Before his family moved from Greece to America, Pryon‘s Igor Jablokov didn’t have electricity in his home—no TV, no radio, no technology. But when he got his first computer, he found his passion. He began a career in artificial intelligence, and he was confused as to why the technology available to him in his lab wasn’t available to everyone else. “No one is going to want a listening device in their house,” people told him. They were wrong. The technology Igor created was acquired by Amazon and is now found in billions of Alexa powered devices. On this podcast, hear how he did it, what he learned from it and what he is now doing at Pryon.

Recommended reading:
We Are All Born Entrepreneurs, by Steve Welch
T-Minus AI: Humanity’s Countdown to Artificial Intelligence and the New Pursuit of Global Power, by Michael Kanaan


Donald Thompson: Welcome to the Donald Thompson podcast. I am super excited today to talk a little technology, innovation, startup culture with Igor Jablokov.  And Igor, welcome to the show.

Igor Jablokov: Don, thanks for having me.

Donald Thompson: One of the things, Igor, that we like to do, and we’re going to dig into some of your accomplishments and things you’ve done in the technology space and as an innovator, but tell us a little bit about you so that we talk as friends with our audience. Background, friends, family, kids, all that kind of stuff.

Igor Jablokov: Ooh, yikes. So, it may be surprising based on my accent or, or my neutral accent, but I was actually born overseas. So, I was born in Greece. Came to the U.S. when I was about six years old, very idyllic upbringing, both my parents are artists.

You know, so  we got exposed to everything you can think of. I mean, we, we lived where and played in the dirt, you know barnyard animals around us, dolphins, visiting turtles, sea horses all, all the, like. Very creative people to be around. So, you know, I didn’t really see any technology around me.

No, you know, no running water, no electricity, no TV, no radio.

So, it as  interesting as start as,  as you can have. And then coming to the U.S., you know, landing in New York, you end up looking all around you, and I feel like I ended up in a Blade Runner set, all these skyscrapers and everything else.

I was just literally that, that was the foreign experience, not my experience.  And then ending up in Philadelphia. Holy smokes, what a city, right? It’s just an amazing experience. You know, my mother’s family was based there I’m half Russian, half Greek by ancestry.

And growing up there, not, not speaking English, somebody inserted a computer in front of me, and I just started tapping away.

Donald Thompson: Oh, that awesome. I think it’s also pretty interesting that, a lot of times, we think that we’ve got an engineer the experiences of our kids, and you seem to have had just a really broad spectrum of touchpoints, right, growing up. Do you think that led to the creative mind as you’re a developer and creator?

Igor Jablokov: Yeah. That’s a great question. I have to say, you know, the, the one thing that parents have is engineering all possible futures for children, right? So, you know, my parents put a, you know- embarrassingly enough, they put tap shoes on us sometimes. Sometimes they put a paintbrush in our hand. Sometimes they put, you know, a keyboard under our fingertips, a computer. You know, sometimes they’re like, “Hey, you’re going to go learn how to be a lumberjack. Now, you’re going to learn how to sail. Now, you’re going to be in a monastery learning how to paint icons by candlelight. Now, you’re going to be in this math thing. Now, you’re going to be debate. Now, you’re learning diplomacy. Now you’re doing a history, religious studies, this and that.” So, when I really think about one of the things that we can do to our advantage our youth is give them a Renaissance education. Let them see everything and reinforce that they, they should choose the thing that really impassions them because then all bets are off. They become these fantastic people later in life.

Donald Thompson: That’s fantastic. As we dial into the professional, you spend a lot of time at IBM working on AI technology. And one of the things that I don’t want to assume for our audience is everyone knows what that is. So, if you could at, a base level, talk about what AI means and is to educate our audience so that we can all be in that conversation together.

Igor Jablokov: Yeah, I think that the thing that makes AI scary to most folks is, is the fundamental truth about AI is it’s us. It does what we do, it just does it on a bigger scale. So Don, you and I could, could throw a whole bunch of pictures of cats and dogs on, on top of our tables here, and we can sort them, right, by  what color they are, how furry they are, you know, their different species and things of that sort, but it’s going to take us awhile.

Well, with feature engineering, we can figure out does a cat have? What does a dog have? And it can quickly parse through that and cluster them in these two different buckets. So, really, when we really think about AI, you know, people like me, the practitioners, never want it to call it AI for us, it was either machine learning or other types of things, making multimodal portals and the like. And yet, just like cloud came out of nowhere, practically, the media started, you know, connecting the dots between science fiction and some of this software that started feeling smarter, you know, with the rise of extra compute and cloud computing and the like. And now, you know, here we are talking about AI.

Donald Thompson: No. Fantastic, and I really appreciate the very straightforward example, right? The ability to automate and scale human behaviors. And, and that is something that we are all trying to do is get more efficient, get things done faster, things of that nature. One of the things that I was thinking about in anticipation of our, of our discussion, and you mentioned it kind of offline. Is how do we take this artificial intelligence, this AI technology, and make it more available, right, for people that are emerging entrepreneurs, emerging business people, what are some of the thoughts that you have there?

Igor Jablokov: Yeah. And, and that’s one of the things that we’re seeing, right, is the style of technologies can actually grow the distance between the haves and have nots.

Right? If you look at the companies that are worth over a trillion dollars are the ones that are able to leverage these types of cognitive technologies, you know, to their benefit, right? Why? Because they’re wiring the whole world, the whole web. They’ve instrumented, they bugged it. It’s this surveillance thing that we, we talk about where even if one of us chooses not to be an active participant in the, in the web and in these experiences that they’re creating, we have digital twins out there and they can infer that we’re going to like this ice cream cone or vote for this political party, or we’re going to buy that type of car based on the fact that there’s all these people that are similar to us in terms ofus being profiled.

So, that’s the advantage that they have. That’s why Amazon knows the next product to make. That’s why Apple knows that, that’s why Facebook knows to throw one piece of news in front of you versus another. This is why Google knows to throw one ad in front of you, you know, versus another that’s the advantage that they have.

And, and I really think about what that means, you know, if you’re a small, medium business owner, you know, as you have more of the value going there, what do we end up with? Scraps?

Donald Thompson: Yup. When you think about, you know, one of the things I, when I talk with technologists, people that are creators, can you teach innovation or is that natural talent?

Like, you know what I mean? Is it something that I can learn to do better? Or is it a gifting?

Igor Jablokov: Yeah. Great, great question. So one of Simon Eisenhower fellows, and one of my peers, Steve Welch, co-founded a Dream Adventures in  Philadelphia, and he wrote this great book that’s called  “We’re All Born Entrepreneurs.”

So, actually, the reason why we even exist is because our predecessors were entrepreneurial. They survived. How do you think they survive? By using their wits. What did they do? They made things, right? And in order for us to even be here. And so, I think it’s an innate human quality to be able to engineer outcomes that benefit our communities.

Now, do people engineer things that don’t benefit our communities? Absolutely. But, you know what, when you go to the beach, you see a lot more children building sand castles and kicking them.

Donald Thompson: Oh man, that’s a great analogy. And I think to your earlier point, the environment we create for children, whether our own kids or our educational system, right, to make, play and exploration a part of the educational process. And I think if, I think back to my education, and those of my kids, there’s a lot about, and these are valuable, but incomplete about the memorization of facts, verse how to think and solve problems. And I think what you’re talking about is how do we, with our young people, expand on that ability to think and solve problems, right?

And one leads me to a, to another question. You spend a lot of -we talk about entrepreneur spirit and the perspective we grew our countries with, you spent a lot of time at a big company. IBM. And tell me a little bit about some of the things you learned there, some of your experiences there, and then that transition, right, to that entrepreneurial space.

Igor Jablokov: Yeah. You know, that’s a, that’s a tough one too, right? Because you know, somebody like me, you would look at the saying, “All right, you’re  probably were an intrepreneur and a black sheep there compared to the other people that, that you would have expected to have worked there.” But then at the same time, they hired me.

Right? So, so they, they wanted that in their organization as well. And so it’s that you know, very strange dynamic. We, we had a lot of this technology. Early. Right? I was even quoted in the 2005, I think Poplar Science Magazine, and I’m like, “Look, I don’t know why you even need a remote control. I can just talk to our television in the lab, so how come you don’t have that at home? I want you to have it at home and it’s ready for the, you know, the, the carriers, the Comcast, and the Time Warner  to already deploy such technologies.” It took 10 years. You know, to take something like that out of the lab before it showed up on an Amazon Fire TV and similar services. So now, whenever you, you do, do these podcasts, Don you gotta, you gotta look at people like meand with squinty eyes and say, “Holy smokes, what the heck’s in your house and in your offices that we’re not going to see for 10 years, that, that we’re going to think of science fiction, you know, a decade from now?”

And anytime you encounter practitioners, ask them that question and, and, and you’re going to see them smile, and Mona Lisa smiles, about the things that they’re, that they’re working on. And that’s exciting. Do we want to bring it to people faster? Absolutely. You know are there bugs to be worked out and, and and things to be optimized, things to be integrated still?

Yes, of course. But, it’s, it’s really exciting when you see where, where this stuff will go. And that was what was maddening at IBM. It’s things -before it was cloud, we had it. Before there was AI, we had it. Before there were iPhones, we had it. We had all of these different things, but they stuck to their guns. “Hey, we’re an enterprise company. We’re not going to make an Amazon Echo- like thing, because back then we’re building chips, you know, together with Sony and Toshiba called cell architecture for the PlayStation three. And then, you know, you know, some of us on that multimodal research team are like, “Well, wait a minute, we can put a microphone on that puppy.” And then everybody started laughing that nobody’s ever gonna have a microphone in their house.

Donald Thompson: So wait a minute. So, now that brings us, right, and then hopefully you’ll continue to Alexa. And those kinds of involvement in those types of technologies and getting them actually to market.

Igor Jablokov: Yeah. So, like I said, you know, there’s early inklings that something like this could be built at IBM. When they didn’t want to green light the project, I left, started a company. By 2007, I was holding a up of Razor flip phone- if, if you all remember those Motorola phones, and I had a baby version of Alexa on that puppy that I could just flip, open, like a little star Trek communicator, and talk to her. And, and we presented this at the first ever Tech Crunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, and everybody was scratching their heads, having no idea what we were talking about and what we’re showing them.

My own family members, when I would test it in the back of a cocktail parties and the like, thought I was crazy  and talking to myself. Now, let me, let me tell you some of the people that started tracking our progress. That, at the same time that I was on stage, we were already secretly working with Apple for them to figure out what it would look like on a, on a smart phone before they even announced a smartphone,and that was well before they acquired the Siri team.

Donald Thompson: Wow. I wonder what I -I’m interested in a lot, but what keeps you moving forward with that conviction when other really smart people, other smart business people, are saying, “No, that’s silly.” Like, you took that risk, right, to go out on your own, alone, while people were snickering, family and friends.

What is it about the technology, but also about you as an entrepreneur that just wouldn’t let it go?

Igor Jablokov:  Yeah, that’s that’s, that’s neat, I can tell you. From the inside out, it’s this: it’s, do you have the conviction that something like this is going to exist as an interaction method, as a technology, as an application, as any business, right?

Any one of us, you know, do you believe that this is going to exist? And so, that’s the first question that you ask yourself. And then the second question is, “All right, if I know that this is going to exist, who’s going to build it?” And then you kind of look around, right, you look at other companies, you look at other, you know, other academics, you know, you know, people from all walks of life and then you start realizing, “Holy smokes,” you get goosebumps almost.

That person is me. I’m the one that’s meant to make this, you know, somebody else’s is meant to make that chocolate eclair. Somebody else’s meant to build that airplane. Somebody else’s meant to build that car for us. You know, somebody else’s is meant to build these other things that we take advantage of in our personal professional lives, but this is my thing. This is -I’m supposed to be the one making this for everybody else. And when you realize that, you have no problem stepping on that virtual bridge, like that third  Indiana Jones movie.

Donald Thompson: No, that’s awesome. It is. And it’s- and what you described is, kind of like that ability to believe enough in self.

Right? So I think it’s faith, but then there’s also either a little bit of confidence or a lot of crazy that it should be me, right? Like to, to actually go and do it, right? People can think the thoughts that you described, but then you actually did it, and pushed through. One of the things that I’m interested in hearing about, as a technologist, now you’re transitioning to the CEO role. You’re building a company. Eventually, you’ve got people in payroll. How did you determine what you were supposed to work on as you now are responsible for building a business? Not just a piece of technology.

Igor Jablokov: Well, that goes back to the Renaissance education that, that we shared about. You’re, you’re doing everything.

I mean, you’re, you’re doing everything. Now, are you the subject matter expert in everything? No, but you have to do it well enough so that you eventually are able to hand the Baton to somebody who is an expert in that field. Right? Whether it’s marketing, whether it’s research, engineering, product management and, and the like. But, on day one, it’s you by yourself.

And you are doing everything. You’re the accountant, you’re the lawyer, you’re the janitor. You literally are every role you can think of and, and it’s thrilling and exciting. Don’t forget. Before your child grows up, what are you? You’re the pediatrician. You’re the educator, right? You’re the, you’re the driver.

You’re, you’re everything that you can think of as well. Now, are you the perfect pediatrician, the perfect driver, the perfect educator? Of course not. And over time, you’ll have folks that are more specialists, you know, where we say it takes a village, right, to, to rear our children. So,  you got to think of it in the same way. You have to do it long enough.

You have to, you know, nurture this child, a company, long enough until the experts can come in at the right moment and, and, and run run with the idea,  run with the product, run with the technology, and then fill in the blanks that you’re just not going to be capable of. And then people still value you as the parent, right?

Because you’re gonna still be able to do King Solomon- like tie breakers, right? Where you’re going to be able to make decisions with incomplete information. You can make intuition driven information. You can enter new markets that people don’t quite see. That’s your role. And then certainly lots of human relations, right?

Investor relations, stakeholder relations, you know, government affairs. You’re, you’re you are that person that describes what this means for the world.

Donald Thompson: Hmm. That’s powerful. One of the things I wanted to come back to is you mentioned the book, and I want to just make sure you repeat the author. We Are All Born Entrepreneurial.

And I want to read it, and I want to recommend it too, to our audience. Could you share the author’s name

one more time?

Igor Jablokov: Sure, sure. It’s Steven Welch,  we’We’re All Born Entrepreneurs. That is a fantastic thing. If, if any, one of us looks at ourselves in the mirror and says, “I can’t do that,” I’m like, of course you can, right? It just has to be the thing where you feel empowered and confident that you’re the person to do that. That’s the first step. The second step, if you want to know more, more things about AI in general, because I know you, you had asked that question already. There’s an absolutely fantastic survey of the, of the state of the art in AI.

That’s very approachable. It’s called T-minus AI. It’s written by Michael Canaan, who’s the chairperson of AI at the U.S. Air Force. Eric Schmidt is a, the former CEO of Google is raving about this term as well. Very easy read. It literally starts telling you about where AI came from from a single cell organism onwards. So, if you love the BBC Connection Show from the seventies, that’s a, that’s the journey it’ll take you on.

Donald Thompson: That’s fantastic. And I really appreciate that because one of the things with what we’re doing with this show is not only sharing the success of entrepreneurs, but people that want to dig in, let’s give them some content in places where they can get smarter, faster.

And I appreciate, while you are a deeply technical person, leader, the examples you’ve used have been really, really easy to follow. And I appreciate that, right? Like as, as we’re, as we’re ramping up. Here’s another question as we think about the state of business in technology and different things. And when we look at it, and you mentioned it, you mentioned how the Facebook’s of the world, the Googles of the world are programmatically showing you content. That they have created lookalike audiences. They, they know you without knowing you. Where’s that, where’s that line for you in terms of what you can do with technology versus what you should do with technology?

Igor Jablokov: Yeah. That’s, that’s interesting. You know, for me, in some cases I’ve played it safe because we deal with enterprise applications.

Right? So it’s a lot easier because the only things that I’ve returned as a result from our AI are the things that the corporations host inside of theircompany. I, I will say the, the consumer tech companies have a harder time of it because they have to deal with the world’s information.

And as we all know, the world is full of bad guys and all sorts of, you know, horrible things are happening to people out there on Facebook and Twitters, YouTubes and the like. And, and it’s a no win scenario, right? If they, if they do police it, then it’s like, “Oh my gosh, you know, first amendment rights, you know, you’re not clamping down and you’re not giving people equal access to it.”

And then if they don’t police it, it’s like, “Oh my God, you know, you know, these people are attacking or our system of government and, you know, hating on people  and the like. And it’s a no wins  scenario, which I find a little bit more ludicrous. And in some ways our, government abdicates responsibility for such things and just puts it on the doorstep of- by not regulating it -to you know, to the big tech companies, where are they supposed to be our last line of defense for our government? You know, do we really want, want that to be something that they’re doing? And like I said, these aren’t easy questions. You know, these are relatively new new technologies and we haven’t figured out. You know, I, I will say this though, you know, social media, should we really be giving people under the age of 18 access to that?

Because they don’t do that. In their own families, they don’t allow their children to have access to. And yet, they’ll throw all sorts of lobbyists out there to talk about how it’s, “Oh my God, it’s an important part of their experience in forming and knowledge transfer and blah, blah, blah.” And, and look, they can always paint, you know, a happy scene with it.

So it’s, it’s things like that, that as a community, as we’re learning about the pros and cons of these different style of technologies and all the information that they’re emitting about us, we have to figure out.

Donald Thompson: Yeah, I forget the name of it, but I, I watched a documentary on Netflix that was talking about social media and how some of the leaders from the companies don’t even let their kids use it.

And that was, that was so eyeopening in terms of the confirmation of, right, how we’re all being manipulated to a degree when we’re living in that social media space, because learning is about repetition. And so you start seeing the narrative again and again, right? Your natural inclination is to believe, right?

Because of the number of times you’ve seen it. And it starts to depress your, that natural, healthy skepticism, right, to where you look at multiple sources, you talk to different people, but those screens are talking to us and we’ve got to fight against that. So I’m affirmed, I agree with you in terms of us as parents and people, we have to look at that social media landscape. And there’s a lot of good, but there’s some things that we need to be mindful of in terms of how we learn and how we’re manipulated a little bit.

Igor Jablokov: Let me build on that real, real quick. Yeah. Yeah. And you were I think you were referencing The Social Dilemma on Netflix.

The, the solution to all this stuff isn’t more technology, it’s actually less. You know, if I look at many nations that are more homogeneous, right, and compared to us, right. So think Switzerland, Israel and places of that sort, they have national service. I’m sorry, from between high school in university, we need national service.

We’re heterogeneous nation, where rural doesn’t understand urban, Black doesn’t understand White, and vice versa. You know, males versus females and all of these things that get taken advantage of as wedge issues by, by politicians to try to compartmentalize us. More important than not, we need a lot more cohesion.

That’s not going to be solved by AI. It’s not going to be solved with social media and fancy- pants applications and phones and things like that, we need places where we can work together, you know, with, with all of the, all of that diverse you know, attributes that we have, you know, it’s just so much simpler to, to, you know, cut us all into pieces now with these technologies because they make it really efficient, but you know what?

When you see, you know,  four or five or six, you know pairs of arms lifting a building. If you’re going to do Habitat for Humanity, or you’re getting sent on a, on a mission overseas for The Peace Corps or you’re in the military together, that just changes your opinions because now you have, your actual eyeballs have experienced working together with these folks. It’s, it’s the true anti-virus when other people try to whisper in your ear and say that your neighbor’s an evil entity, you’re insulated from it because you’ve worked with them.

Donald Thompson: That is, that’s. That’s going to be one of our sound bites for sure, Igor, because the, the true antivirus, right, and it’s people on the ground working together. And I, I couldn’t agree with you more. The more we participate in constructive work partnership with people, now, all of a sudden when you see that narrative on TV and social media, like, that’s not how my -that’s my friend.

Right? You know, I, I use this example a lot, but I have a good friend, John Samuel who’s blind, and our relationship has created more empathy, more perspective for his life experience than I ever would have had just reading about it or going to a class or anything like that, because he’s my friend. So now all of a sudden, I want to make sure that the environment in the digital space is just as good for my friend as it is for me.

Right? So now digital equity means something more to me. ADA compliance means something more to me than just legal or risk. I want my friend to have the same access that I do. Right? And so I appreciate that, that, that, that expansion of that thought very much. One of the things I want to highlight, this might be a little older.

I don’t know the date, but it’s really cool. You worked with a company called  K4 Connect, and they partnered with, with your firm prior and you actually put AI into practice to help caregivers. Can you tell me a little bit about that partnership and how you used AI technology to really help people that in many ways are underserved during this pandemic?

Igor Jablokov: Yeah, so that’s, that’s a great one. Scott Moody is a fantastic mission oriented  founder, CEO.  His last company actually was acquired by Apple and turned into the touch ID sensor that we, that we all have on our phones and tablets and the like. And at the Dawn of the pandemic, when it became clear that those environments are going to be  the most affected.

You know, because it was disproportionally  hitting the elderly. One of the things that we also noticed: there was going to be intelligence coming about how to treat and how to remediate and how toessentially cleanse these environments on a daily basis. And caregivers were already getting overwhelmed by, by the day-to-day information that was coming up about the virus as we were learning about it, right, practically and in real time. And so, that’s where AI can effectively read all of this content, and then get, get rallied under a single natural language interface for these essentially caregivers to have access to. And so when we saw that, you know, I called them up and say, “Hey, let’s, let’s move quickly on this.”

And we actually set aside, you know, many of the other things that we were doing commercially, just to make sure that they can have fast access to something that they wouldn’t normally be able to consume in a timescale that that made sense. It’s just an amazing mission. And then people are like, well, wait a minute.

You know, “Why do you care about these elderly folks?” And I just, you know, laugh back in some ways. I’m like, “Who do you think our mentors are? You think I popped out of my mom knowing calculus? You know, is that, is that what you think?” You know, it’s like, “No, these are our mentors. These are the people that help. These are the folks that pass the Baton. These are the folks that we turn to, right, for their, for their wisdom, because they’ve experienced the world already.” And, so I’m sorry, I don’t, I wouldn’t necessarily say the same thing that a Lieutenant governor from Texas would say like, “Hey, you know, let’s just count them out and just, you know,  leave the economy open.”

What’s the lifetime value of a, of a consumer who’s still alive? That’s why the comments like that are nonsense.

Donald Thompson: I, I mean, I appreciate so much what you said, and I want to tease this out. Right? We put aside some of the commercial things we were working on because this was the right thing to do. And one of the things that I appreciate about being an entrepreneur is I can make some of those same choices that you have.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have a business to run, that we have goals and investors and stakeholders and all those things to deal with, but there is space for us to have our heart lead. Right? And the technology and the finances to follow. And that’s a powerful example in doing my research to chat with you, and just some reading and different things, of the things you accomplished, that was, that was one of the things where I got to know you, even though we’re still just getting to know each other, right? It’s it’s those things you do with your time, effort and energy that show you who you are. And so, I just want to applaud that and that’s a great way to leverage the technology for people that, that need some help and support.

And that’s the kudos to you for that? When you think about talking to an emerging entrepreneur, what are some of the, the mistakes you’ve made? What are some of the points of advice you would get? If someone were having a cup of coffee with you talking about going into a venture, becoming an entrepreneur.

Igor Jablokov: Yeah. So well, I actually typically start the conversation like this: 50% of what I’m about to tell you is wrong, the problem is neither you, nor I know which is which. That’s the first thing. Becuase you know, every battle is different. Every war is different. Every time, a timeframe is different.

The, the talent, the resources that they have available, the environment looks  looks different. Things, things that worked in in 2019, no longer worked in 2020. Things that worked in 1820, no longer work in 2020. Everything changes. You know, the technologies change, the people change, the education changes, the competitive environment, whether or not you have to deal with international things, the regulations change.

So, so even -the, the exciting thing about working in the tech industry is the fact that every half decade, forget about every decade, every, every practically every year, everything changes. You know, from, so from the same point at brain elasticity, you know, some of the, you know what I would say, ethical things, you know, things that have staying power, you know, those are always consistent, but, you know  you know, should be using this technology or that technology? It’s changing too quickly.

Right? So those, those areexperiences that are, that are perishable. Ultimately, it gets to that thing. I get asked this a lot. “Hey, should I start this company?” I’m like, “What are you asking me for? You know, it’s, you know, do you feel it, you know, boiling from the inside, out of you, you know, where, where you feel like you’re the person to do this,” because here’s, here’s the one things that I can appreciate.

And I remember my, my chairman at the time telling me this, I came to him when we were doing the, the M and A deal with Amazon. And I said, “Hey, I have this really  a big problem, you know, that I need to solve between, you know, several different companies that were trying to acquire us at the time, Amazon Google and, and several others.”

And I’m like, “What do I do? You know, this is a very sophisticated problem, and I have to decide X, Y, and Z, and lawyers are involved and all this stuff is involved.” And he’s like, “You’re the only one that knows the answer to that.” And yet, you know, I felt both, you know, scared and excited at the same time because  it was just:the way that he framed it is “Look, you’ve lived this for years. You’ve read every email, you’ve been on all these calls. You’ve visited all these customers, partners, these acquirers and everything else. You’re the only one that has, you know, full visibility into all of the different pieces that fit into this decision.” And it made sense, you know, when he framed it that way.

Yeah. And, and, and that’s what I would say. I mean, it makes sense when you actually frame it that way. So even though we get these little time slices where people come to us for, for advice, feedback, and everything else, ultimately they’re the ones that are on this, this journey with their teams and their, and their stakeholders.

They have far, far more information. At the same time, I also appreciate that we have to impart the little drops of water here and there Because one of the, one of the really interesting things that I noticed when I tried to look back in time as a business leader, we all obviously try to plot the most efficient path to, to goals for our teams.

I tried looking for the clear path. I couldn’t find it. I stared for it. I tried looking for, “Oh, if I just did this and this and this and filtered everything out, I would have gotten to this goal faster.” It didn’t exist. Everybody was important. Talking to 95-year-old was important, a five-year-old was important, as a 16 year old year old, you know, seeing a demo. This venture capitalist , this scientist, this engineer, this business person, these marketing people doing this, launching this customer, doing this announcement, you know, you know, talking to that reporter: everything was important and it all fit together. If you would have like a Jenga pile, had you removed any one of those individuals in those pieces, the whole thing would have fallen apart.

Which was, you know, both very strange. Right? Very, very, very strange to see, but also exciting to see, because that basically says you know, there is not a, there’s not a moment in your day listening to something like this or meeting somebody interesting or attending some conference or what have you that will ever be wasted.

Even if you don’t even see it, why it’s relevant today, it’s going to be tucked in. You’re going to actually dedicate, you know, a portion of your brain to, to the content that you consume or the person you met. And it may just fire something five years, 50 years from now, seven years from now, when, when you cross paths with something else and you won’t even know that this thing influenced you.

Donald Thompson: Mm.

I mean, what you just described, like, that’s one of the reasons, like, I don’t say no to a cup of coffee. Right? Like, it might be scheduling with somebody, but I always, I learned something. I hear something. I share something that I hadn’t remembered for 10 years if somebody is asking me a question, and you always get better through that, that powerful interaction.

And so I appreciate it. I’ve got one final question because I want to be careful with your time. I’m so glad that you agreed to spend some time with us in,  and just super excited. Tell me about the characteristics of leaders that you admire, right? You’ve, you’ve done some really cool stuff with IBM and obviously, you know, M and A deal with Amazon and negotiating with Google.

Like, so you’ve interacted with a lot of folks that are in that upper echelon of business and technology. What are some of the things that you’ve seen in leaders that you admire that, that you’re like, you know, this is a, a quality that I would like to duplicate, emulate that kind of thing.

Igor Jablokov: Yeah. So,  in some cases, you know, that, that question is also like the find the critical paths, right?

So, so we talk about, “Hey, let’s put Steve jobs on a pedestal, Elon Musk on a pedestal, Bill Gates on a pedestal, Bezos and a pedestal,” you know, all, all these other  folks, maybe certain politicians and what have you, until we realize they’re as complex as we are. And, and, and they’re human. So they’re going to do some things, right.

They’re going to do some things wrong. They’ve just happened to do one more thing right than wrong. And from a statistical standpoint, they are able to achieve some level of success. You know, I look at certain things that Musk does, and I’m like, “Hey, this is, this is intriguing to me to make this call and educate  the team to, to, you know, to be high performers or Steve Jobs certainly did that to great effect, but then what’s the human toll of of the fact that they  put their teams on this death March. And they made these amazing products and stuff like that, and you see their engineers and, and,  you know, to be wistful and reminisce about the fact that they created these great products. But then, you know, 5,000 years from now, those things are what? Dust.

You know, and so what, what really got  left behind? So, you know, it’s, it’s kind of finding that tight rope between, you know, doing these things, but then at the same time, how are you still you? How can you still  be human  in the process as well? And, you know, do you really want people to remembering you that, “Oh my gosh, you delivered a product XYZ with this feature and you had this patent that seemed awesome today, but a hundred years from now won’t mean anythingand you’re just a link in that chain? And so what are you going to be left for? This is why actually, what’s curious to me is when people have amazing outcomes, MNAs and IPOs and stuff like that, and I, and then I start peeking at, all right, what philanthropic things are they doing? You know, when I exited, I pivoted, I didn’t, you know, you know, start a next company.

I went and did an Eisenhower Fellowship, I did a Truman National Security Fellowship, set up a scholarship, did all of these things because I’m like, “This is healthy to go and, and, and see what’s happening with the rest of the world.” Because I, I, you know, you get put in this bubble, you know, building these companies as you would all you know, certainly know listening to this. Even walking through a grocery store felt weird after the exit, because I haven’t seen the inside of one for over five years.

Now, here’s the interesting plot twist. You know, I, I walk into my grandparents  room and my grandmother is laying there and I, and I told her, “Hey, don’t worry. You know, just sold the company. I’ll be able to take care of everybody.  You won’t have to worry about  about anything ever more. You know, worked really hard  these last five years.” And she just looked up at me, blinked and said, “Big deal. We worked hard the last 80.”

And so there’s somebody I look up to. So it’s not a Musk, it’s not a Bezos, it’s not this or that. It’s the fact that when we look at what our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents so on and so forth, went through to even make the life possible that we have right now, those are the people that we compete with because we’ll never measure up.

That’s the, that’s the biggest truth that I can say.

Donald Thompson: And mic drop. That’s, that is that’s great. And I  I don’t have anything to add to that, except my, my thanks and appreciation for you to spend some time with us.

Igor Jablokov: Really, really enjoyed it and stay in touch. Looking, looking forward to amplifying this with you and have a blessed day.

Donald Thompson: You as well, my friend.

Full Episode Transcript

The Donald Thompson Podcast is hosted by Walk West CEO, The Diversity Movement CEO, mentor, investor, and Diversity and Inclusion Consultant Donald Thompson.

Music for this episode provided by Jensen Reed from his song, “You Can’t Stop Me”.

The Donald Thompson Podcast is edited and produced by Earfluence. For more on how to engage your community or build your personal brand through podcasting, visit

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