Welcome to the third installment of UpRamp’s ‘Meet the Mentors’ series. In this series, we’re showcasing the wealth of resources available to Fiterator teams throughout their journeys with UpRamp via the mentors available to them.
Jason Maki began his career as a Ground Station Technician at a subsidiary of Raytheon’s, Raytheon Technical Services Company, before moving into fintech. He has been with CableLabs member company Midco since 2007, initially as a Network Engineer, and now as a Business Engineering Manager leading Sales Engineers.
Hi Jason, thank you so much for dedicating your time as an UpRamp mentor, particularly to Edgewater Wireless (cohort 1) and Bansen Labs (cohort 2). Can you tell me a bit about your journey into the cable industry?
Jason: I started off studying satellite communications and learned how to fix things at a component level before I went to work for a service provider. I then worked in internet banking for a while, and then around a decade ago I wound up here at Midco, which was my first real dive into cable. I’ve helped to build out the business network infrastructure here, mostly to support fiber-based business services. My team is the innovation arm of Midco – we were initially a small group and we weren’t even sure that our department was going to make it at first.
It sounds almost like you were part of a startup within a larger corporation.
Jason: When I was hired here, there were two other engineers and a couple of techs. Our current VP of business was a sales engineer. We were building from the ground up within Midco, and had no idea if it was going to be successful. We had to come up with the money ourselves. We were doing the work ourselves. When an install had to be done in North Dakota, I literally got into a car and drove over and did the install myself.
This explains why you understand the startup ecosystem and the struggles that come with it. You were kind of like a startup within the larger corporation. If you were to become a startup founder tomorrow, what would you create?
Jason: I would create a new educational system to allow kids to work at an individual pace. The status quo of education is to pump out consistent results at a consistent timeframe, which doesn’t work for everyone.
I was really terrible in school, and one of things that made it so hard for me was the pace. Not everyone learns at the same speed - and then students are either bored or struggling. I was frustrated much of the time. My idea would be to keep the social experience local, but to broaden the classroom beyond the local area - kind of like removing the walls from the classroom.
|Edgewater Wireless was in Cohort 1 and started working with supermarket giant Kroger earlier this year|
A lot of people I’ve spoken to for this series have mentioned using technology to fix education. Do you envision that being part of cable’s future?
Jason: It very well could be, because of the reach that we have into people’s homes. We’re not about to start building schools, but we can create the ecosystem that allows schools to have immersive experiences without everyone necessarily being in the same place. I would rather have 5 super smart scientists teaching science to 10,000 kids than 500 mediocre ones.
Let’s talk more about the industry. What do you see going on that excites you?
Jason: I’ve been working in the IoT and network security spaces more recently, and I find both really exciting. The internet has and continues to grow very quickly, and we’re playing catch-up now – we have to make it more secure. Right now internet security is more about plugging holes than staying ahead of hackers. Companies are seeing huge stock swings, and part of keeping that at bay is having in-house cybersecurity systems, but the cable industry also needs to be a part of the solution. Our efforts need to be focused on creating secure systems rather than patching up holes in the current systems.
What about further into the future? What do you see happening 10 years from now?
Jason: The connection between the service providers and the end users is going to be a secure channel. Consumers are bringing connected healthcare devices into their homes, and they need to know that the data is secure. Right now there are layers of security on the networks, including firewalls, and that type of infrastructure needs to be extended into the communications provider.
There’s also going to be a lot more data being processed. That’s going to require massive processing power that can’t be based at a central point, so there’s going to be a lot more edge computing. If it’s too far away, there will be a delay, which we can’t afford with technologies like AI and AR.
When I asked you for a picture for this piece, you sent me the image (above) of you playing dodgeball with your coworkers at Midco. A startup entering a large enterprise can feel like it's being pelted from all sides. So how do you see the industry’s relationship with startups changing?
Jason: That’s the amazing thing about the Fiterator - you guys put these founders directly in front of executives in our industry. The guys at the top are the ones to go to, but it’s hard to get through their front door. The Fiterator has really bridged that gap and made it easier for startups to get through the critical phase.
|Xogo by Bansen Labs allows consumers of all abilities to stay connected to devices|
You’ve been involved since our first cohort. What’s your mentor superpower? What should startups be asking of you?
Jason: I’m an undying advocate for the teams I work with. For example, in Xogo’s case, I became an ambassador for them, presenting to healthcare people on IoT. But if I had to choose a superpower, I’d say that it’s my understanding of how a particular technology fits in from a network perspective.
A lot of time as a mentor is spent brainstorming, but not all good ideas lead to good outcomes. Have you ever had that happen to you?
Jason: Definitely. Around seven years ago we were going to build a really cool web interface for our customers so that they could see whether their networks were functioning. It had a ton of useful information on it, and we were getting it implemented - having used a ton of our budget already for it - when the [external] company developing components of it folded.
The moral of the story was to not put all of our eggs in one basket. The idea was good, but the way we executed put us in a tight spot. Now we focus more on MVPs that can be pieced together as they become successful.
That sounds like a startup favorite, ‘fail fast and fail forward.’
Jason: Yes, and I love that - even though engineers hate it. I’ve been trying to talk to our engineers about that, telling them that it’s okay if things break, as long as we learn from it and move forward. It’s a tough sell.
Why is it a tough sell?
Jason: There's this traditional mentality that you cannot fail. People are used to the idea that customers like their products to be consistent, even if they're not bleeding edge. We need to drive the idea that failure is okay - innovation and consistency are not mutually exclusive. They can (and should) co-exist.
It’s April now, and applications for the Fiterator close in a month. What’s your one-liner of advice for incoming Fiterator teams?
Jason: One word: listen.
Last question: we all know that startups are perpetually over-caffeinated. So, French press or Aeropress?
Jason: I own a French Press, but use a Chemex most of the time. I’m pretty sure an Aeropress makes espressos, but I would have to try one to tell you. Really, I’m down for any non-electric coffee maker - I prefer simplicity in the kitchen.
Jason Maki, everyone - passionate about failing forward, technology, and hand-brewed coffee.