Expert Interview Series: David Karnstedt of Quantifind
David Karnstedt is the CEO at Quantifind, which has a mission to empower people to make better decisions that combine human intuition with the voice of intelligent data.
We recently asked David for his advice to recent graduates in the engineering field on best practices for their career and what the steps to success look like. Here’s what he had to say:
Tell us about your early years and how they contributed to who you are today.
When I first graduated from the University of Illinois, the job market was extremely tight. A lot of new grads were applying for the same jobs, so the ability to differentiate myself was crucial. I think my philanthropic and entrepreneurial spirit, specifically, helped me to stand out among my peers with employers.
At the age of 10, I used to mow lawns — not two or three, but 30 — every week. I couldn’t drive, so I started with mowing my own lawn and a neighbor noticed me doing it and asked me to do theirs. This is a great example of how powerful word-of-mouth marketing comes into play – and this was well before the days of social media. Pretty soon, I was mowing a bunch of lawns in my suburb outside Chicago. I even bought my own equipment.
Once I reached college, I had to work a lot of different jobs to afford my education. I started as a bouncer at a bar, was a short order cook and eventually bartended. I was also a campus representative for Old Style Beer and sold it to fraternities. One of my craziest jobs was getting hired to move soda machines onto Airforce bases. I learned that it was important to take a little something away from every job because it helps make you better at the next one.
What did you learn growing up?
Whether you are a lower level employee or a manager, you want to surround yourself with people who do good work, are ethical, and understand the importance of being professional even if they are not necessarily in a professional setting. You should look for both a skill set and culture fit. It’s a lot more fun that way. Who wants to work with people that they don’t like working with?
Who has been your biggest influence?
Dan Rosensweig at Yahoo. He was at the forefront of digital marketing taking-off and spearheaded the growth and scale at Yahoo. I met him very early in my career when he was at PC Magazine. His enthusiasm for what he did was inspiring.
My two biggest takeaways from working with him were:
- Cultivate passion and enthusiasm for winning, specifically through revenue growth and hiring great people. It’s imperative to focus on talent and culture fit. You can have the most qualified candidate on paper, but if you don’t get along with them on a foundational level, their experience is moot.
- Trust your gut instinct. If it’s not fair to the company or anyone else to keep an employee that doesn’t fit there, it’s probably best to let them go. You have to focus on all levels within the organization.
What motivates you to succeed?
My friend Jeremy Bloom, who was 5’8”, 180 pounds in college, drafted into the NFL and now the CEO of a successful marketing automation company, Integrate, once asked me, “What’s your legacy?” What drives me is seeing all the cool things people I have worked with are doing now and knowing that I may have helped influence their careers.
Having mentored people at many different companies and having helped them realize their full potential, has given me energy to succeed personally and professionally. Someday a 25-year-old Stanford grad will be a CEO. If I can help him get to that spot, that motivates me like nothing else.
What career and life advice do you give to new college grads?
There is so much pressure on college students and recent grads to know what they want to do. Instead of focusing on this question, they should be asking, “What is the direction I want to take?” Do I want to be a manager? Your path is unique and knowing your destination is more important than knowing the next step.
What was your biggest failure and how did you recover?
My biggest failures were never bad things that happened at work. My failures came when I was too focused at work, losing balance between my work and personal life. It’s important to actually be present in the personal events that occur in your life. If you are one of those people constantly checking your iPhone, it takes a toll after a while.
How do you define Success?
I think success has a role to play on multiple levels: the success of the business, the people, and getting the most out of the market opportunity as possible.
What is the one piece of advice you’d give to young, entrepreneurial-minded engineers who want to launch a company?
It’s always better to have an A plus team and a B idea vs an A idea and a B team because A teams always figure out how to pivot to find the right product market fit.
What do you think of the opportunities out there today for engineers, salary and career potential?
It’s never been a stronger market for well-qualified engineers and data scientists. Data scientists are the new artists of our generation. There is a higher demand for people to fill this role than there are people qualified for it.
One good piece of advice is to never stop learning. The code base is now radically different than it was just five years ago – you have got to keep adding new skill sets to your repertoire.
If you could have done anything differently, what would you have changed?
I stayed with a couple opportunities longer than I should have and quit learning and growing. You can’t get that time back. In fact, I can think of several instances when I stayed at a job longer than I should have. Know when it is time to look for the next opportunity and listen to that intuition.