Todd Drake, CEO of Nlighten Solutions, talked with WashingtonExec about starting his own firm and how the navy impacted his life. Drake also weighs in on mobility solutions and big data.
WashingtonExec: What does a good day at Nlighten Solutions look like?
Todd Drake: A good day is when the team gets together to do a bit of brainstorming on new ideas for our clients. Pushing the envelope on technology is really a lot of fun and being a small firm allows us to be nimble when others cannot. One of the most valuable assets we have as a company is our ability to drive change into our customers when they can’t do it themselves. We bring no baggage to the situation and that allows us to dive into problems in ways they cant or wont. We love introducing new technology to a client and see it be a game changer for them.
WashingtonExec: It’s been a year since you started NlightenSolutions…was the process what you excepted it to be? What is something you did not expect?
Todd Drake: Having my own firm is really fantastic. It is also a lot of pressure and when things go wrong, because there is nowhere to hide. Our company is going great and we have lots of opportunity to continue to grow. My goal for my team and me is stay laser focused and true to our core strengths while solving big problems for our clients.
“I think the biggest “ah ha” moment in my career was when I realized that nobody out there is responsible for your success but you. That does not mean that I didn’t have great leaders and mentors in my career, but managing my career and success belonged to me.”
WashingtonExec: What is something that you wish you knew earlier in your career? What piece of advice do you wish you were given?
Todd Drake: I think the biggest “ah ha” moment in my career was when I realized that nobody out there is responsible for your success but you. That does not mean that I didn’t have great leaders and mentors in my career, but managing my career and success belonged to me. My advice to others getting started is to believe in yourself, follow your gut and learn something every single day. You will make lots of mistakes, but if you can learn from them, pick yourself up afterward, then you will make it. Believe in yourself and others will also.
WashingtonExec: You served in the navy for five years…why did you decide to go into the navy? And how did that influence you career?
Todd Drake: The five years I spent in the Navy on active duty were some of the most challenging and rewarding years of my life. I went into the navy for the training, to gain experience and the opportunity to see the world. I spent several years in areas like the Persian Gulf, Oman and the Red Sea and learned a lot about other cultures. The military is a fantastic proving ground for young individual and it instills teamwork, dedication, honor and pride. Throughout my professional career I have drawn on my experienced in the military to guide me in business decisions. I have also had the opportunity to work with many active duty and ex-military folks and there is a strong bond that connects us. My time serving our country has taught me to persevere even when times are tough.
“It is still the wild west out there when it comes to managing and maintaining good online privacy practices. This is an area we are focusing a lot of resources.”
WashingtonExec: How have mobility solutions impacted your workplace?
Todd Drake: Mobility is a part of virtually every task in business today. Having the answers at your fingertips is a real necessity if companies are to survive in today’s markets. There are also some real issues raised when mobile solutions are being contemplated. One item we are seeing get a lot of focus now is privacy. While we enjoy the convenience of data being accessible anytime and anywhere, there are also bigger risks. So much of what we do today online is exposing more and more information about us into the cloud. Fraud aside, many folks don’t realize what companies are doing behind the scenes to collect information on your online behaviors, preferences, patterns and activity. It is still the wild west out there when it comes to managing and maintaining good online privacy practices. This is an area we are focusing a lot of resources.
WashingtonExec: How do you think big data will affect your company in the next few years?
Todd Drake: Big data is my best friend for many years to come. I see a major change coming on the technology front when it comes to big data. More and more information is coming into organizations in the form of unstructured text. Things like social media, competitive reports, reviews, and customer feedback to name a few. This information is often un-mined gold to organizations and the classic relational database model is not well suited to analyze this type of information. If we were only interested in store and search then a classic database could work, but what companies need are answers and insight from this data so the need for very advanced Natural Language Processing is critical. We will see a transformation on how organizations collect, store and analyze big data in the future and I suspect the technology companies best suited to taking on this task are the small and agile ones. These emerging companies and technologies are the ones that can quickly adopt and integrate these new solutions into the new business models we see emerging in the marketplace.
WashingtonExec: What about cloud technology, mobility, and/or cybersecurity? How will they affect your company?
Todd Drake: They are all very important as they play off each other in the marketplace. With the limitless bandwidth we have available today, Cloud is a fantastic solution for both commercial markets and government. However with Cloud and mobility come concerns about security. When building and deploying in the cloud, organizations need to keep a keen eye on security and privacy. Our team recently deployed a large cloud implementation for a financial institution and it was very successful. Small firms like ours with subject matter expertise in cloud, mobility and security have a lot to offer organizations looking to venture into this area.
WashingtonExec: What’s on your summer reading list?
Todd Drake: Here are a few of my recommendations for a good read.
Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done By Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan, and Charles Burck