1. Tell us your story of how your company got to where it is today?
X-Mode began as the college safety app Drunk Mode. Drunk Mode helps users find their drunk friends and track their drunken adventures. With over 1.5M downloads, Drunk Mode became one of the top drinking safety apps in the world. Eventually, similar our college based users, we as a company had to mature. In the process of creating a “legit” company, Drunk Mode became X-Mode. We developed an innovative way of collecting anonymized location data, and with some amazing deals, we were able to monetize on that data at a higher pricing point than most. Being former app developers ourselves, we knew other developers needed a way to monetize without ads, a steady paycheck, and a team that wants to help them grow. Almost a year later, the X-Mode location SDK platform now has over 100 apps. Today, we’re one of the largest location data providers on the market. We got to this point with determination, hustle, and humility.
2. What would it mean to you and your company to win a Entrepreneur of the Year?
Winning Entrepreneur of the Year would mean a lot to me, but it’s more a testament to my amazing team. Without my team, we would have never been able to pivot a drunken safety app to one of the largest data providers in the space. We’re not huge on personal accolades, so I would only accept this award on behalf of my team.
3. If you weren’t running your own business/working at this business, what would you be doing?
I would be either teaching or doing product development at a big company. I’ve always enjoyed building things that millions of people could use, while at the same time teaching people how to replicate that success. The reason why I went into entrepreneurship was to show an entire generation that it’s not where you begin but it’s where you want to be. Anything you want to do can be done if you work hard, educate yourself, stay humble, and learn from folks much smarter than you. Any career path would have brought me a lot of gratification, but to have a job that does not feel like a job, I knew I would have to be helping elevate/motivate someone to be the best person they can be. A lot of jobs like teaching, consulting, and product development all have an element of this and would get me out of bed every day for the next challenge.
4. What book are you reading right now? / What is your favorite book?
Presently, I’m in the middle of a book called The Cheat Code by Brian Wong which talks about how to growth hack both business and your personal life. Harry Potter is definitely, of course, my favorite book/series of all time with the Prisoner of Azkaban being my top one, but my favorite non-main stream book would have to be The Next 100 Years by George Friedman, which has a fascinating look on the rise and fall of nations.
5. If you have 24-hours off, and your family was out of town, what would you do?
Honestly, probably a mixture of sleeping, watching rom-cons, eating really amazing food (I am a foodie), and catching up with friends
6. What is the smallest thing that has made the largest impact on your business?
The smallest thing that has made the largest impact on my business was taking about 5 percentage points and giving it to 20+ advisors across the board that could help give me experience and who were 10x smarter than myself in their respective fields. This bought me 2 hours of their time a month, and I could text, call, and ask them for help and advice. My advisors helped to limit the number of mistakes I made as a new CEO. We brought in advisors who had built and sold 100M+ data and advertising companies, folks who have run companies in the bay area for 20+ years, folks who have built great consumer brands like Wedding Wire and Sworkit, and folks who have expertise in accounting, legal, fundraising, data monetization etc. I was given initial advice to bring in strategic advisors from two mentors/good friends of mine: Shy and Eman Pahlevani (Founders of Hungry and LiveSafe – two multi-million DC companies). Shy and Eman are only a few years older than me, and they previously followed the same path I’m currently taking when they built startups at my age. Their guidance taught me humility – accepting that I needed help as a CEO was one of our company’s saving graces and ultimately makes X-Mode to what it is today.
7. What did you want to be when you grew up as a child? / What was a childhood dream that you had?
I had a rough childhood so I did not have a lot of aspirations or a dream career. Much of my focus was on how to take care of myself as I had lived away home from age 8 to 12 and been in special education from 5th grade to senior year of high school. When I moved to Northern VA, I was more worried about paying my bills in high school and in college than a dream job. In fact, it wasn’t until age 16 that I had any inkling of what I wanted to do, and my first dream career was actually being an attorney.
When I was a kid, starting at age 8, I had been placed in a group home and it was a dark time. During that time period, I would pray for 5 things every night: family, food, shelter, clothing and friends. I’m happy to say that almost 18 years later, that this childhood dream became a reality.
8. Who is the one person that has influenced you the most in your career?
There were two people who influenced me the most in my career for very different purposes: how I view the world and giving me my first start. Josephine Wiles Warner is my best friend’s mother who took me in when I was kicked out of the house at 18. She gave me a place to stay, a place to work, and before we raised money or even had a revenue model, she gave me her settlement check from her car accident (even though she wasn’t working) as a loan to help me start X-Mode. She has had the most impact, however, in how I see value created in your community and the people you lead. It’s not how much money you make as a person or you company; it’s the impact you’ve made on others lives. The folks who work with you and who are there through the highs and lows should be better off than when they started. Josephine helped influence me on seeing the real value of what a company and/or entrepreneur can give to the community.
Tiffany Laing, the head of student life at NVCC, impacted me the most with leadership skills, and I would not be the leader I am today without her. She gave me my first chance in leadership at NVCC where not many others would have. She not only believed in me but also took the chance in making me an orientation assistant at NVCC. This position gave me the much needed confidence to do everything else I would later achieve, from helping create a bus route in Loudoun to getting into UVA McIntire to finally building X-Mode. In terms of leadership, Tiffany taught two very valuable lessons. The first is that to lead a team you need to understand why they are there, what motivates them and demotivates them, and that this analysis will lead to a successful organization. The second lesson is that a leader’s legacy is measured not by current leadership but by the company’s health post-leadership. Your testament as a leader is how well the organization functions if you were to leave tomorrow. Leadership is about leaving a legacy with respect to both the people you have led and the organization you created.
9. What is your favorite thing about running a business in Loudoun County?
Honestly, it’s the environment and the proximity to great talent. Loudoun County Economic Development, AOL, and Northern Virginia Community College have been an amazing help in connecting us with the right people whether it be advisors or potential talent and helping us grow the right way. The cost of living and the cost of hiring is also a lot more affordable than in other markets for technology like San Francisco, NYC, or Los Angeles. As a result, we can grow a business, obtain affordable talent to help us accelerate faster, and compete while raising less funding to do so.
10. If you’re not in the office where can we find you?
For the last 2-years, I’ve spent about 4.5 months outside the DC Area, whether it’s closing a new ad-tech deal in NYC, fundraising on the west coast, or attending a Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in the last week of February. I’m hustling to bring even more business in for X-Mode, and during this process I learn from folks who are 10x smarter than myself and continue to accelerate our growth. Other times, it could just be a speech at a university lecturing on growth hacking or doing motivational speaking.
11. What is your favorite weekend activity in Loudoun County?
My favorite weekend activity is to head to either Shoes Cups and Corks (in the Summer), Olive Garden, or Sweetwater Tavern and then to a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse with friends.