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Season 2, Episode 12: Transcript

Season 2, Episode 12:
Taking Your Business International: An Interview with CTO Rupen Patel


Veanne Smith:   Hello and welcome to Atlanta Business Impact Radio. I am your host Veanne Smith, and I have my co-host, Sarah Lodato, joining me in the studio again today. We’re excited about this episode of season two where we are continuing our theme of growing careers and building businesses. Today we have Rupen Patel with us to discuss his career path to becoming a CTO as well as learn from his experience in taking businesses international. From internet of things technologies to health gamification, his experience in the technology field is impressive.

Rupen is the CTO for NRC’s small and medium business division. He leads global engineering for NRC’s SAS and Mobile Product Portfolio helping to power businesses ranging from small businesses and franchise retailers to food trucks. He also leads innovation projects in areas such as IoT and analytics. Previously he founded and directed Mercurium providing CTO and development services for SAS companies that were focused on IoT, marketing automation, e-commerce and health gamification. He has also helped envision and launched products at brands including Cox, Oracle, Vitru and several start-ups. Rupen is an alumnus of both Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt and has also done Master’s work at Stamford.

Sarah Lodato:    Hey there Rupen and welcome to Atlanta Business Impact Radio. We’re super thrilled to have you with us today.

Rupen Patel:      I’m excited to be here. Thank you very much Sarah.

Veanne Smith:   Hey Rupen it’s so good to be with you here today and get to see you face to face. We work a lot it seems like via text and email, but it’s so good to see you in the flesh today so happy, happy.

Rupen Patel:      Thank you, I’m excited to be here and excited about the podcast.

Veanne Smith:   Thanks, all right well we wanted to kind of talk today about the international space from a technology perspective. So let’s start by talking about the work that you’ve done taking products and companies international. You’ve worked for quite the lineup of impressive companies over the years. I think you got started maybe around Hewlett Packard, Red Hat, Turner where I’m guessing you gained some of that early experience that has served you well today. So we’d love to hear what role you’ve played in going international, what decisions you’ve made and some of your involvement in the process. So let’s start there.

About Rupen Patel

Rupen Patel:      Sure great. I did early on in my career I had the opportunity to work at HP on the first Photosmart printer photo printing for the home, and that product was release internationally out of the gate. So we went to seven countries, and I was a software engineer on some of the software that managed the printer. That was my early experience taking a product international. I think through the years each of the companies I’ve worked at has had different flavors of international experience. In some cases it was just managing international teams, and in some cases it was actually taking a product international.

I can tell you about the most recent international experience here with NCR. So as you know NCR is in over a hundred countries. It’s been around for a long time, and in the small and medium business division, SNB division where I work, we decided to take our product international as well over the last year. So a lot of the work that I’ve been doing has been setting up teams, launching our product. Our main product is silver making sure that it works internationally from perspective of laws, legal compliance as well as the cloud. We’ve had to set up separate clouds for each of these international expansions. So it’s been an interesting journey and as you know everything is evolving. The geo-political situation keeps changing, and that does effect what we can do from a data capture perspective primarily.

Veanne Smith:   Well we’re all excited about the work you’re doing at NCR. NCR is expanding and moving and building here in Atlanta. So we’re so happy that you’re all part of that. Do you spend more of your time focused on the technology today or more on the business implications? You’ve kind of alluded to both, whatever you’d like to talk about.

The Role as CTO at NCR

Rupen Patel:      Yes so my role is kind of at the intersection. So the business side a lot of it is about our sales and our sales strategy for expanding our business, and in order to do that technology has to really have a seat at the table and support that process. So I sit at that intersection. I sort of listen to what our business leaders really want to do and map that back to how we need to structure our organization and the priorities that we need to focus on in order to take our business say international or whatever else we want to do.

My background is very technical. I started as a software engineer; played the role of architect at several companies, still dabble with coding on the side. So I stay pretty plugged in technically, and I think that’s really necessary in the software space. It’s hard to build new products and not be aware of what’s changing under the covers. One day it might be that Ruby on Rails is hot and the next day it’s golang or Java or something else, and so you have to stay plugged into that. Each of these technologies that emerges allows you to either make your job easier or make your job harder potentially. So you really need to know what’s going on down there. So I do stay plugged in, but when we have so many priorities to manager, I’m really kind of staying more at the team level these days making sure that I’m assembling the right team, the right leaders, setting the right priorities and then marching towards our objective.

Keeping Up with Technology

Sarah Lodato:    Well I try to mentor young people today, and they talk about getting into technology and do they want to stay technical or not. I say it’s such a great launch pad because you solve so many business problems whether you stay technical or not, but I’m curious. You talk about it changes. Ruby was hot yesterday, but today it’s not. So do you take it upon yourself to stay in touch with that, or do you rely on your team. How do you keep up when you’ve got so many business challenges that you’re dealing with. How do you keep up with the technology when you’re not into it day to day?

Rupen Patel:      It’s tough. So because I actually love technology myself it’s not so hard for me to spend my non-working hours looking at this and keeping… [Crosstalk]

Veanne Smith:   That’s what you read at night?

Rupen Patel:      Yeah, it’s okay for me because I enjoy it. If it’s not something you enjoy then you’re probably going to have to rely 100 percent on other people. That being said there are a lot of nuances and unless you actually use a particular technology it’s hard to know those nuances. So I do rely on my team for that and folks will go and experiment. As engineers you really do want to experiment and try things all the time and so make sure that there’s time allocated in folks’ schedules to experiment with things. In some cases I’ll actually instigate and encourage that. People might be deciding to do things in the same way that they did it last time, and I might kind of throw in there a little mini grenade and say hey, why don’t you try it out using this. That just gets everybody a little variety, and you kind of become a better engineer that way.

Veanne Smith:   Very good.

Sarah Lodato:    So you mentioned that obviously you still love the tech side of things. I’m curious to know why then the transition to more of a leadership role. Where was sort of that pivot from just a software engineering and why, because some folks are on the tech space and might be interested in becoming a CTO one day or something and love to hear some tips or why you went that direction.

Rupen Patel:      Good question. I wish I could say I had a master plan to do this but I really didn’t. [Laughter]

Sarah Lodato:    Show us your notes. [Laughter] Show us the list.

Rupen Patel:      Like I said I love technology so I started out as an engineer working at a couple companies building products. I got promoted into a team lead role, and I did that for several years and then more into management. At a particular time I took a different job and it ended up being more of a CTO role. That’s just how I got into it. I didn’t necessarily plan my way into it. What I would say is that if you like dealing with people and you like technology, then that’s two really good indicators you could probably move in that direction. If you don’t like people and you just like technology then you may want to reconsider because there are folks that are just more into the tech then the people side.

Sarah Lodato:    Right and you can advance in just the tech side as well and not have to manage people. Are those qualities do you feel that someone that was in a leadership position recognize as something you asked for and got mentored into. It’s easy to sort of think okay you just promoted into those but what were you doing sort of proactively if anything to exhibit the qualities or…

Rupen Patel:      I think solving problems that were not necessarily assigned to me or in my scope but things that I say that were valuable for the business. I think when you take initiative and you take ownership you really think of where you’re working as your home, and so you’re going to go the extra mile and figure out what you could do to make the place better whether it’s on the tech side or people or any aspect. Then people start to notice that you’re going above and beyond, and now you’re a candidate for some sort of a leadership role. You just keep doing that more and more. You have to learn on your own. It’s great to have mentors, and I’ve always made sure that as much as possible I’ve relied on good mentors to answer some of those difficult questions. They’ve already been there before. They can kind of help backstop, but at the same time there’s no substitute for going out on your own and learning in just as many books as you can. Be a part of as many other types of groups outside of work as you can. All of these things sort of give you the perspective that you need and also help to form what you think you might want to do for the rest of your career and what you might be good at in kind of that intersection.

Sarah Lodato:    Kind of learn what even some of options might be because it might not be limited to what you see in front of you.

Rupen Patel:       Right. [Crosstalk]

Sarah Lodato:    That’s awesome.

Rupen Patel:      Also I think it’s something that you have to enjoy doing. At the end of the day if you don’t enjoy it, it’s not worth it…

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Veanne Smith:   I think you’ve hit on a lot of great concepts. So I think it’s a lot of natural talent how you get promoted, right. I think it’s a lot of natural talent. I think it’s going the extra mile solving problems, working really hard and I love the last part. That’s my favorite part and being happy and smiling and showing people that you really love it.

Rupen Patel:      Yeah.

Sarah Lodato:    Yeah.

Veanne Smith:   Because I think that people want to promote people that seem to really be passionate about what they do, right.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:       Absolutely.

Sarah Lodato:    Because even if you’re not quite there it’s like okay now they’re motivated to help you get the extra…

Veanne Smith:   Right.

Rupen Patel:      Yeah.

Sarah Lodato:    …inch that you need [crosstalk] to get you there.

Veanne Smith:   They want to help the happy people. The [Crosstalk] …

Rupen Patel:      Absolutely.

Veanne Smith:   …ones that are really looking like [laughter] they’re charging ahead, not the ones that are moping in the corner, right.

Rupen Patel:      Yeah.

Veanne Smith:   That’s some great perspective.

Sarah Lodato:     Awesome.

Rupen Patel:      It’s a funny thing. I remember a little factoid. I think it’s “happier people are 17 percent more productive than people who aren’t happy,” something like that.

Veanne Smith:   That’s good.

Sarah Lodato:    That’s awesome. It’s good to know.

Veanne Smith:   I like the seventeen.

Rupen Patel:      I just made it up. [Laughter] Eighty-seven percent of 15, [laughter] it’s made up right.

The Challenges of Managing Across Multiple Time Zones

Veanne Smith:   All right well let’s talk about challenges that you faced along the way. I would imagine there are a lot of things that can be hairy even the little things like managing people across multiple time zones, but would you like to share with us maybe some of the lessons that you’ve learned along the way.

Rupen Patel:      Sure, so managing people is definitely an art more so than a science. A lot of it boils down to understanding the individual personalities that you’re managing, and once you know what are the buttons not to push that’s I think a big thing and also what motivates people. That helps to kind of frame your plan for how you’re going to structure your team, who’s going to work with whom and what kind of tasks or assignments are appropriate for different people. I don’t think that’s very different internationally than it is domestically. The main difference is local versus remote.

Veanne Smith:   Right.

Rupen Patel:      So when folks are onsite there’s face time, there’s visual cues from facial expressions, all these things that remote people you can’t see them, right. They’re just on the other side of a computer. So the same skills that are useful in managing remote teams I think scale pretty well internationally. The additional dimension internationally is time zone and cultural differences, and culture and legal side also plays into it a little bit. I feel like if you first kind of cut your teeth on just managing folks that are not face-to-face, that are remote, you can acquire most of the skills you need to manage folks internationally. So proper tooling, Slack and Skype and Google Hangouts and these tools that are available to sort of simulate nearby-ness whether it’s the responsiveness of these tools or the face-to-face communication you can do over video conferencing those are really useful.

Setting a cadence where you regularly communicating with people at least once a week even though you might feel a little lazy to do it but just make yourself do it. It sort of keeps that bond. Scheduling maybe once or twice a year people getting together physically, have an event where you go through all of your major issues and challenges but then you also have some fun and bond. I think it’s very important and then having the whole team feel like one team. So never kind of just delegating the low end work to somebody maybe offshore, but actually giving the entire product or a piece of the product to develop so they feel like they’re equal partners.

I guess the most important thing is hiring. So when you hire you have to hire folks abroad as you would here; folks that you wouldn’t want to work for you here you wouldn’t want to work for you abroad. So you should have a similar or same standard of the quality people you hire, and I would say the most critical hire would be the team lead or the technical leader there.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:      Without that it’s hard for the team in the remote location to gel and bond and have a common framework for doing things.

Sarah Lodato:    I would imagine too that that team lead would be one of the most critical people to make sure that  they are injected into the company culture and things like that so that they can sort of disseminate it as well, although if you sort of had to choose a focal point there.

Rupen Patel:      Yeah, no definitely, you want the team lead to feel really, really bonded and close to the rest of the onshore team for sure, and I think one of the responsibilities for the team lead is to kind of as you said disseminate that culture locally. It also helps to promote people there [crosstalk] periodically so they feel like there’s a career path for them as well, and that’s another key responsibility the team is to kind of that mentor and promote just like you would have a good manager here do that.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:       So all those things I think are very analogous. There’s nothing super different. Now time zone as you said does play into it. Either some folks like to work shifted schedules where they overlap time zones, or you just set a cadence where one side or the other decides to bite the bullet and stay late or come in early to do that.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Communicating is a Part of Company Culture

Veanne Smith:   Thank goodness for all the technology. I think you know it’s challenging today, but can you imagine 20 years ago. You mentioned tools just such as Slack. I kind of wanted to pick on that a little bit. Slack’s been around a little while but it’s fairly new. We’ve certainly adopted it here, and one of the things I’ve learned is that I think I get, I don’t know if  this is true for you Sara and I’d be curious of your perspective Rupen, but I think I get more insight into our employees’ personalities over Slack than I do in face-to-face communication. Do you agree with that? I think people are more –  I used to think how do you get to know people online, but I think people are more vulnerable online and willing to shed some insight as to who they are than they are sometime in face-to-face conversation which is counterintuitive to me.

Sarah Lodato:    I think it’s that but also that they have the opportunity too because they’re not peeling away from their computer to have an in-person conversation, that you’re already in the space where you’re working especially if you’re a developer.

Veanne Smith:   You’re in your safe space or something.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:      Yeah.

Veanne Smith:   It’s less intimidating I think.

Rupen Patel:      I think that’s that; you hit it right on the nail on the head. It is less intimidating. A lot of people are introverts in the technology space.

Veanne Smith:   Right and I think the technology helps them to come out a little bit.

Rupen Patel:      Yeah absolutely. It gives everybody the ability [Crosstalk]

Veanne Smith:   just through emojis or [laughter] animated gifts, I don’t know. [Laughter]

Rupen Patel:      Some of the conversations on Slack are hilarious. There’s all kinds of snarky comments that just snowball into these ridiculous threads. So it’s kind of fun too. I think it’s the new water cooler in a way.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:      Right. It’s like a virtual water cooler, and the one thing [inaudible] [17:32] there’s a record of it. So [laughter] you do have to be a little bit cautious.

Sarah Lodato:    Exactly.

Rupen Patel:      I think Slack’s been fantastic for bringing our teams together.

Sarah Lodato:    That’s great. So you hit on company culture which is a passion piece for me. It’s a large part of what I do here at Soltech. I’ve worked in scatter teams before that are also across time zones and not physically in one place, and now Soltech is for the most in one place. Establishing and maintaining company culture is a challenge in both types of environment. So I want to kind of pick your brain about how you’ve been able to do that across international teams. Is it through the tools or how else do you do that as an organization, not just even on your team but for the actual corporate entities that you’re working for.

Rupen Patel:      That’s a really good question. The current role at NCR, because it’s been a global company for a long time, fortunately I’ve been able to leverage a lot of stuff that the company has put together in disseminating what NRC’s culture is about. So that has been less of an issue in this particular role because the infrastructure is already there, and from a local team perspective our own business unit like I said one  of the key things is to have periods of time where you are really immersed and spending time together face-to-face. So either one to two weeks, we’ll have people from offshore come here, and we’ll do these intense sort of group sessions. We’ll have everybody in the team meet and everybody gets a face-to-face have all the conversations that maybe they couldn’t have as easily over email and such or will invert that and go there. So at least one or two times a year you have to have, I believe some team building and bonding events.

Sarah Lodato:    I bet it feels great for both too.

Rupen Patel:      Absolutely.

Sarah Lodato:    Like it makes you feel special if people are coming to you and honoring your space as well as coming into theirs.

Rupen Patel:      There are a lot of things that when folks come here or vice versa that may have been miscommunicated that get cleared up instantly, and also the little cultural nuances get figured out, ironed out. So I think there’s no substitute for having some face time in terms of building a culture. I think also little cues so when people do things that they go above and beyond or do things that are really good for the rest of the time, I think that the whole team needs to feel like they should give the appropriate positive reinforcement. The kudos that maybe some emojis on Slack or what have you and that sort of starts to build a good daily cadence for how we operate because we can have these like cultural things on paper, we can say our culture is or our culture is that but it’s really what  you practice every day that determines the culture.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:      We have a lot of opportunities in our everyday lives to do that for each of our teammates, and  if we just treat folks offshore and they treat us as if we’re just one team, we’re going to practice that with each other every day.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:      So that’s that. I think one challenge though I will say is when we talk about culture in the U.S. we have this very intense work culture. We’ll work weekends; we’ll work really long hours. That’s not necessarily a good thing in a lot of other countries. That’s not considered a positive, and so in a lot of other places the work culture really is time boxed, that they are going work a certain number of hours and they’re going to take their vacations. There are a lot of vacations and a lot of holidays in other places because they value quality of life a lot more in some ways than we do here. So from a work culture standpoint what that means in my opinion is better planning.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:      While we can be a little sloppy with planning in the U.S. because we just people work more… [Crosstalk]

Veanne Smith:   When people take vacation here they’re still connected.

Rupen Patel:      Exactly. [Crosstalk]

Veanne Smith:   They don’t…

Rupen Patel:      I think a lot times people don’t realize that’s because of poor planning.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:      Over there you can’t plan very poorly because they won’t be there. [Laughter] So that is I think work culture wise one of the things you have to manage.

Sarah Lodato:    Is that something have you seen as a challenge I guess in how people feel like they’re treated, like I’m not completely disconnected when I go on vacation or something like that. Have you seen that cultural sort of challenge there between the teams or not [crosstalk] or is that sort of an understanding.

Rupen Patel:      Yeah I think people take a little while to get it. So I do think that it is a little surprising at first, and it can snowball in the wrong direction…

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:       …where people form an impression that maybe the other side is not doing any work.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:      That’s up to the management team and the leadership team to explain that and to have people understand that there is a real big cultural different, and as I said bringing people physically together also really helps so they start to understand that. The flip side of that is while people are engaged in the offshore and abroad sort of teams they tend to be pretty well engaged in the work. So they’re not taking as many water cooler breaks or goofing off as much at work. While the hours may be time boxed, there’s actual work getting done. [Crosstalk]

Sarah Lodato:    They’re very focused.

Rupen Patel:       That also has to be communicated the other way. It’s just a difference in how you work.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:      I think a lot of that is managing on both side and being sort of a little bit of a bridge to explain the differences in culture.

Driving a Comapny’s Vision and Goals

Veanne Smith:   In conjunction along the lines of culture here, I’d love to get your opinion on how driving a company’s vision and sharing goals plays a part in building the culture especially when you’re even working across different countries and time zones. How important is that across the pond, so to speak.

Rupen Patel:      I think really important that everybody’s on the same page as to what they’re trying to accomplish. The vision of the company is at a pretty high level of abstraction generally, and we should communicate that. We should repeat that. We do, but when it really comes down to it, it’s the daily practices I think that matter the most. We should have common goals for sure, and if people rowing in different directions you know you’re going to get different things. There should be a daily practice that’s shared. Also I think there has to be some common processes. So how you go about writing software, do you write tests around it? How do you check it in, all these low level things. There processes around all these that need to be shared across the teams, and that I think counts for a lot in terms of making the productivity similar across both sides. I have a hard time with just a high level vision statements because sometimes I feel like there’s nothing in there anybody’s going to disagree with generally because they’re at such a high level abstraction. We’re going to go solve this problem, yes. We’re going to go do that, but it’s really hard for folks to turn that into reality without processes in the middle.

Veanne Smith:   So it’s important that we have them. Everybody needs to know why are we here, but it’s not going be as important on a day-to-day basis.

Rupen Patel:      Yeah, you tend to get sucked in to whatever you’re doing. [Crosstalk]

Processes and Methodologies

Veanne Smith:   Yeah it’s [Crosstalk] around the pay day. All right well you kind of alluded to different processes and methodologies in different places. So what have you seen that’s different? Have you adopted anything from afar that you’ve then made as a more – this is what we’re going to standardize on or have you learned any new tools or processes that you’ve been like, oh, I wouldn’t have known that if I wasn’t working internationally.

Rupen Patel:      Yeah I’d say there have been some things I’ve learned internationally, and there has also been an awareness now that the world is sort of flat especially in technology and software. When we talk about any kind of process here, agile processes or anything like that the rest of the world is doing those already. So these aren’t new things for them. Everybody we work with has already been doing agile processes whether it’s from a Kanban or anything else, test driven development, all with the varying degrees of quality of course, because that just the skill set dependency. Some of the things that I have actually learned that have been kind of interesting are that different regions of the world seem to have different specialties or different interests. For instance in Eastern Europe there’s a lot of folks that are into sort of algorithmic problems, math problems. So like say you wanted to have graphics library written or a video game written or something you’d learned a lot. You’d have a lot of experts over there that you could learn from, and they’re really good at that sort of thing. I don’t know if it’s because of the educational system there which is really heavy in mathematics or whether it’s just a lot of people got together and they all just sort of know how to do something, but that’s an example.

Microsoft technology stack, if you want to find a lot of people that are passionate about the Microsoft stack, India is one of those places because historically they’ve done a lot of services work and there’s a lot of people there with interest in the Microsoft stack. They can tell you about all the new stuff coming out and what to try out. So I feel like there’s specialties that you can go to for these different regions.

There are new and emerging start-ups in different parts of the world that are I think taking things that maybe are native to their situation and expanding them internationally. A good example is in China. About 40 percent of the people there pay with an app called WeChat, and WeChat is essentially a supped up version of WhatsApp. So it’s a chat application that has evolved into e-commerce and all kinds of other things. So that forms the basis for a lot of the technology and innovation there in at least the payment space and e-commerce space. People are integrating into WeChat and building widgets and all that sort of thing. So I think there’s those kind of things in different countries that are a little unique from here, and they end up coming this way actually.

Veanne Smith:   So did you learn from that and take some of what you learned about what they’re doing there and apply that in some of the work you’re doing on your product development here?

Rupen Patel:      We have a lot of little pieces of that that we’re taking, but I’ll tell you the presence of the platform has to be there for us to do it in the United States.

Veanne Smith:   Right.

Rupen Patel:      What I mean by the presence of the platform is that the average consumer needs to be using that as a form of payment, let’s say.

Veanne Smith:   Right.

Rupen Patel:      That’s the case yet in the United States. We’re very credit card heavy. While we’d love to do something like that I think that might be a little ways off.

Veanne Smith:   What’s your prediction on when we’ll be less card heavy. [Crosstalk] What’s your crystal ball… [Laughter]

Rupen Patel:      That’s a dangerous one. It’s a dangerous one.

Veanne Smith:   I keep thinking it’s going to happen. [Crosstalk]

Rupen Patel:      We all…

Veanne Smith:   It seems to be going slower than I anticipated.

Rupen Patel:      I think a lot of it is economics and economic interests.

Veanne Smith:   That’s probably true.

Rupen Patel:      There’s a whole industry around credit cards.

Veanne Smith:   It survives.

Rupen Patel:       When those economics get figured out on the digital side, I think you’ll see a sudden shift. Until then I’m just guessing it’ll probably a lot of experiments and some things peer-to-peer payments may happen first.

Veanne Smith:   I think so.

Rupen Patel:      I think there’s a possibility there, but then for businesses to take these as their primary form of payment may be a little while. Not to say that they don’t do it already. You can already pay with ApplePay or many other ways at a business, but they’re not as main stream as credit cards because I think the whole system of economics behind the scenes hasn’t yet caught up. So there’s still an industry around the credit card processing that…

Veanne Smith:   Well I know my children lead my down the path. They’re now paying me back for their holiday purchase peer-to-peer payments. It’s like mom can’t you just take that? I’m like well set me up, okay?

Sarah Lodato:    Download the Square cash or Venmo. [Laughter]

Veanne Smith:   Oh yeah, they’re like mom are you on Venmo. It’s like, sure I’ll take your money via Venmo. [Laughter] They’re leading me, I mean the younger generation for sure.

Rupen Patel:      That’s what I mentioned. Peer-to-peer is nice because it doesn’t rely on the businesses and all these things to change. It’s just you and I just sharing money and it’s almost just easier to do that then pull some cash from the ATM and give it to you.

Sarah Lodato:    For sure. [Crosstalk] It’s still relying on the card.

Veanne Smith:   Nobody carries cash. [Crosstalk]

Sarah Lodato:    You’re still utilizing your card. It’s just sort of stored. So we’ve touched on this a little bit, but I did want to know if there’s any sort of additional. I guess my question is being an international organization you mentioned taking your products international that you’re maybe creating here in the States. Does that have an influence on the services that you provide in general? I guess there’s one sort of scenario where you’ve created something and now you’re taking it international. Alternatively, are you creating things specific to those markets? Is that something that your team encounters or not?

Rupen Patel:      Yes absolutely. I mean because each country has different legal requirements, compliance requirements, as well as I was saying, different eco-system players such as like in China you have WeChat, you do end up having to do a lot of country specific work, and I anticipate that trend would continue even further as you become more successful in each country because there’s just a different culture, a different set of norms there.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:      I’ll just give a concrete example. So for instance in Europe, the U.K. in particular, data privacy is really huge. You can generally consider it opt-in versus opt-out. So in the United States businesses and marketers essentially assume that you’re opting in to most marketing emails and things like that. In the U.K. it’s completely the opposite. You have to explicitly opt in, and what that means is that you have to change your products to not collect the data unless somebody has given you permission to do that, and a lot of the products in the United States are designed the opposite way.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:       That’s a key sort of data privacy and compliance difference. The payments are very different in other countries than they are here, different providers different for that, so those are also custom integrations. Any sort of search engines, search optimization, social networking, all that could be different from country to country.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:      As we were talking about China, how people conduct transactions can be different. So there are quite a few different players in different countries.

Sarah Lodato:    So your teams that are international then are they contributing to sort of the brainstorming in that sense…

Rupen Patel:      Absolutely.

Sarah Lodato:    …and then delivering  that to  the rest of  the team…

Rupen Patel:      Absolutely.

Sarah Lodato:    …and then make a decision often.

Rupen Patel:      Yes. Another value of the international teams is that they have that native experience for that country so they can inform the greater company like what are the things that we should be focusing on, what’s normal. They’re definitely idea generators, and also the folks that actually getting the work done.

Sarah Lodato:     Awesome.

Face-to-Face Time is Important

Veanne Smith:   The last thing I want to hit on is you’ve talked about the importance when you have teams spread across countries and time zones and all is getting people together. I’m curious what that really looks like when you get together. So do you do exercises? Do you have somebody at your company that’s in charge of figuring out how to bring people together? I wouldn’t know how to do it.

Rupen Patel:       Yeah, that would be me. [Laughter]

Veanne Smith:   So you do that.

Rupen Patel:       I do, yeah. I’ve been doing it myself along with H.R. and other people, our assistants to help, but generally what I’ll do is I’ll try to get the team leads to get their schedules to me ahead of time. That is actually the hardest part is finding a time where everybody, all the key people, are available at the same time for a week or two is really the hard part.

Veanne Smith:   I can’t imagine.

Rupen Patel:      Yeah, so that… [Crosstalk]

Veanne Smith:   It’s hard enough just getting people in your office to a meeting on time when they’re right down the… [Crosstalk]

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Veanne Smith:   I just can’t imagine the challenge of that.

Rupen Patel:      So just plan six months ahead. If you plan six months ahead [laughter] it’s doable.

Sarah Lodato:    What? What does that look like?

Rupen Patel:      Right.

Veanne Smith:   You just said earlier we’re not very good at planning.

Rupen Patel:      That exactly, right. That’s the big thing.

Veanne Smith:   That’s the challenge.

Rupen Patel:       If you just think of it, okay I need to get people together six months from now; it’s going to be achievable. If you think I need to do it in the next couple of months, it’s tough. So I plan six months in advance. I try to get everybody’s calendar, dates, and I block those dates. Like do not take vacation. Do not go anywhere. Plan to be here during these dates, very critical, and plus international travel a lot of times you have to get visas and things like that that take a while.

Once the date planning exercise is complete, it’s time for an agenda. So usually most teams have a really good idea of issues and challenges, especially technologists are very vocal about all the issues that are going on. So it’s pretty easy to craft an agenda, get that organized, get it distributed so people can start to think about it and usually take a few days to just cover the agenda. You’ll have to meet with different people. The team from offshore will come and talk to people locally and some of the local people that maybe haven’t even met them will have a chance to talk to them and go over some of the issues. Then it’s team building and fun, right. You cannot forget the fun part. Usually we’ll go do something, bowling or laser tag or what have you, but something that just everybody can enjoy and just let some steam off and just be social and hang out.

Veanne Smith:   That’s a serious commitment of time, then.

Rupen Patel:      Yes.

Veanne Smith:   I’m sure you’re tackling business and things during the day and then evenings, but I’ll bet the social aspects are just as important as the business…

Rupen Patel:      Absolutely.

Veanne Smith:   …stuff you were grinding it out during the day, right.

Rupen Patel:      Yeah, people have to like each other.

Sarah Lodato:    When the Slack emojis come slinging, [laughter] they’re like no he’s a good guy. [Laughter]

Rupen Patel:      Exactly. I mean there’s always a little bit of horse trading that goes on and prioritization on a day to day basis.

Sarah Lodato:    Right.

Rupen Patel:      So when five people are asking for things, you have to decide who you’re going to respond to first and…

Sarah Lodato:    You’re going to remember who…

Rupen Patel:       Right.

Sarah Lodato:    …rallied with you during laser tag.

Rupen Patel:       Exactly. [Laughter]

Veanne Smith:   [Crosstalk] [inaudible] [36:46]

Rupen Patel:      They come first.

Sarah Lodato:    That’s all of the engineering team that’s cute like…

Rupen Patel:      Yes.

Sarah Lodato:    …every person that is contributing comes or [crosstalk]  how do you make those decisions?

Rupen Patel:      Yeah it’s tough. I wish I could have brought the entire team the last one we did, but I ended up just bringing the key leaders, just budget reasons.

Sarah Lodato:    It’s super important though. I mean even if they own that experience they can bring it back to the team.

Rupen Patel:      Absolutely. One of the things I’d asked and we just couldn’t set it up logistically was we broadcast all these sessions where we’re cranking through issues and dealing with any sort of strategic planning. We just logistically couldn’t pull it off, but I would definitely recommend if possible doing the next one is set up proper video conferencing so that at least people can participate on the other side remotely. It’s still not a substitute for face-to-face but half a step closer.

Veanne Smith:   It’s not bad, sure.

Rupen Patel:      One of the earlier companies I worked at, Cignas, it was mostly a distributer company, would bring everybody together once a year, and it would usually be somewhere really elaborate. So if you… [Crosstalk]

Veanne Smith:   I miss those days.

Rupen Patel:      Yeah. If you have the budget I’d recommend doing that.

Sarah Lodato:    Everybody is going to Dubai.  Can we do that? [Laughter]

Rupen’s Favorite Country to Travel to For Work

Sarah Lodato:    That’s awesome. All right one last probably the most important question. So we’ve talked about international business and I have to ask what your favorite country to travel to for work, so very specifically for work.

Rupen Patel:      That’s sort of question where I’m going to make somebody unhappy by saying I don’t like their country. [Crosstalk]

Sarah Lodato:    Picking [crosstalk] [inaudible] [38:26]. No I’m not asking for least [crosstalk] …

Rupen Patel:       Right I know but implicitly.

Sarah Lodato:    The nice thing about work travel is it’s like okay, evening dining, maybe a bar or whatever that kind of stuff is…

Rupen Patel:      Right.

Sarah Lodato:    …late night exploring.

Rupen Patel:      I’d say well I wish San Francisco was a country. I really enjoy [laughter] going there, but I think recently I would say China has been pretty eye opening at least. For that reason I would say it’s favored just because it’s something unique.

Sarah Lodato:    I’m sure.

Rupen Patel:       Especially I was in Shanghai a couple of weeks this year, and the scale of the city is enormous. I believe depending on who you ask from 25 to 40 million people, and everything exists there, all kinds of restaurants, all kinds of places to eat. Everything is new or most things are new. It’s relatively new construction. So there’s LED displays and lighting and all kinds of gadgetry everywhere. I’d say that’s definitely one of the more unique places I’ve been and therefore probably one of my favorites recently.

Sarah Lodato:    That’s awesome. I’ve heard really good things about Shanghai.

Rupen Patel:       It’s definitely worth seeing. China just operates at a scale that’s mind boggling to the U.S. at least. They don’t build one building at a time; they build ten.

Sarah Lodato:    I bet that’s so inspiring though to the work do, coming back and just having that sort of exposure.

Rupen Patel:      It’s certainly motivating.

Sarah Lodato:    Exactly. [Laughter]

Veanne Smith:   They have you come back just to work. [Crosstalk]

Sarah Lodato:    It’s like okay go, we… [Crosstalk]

Veanne Smith:   When do they sleep over there?

Rupen Patel:       …we don’t want to fall behind here. It’s definitely motivating.

Contacting Rupen Patel

Sarah Lodato:    That’s awesome. So we’ve covered a lot of really awesome stuff and so I’d love to know if your listeners would like to reach out to you. Where can they get more information both on what you’re doing and maybe what you’re doing from a business standpoint?

Rupen Patel:      So from a product perspective and company perspective, just check out our website Anybody wants to reach me they can reach me on twitter over email or LinkedIn and twitter handles just @rupenp and my email address is for personal email or hit me up at work.

Sarah Lodato:    Awesome.

Veanne Smith:   Great. Rupen, thanks so much for taking the time. I know how busy you’ve been lately particularly, and we’re heading into probably even more busy time for you with all the rollouts and things that you’re doing with your product development. So thanks for joining us today here on Atlanta Business Impact Radio.

Rupen Patel:      Thank you.

Sarah Lodato:    The Atlanta Business Impact Radio is a project developed by SolTech, a software consultancy located in Atlanta, Georgia. Our host, Vianne Smith, co-founded the firm 18 years with her husband, Tim Smith, and together they strive to bring education to the community about technology leaders to improve the path to innovation for all. For more information about the podcast and learn about the work we do at SolTech, visit or find episodes of the podcast on iTunes.

Also if you’re interested in joining us as a guest for an up-coming show, send us an email at

Thanks for listening. Stay tuned for more Insight into the tech community on our next episode.

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