The Future of Work, Connectivity, and Technology with Jeff Alholm
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The Future of Work, Connectivity, and Technology Show Notes
On the Guided Retirement Show, we usually talk about retirement and the future of your money. Today, we’re doing something a little bit different. In fact, we’re talking about life, the future of work, and the power of technology to transform lives.
My guest is Jeff Alholm, CEO of Digital Aerolus. He’s invented a wide array of new technologies used daily by millions of people and companies all over the globe, and had his hands in projects including some of the first Wi-Fi implementations and the devices that served as predecessors to the original iPhone.
Today, Jeff and I are talking about the technological revolution we’re living through right now, some of the incredible innovation he’s witnessed over the course of his career, and the devices that are already transforming life as we know it.
In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
- Why people like Jeff’s 85-year-old father, who seems resistant to adopting new technology, almost always end up becoming fans and power users.
- How industries are making sweeping changes to modernize their operations and eliminate tools as simple as stepladders.
- The new technology that may transform work as we know it and create tons of new jobs.
- The inspiring power of a big vision.
- “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur Clarke
- “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” – Steve Jobs
[00:00:18] Dean Barber: Welcome to The Guided Retirement Show. I’m your host, Dean Barber. All right. So, normally on The Guided Retirement Show, we’re talking about money. Today, we’re going to talk about life. We’re going to do an interview with one of the most fascinating people that I have met in all of the podcasts that we’ve done here on The Guided Retirement Show. His name, Jeff Alholm. He is the CEO of Digital Aerolus. Jeff has spent years inventing new technology and devices that are used daily by millions of people. You’re going to be fascinated by the technology that Jeff is working on today and, in fact, is in use by companies all around the globe. Please enjoy this interview with Jeff Alholm, CEO of Digital Aerolus.
[00:00:54] Dean Barber: So, Jeff, welcome to The Guided Retirement Show. Such a pleasure to have you here. I think the world around us is ever-changing and we’ve seen that and we went through back in the early part of the last century, the Industrial Revolution, and I don’t think people had any concept of how that Industrial Revolution was going to change the way that people live their everyday lives. Then along comes the technological revolution and that’s the world that you live in. Many people think, well, the technological revolution, it’s already happened but I would argue and I want to get your take on this. Is the technological revolution in its early stages or it’s late stages right now?
[00:02:24] Jeff Alholm: You know, I love history. I read a lot, let’s just go with that at least, and mostly history. So, I think historically, there’s always a revolution going on, right? People were upset when the looms were invented to make cloth, right? So, the Luddites came through and threw their wrenches and shoes into the works because they thought it was immoral that machines were doing the work of humans. Now we are in the robotic revolution where there’s talk of self-driving cars and should you even own a car because now, you’re going to call the Uber of the future and a person-less car is going to show up and drive you to all your appointments more efficiently, safely, in a more ethical way is the argument than you owning a car.
Are truck drivers going away? Are there enough truck drivers in America today? No, by the way. So, there’s a lot of revolution going on. It is how we handle modernity is a subject that has been around for millennia. There’s theological arguments of how to handle modernia. There’s historic arguments of how we handle modernity. We’re in one of those right now. I’m in the business of providing intelligent, autonomous robotics on flying platforms. Is that going to take jobs away or add to them? That’s the question. But the jobs that are going to be here 10 years from now because of our technology will absolutely be different jobs.
[00:04:18] Dean Barber: And all the stuff you’re talking about, Jeff, is all about technology, right? Because without the technology, you can’t have the AI.
[00:04:26] Jeff Alholm: Well, yeah, I mean, any technology advanced enough is indistinguishable from magic, goes the Alan Kay quote, right? So, we have different technological continuums here. Technology can happen or advancement can happen in all kinds of planes of life. I mean, I’ve been surprised during this pandemic how we as a society have pivoted around virtual meetings. So, we’re an essential business.
We don’t require everyone to come to work but we require that everyone’s working. But we’ve handled and pivoted around that some people should do their jobs away from the office or should be here on some days. If you had asked me before the pandemic, would it had gone as well for us as it’s turned out, I would have said, “No way.” But again, I don’t know if it’s technology but my resistance to technology has proven to be I, a technologist, have proved to be ill-formed.
[00:05:32] Dean Barber: You know, I would probably sit on the same side of the table with you there, Jeff, because I was forever under the impression that if we were forced to work from home that we wouldn’t be as productive and I, like you, am super pleased and surprised with how our organization has not only adapted quickly but been able to thrive in that environment and adapting to technology. So, I think that it’s twofold.
One, it’s the technology that’s out there but, two, it’s people’s willingness today to adapt to the technology in a much faster form than maybe what our parents or our grandparents would have been willing to adapt to them. You were telling me a story before we came on about your father’s adaptation to the smartphone and in his initial reaction. I think that’s a funny story so you should tell it.
[00:06:21] Jeff Alholm: Well, yeah, just my dad like yours, you were talking about how your dad said, “I’ll never have a phone, a wireless phone,” and then got a flip phone and now has a smartphone. My dad adapted quickly. He wanted a phone. He at the time was running a large public company but I came home one day, and at the time, we were under contract doing some work with Apple and some partners of Apple.
So, we created before the iPhone, there was a pre-iPhone to the iPhone, based on the Apple Newton, which has got me in court a couple of times, mostly in defense work on Apple’s intellectual property. And so, I’m on someone’s quick dial there in Cupertino. So, I remember showing my dad this first smartphone. There’s one on the wall here. And I remember him saying to me, “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever seen. Again, why would I have a computer in my pocket?”
In the end, there is part of him that uses his smartphone probably more than I do on a daily existence. Again, I’m not saying he’s as comfortable at 85 with some aspects of it but I find him he spends more time in front of his computer than I do in a day and I’m a computer guy, right? But part of it is, is that he adapted. We think we resist. Again, he grumbled at me, I very clearly remember, “I’ll never own a bleep, bleep computer because that’s why I have a secretarial pool at work to do this.”
[00:08:01] Dean Barber: Right.
[00:08:03] Jeff Alholm: And now he’s the king of his Macintosh environment and he’s very, very proficient at. But he also goes to classes whenever he has a question if there are new things. He’s the king of the smartphone. Again, arguably with me as his son, he was always pushed in his face this technology and he would shrug his shoulders.
[00:08:28] Dean Barber: So, we have to have the adaptation to the technology. Now, let’s talk about your business for a little bit, Jeff, and I know you’ve had a long history of creating all kinds of amazing technology that has changed the way that people live on a daily basis. The robotics, the self-flying drones, how did that come about and what’s involved with that? And how do you see that changing industry and eventually, maybe even people’s lives?
[00:09:00] Jeff Alholm: Okay. I’m going to parse that into two questions which is, how did it come about, and then how will it affect the future? Is that fair?
[00:09:07] Dean Barber: Absolutely. Yep.
[00:09:08] Jeff Alholm: Okay. I’ll make how it came about simple. By nature, I’m an applied mathematician and electrical engineer. It’s the voodoo I do and that gave birth to products that generally have that as their core, whether it’s Wi-Fi or the phone example or some medical devices. On this one, I was asked by a friend to look at septic technology with at the time had left Cal – not. It wasn’t at Caltech but it was developed by a bunch of former professors at Caltech. And it originally was looking at the problem of solving deep space navigation but ultimately, they were applying it to the concept of navigating drones inside and autonomy. I’m not saying they had really honed the sword.
The point of that as articulately as I’m saying, and I’m not suggesting I’m the articulate one here but you get beaten into the point that where the market is. So, that was the original generation. We put $10 million of mostly our in-private money into it in Kansas City and created Digital Aerolus. We primarily sell products primarily for inspections.
So, inside mines, nuclear reactors, coal burners, where you want to go up and look at the injection port, inside of commercial spaces, meaning inside of chemical companies’ pipe where you can’t get there easily. It’s real funny. Dow Chemicals recently announced publicly they were getting rid of step ladders by 2024 and their argument is if a step ladder is needed, go get a confined space drone.
[00:11:07] Jeff Alholm: I would argue we’re really the only confined space stable drone. There’s some kind of jokey things that fly in balls but they mostly achieve their stability by being unstable. They roll on walls and things, not very conducive for most environments. But we, by using this advanced math, and now it’s a 32-dimensional mathematical operator, and we have a plethora of patents covering our work. We’re able to fly stably indoors.
Now, we have a new product line we’re just starting to sell, which then also creates autonomy around the drone. There was some autonomy before but it senses the environment, not for stability but for to be aware of the environment so that you can measure the room, you can be aware of where you are in the room that if there’s a problem, ultimately, the platform could come back through the serpentine path that it entered all these pipes and come back to your hand and land automatically.
[00:12:08] Dean Barber: How big is this drone that you’re talking about? Is it pretty small?
[00:12:13] Jeff Alholm: Yeah. I don’t know if you can see it behind me.
[00:12:15] Dean Barber: Oh, yeah. Okay, up on top of the shelf?
[00:12:17] Jeff Alholm: Well, it’s the one below it here. Let me get it.
[00:12:24] Jeff Alholm: Yeah. Sorry. So, this is a version old so this is the last version but if the new one is the exact same size, it has new imagers, and it has a series of sensors on top and I should have gone and grabbed the new product before I started this call. But it’s exactly this size. It’s smaller than a manhole cover. So, we have clients that fly down the manhole and start flying. So, if you go online and watch the video, you’ll see somebody actually go in a manhole, fly, and then exit.
By the way, an absolutely cool video because they’re inspecting the electrical works in Valdez, Alaska, and Valdez, Alaska generates its electricity a bunch of ways. There are three ways. One of them is a reservoir, where the pin stock has to be inside of a mountain. It’s carved into the mountains so that it doesn’t freeze up. So, the manhole you go down, they inspect it, and they zoom out through the water as it exits this cave.
[00:13:31] Dean Barber: So, this is far more advanced than you see somebody that’s flying a drone, they’re inspecting a roof, they’re looking at high lines, they’re doing those but those are all drones that are powered by a human that’s looking at a video screen that’s seeing what the drone actually sees. You say yours are autonomous. So, how do they know where to go? How do they know what to do? You have to have a human program before that happens?
[00:13:55] Jeff Alholm: Well, yeah. I’m sorry. Your question, I want to answer like three different ways.
[00:14:02] Dean Barber: Go ahead.
[00:14:04] Jeff Alholm: It’s part engineer, part ADD here. I would say, first of all, a drone that flies above a roof is very intelligent but its intelligence is really derived by seeing GPS. So, it sees the world in a GPS grid. It’s stable in that GPS grid. The instant you fly in a doorway with that outdoor drone, it will go caddywhompus and crash. Now, you can take that same drone if it’s a relatively common drone, and you can start inside, and then it will go through what I called Dumb Bunny mode. It will keep asking you, “Are you really this stupid to want to fly inside?” It will start flying and it will fly stably inside because it will see what we call optical flow, which is the technology that an optical mouse uses.
So, it’s like a flying optical mouse. As long as it sees a texture underneath the drone, all the lights are on, you don’t fly over concrete, you’re not overwater and it’s working that day, and it originally got its bearing inside of a GPS environment where it creates what we call the moments of inertia tables, it will fly indoors until you fly outdoors and then it will crash again because it got lost.
Or if it flies, if someone turns the lights off, it will crash. So, what we do on first and don’t overlook this is that we’re stable in all those environments. When we’re outdoors, it’s stable without GPS. When you fly through the doorway, it remains stable. If you start inside, it’s stable. Our drone doesn’t care if it’s around magnetic interference. It’s stable. That creates havoc on all other drones in the world. What we do on top of that? There is some AI and autonomy and we call it semi-autonomous behavior as it feels the airflow differences of the wall or the wind in a mine, or even the ceiling, and it will back off.
[00:16:00] Jeff Alholm: Other drones if they hit anything, they crash. We don’t. So, we don’t do collision avoidance like everyone else. We feel the difference and we back off appropriately but if you want to push our drone against the wall, it will go against the wall because you might want to be looking in a hole in the wall. If someone turns all the lights off in that room and it’s total dark, it will still fly stable. You might not be able to see much but you can turn the lights on the front of the camera on to see what you’re inspecting. Now, with the new drones, it’s now also sensing the room.
So, it will say, okay, this is a 10 x 20 room, what would you like me to do? Well, I’d like you to fly to every corner and come back to the center and you couldn’t tell it to do that. We believe most people will be doing them in the first generation use of this, the new product, the 130. We’ll be doing in what we call semi-autonomous mode.
You’ll still be flying it but if you take your hands off the control and go get a cup of coffee, it will be exactly where it was when you came back and looking at the exact same spot. If you want to tell it to go a week later to go to the exact same spot and to look at the exact same bolt or the exact same angle, it will do that. That’s what our customers require, meaning our bread and butter is inspecting under a bridge or like I said a mine or the reactors or the waterworks of Valdez.
[00:17:31] Dean Barber: So, you’re able to do that in a safe manner where typically you’re going to have some personal risk to do that if you don’t have the autonomous drone that you have.
[00:17:40] Jeff Alholm: Autonomy is a really funny word. I mean, there’s an argument. We do nothing autonomous if you really want to take it to its extreme. Believe it or not, we argue about these things among a bunch of geekwads here in our shop is that autonomy is awareness. You and I are autonomous. We make decisions. If we fly into a room and the door gets closed, the drone being able to know what to do if someone closed the door behind it is true autonomy.
We can’t do that yet but we can do some things that are autonomous. It can sense where that bolt is and come back to the same spot. So, just so you understand, there’s a huge continuum of autonomy. There’s an argument that the autonomous cars that are driving today are not autonomous at all. You get my point?
[00:18:29] Dean Barber: So, let’s talk about that because I think the self-driving vehicle, to me, it’s fascinating but at the same time, it’s terrifying. And so, how does that work relative to the technology that your drones are using?
[00:18:47] Jeff Alholm: Well, first of all, by the way, autonomous cars fail without GPS. So, think of it, we’re trying to solve the other end of the continuum is think of it, we’re solving the problem of ultimately a car and how does it drive if no GPS is around? Now, by the way, there are other people like Intel’s Mobileye division, that are working on creating, constantly updating maps based on what I call sense fiducials or sense markings as you drive. We’re doing something similar to that. We’re solving the problem using an entirely different technological set. No one in the world is doing what we’re doing. No one. We use this form of conformal multi-dimensional math and because of that, we handle sensors radically different as every sensed array.
So, a car as it self-drives now has a bunch of visual sensors or even Lidar so the thing spinning on the top of the roof or now, we’re going to see Lidar is what we call flash lighters in the corner of the BMW or whatever car you have. BMW is one of the first to deploy it. The reason I mentioned that or them is that, you know, and it will sense that environment.
One of the things that we do but one of the problems with the approach today taken by autonomous cars is the computational expense of handling all those sensors is breathtaking. So, I was at a recent thing last year where I was listening to a public, it was a geekwad thing of like 30 people in the room but it was the head of Alphabet’s Waymo division so Google. He was talking about how much processing power it takes to resolve and to drive their self-driving Volvos, and they’re not there yet. But he was saying there’s actually over 300 different processing elements.
[00:20:49] Jeff Alholm: Remember, every computer chip, its problem is heat and power. They have to liquid cool the PCB boards. The printed circuit boards have water troughs in them. It’s folded circuit and it has to have a water chiller in the trunk with the hardware to keep it cool enough so that it continues to work. Just think about that. One of the things that we do is our technology reduces the computational expanse of resolving all of these sensed elements by orders of magnitude. Not 10 times. More than that.
It is the way that we’re able to handle what’s called relative framing in this geometric space. So, we think we have a solution for a number of even automotive problems. What we’re focused on right now is flying our confined space drones because that’s what puts food on the table.
But then ultimately, our larger play as Digital Aerolus is how we as a technology provider enable things that fly, dive, swim, or drive, as we jokingly say, or not joke anyway. So, meaning our technology why it’s clearly demonstrable on our platforms, meaning you always have to be careful when someone makes outlandish claims. You know, the beauty of our set of claims is, “You don’t believe me? Here. Here’s the control. Fly it. Turn all the lights off.”
And I can’t tell you how many extremely smart people have looked at us and we have smart people in the house and have said, “No, you’re a bullsh*tter. That’s not true.” It’s like, “What do you mean? You just flew it.” “Yeah, but you’re doing some trick.” “What trick am I doing?” The abstraction is, is that what we do here is applicable to, in some ways, all autonomous platforms.
[00:22:43] Jeff Alholm: How we make that transition is the challenge in front of the management and directors of this business moving forward is how do we continue to add value? Because in the end, like your business, our business is about creating value for shareholders, how do we take our valuation from tenfold jumps? Our competitors, and probably the closest competitor we have just raised money in a billion-dollar valuation. How do we make sure we’re following that valuation? Because our technology is applicable to, I think, even more things than the example I just gave.
[00:23:21] Dean Barber: So, let me ask you a question, Jeff. What you’re saying, I’m sensing and make sure that I’m thinking in the right direction. Let’s go back to the invention of the pre-Apple iPhone, the first smartphone, and think about the applications of the smartphone today. And the number of jobs created in the way that people’s lives have changed because of that and it was that new technology.
The new technology that you’re discussing today sounds to me like it could wind up in a similar fashion to what the first smartphone did of being part of an everyday life for millions of people across the globe. Is that kind of what you’re seeing? I mean, I know your focus today is pretty down to what it is that that’s making your organization, your company money today but do you see a bigger application that can help people live better lives and really impact us as a humanity across the globe?
[00:24:31] Jeff Alholm: Simply put, yes. I mean, you and I were talking before this about, I was telling you the advice. We’re talking about how technology, how is that going to affect people moving forward? I mean, you and I just talked about the example and I would argue it’s you and I that changed as much as anybody else. I mean, I looked at the problem of how we’re going to handle a pandemic. Instead, do we need to be selling different products in different ways?
How our customers are going to act? But then you and I had to modify the way that we manage our operations or I would like to say lead our operations to take advantage of the technology and the change that happened to us. It’s the Tom Peter’s line. The only thing you can guarantee in business is change, unexpected change. It’s it. So, you prepare yourself for that change not knowing that change is going to happen. Back to your point, it’s like Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is an easier example for me.
So, here, Apple just showed up at our door. We were doing work with Wi-Fi interesting enough with Apple, why the standard is being created. And they came to us and said, “Hey, we have some large customers,” and it’s all in the public domain because it’s been litigated. Monsanto came to us and said, “We want a product that uses the cellular system and our people can go in the field and track crops.” Next thing we knew we had four or five of these customers and we said, “Well, I guess they’re asking for the cellular system but it has to have the data infrastructure, which is just coming online in the coming months.
Let’s put that all in a package that’s rugged and let’s send people out in the field.” Did we see that you and I would be using, I mean, these are stranger-related in some ways. This maybe is my favorite smartphone I’ve ever had because I just like the Newton a lot. But my current phone does so much more than that thing could do but we didn’t have any idea. The mind can’t conceive, the ears can’t hear, the eye cannot see what’s in front of us.
[00:26:35] Jeff Alholm: I mean, Wi-Fi is even more interesting to me is that when I was a young man, someone’s crammed in front of my – I’m looking for a document. I’ve given it to somebody. Someone crammed in my hand the doctoral dissertation of Alan Kay, the man who I quoted about technology being indistinguishable from magic if it’s advanced enough. And Alan Kay’s dissertation talked about a future where we would be using Dynabooks and he predicted the iPad, the laptop, and Wi-Fi before they existed in a very famous, if you’re a geek, he is holy. He’s a holy man. I think now he just resigned or just left Apple as a full fellow but he’s the man. In Kay, when I read that dissertation, my mentor who had handed it to me, he said, “Dedicate the rest of your life to fulfilling this and you’ll be successful.”
And I think that’s what motivated us to do – it certainly motivated me to do this and then Wi-Fi. So, the Wi-Fi standard was really created in a Kansas City company here and we developed a chipset that ultimately sold in the open market and had 100% market share of one-half of the standard. People don’t believe that happened in Kansas City and it did well enough and it went through some weird permutations with it’s in itself would be a great nonfiction book because it ended up in the hands of different people with some shenanigans involved. But we didn’t see Wi-Fi. I didn’t see apps on phones, right?
[00:28:15] Dean Barber: Right.
[00:28:16] Jeff Alholm: I mean, I’m not sure Apple saw apps on phones.
[00:28:19] Dean Barber: Well, one of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs, when people said, when people told Steve Jobs, “People don’t want this,” and Steve Jobs says, “People don’t know what they want until you put it in front of them.” And so, I think that’s what you’re saying is what are the possibilities of this technology? We can’t even begin to imagine how it can change what we’re doing on a daily basis.
[00:28:44] Jeff Alholm: Yeah. It’s really funny. I have a friend that I went to high school with here in Kansas City, and has been wildly successful as a venture capitalist, arguably as successful as anyone I’ve ever met in that business. Retired, had some health problems, just a great guy, and I had called him about this business and he wasn’t investing at the time but we talked about it and he said, “Jeff, okay, what you’re working on that the market valuations, the opportunities, the potential applications are beyond description. So, stop trying to describe them.” He says, “It is like Wi-Fi in a smartphone.” At some point, the ear can’t hear, the eye cannot see, the mind cannot conceive. It’s a Bible verse but this concept of it’s beyond our imagination.
I think what we’re doing has such fundamentally large opportunities and in value, that it’s beyond imagination. It would be irresponsible not to continue to accelerate and do what we do. I am so fortunate and this is now back to the advice of my son. Find those things that make you alive and dedicate yourself to those things. Be alive. “The glory of God is a man or woman fully alive,” is the quote by Saint Irenaeus. I mean, let’s be fully alive. I am so fortunate.
And I pinch myself that I have got to work on things that allow me to be fully alive. I am the most blessed of all men because I get to do something I love, and hopefully makes value in the world. And I’ll tell you, I found the most satisfying things I’ve ever worked on are the two medical devices that are somewhat associated with the work here, actually in this very building, and because they have literally saved lives probably on a daily basis.
[00:30:47] Dean Barber: Now, what are those devices?
[00:30:50] Jeff Alholm: There’s something called capnography, which is the measurement of CO2 and it was created literally in this building, the building I’m in, which we rent. I mean, this is my second time in this building in 30 years. And capnography is required in all surgery. If you take your kids and to get tubes in your ears, they will hook a capnograph to your child during that almost instantaneous procedure to measure the CO2 and oxygen, oxygen going in, CO2 going out. But that was a Kansas City grid, literally this building. Garmin started across the street and then when I did the next startup moved behind us and borrowed our equipment every night. So, the ecosystem in Kansas City is relatively small.
[00:31:41] Dean Barber: I don’t think people think of Kansas City as a technology city but what you’re saying is, “Hey, there’s some pretty cool stuff that started here.”
[00:31:47] Jeff Alholm: I’m not sure I would describe technology. Again, it’s back to our example of technology. I mean, there’s a startup culture here in Kansas City as there is in most cities and it’s somewhat split between the new guard and the old guard. The old guard largely doesn’t talk about it. They just go about doing it. And the new guard spends a lot of time talking about it, and again, there’s nothing wrong with talking about it.
I’m not saying that. I used to be on lots of boards from Johnson County Enterprise Center, KTEC, KUs on incubator, all kinds of stuff, and I’ll tell you, at the end of the day, I think it was all valuable time spent but I found myself largely frustrated and empty. And I felt I could do more to create value in my home city by just doing it. I generally don’t do interviews. If it didn’t the fact that you knew my family, I wouldn’t do this interview, to be honest with you. I just don’t do it.
[00:32:53] Dean Barber: Well, I appreciate you. I’m fascinated. When I learned from your father what you do, and I watched the video, and I went to your website, I’m like, “Wow, this is really, really cool,” and I want to interview Jeff. Some of the people in my organization said, “Well, what does this have to do with a guided retirement show?” I’m like it’s about life. It’s about how technology is changing things and I think that we have to continue to be ready to adapt to that new technology.
You talked about artificial intelligence. You got AI now in the investing world, and AI in the investing world is doing some pretty cool things that prior to that was unthinkable. And so, I think that there’s just so much and what I really wanted to get the point across is that things are going to be changing and I like to look forward.
I want to look at the big picture of life and I like to imagine life in a way that is ideal. What do I really want my life to look like? And then how do I make that happen? I think that’s what you’re doing with technology is, what are the issues that are out there? How can I make things better? And that’s what you’re doing. Even though you don’t really see what’s the ultimate end result going to wind up being like with the startup with a smartphone.
How would anybody have ever imagined that it would turn into what it is today, with the technology that you have today? What are the possibilities and where will that go? And how will that change? I mean, I’m just thinking about people that are doing an inspection in a home trying to get an appraisal on a home or a piece of business property or something like that. If your drones can fly in and they can check everything out and they can look at the plumbing and they can look at the lighting and they can do all these different things, we might be able to appraise homes from afar.
[00:34:55] Jeff Alholm: Well, yeah, it’s really funny. I have a dear friend. It’s like a sister relationship in town. She lives close to my wife and I and she was having horrible health problems. Turns out, she just has gargantuan mold allergies. She had a crawl space and it was just full of mold. Before I knew it, she had had somebody come in but if I had known that, I would have flown in her mold space with one of the drones and just look for her.
And so, we were talking about it afterwards, the same way you and I, as friends are talking, where we said, “Look, in the future, someone’s going to pull out of the back of their pickup this thing and it’s just going to automatically fly in that crawl space in our Brookside home, and see whether there’s mold or not.” By the way, that half of her home or that part of her home no longer exists. They had to tear it down. It was so full of mold for her health. So, yeah, I mean, again, our eyes have not seen, our ears have not heard. We have not conceived what the future looks like.
All I know in my little way that you prayerfully get up in the morning and let me be a thoughtful, decent leader, let me serve the people I work with, and my investors, let me do something of value today and tomorrow. One of my axioms and you could probably figure this out, I have these quotes that I roll off of me for years of reading too much.
I don’t know if it’s Marcus Aurelius or who the quote comes from. It’s never been properly tagged, though, I read it for the first time. It’s chiseled into the stones at Union Station in DC and it simply says, “Big visions create the magic that stirs the souls of men”. Big visions create the magic that stirs the souls of men. By the way, I even ended up spending a plane flight, a long one, with the architect of Congress, which is the guy who manages all of the properties in DC in the federal domain.
[00:36:59] Jeff Alholm: He was absolutely aware of that. He called me back a couple of weeks later and he says, “I can’t give you a source. No one knows.”
[00:37:05] Dean Barber: That’s wild.
[00:37:06] Jeff Alholm: But big visions create the magic, stirs the souls of man. Of course, in our politically correct world, we would say big visions create the magic, stirs the souls of men and women, and that’s great. The point is let us work on good big things. And I think at the end, technology is, in the end, should be a people business. I’m a people person. I want to make the world safe.
I want to be able to inspect the Fukushima plant without sending someone into harm’s way. And I want to be able to make bridges safer, and be able to do a mold inspection where drones have never flown before. Did I think about that before last week with this conversation with a friend? No. Never occurred to me. And I guarantee you, it’s only Wednesday, and some time by Friday, three more things are going to come up that I have never thought of.
[00:38:00] Dean Barber: That’s the beauty of where we are in this world today, though, is that there are some, I mean, if you can imagine it, you almost think, hey, it can happen.
[00:38:12] Jeff Alholm: Well, Hayek, the famous Nobel laureate in Economics talked about and I forget his phrase but it’s this argument of why capitalism works is that it is the power – there’s a famous Tom Peters quote is that all great inventions almost always usually come from the wrong person at the wrong time in the wrong division with the wrong budget. Post-it pads came from a guy who was playing with a failed adhesive, right?
He wanted to mark the hymnals of his church as they were singing. That’s how Post-it pads were invented. It’s a high x argument that central planning doesn’t work for exactly the reason we’re talking about. You can’t conceive where the ideas are coming from and so I think wisdom is to prepare yourself for them and be humble enough to recognize when you miss or when you hit them to be gracious about, I’m at a fortunate spot, in a fortunate time, with really great people. That’s it.
[00:39:17] Dean Barber: And you have to surround yourself with those bright people and you had to be willing to set the fact that, hey, you know what, they’re going to help me get better and they’re going to help everybody get better.
[00:39:24] Jeff Alholm: Well, and bright people in itself is a different paradigm. I mean Google almost failed because they had an axiom of wanting to hire the top 1% brightest programmers and people and it was a miserable failure for them. And so, then they woke up and said, “It’s really a lot more about people who can also work together, who can collaborate, and getting a whole team that has all the skill sets in it.” It’s a well-documented thing.
And so, you try to, I mean, we have probably more PhDs per capita than is probably any company in the city but that doesn’t mean that the guy or gal without the college degree isn’t going to be the key inventor on an issue because that’s the case. It’s just I marvel, again, some of the smartest things come from the most unlikely sources. So, how do you build a team? I mean, we were arguing the other day, as you do once a year about what are your visions and values.
And one of a relatively new guy we have, who by the way has a Ph.D. in Particle Physics from Duke, is he was arguing the power of our culture is exactly what I just said is it’s not that we’re just a group of smart people but we’re a group of people that are highly collaborative and know how to work together. Again, we fight and argue.
[00:40:47] Dean Barber: Well, that’s how you make progress.
[00:40:49] Jeff Alholm: I think so but not all cultures are that way. And again, as I say this, I don’t want to sound egotistical like I’m the king of this culture. Cultures are things. I’ve learned the hard way. If you don’t meticulously manage them, when I say manage, I mean just be attentive to them, I guess, you’ll fail. I mean, I thought I was Midas after a couple of these startups and I had one where I didn’t pay attention to the culture and it was an awful culture. And so, as I get older, I pay attention to how lucky I was at so young and alive and to pay attention to the culture.
[00:41:33] Dean Barber: That’s perfect. Jeff, you’ve been gracious with your time and your expertise and your knowledge. We’re going to make sure that we put links to your website so that people can really check out what you’ve got going on. I can’t wait to see where your company goes, how this technology impacts the lives of people across the globe. It’s fascinating to spend time speaking with somebody like you, somebody who really cares, and somebody who has that vision to make our world a better place. I appreciate it.
[00:42:04] Jeff Alholm: Okay. Tell my dad hi.
[00:42:05] Dean Barber: I will and I’ll tell him what a great job he did raising you.
[00:42:10] Jeff Alholm: Okay. Thanks. He might not believe you.
[00:42:12] Dean Barber: Do I give him the credit? We’ll make his day. How about that?
[00:42:17] Jeff Alholm: He’s actually a great guy. I was just telling him the other day, I mean, really late last week, I had a pause and thank him, and I started tearing up. I said, “Some of my best attributes I get from you,” and mom was so much the dominant personality in our household and I just said, “Dad, I want to be thankful for a minute,” and I think he needed that.
[00:42:45] Dean Barber: That’s awesome.
[00:42:46] Jeff Alholm: And he’s easy to overlook for that stuff so thank you.
[00:42:49] Dean Barber: Yeah. Thank you. We’ve put links to the website of Digital Aerolus in the show notes here of The Guided Retirement Show. If you’re like me, I’m going to spend some time on that website. I’m going to be doing research. I’m going to be paying attention to what Jeff Alholm and his group of PhDs are doing at Digital Aerolus, and I can’t wait to see how their productivity, their knowledge, and their technology changes the world.
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