ugly. It’s how you manage those moments that will give your vision, passion, and execution the best chance to succeed.
What are a few tech startups that you’re really excited about right now and why?
It may seem like shameless plug, but we have a great batch of them coming into our Media Camp accelerator that I’m exciting about, not only for what they are doing in the media industry, but the sheer talent of the entrepreneurs whom I am so excited to be working with. We still haven’t made the formal announcement, but you can check our website (http://www.mediacamp.com/) to see them once they are available. From a non-media standpoint, I love Motif Investing and Gogobot, two startups run by old classmates of mine, that have taken two longstanding pastimes of mine (investing and travel) and made the experiences far more compelling.
What tech tools (websites, apps, gadgets, etc.) do you rely on both for work and in your down time?
Like a majority of the population, I start my day with Facebook, Twitter, and Google Reader—usually before I get out of bed. After years of using a Mac, I’ve gone back to a PC mostly because of Office and the integration with my Lumia 900 where I rely on OneNote. Yes, I’m a PC + Windows Phone man, which makes me very lonely in the California Bay Area and an easy target for my ex-Apple colleagues at Turner. I’m in love with Prezi for presentations—they make up for my complete lack of artistic talent. And when I code, I am in eternal debt to Stack Overflow and GitHub.
As far as my “down time” (what’s that?), I love to waste time with Words With Friends (I am on a win streak and welcome all comers) and Kindle for iPad when I’m on BART, though I’m proud to say I’ve managed to stay away from Angry Birds. To stay active, I’m a longtime Nike+ user and am now hooked on Fitbit—both of which encourage a competitive person like myself to act healthier because I can’t hide from my stats. And, of course, as a sports fan, I’m addicted to MLB.TV and rarely miss a pitch of my Baltimore Orioles, whether it’s on my laptop, iPad, or Roku.