Today’s guest was written up by his former employer for taking on a new client contract. So he took the contract himself, started his own business, and two years later, bought out the company that wrote him up, including hiring the very person that wrote him up.

Now, his company Torch AI has worked with Microsoft, GE, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Please welcome Brian Weaver.

Episode highlights:

  • 1:31 – Business Background
  • 7:12 – Businesses turning down the Contract
  • 14:16 – Reaching the Consumer
  • 19:58 – Collecting Data
  • 40:41 –  Entrepreneur Success

Learn more about this guest:

Podcast Episode Transcripts:

Disclaimer: Transcripts were generated automatically and may contain inaccuracies and errors.


Today’s guest is the founder and leader of a company that helps organizations leverage artificial intelligence through enterprise data management, including the us department of defense and an avid endurance sports athlete. He has ranked among the top amateur iron Ironman athletes in the world as achieved all world’s gold status and about half a dozen.  

Other things that sound amazing that have no idea what they are, because I’m not at that level. Brian Weaver. Thanks for joining us, Damon. Uh, thanks for the introduction. Uh, that’s pretty good. Fair enough. Let’s be honest, Brian. Um, you know, I’ve been happily married for 13 years, but you’re a good looking dude.  

I got your picture right here.  

Well, I’ve been happily married for over 20 years and so, uh, but I, but I certainly appreciate.  

I’m getting older. That’s what’s funny is all that, you know, beauty fades, man. It’s getting old sucks, but anyway, that’s another part. That’s another, that’s another part. Yeah. Yeah. There you go. Well, I appreciate you jumping on. So torch AI, um, is your company and I mean, there’s a lot of stuff. It sounds like we can talk about.  

And you know, before we hit record, we talked about how. You’ve had some journeys, you know, your entrepreneurial journeys have included obviously some ups and then some downs. And those, those resonate with a lot of our listeners, but you’d also said, um, you got kind of a funny story with how it all started.  

So maybe least start there. Yeah, it’s actually, it’s funny because I don’t get to share this very often. Uh, most of the time, everybody, uh, just sort of assumes that, you know, you’re some kind of like rockstar, superhero, persona, and things happen easily, but, but they don’t, I was sort of a frustrated employee.  

Um, I worked for, uh, ABC cap cities before they were acquired by Disney, uh, and was a marketing guy, a sales guy. And I was sort of as an employee, kind of a frustrated entrepreneur, you know, an intrepreneur as they kind of, I think it’s hilarious, but that label, but that’s kinda what they call it today. I had tried to start.  

So I’m always kind of a creative guy, right? I’m driven. I’m kinda, it’s a curse, I think sometimes, but I started to start some initiatives inside these employers that I had. And, um, the second job I had. I ended up, uh, unbeknownst to me, picking up a project for NASA car tracks that everyone in Kansas city had turned down.  

And when I say everyone, like every business that had anything to do with marketing or, or any kind of media or anything like that, and they have always, all, all of them had turned it down. And this guy, I was probably the last one on the phone listening because w is in my last name and, uh, This guy calls me and my boss is out of town and I was responsible for running a bunch of States and had some, some teams of folks, uh, kind of between the mountains of Colorado, Utah, way down to Texas.  

And, uh, this seemed kind of interesting. Had to do with motor sports. I wasn’t real familiar with it. Uh, other than just being an, uh, sort of an, an avid fan of, of sports cars. And I told this guy, yes, um, This guy, Martin Minnie at the cancer area development council. He’s still there today. And I will see him on Thursday at a board meeting next week.  

It’s hilarious. Um, but uh, I said yes to this program and I developed a concept where I would use math. Uh, again, this was 20 years ago, but we’re using math to try and predict. Uh, consumer behavior of, of NASCAR fans and then try and message them, uh, you know, with, with things that would improve their experience and, and ultimately then increase the probability that they would sign back up for season tickets.  

So I created this whole business around that. Um, but again, I did this as an employee for my employer and these guys in New York that would travel down to Miami and work. I was a Miami based company. They did not get NASCAR. Didn’t like that. I took my eye off the ball and I actually got written up for this, uh, creating this thing, created a bunch of revenue for the company, but it was, it was, you know, this creative.  

You know, sort of a pioneer type approach of something totally new and foreign. I took my off the team. I was supposed to be managing and created this new thing. They didn’t like that. And it was like getting punched in the gut. And, uh, I remember, you know, you had, you had said, you know, some of your, your best guests are sort of brutally honest and transparent.  

I I’m kind of a stoic guy, but I will totally admit, uh, that I almost cried in that office. I had that moment where you’re like, man, are you kidding me? I’m proud of what I did for this company. And, and you know, the success that this thing was financially and for the customer, uh, and here I am getting written up for it and I made that decision then, and it’s like, alright, I’m outta here.  

And my, my answer was to actually go work for NASCAR, uh, and work for Kansas Speedway. This gentleman, who’s a gem of a guy I got got named Jeff Berger who had run a Kansas Speedway when they came to Kansas city. Uh, and I tried to get a job with him and he couldn’t. You know, pay me enough. They don’t pay at the time anyway.  

Uh, they don’t pay that well for kind of executive guys. Those roles are really limited. So it was this moment. It’s like, all right, well, I’ll start a company. Will you be a customer? These guys, you know, my other employer didn’t want to do it. Um, you guys clearly need the need the work. It was, it was very well received.  

I’m going to go ahead and do it. And so I, I. You know, scraped together the credit cards I had quit my job. Uh, I didn’t have a big pile of money. Um, you know, I was kind of on my own as a working stiff kind of guy. And, uh, and just started and, uh, the craziest part of the story after getting reprimanded this, this company, um, you know, fast forward about two years and the story of growing that first business is also kind of interesting, but the punchline of my journey.  

Was that a, about two years after I had then landed a hundred percent of all of the racing tracks in North America and the business was phenomenally successful. And I turned around and I acquired, uh, my, my last employer, the company that was down in Miami. Uh, I had an opportunity long story with some guys that own Rob report and all this other stuff.  

Uh, and, and, uh, I was able to actually acquire my, my. Former employer. And it was sort of that just desserts moment. And in fact, the guy that gave me the reprimand ended up working for me as well. And so that was kind of a fun, funny, funny little moment in my career. Uh, you know, as a 20 something year old, to be able to kind of pull that kind of stunt, it was fun.  

And it’s, uh, that, that sort of, uh, attitude and gumption, I guess, is it’s been a, you know, okay. One of the elements of my character, I guess, that has not been worn down over time. Yeah, that’s an awesome story. Well, you know, no good deed goes unpunished. So you deserve that. Um, alright, so I got a lot of questions.  

Um, so why were, why were other businesses turning down the contract to begin with? You know, I think, I think one, the domain was foreign to, there didn’t seem to be enough margin in it. When you look at it on the surface, it was like a lot of work. Um, and, and not a lot of money in it. So. I look at things as opportunities.  

And I, I seem to too, and again, this isn’t Pat myself on the head. I do not have any kind of ego and I’ve made way more mistakes, uh, than I than I’ve had successes. But, uh, the thing I saw was not the one product that they were asking for. What I saw was actually a fundamental shift in the way they were actually communicating with fans.  

And so instead of just giving them the one thing they asked for, I actually developed a suite of things, a suite of, of products, um, that allowed them to message to fans and get, you know, for example, suggest restaurants, who’ve just a hotel, suggested an excursion. And then of course things do Trackside.  

And so it was the notion of actually owning sort of that lifecycle of the customer in that given year. And then thinking about every touch point that the customer might have. And they’re trying to monetize across that customer journey. If you will, again, the world’s way more sophisticated now, man, Google has changed everything.  

Uh, you know, the notion of account based marketing, for example, uh, is pretty popular these days. Um, I’ve got a whole company that does that, you know, that I’ve invested in. So yeah, it’s a, it’s a pretty interesting world. It’s way more sophisticated than it was then. Um, But I decided to use sprint is a very large employer.  

Uh, the mobile phone company is big employer in Kansas city, and I actually hired actuaries from sprint to build my math models. That would help me predict what the fans were going to do. And then I would create products around making sure that those fans would get the right information at the right time.  

Um, And I think nobody else saw that they just saw kind of the pedestrian thing, the scope of work that was the RFP that was out there. And they really didn’t see beyond that, that actually you could, you could, you know, build a pretty interesting, uh, business model around, you know, making a fan, have a better time.  

Not just getting them information that they needed, but, but really evolving their customer experience. And so that’s why over an 18 month period, I picked up every single track, you know, United States it’s because of that approach. Um, you know, they all figured out what I was doing and it. Yeah, again, not to kind of keep, go down the rabbit hole too deep, but what as I was trying to, to continue to sell that solution, uh, for the first year I went around to every track in the country and was kind of saying, look, look how cool we are.  

Look what we did. And, uh, I had a bedroom of a house, but, um, you know, still look how, look, how cool this is for the, for the, you know, your company and your, your customers and all this other stuff. And they were always saying, yeah, yeah, yeah. But no one would sign a contract. Well, unbeknownst to me, uh, down in Daytona, Florida, they had all gotten together.  

And, uh, they, I was kind of cherry picking the best facilities and leaving alone some of the rural ones that don’t have tons of fan interaction. Uh, and they forced me to take them all. And it was Ted Turner’s company who owned all the internet rights. And, uh, they basically said, if you don’t do it, we’re going to give this whole business line, uh, to Turner.  

And I went to Kinko’s and I spent 70 bucks doing a spiral bound book, and I overnighted it two weeks later, I had the whole contract. Dude you can’t, it’s, it’s crazy. It’s crazy. But you know, have a little guy working out of his house, going up against the behemoth like that, and just having sort of, I use the word gumption so that I’m not crass and use curse words, but you know, having the gums, just do it again.  

I was young and, and, and had no fear. And that’s certainly helped, but anyway, so that’s, you know, that’s what others didn’t see. I think, I think that’s an important topic though, is, um, you know, a lot of people, especially early entrepreneurs, they get that, they get that fear and, and it’s hard for me to, um, Like I get that concept, but it’s hard for me to relate because, so he’s been one of those ones that says, well, if there’s something to accomplish or that I want to accomplish, then I go down the path of how do I do it and not what if I could do it.  

And so I, I think that it’s important. And you know, maybe, maybe that maybe youth is part of it and naive. This is part of it. I don’t know. But, um, If you do it enough, it becomes a habit. And I think it’s important for early entrepreneurs to not have, um, you know, you can take calculated risks and all that, but there certainly has to be an element of just going like, w w what are you really afraid of?  

What’s the worst situation that could happen. That’s exactly right. My joke used to be the worst thing that would happen is I could, I would sell suntan lotion on the beach. You know, I can default to that. Oh, that’s not that bad. That wouldn’t be that bad. Would it? I mean, you think about the best things in life.  

They don’t cost a lot of money. And so, uh, when you. When you start thinking about protecting these jewels that you’ve created in your head assets, you have, or a standard of living, it’s all fabricated in your own head. And so, uh, I think you have to be see beyond that. The one thing I think is interesting as I sort of examined myself a lot and I’m 46 years old now, and I’ve had this really, especially the last 10 years has been very contemplated around my journey and kind of what do I want the next 40 years and all this other stuff.  

So, yeah. What I, what I’ve discovered is that it’s not, you know, age or youth, uh, that really drives kind of that risk taking the, your ability to be kind of that pioneer persona. Um, I think you end up with, and you can channel your energy more effectively. I think that’s probably what the result is, but yeah, I find myself taking the same risks.  

I think others would call them more calculated. Um, I would argue that they’re the same maybe level of risk is inherent in the decision. But the difference is that my wisdom has helped me focus a little bit more and that’s probably, you know, by default than remove some risks, but yeah, I mean, yeah, we, yeah, organizational, you know, putting humans together and making sure that the mix of teams is something that I personally study in a big way.  

And, and, uh, I think you just have to have some of those kind of innovative creative risk takers in your business. Yeah, fortunately for me, or maybe unfortunately, maybe you and I are those kinds of people. Yeah. Well, you know, I want to catch up to where you’re at with business nowadays, but this is such an interesting story.  

Um, I want to spend another minute on it. One thing that stands out when you say that when you would build a consumer behavior for this whole NASCAR group, um, one of the first questions is. Message the consumers, how, because, you know, we’re talking 20 years ago, so it wasn’t, um, you know, the whole smartphone world and real time, things like that.  

So how are you doing outreach? Yeah, so fundamentally, uh, it was classic, uh, advertising and media. So where it started, uh, was doing, uh, literally the, the, the contents that would go into a ticket package. What, what kind of content would you stuff with tickets? Uh, to make sure that when, when they, with a NASCAR race, it’s kind of odd.  

It’s, it’s a very unique sporting event where it’s almost like a super bowl and it still is. I mean, it’s still, uh, it may not be the heyday that it was, but man, the events, the Daytona 500, it’s huge. And it’s in a couple of weeks. Um, there’s still rabid fans and it’s like the super bowl, you know, multiple, multiple times, times a year.  

But the thing that’s really interesting about it is that people travel. So most of the time people are driving in, you know, six, seven hour trips. So you’ve got this captive audience and the economic development opportunity, the economic benefit to the community. These people are buying hotel rooms, they’re eating, they’re buying souvenirs.  

They’re, you know, they’re, they’re looking for mementos of the trip. And they’re going to multiple races a year. So. In terms of, uh, the audience, uh, sort of that addressable market it’s it was pretty valuable. Um, you know, and very instilled to this day, very loyal to the brands, uh, very active in and they got money, you know, in terms of kind of socioeconomic indicators.  

They’re, they’re, you know, they’ll curve of America. Yeah. They’ve got discretionary income. So, so I think, you know, back then, you know, today, Uh, you know, I’ve got another company that does, uh, stuff in healthcare. And I mean, you’re talking about, you know, with surgical precision delivering messages through digital medium, uh, and, uh, it’s amazing  

Right, right. What’s capable. Uh, today. Back then fundamentally it was fancy direct mail. So it’s, it’s, it’s a combination of those things. Some onsite, uh, uh, you know, communication and in, even in some cases, and this was actually to the employer, I worked for the last job I had, the company that was out of Miami.  

They would literally have people that would. You know, suggest, uh, jewelry stores to go to, for example, on cruise ships, you know, when you, when you stop in your port, here’s the excursions we recommend. Well, those were all paid and these were these classic, you know, old school, you know, uh, media and marketing channels that that would be deployed.  

What’s what I think is super fascinating is that as the digital world has. Just, you know, sort of swallowed up everything. There’s this big resurgence in what I call classic marketing. When you kind of look at that, it’s fascinating. It is interesting. Um, that’s super briefly come up as a topic with past guests, but I, I agree.  

Um, you know, I never got heavily into the direct mail, but where I can kind of relate if we’re kind of saying old school kind of things, um, Is just transparency. I think the biggest value proposition that my company I’ve had for the last 13 years brings is like, we, we don’t bullshit. Like, yes. Yeah. If you’re not a good fit.  

Whether it’s for our ability to perform or your ability to not blend well with our culture, then I’ll say, you know, this probably won’t work out instead of just taking your money and running. And I think that’s been a huge benefit to, um, you know, the referrals and reputation that we built. And, and so, um, I think people are wanting a little more offline, um, Relatable human touch because we’re just getting, we’re just squeezing out every ounce of blood out of the rock of the digital marketing world.  

You know, it’s funny as I had a, I had a gentleman, uh, I wouldn’t call them even a vendor, but a supplier to my software business. And he was sitting in my office and. You know, I had perceived a little bit of hiccup and delivery and you know, what this person was doing for us was very important that I needed it to be done well.  

And, uh, he made a very interesting comment to me that stopped me in my tracks because I was kind of ready for a fight and lean into that. And I’m gentler now than I used to be. Right. But he said something really profound. He said, look, man, I know I’m kind of expensive, but you’re getting me. You’re not, I’m not handing this off to some kid with no experience.  

He goes, I’m doing this for you. So the communications are probably not gonna be perfect and this, but I can do this stuff. And I’m the best at it. And this is sort of the, the junk, the garbage that comes with this engagement. And it was to your point, transparent, honest, and yeah, immediately as a guy that, I mean, as a CEO of a company, fundamentally, you’re making investment decisions every single minute.  

And. It stopped me. And I said, you know what? That’s a fair exchange. And thank you for being transparent. And in my mind, it’s like, wow, I just learned something from this guy. And it was, it was a neat moment because he was normally, you’re so desperate to sell that. You’re trying to cover up all the reality.  

No, no, no, no. We’re here 24 seven. We’re here for you and we’ll improve this or that. It never works because it’s not. Yeah. It’s not genuine. So anyway, it was, I completely agree with what you just said. I did it again, that happened to me in the last 15 days. So I think you’re spot on. Yeah. Um, so when you go and start building out all the, you know, how did, how did you collect the data to, to start making these decisions?  

And then if, if there was any programming involved, is that something you tackled on your own? Or how did you source the skillset to crunch the numbers? Yeah, it’s funny. I would not call myself a software developer at all. And I would actually, it would be an insult to the guys that work for me that are just bad-ass humans.  

But, uh, I wrote my first software program in my first job. I had a, I had a, a volume of work, a work flow issue. So I, I wrote a program for myself that I use because of the volume of work that I produced was. Was more significant than any anybody else. Uh, and I needed a way to manage that, that, uh, information and the transmission of that information to other departments within the company.  

So I actually wrote a little program that automated all my reports and it was a, it was a cool little thing. Uh, and then they, sorry, I’m trying to use it internally. I’m sorry. Some familiarity, right. I, I understand the approach and I, I, I, uh, I think. Software developers. And this is a, you know, one of the flaws of the industry, in my opinion, one of the things we try and do as a culture here, they are creators and artists, the best ones are.  

And so you have to have a culture. That sort of encourages and supports that, and you don’t let the ops guys kind of screw up the magic. Um, you know, but at the same time I have been in a kind of a process oriented person. So what I did in the very first thing, going back to hiring actuaries, Actuaries exist to produce kind of risk models.  

I just turned that around and I said, all right, just, I want to look at the, kind of the inverse relationship with an opportunity model. And so we fundamentally use Microsoft access just off the shelf commercial software,  

because now you’ve got power BI and you know, Microsoft, interestingly enough, became a customer. Uh, you know, later it’s all doing the same work in my career. It’s as I reflect on the past, you know, it’s kind of the same thing. Uh, but yeah, but what I used was publicly available data. You have companies like Axiom, for example, on the consumer side, You know, a very large, uh, company that was born out of direct mail lists, right?  

So this that’s an organization that compiles all kinds of data on you, your credit cards and how many kids you got and you know, what you’re interested in and where you spend your money and all, I mean, hundreds and hundreds of variables that they track. On consumers. And so that’s readily available. And so back then we would rely on third party, uh, data sources and you, you, it was pretty cheap data.  

You know, you can go buy a record for a couple cents and, you know, get a pretty good picture of, of what that human is interested in and a bit of a pattern of life today. What you’re doing is ingesting lots of digital exhaust off mobile devices. Applications on those mobile devices. Most interestingly, these days, the applications are built on a software development kits.  

The software development kits also have data, uh, that you can get access to. And so I think, you know, part of the thing when you’re in my world, Uh, there’s some domain knowledge around how to source some of that data. And, uh, you know, if you go back and kind of lift the, you know, look, look under the hood, it’s the old school direct marketers, and that turned into a qualitative data.  

Um, contextual data around consumer behavior, uh, and then compliance and privacy became kind of an issue. And so you’ve got VIN numbers that allow you to correlate back to human. You’ve got credit card information. Um, and then now you’ve got all of that, the, uh, you know, kind of, yeah, digital signature and, and, uh, Preferences and digital behaviors online that you can also then start playing with.  

So the combination of data today is just, it’s just crazy. Um, but back then, it’s, it’s all fundamentally the same thing. Um, you know, just building a building that our profile of the human and, and. If you look at whether you’re in the risk and compliance world, which is kind of where I played today, the, you know, we’ve learned a lot by growing up in the marketing world where there’s just massive amounts of data.  

And, you know, you walk onto a car dealer’s lot and they’re already texted, you know, the, the, the car dealer next door is texting you saying, Hey, we’ve got a better deal. All of that stuff is enabled through these platforms, but it’s, you know, they’re, they’re tracking your digital exhaust. That’s how they know.  

Yeah, fencing and mobile devices have changed the world. Yeah. Now I think the last question before we can kind of transition into to your current business, um, it can kind of go hand in hand. So how long until you became quote unquote successful. So, you know, you take the, you take the contract on behalf of your employer.  

They get upset. You leave. And then I believe you said two years later is when you ended up having all the contracts. So is it basically that, you know, 18 month window in between where you’d say that you kind of hit some strong forward momentum? Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. Um, and, and over my career, I’ve started, you know, and acquired multiple companies.  

And I’d say this, the journey, and most of them is a little different. Each one. Um, when I first started out, the funniest part was I, I. You know, basically took this contract from this company that didn’t want it. Uh, but I didn’t get paid. So I shouldn’t even say this problem here.  

there’s like a statute of limitations. So contract with me. Uh, he was so enthusiastic about it because he saw the benefit of it. And he liked me and we, we, we were friends and, and we did this deal. Well, his CFO did not like the deal. It’s like, ah, you know, you’re spending money and we don’t need that.  

Cause I, I required a retainer because I had to live and I had a tiny little retainer that these guys were going to pay me, but the CFO refused to pay. So I went for many months without, even though I had this deal and I had this company and I had, you know, a contract. I wasn’t getting paid. And so there were right at the, the Genesis of my very first company.  

You were like, Oh man, I gotta manage cashflow. How much do I have in the bank? What kind of credit cards do I have? What kind of Alasta city do I have in my, in my balance sheet? And it becomes this really interesting lesson. Uh, yeah, no, I didn’t. I, the kind of guy that’s never really embraced, uh, outside capital, uh, I’ve done everything myself.  

I did not come from money. My father was a military guy. Uh, just, you know, uh, I started with nothing, so it’s, it’s, it’s one of those kinds of stories. And I think today there’s such a, it’s almost expected that if you have an idea, uh, and, and you want to be taken seriously, you’ve got to go out and get outside capital.  

And I think it’s actually, you know, really harmed, uh, entrepreneurs and founders and, and, uh, and even customers in a lot of ways. Um, It’s it’s kind of maddening. Yeah, no. When I started my company, the same thing, and now I get people that message me, whether it’s on LinkedIn or whatever and say, Hey, um, you know, I wanna, I want to take the next step. 

And I, I see you found success. Like, how do I take the next move? Here’s my idea. But I don’t have any money. And I’m like, what are you talking about? Like, Oh, that’s, that’s what your next movement is. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day, I always, you know, it’s, it’s like, I, I’m one of these people that you say, okay, I have X amount of resource.  

It’s my obligation to the customer to take some risk. Most of the time, people with fear would go into it and, and try and de-risked, uh, some kind of interaction or exchange of value, a contract you’re going to de-risking and put all the risk on the, on the side of the customer, the financial risk. And it’s not really fair it, you know, if you’re, if you’re standing there toe to toe with somebody and you’re saying, look, trust me with your money.  

And trust me with this really important initiative, uh, you, you have an obligation to deliver, and that means you have an obligation to take some risk. I found that most people that asked me for that kind of advice, they’re afraid of that risk and they don’t have the capacity for it. And I think that’s, I asked the reason that those guys typically fail or just never.  

Never gets started, you know, the failure to start kind of concept where, for me, uh, that, for example, that moment where, uh, it was either me or Turner, uh, Ted Turner’s company winning this big contract with NASCAR, uh, It was one of those moments where if I was successful, I’d make money. But if I screwed it up, I would lose everything I had.  

And it was real palpable, you know, and I didn’t have much at the time. And that’s, what’s funny at the time. You don’t, you don’t think of it that way, but upon reflection it’s like, yeah, you didn’t really have that much. Um, but, but still in the moment, it’s scary. Did, did turn behind you in the hallway. The Turner happening skin skin in the game, like for them to go up and say, but for you guys to compete against each other, did they even have any of the historical experience that you were bringing to the table?  

Or they were just so big? None of it. Yeah, they had none of it, but they’re so big one and two, you know, they had the internet contract. So I was a threat to the entire digital platform that underpinned NASCAR. Um, and it, it became interesting and over time because we, we continue to invest and improve our utility and the value of the unique service that we provided.  

Uh, it was a pretty strong moat we had around the business and, you know, every five years when the contract would come up, it was always threatened. Uh, but we want every time because we can, we, we put that sort of customer value proposition, uh, at the forefront, we took risk. We invested in the platform, uh, you know, we didn’t just do the minimum.  

We really thought through, all right, what are we going to do to, you know, solve sort of their, their desire, the customer’s desire to aspire to greater later. And, uh, that requires thoughtfulness and investment in people and, uh, and, and a culture around that. So, so again, I think, uh, that whole thing was kind of interesting, kind of going back to my original statement.  

I’m the kind of guy that always wanted to, if I provided value to a customer, someone will pay me dearly for that. Uh, and so I’ve always been really hyper focused around. Really what’s the value. And, and, uh, you know, if, if, uh, if I can solve a problem for somebody, then, then it’s highly likely that, that I would be paid well for that.  

When did you start collecting, collecting money? So you had a contract with him. He said he went months without it. Now, were you doing that? Just, just to see how far you could establish this relationship, or like, when did you finally say guys, come on, you know, let’s, let’s square up. Yeah, I think, uh, I think probably erotic 45 or day 60.  

I was like, we got a square up, but it went on several months beyond. Um, and it was the most interesting thing there is when you’re tiny. And, and this was, this is my, this is my, maybe my weakness of my ego. Uh, when you’re small, you want to feel, you want people to think you’re big, cause you want them to take you seriously.  

And you also, I aspire to something greater, right? I aspire to. Have a business that was, you know, at least, you know, covered North America, not just covered. Right. Well, yeah. I mean, you know, it’s, fortunately for me, I got it to go to Europe and do some fun stuff there and expand and, uh, cause it was open to that.  

But, but I always wanted to, I grew up, you know, with Andre Agassi, you know, it’s like, you know, the, the whole thing where you kind of fake it till you make it, uh, an is everything was his is uh, You know his slogan. And so I, you know, I thought a brand and, you know, from day one, I never named a company after myself.  

I always use the words. We, uh, in fact, you know, some people that knew it was just me would go, well, there is no way. It’s just you. And it’s like, nah, not really. There’s there’s people, right? It’s not, you’re not doing on your own. You’ve got a network around you, but that mattered to me. And so. When I would go and collect money, I always would have to sort of, you know, I couldn’t complain like, you know, gosh, I have, I never said, for example, um, I’m going to lose my house or I’m going to miss a mortgage payment because you’re not paying me.  

I would never say something like that, but you desperately wanted to. I always defaulted to, Hey, it’s very important for our company to be able to continue to provide you service and deliver this stuff on time. And, you know, we need to get paid, but you know, sometimes if someone’s got a, you know, Not that they were upset with me, you know, uniquely, it was just, they didn’t agree with the investment strategy at the time.  

And, uh, chose to kind of slow down some of these payments or whatever stuff like that happens. And so I think you have to sort of determine whether there’s some kind of personal thing. Is it a strategic thing inside the business? You know, what’s the hang up? Do they have cashflow issues themselves? You know, a lot of companies.  

Yeah, even big companies at times, billion dollar companies have cashflow issues and, or balance sheet issues or investor, you know, calls they’ve got to make. And, uh, you can get tied up in some of that sometimes if you’re not sort of aware, but I mean, for right or wrong, I probably would’ve would’ve, you know, gone along way.  

Um, Before actually breaking down saying, Hey, I’m going to miss a mortgage payment. If you don’t pay me today. Um, I always sort of defaulted and it, it worked out over time, I think, trying to maintain some professional, uh, level of professional, uh, professionalism, and then, and then really thinking of big brand as opposed to sole practitioner, um, has, has worked for me, you know?  

So that’s probably, you know, one of the lessons from the trench. Yeah. You know, I don’t know if you know this Brian, but apparently we are business startups, soulmates, because, um, my first official SSO, I don’t know if you know this, my background is search engine optimization. And so, um, my first official client.  

Oh, look at this. I’m a horrible host, not necessary. Let’s do not disturb. It happened in a while. I guess I need to be brought back down to earth every once in a while. So I’m my first client and it makes it ironic. Um, Cause today we’re actually recording a testimonial with them 12 years later. So my first client was speed hut and they sell automotive gauges.  

And I made a similar, well, mine was, they went a while without paying, but mine was negotiated that way. So I said, um, You know, I’ll take a risk on you. You take a risk on me and here’s these benchmarks don’t pay me until we hit those goals. And so they were incentivized because there was no risk, no incentive wise, because if I accomplish those goals, then I would be reimbursed for my time.  

Yeah. And, um, you know, this three month goal was hitting in. In six weeks or so. And that model works so well that I applied it to a second client who is also still a client 12 years later. And so it’s funny because while we’re chatting, I’m getting text messages from this videographer, that’s out at their place, I’m doing a testimonial with them 12 years later.  

So it’s kind of an interesting coincidence. That’s kinda my thing. You, you, you measured your resource and you, you put that on the table and you said, look, I’ll risk this. Uh, and again, I think that’s, I mean, kudos to you. That’s to me is the absolute right approach. I don’t see that very often today. And I think that’s what, maybe this, I sound like a crusty old man, but maybe this newer generation of founders, I think, I think the machinery says go out and raise angel angel capital, build it, and they will come.  

And, but they don’t take any risk. You know, the investors are taking the risk, but the founders are not. And, and you know, they’re not actually solving a problem for a customer sometimes. And. Uh, you know, I think that that’s a, that’s a big problem, but, uh, but kudos to you. I mean, that’s man. Oh, man. Um, having that kind of business model is, is I think, uh, right on, yeah.  

You know, I wonder how, how much of that is because of the adoption of the digital world, because, um, you know, because so much of the market has moved to digital as you touched on, but then also the unicorns that we hear about like Facebook and, you know, everybody else, Amazon are tech internet based. So I wonder if it’s  

Bias because, um, people are just kind of lumping together the, the persona of entrepreneurial startups to the digital world and the digital world is by yes. Towards VC. And so I wonder if it’s like feeding the concept of VC funding into business, even outside of the digital world. Yeah, I think it actually is applicable, no matter what the sector, if you really, if you kind of back up, I mean, look at a WIWORK their evaluation was based on investors, you know, it, wasn’t based on, uh, you know, an actual metric and that’s the thing with private companies.  

Uh, well, if you back up and really look at the macro level, There’s just a ton of private capital out there. Uh, banks have evolved in a big way. The banking industry, I think, is almost a wreck. If you think about it that way, there’s a ton of non bank lenders, and you have a massive amount of private capital, uh, looking for a home and you got big funds like fidelity that, you know, will stroke a check to a venture fund or a growth equity fund pretty easily.  

Um, And they’re large dollar amounts because they need to get that capital deployed and working. And so there’s, there’s a bit of a, an economy and an atmosphere of that. But I also think for a founder or for a company that it’s okay, it’s one of these third party attestations that your, that your company has value.  

So you might be solving a problem for a customer. Um, but the market will react if you’ve got like a billion dollar valuation or close to it or whatever. And the only way that happens. Uh, is through investment rounds where, where they’re publicly acknowledged, you know, what valuation, uh, they came in at very rarely to these companies, especially smaller companies have, you know, a strategic buyout where they disclose the amount paid.  

You know, you, you know, you look at disclosures and stuff like that. Sometimes they, you know, they’ll say it’s inconsequential to the financial statement and, and, uh, you know, for a company that is sort of a household name, especially in the software world. So it’s, I think it’s fascinating. I, I believe it’s a bit of ego on the part of the founder that not necessarily a bad thing, by the way, um, I think it’s, uh, and I think it’s also, there’s the capital markets are hyper motivated to deploy capital.  

And at the same time I see as a guy that has not taken institutional capital before, um, I do see that there are these moments now that were. If you’re not growing as fast as you can grow, you’re going to limit your ability to, to make an impact and potentially limit your ability to help solve customer problems if you’re, if you don’t compete at that, at that level.  

So I think that has created a really interesting playing field as well. Again, that could be two or three hour long discussion on that topic alone, but, uh, but I see that it’s, you know, it’s a bit of this kind of multi-domain. Uh, battlespace, you know, it’s interesting. So let’s catch up to what you’re doing now.  

Um, you had mentioned earlier, you’re, you’re a bit of an interpreneur, um, let’s all not label for a moment, even, even though you mentioned, you know, it’s kind of funny. So do you think that plays a part of your success or entrepreneurial success in general? Cause we’ve had other guests that have also said, you know, I’m an entrepreneur.  

Uh, and then you hear stories about whether it’s, uh, you know, Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg, and they’re a little reserved. And so it seems like there might be this common thread among successful people, at least at least a noticeable percentage of them that, um, having some sort of timidness a reservedness about them, um, has somehow played a role in their entrepreneurial journeys.  

Yeah. So if you’re talking about, say a character or, or a personality traits. So when I say intrepreneur, I mean, somebody that’s creating. A business unit inside a company that is already existing, so that I was always a frustrated entrepreneur inside of these employers that I work for. Um, and you know, it’s funny as big companies.  

Yeah. I don’t have a culture of innovation. They don’t really don’t need that. And sometimes it’s actually counterproductive to what their goal is, which is, you know, fundamentally providing shareholder value. Right. So. For me, I am an introvert. If I could kind of steal the con you know, this thread from you a bit, I am a, I’m a complete introvert.  

Um, many people would be surprised that I like to garden. And so it’s this quiet contemplate of thing. It’s slow. You have to go season to season, year to year, and it’s this weird thing, uh, that I have. I have a fondness for. The rest of my life is super fast paced. I love working. I love exercise and, and training and, and, uh, I love business and I, and I am a bit of a workaholic, but my catharsis kind of thing is, is this gardening thing.  

Cause it’s, it’s such an opposite end of the spectrum. So when I go back and I need to get kind of recharged, I do that, uh, quietly, but then. You know, in my, in my role as a CEO and a chairman of companies and stuff like that, you know, you have to be a leader and you have to be not an extrovert maybe, but you’ve got to interact with people and you have to give them energy.  

And I think as an, as an introvert, uh, you know, most of the time, if, if I could define that as being someone that gets, you know, gets their energy from say within, as opposed to getting their energy from others or groups of people, uh, and it takes both types. I think, you know, in my current role, which might be, um, you know, where some of my stress comes from.  

Would be where the role requires you to be somebody, you know, maybe a little bit out of your comfort zone. I fortunately have had a couple of decades of say training, but my job today is to build a structure, to kind of enable success, uh, to build a culture, uh, around the people and the, the work, and then ultimately sort of champion this value system.  

But I need to be the guy. That, that adds energy to the room, not the other way. And I’ll totally admit this morning. I had a weak moment and I landed on somebody kind of hard on a text message because they were spinning off into space on a topic that was unnecessary. And I kind of regret that, that little moment where.  

Uh, I landed on someone and I said, you know, the adults will take care of this, this, you said that in the text that it was sort of, you know, it was maybe inappropriate for the moment and this person’s an incredible human with a resume. You’d be like you said that to this person, this guy’s got one of the greatest resumes in our business.  

Um, but he was having a weak moment himself and I had a weak moment and it was one of those things. And again, this is one of those things where as a CEO or a leader, as you know, You’ve got other people around you. Your job is not to be the hero. Your job is actually to build, you know, build the boat, build the ship that this thing will ride on.  

So I think there’s that whole kind of phenomenon that I’ve. Uh, experienced over the last couple years where the business has become very successful and, and, uh, your role changes from, you know, kind of, uh, you know, warrior, uh, I call myself up, you know, a ground general, you know, a field general and, and, uh, that’s the kind of guy I am, but, um, you know, I think, I think there is a lot of pressure to.  

You know, really be thoughtful. You have this instinct as an entrepreneur, a true entrepreneur to be creative and risk taking. But as the business matures, man, you better be self aware and you better realize that your real job now is to motivate others and to put, you know, put people, teams of people together to, to perform.  

And, uh, that ain’t easy. So it’s a, that’s been really rewarding. Yeah, it’s, it’s an interesting conversation that we could dive in deeper on, you know, on a, on another, another call, but I’ll just touch briefly on the concept of, like you saying, you being the leader in building the boat. I have a good friend of mine.  

Um, he’s been on the show as well. I won’t say who yes, but you know, he, he, uh, Recently acquired a company. And so his business went from 20 employees, like a hundred as he acquired this other business. And, and when I talk with them yeah. He says, it’s just amazing how some people are just, you know, how did you say it often space?  

And you know, he’s like 8:00 AM everyone’s on it by noon, like half my team. Like I’m like, what are you guys doing? And he has to reel him in. Um, and so it’s really interesting to see the different dynamics in different businesses and different, um, you know, generations or experiences and backgrounds and just, uh, ha how you have to collectively bring them all together to put them on the same mission.  

Yeah, it’s I think I’ve, I’ve kind of had that same situation when I bought my first company. Um, you know, I think it provides 30 or 40 employees that I acquired, but I think my main company was like 10 or 15. Um, and immediately you go from, you know, needing to be that hero CEO, to be more thoughtful and have a steady hand and start thinking more about the organization and the structure.  

Of the organization to make sure that that part works right. You can lean on that a bit, but it’s yeah, man, it’s as a human, hopefully, uh, and hopefully your listeners are constantly evolving and seeking to evolve, but I mean, that is, that is the job, right. You have to continue to learn, continue to try and be better.  

And, and as a CEO or an entrepreneur, when you, when you do finally find success and the business starts growing rather rapidly, you know, it’s a. It’s nice to have some experience there, but when you don’t have it, you really do need to find it, uh, you know, outside, because man, you can make a lot of mistakes and having a coach or a mentor or somebody that has actually done it right.  

Has actually been in that foxhole has the same kind of personality traits and character traits that you have, uh, but has seen some of these things and can share some wisdom and it’s helpful. Um, but yeah, it’s but it’s fun, you know, it is a fun thing. So torch AI is your world now. Um, is, is that the, the original company from 20 years ago or has, has it evolved from, you know, a previous entity in to torch AI?  

Yeah, I sold, uh, the, so the first thing I did was a motor sports thing, but then I had, I had other companies it’s kind of that, that success spawn other creative ventures. Uh, and I sold that company, uh, several years ago. I still own a piece of it. Um, and they’re very healthy and, and doing great down in Daytona and, and.  

Basically about 10 years ago, 11 years ago, I acquired a healthcare business. Um, kind of a funny story of looking for a new CFO and the CFO that I was interested in and wanted to work for me was in the middle of selling a business. I learned more about that business and, and, uh, you know, started to kind of aggressively pursue, uh, the notion of acquiring that company.  

And I did that. Um, I bought a healthcare business was based in Los Angeles, California. And, and it was, it was a F 30 at the time, 35 year old company that, uh, focused on medical journals and related things. And of course that world evolved. And there’s a lot of data there. A lot of websites, a lot of events, training, continuous education, all that kind of stuff.  

And so over the 10 years that I’ve owned this company, um, I’ve sort of transformed it with the help of a really talented management team, uh, and turn it into an information business and, and a really successful one. And. In the journey of building that business. Uh, this other gentleman, the CEO of this company called his name is Don Don 

And I sat down and we had this plan and we said, we’re going to start investing in and machine learning and data technologies. So the notion was that I was just going to go buy something, buy a couple of companies, bolted on, focus on healthcare. There’s a whole bunch of chaos going on in the healthcare market, you know, about 10 years ago. 

Yeah. But it was opportunistic with ICD 10 codes and all this other stuff. Um, and so we decided we’re going to start investing in building our own software platform. And that was, you know, couldn’t quite find. The right thing, MedSup met a team of folks that had some varied experience, uh, and ultimately made the decision to start just to start investing in building our own software. 

That was unique because we saw a problem with this massive delusion data. We saw a problem with, uh, transporting that data in an enriched. Uh, way. So it gets really complicated, but if you’re trying to do something at scale, whether it’s say a marketing initiative or primarily what we focus on is, you know, uh, fraud or risk, uh, you know, establishing, say the trustworthiness of a system, a data set, or a human, um, and you’re trying to make decisions at scale, literally thousands of thousands of decisions a minute, the only way you’re going to be able to do.  

Do that and to apply machine learning at scale is to have a framework that allows you to move the data while it’s in flight. So we built this thing called torch and a whole bunch of products that support that. Uh, and our first customer was in the healthcare space, actually, GE GE healthcare was our very first customer.  

Uh, but our second customer was Microsoft. So the first customer was a healthcare one. The second customer Microsoft, a good buddy of mine. Fred Studer, who now works at, uh, uh, is a chief marketing officer at a big company down in San Francisco. Uh, He saw the software and said, man, I have to have this, but it has nothing to do with healthcare.  

Will you do it? Because the way we were dealing with data was so profound and it would help him. And so we started and I, I, I departed the idea of just focusing on the healthcare market sector segment. And so really what’s funny is if you go back like an investment thesis from an investor, they’d say, no, no, no.  

What’s the addressable market. How can you quantify it? We want to focus on that, but as an entrepreneur, I’m interested in, in being a creative human, and I’m interested in solving problems. And so, you know, Microsoft wrote a check that was 10 times bigger than GE. So the world said, Brian, go over here.  

Forget this healthcare stuff, that business is still great. Right? But this particular product needs a bigger, much, much bigger thing. Uh, but what was hilarious about the whole thing was it was fundamentally identical. What I was doing out of my guest bedroom for NASCAR. When I first started doing models on human behavior  

Uh, and so fast forward, we’re doing modeling of human behavior for Microsoft globally. And it’s stress tested the software stress test at all of our concepts and it worked and that, that beget, uh, more customer deals and, uh, you know, just kind of went from there. We got really big with H and R block where we do all the F uh, fraud work for H and R block, you know? 

Keeping them healthy and keeping fraudsters out of their platform. And that at scale, you know, you’re talking 25 million tax returns or one of the best tax preparation companies in the country. Uh, and you know, we’re kind of the secret sauce under the hood. There were. You’re dealing with these massive amounts of transactions and trying to establish the identity on the other side of the machine.  

And so that led to doing more and more of this, uh, this notion of enabling trust at scale, you know, I want to trust a decision. Uh, I want to trust, you know, all of the components of that decision, the human, the data, the system I’m making the decision on or operating on. And so we’ve evolved from there, but, um, but it really started out.  

You know, there was, there was no real business plan. There was this idea around a market. There was this notion that I would invest a little bit of money in, in seeing what that would look like. We got early customer traction, and then the whole concept went out the window. When, when my buddy Fred at Microsoft sat in the lobby of his building and wrote a contract with me and, uh, And away way it went.  

So it’s just a really, you know, it’s been quite the journey and today we’re doing really crazy stuff. Um, you know, really advanced things and, and, uh, stuff that we’re really proud of. Yeah. But it’s, it’s, uh, it evolves, you know, it evolves, you gotta be open to that. How so, so it makes sense how you get connected with Microsoft because you have like a mutual contact, but how do you get in with GE to begin with?  

I mean, for that being a first customer, that’s, that’s a big first customer. Well, they had a problem and, and we had some folks that worked in the business that had won a relationship, uh, and then to, uh, some, some expertise or some experience around this problem that they had. Um, you know, they had a very specific problem around, uh, compliance for, for some health care practitioners and the ability to, uh, sell a product that they were trying to promote across a very specific population of doctors. 

And, uh, we happen to have the, the, sort of the tribal knowledge of that, uh, you know, that, that market that they were working in and we had, we had. The ideation was, uh, fundamentally this software platform that would solve that problem for those guys, because it was something that needed to be done at scale.  

You can almost solve any problem if it’s a onesy twosy thing with human beings and maybe some software, but when you’re talking about doing it, say globally and hundreds of thousands, or even millions of transactions or entities. You just can’t do it that way. You know, you’ve got to take a different approach.  

There’s a different method. Um, and so that’s, you know, we kind of started there, how would you do this at scale first? Not just, how would you solve the problem, but how would you solve the problem at scale start there and then kind of reverse engineer everything. Um, and that was a bit of our success, but I think to answer your question, I think what you’re kind of getting at is, you know, how could one of your listeners go in and land a big blue chip. 

A company. What I found is that most people have connections to some of these very large companies that are also very valuable. The logo that GE logo, the Microsoft logo, some of those customer experiences are incredibly valuable. It it’s, it allows you to tell good stories to new customers. That’s always very helpful.  

But most of the time, someone in your company has a connection in some form to one of those organizations. And so, because our world is, you know, in your space, in the digital world, everything is so hyper-connected, you know, what do they say with Facebook? It’s 2.4 degrees of separation or whatever it is now.  

So everybody knows everybody. So I think. The advice would be one, explore your current footprint, what’s your current network and what are the opportunities that are kind of right under your nose that you’re not paying attention to and then to invest in what the solution would be. Uh, you don’t have to, you know, I’m a minimum viable product kind of guy.  

Um, I think you should develop and invest in a minimum viable product, you know, create a unit of value for a customer and then get out in the field and deploy that with the customer. That’s the right approach, a bit of that sort of agile method, uh, product development. Um, but I think that’s the, that’s the advice said I would give and you know, whether it’s selling to Deloitte selling to the U S government, it’s going to Microsoft, uh, You know, any of these, you know, uh, the big banks we deal with, whatever it all starts there, it’s a relationship first and then immediately showing value as you did.  

You know, you, you told your story where you did the 90 day project on, you know, at risk. And I think if you go in with that attitude, uh, the world kind of opens up for you. Yeah. Yeah. Well, Brian, I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I appreciate these stories. Um, you know, it’s been great to just get a transparent background on, on a successful entrepreneurs journey, and I appreciate you sharing a lot of those.  

Um, and I have somebody I’m gonna, I’m gonna see if I can introduce you to, um, once we, once we get offline here as well. Um, so I wanna give you the floor for a minute. Go ahead and give out your website and contact information or anything else you want to give out to our listeners. No, thank you for that.  

Uh, Damon, I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on, I, you know, if anybody, uh, if any of this resonated with anybody, I I’m typically available on LinkedIn again, uh, just, uh, Linkedin.com and my profiles, Brian Weaver and our website is, uh, the company’s torch AI and we’ve sort of exist, uh, to help very large enterprise, uh, and public sector folks, uh, solve, you know, big governance, risk and compliance problems.  

And, uh, we’ve had a lot of fun doing that and, and, uh, you know, happy to help anybody, you know, where I can. That’s why I’m on today. Just, I feel like it’s sort of my duty to give back and if I can help anybody. Um, I’m certainly, uh, open and available and our website is torch.ai. You know, it’s, it’s funny, you, you talk about, um, you know, these big contracts and you’re working with us department of defense and I have one of my team members is, um, Her husband is one of the, the air forces, you know, 200 kernels worldwide.  

And so he’s a pretty big to-do guy. And she made a comment the other day about, Oh, well, when he came back from the Pentagon and she said, it just so nonchalantly. And I said, I said, how long of your marriage did it take until saying, went to the Pentagon? Wasn’t that big of a deal? And so I asked you kind of the same question for you.  

Like at what point did it become normal to be working with. Department of defense or Microsoft and these big companies. Yeah. The thing that’s crazy for me is that I grew up, my father was an army intelligence guy, a pilot, and you know, all this stuff, so I kind of grew up around it. And the thing that’s cool for me is that, you know, and I’ve been doing this now for, for a little while, but, uh, as an adult to kind of have that, a bit of that patriotic, uh, You have this patriotic duty, everybody has it.  

You’re proud of your country. You want to help. And we have this, this thing we work on, you know, helping to evolve and protect national security. And, uh, and we’re proud of that is a big kind of mission focused business. I don’t ever get tired of that. It’s a. You know, the, the, I wear admittedly, uh, you know, sort of, you know, jeans, chinos, and sneakers and, and, uh, you know, kind of ascribed to the, you know, the software nerd, uh, dress.  

But I tell you what, when you go and visit the Pentagon or some of these other buildings that we have the pleasure and honor of. Of being in and helping, um, man or man throwing on a suit and respecting the rank and, uh, these human beings that are doing this work and this, you know, nobody talks about it.  

You just hear little headlines every once in awhile, the people we work with. Right. And, uh, you know, they won’t listen to this. This podcast we work with are, are incredible human beings. I mean, they are. Uh, underpaid and, uh, super mission focused. Uh, they’ve given their entire life, uh, to, you know, helping protect our way of life and protecting our war fighters. 

And man, Oh man, it’s that, that part of it. I never get tired of, you know, they say the Pentagon has a smell and I kind of, okay. It’s a deep place and, and, uh, So, so anyway, I think it’s cool. The one thing I’ve never brought myself to do though is by the Pentagon sweatshirt, that’s in the gift shop really, really bad, but I’m always with all these like fancy guys and, and, uh, I’m embarrassed. 

So one of these days when I’ve got like a little extra time, I’m going to go up there as a visitor. And go in there and just speak into the gift shop. And anyway, it’s cool. It’s, it’s a neat, it’s a neat thing to be able to do as a, you know, as a human Oh, Brian Weaver, everybody. Thanks so much. torch.ai is the website. 

Thanks for your time, Brian. Hey, thank you, Damon. I enjoyed it. 

 

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Brian Weaver: From Being Written Up to Buying Out the Company

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