Working Geek: iDatalabs CEO Lokesh Dave says startup life actually supports a work-family balance

Lokesh Dave takes a cycling break from his startup, iDatalabs. (Photo courtesy of Lokesh Dave)

Since college, Lokesh Dave had an itch to start his own tech company. But a Microsoft internship led to a software engineering job, and that cozy bubble proved tough to escape.

“You sort of live in that world and lose contact with the outside,” Dave said. He worked for the software giant for 12 years, then spent two years at the game developer Zynga.

Five years ago he broke free, taking the plunge into startups. After co-founding a sports-management business, Dave launched iDatalabs, a business based in Bellevue, east of Seattle, that helps B2B companies land new customers using modern data science. iDatalabs uses AI to predict which companies a business should be targeting and why they’re a good fit.

“I really enjoy and get lot of gratification from building something from end to end,” said Dave. And he’s glad to be free of the bureaucracy and organizational layers that can drag at a bigger business.

“Life is short, Dave said.

Startup life has allowed him to breakdown walls between work and home life as well. When he can, he lets his 13-year-old son help with some of iDatalabs’ more entertaining work projects, including setting organizational goals and creating a video-taped presentation for a large conference. He wonders, though, if his son is only seeing the fun parts of running a startup.

“The thing he does need to learn is that it’s about perseverance and execution and not just [coming up with] the idea,” Dave said. “I probably also need to expose him to the downs and the small failures as well.”

We caught up with Dave for this week’s Working Geek feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: “Bellevue”

Computer types: “Mac”

Mobile devices: “iPhone”

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “Google! In today’s world a lot of information is just a click away. I am constantly learning and searching. Another favorite is IPython Notebook, an interactive Python interpreter that runs in the browser.”

Lokesh Dave at iDatalabs, currently located in a WeWork space in Bellevue, Wash. (iDatalabs Photo)

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “We work out of WeWork and love the office layouts and the overall environment. We like to mix it up and give it our own flavor. Within a few feet of the desks, you will find comfortable sofa chairs to take a break, or play a game of darts. We’ve revisited our office layout quarterly, optimizing seating for collaboration. Generally, the goal is that you can look over the shoulders or talk while at your desk with the people you are most likely to collaborate with on a daily basis. We are lucky to have an office with views of Mount Rainier, Lake Washington and the Olympic Mountains — whenever we have clear days.

My personal space has changed over time. When I was actively coding, I used to be fixated about my desk setup and how the multiple monitors aligned together. Now, it’s more optimized for mobility as I spend time in and out of meetings.”

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “Mix it up! I personally find it difficult to not see some overlap with personal life if one is passionate about their work. It’s practically impossible to completely switch yourself off from something you are deeply immersed in. One thing I do is try to involve my family with some of the fun aspects of work, not the stressful stuff and the daily grind.

It goes other way around as well. At work, we see aspects of our personal life showing up and I think that’s great. We have a few people in our team who are passionate about fitness, and we are going to have our second monthly fitness challenge coming up soon. We try to hang out frequently for lunches and happy hours so we can socialize. It is obviously important to not overdo it. It’s also important to find frequent release valves from the usual grind  — both at home and at work. I’m a firm believer of taking time off from work a few times a year to unwind.”

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “Quora is where I spend some time every night, before going to sleep. There are some very smart people there, and it’s great that they share their insights. I especially enjoy the responses from Jason Lemkin and his thoughts on building and scaling a SaaS company. Not surprisingly, as a company we’re contributing to the knowledge base on Quora. Our team has hundreds of responses on questions regarding usage and popularity of various IT products. This helps the readers on Quora and also drives valuable traffic to our company website.”

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “Around 10. Anything that needs follow up later becomes a reminder in Slack.”

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “Typically half of my day is spent in meetings, average around four a day.”

How do you run meetings? “Many times a good meeting is one that can be avoided in the first place. Maybe use Slack or just walk over to someone’s desk to have a conversation. For meetings that involve multiple people, it’s important to have a clear purpose and an understanding of the expected outcomes before setting up the meeting. An ideal meeting is where there’s plenty of collaboration and people come out of the meeting feeling good about the progress made.”

Everyday work uniform? “Usually jeans and either a shirt or t-shirt. A teammate pointed out that I like puffy jackets.”

Lokesh Dave, CEO and founder of iDatalabs. (iDatalabs Photo)

How do you make time for family? “It’s about quality over quantity. I drop my son off at school in the morning, and when we’re talking about random things, it’s always fun. We’re always looking for ways to spend time together, and we just got a puppy named Churro. He is another way of bringing family together over small everyday things.”

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “Spending time outdoors, whether it’s hiking, climbing or cycling. Writing code relaxes me too, especially if it’s not work related.”

What are you listening to? “My car always has NPR on. Nowadays I spend my time listening to podcasts as well. A couple that I like are a16z, a podcast from the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, and SaaStr.”

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “I start my day looking at BBC News. In my leisure, it’s Hacker News, Reddit and Quora.”

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Currently I’m reading ‘From Impossible to Inevitable’ by Aaron Ross and Jason Lemkin. It’s a good read, it’s not a page-turner, it’s something where you want to pace yourself through it.  When you read a 300-page book, usually a couple of things that stick in your brain for a long time and have a lasting impression, and that’s what I’m looking for.”

Night owl or early riser? “Both! Used to be a night owl, but we have a team in India. Earlier on, they would start working at 4 a.m. here, and it got me used to waking early; I was already used to working late, so nowadays I just do both. I function fine with five or six hours of sleep and find it hard to sleep more — even on weekends or vacations.”

Where do you get your best ideas? “For me, most good ideas come while collaborating, brainstorming with team members on whiteboards. We are lucky to have a talented group of people at iDatalabs and we spend a good amount of time working on challenging problems. There’s a running joke in the team about running out of whiteboard markers. With our India team, we had a couple of working vacations — once to the Himalayas and another time to a quiet coastal town.”

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate?“Jeff Bezos! Jeff is relentless in his long-term pursuits and maintaining customer focus, both key company principles for us. What is very impressive is his ability to do balance long-term focus with rapid innovation.”

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