Driving innovation: How 3 LA tech leaders encourage their teams to think outside the box

by Michael Hines
May 31, 2019

Creating a culture of innovation is crucial for any technology company with goals to grow and leave a lasting impact on its industry. Of course, building culture is about more than writing words down on an “About Us” page. To truly establish and cement a culture of innovation, companies need tech leaders who are committed to giving their teams the opportunity to try new things and work with cutting-edge technologies.

We recently spoke with three such local tech leaders about how they drive innovation at their companies, the new technologies their teams are eyeing and the big projects they’re working on.

 

Appetize Los Angeles tech jobs

Appetize’s cloud-based enterprise point-of-sale technology is used by professional sports teams, restaurants, entertainment venues and more to offer customers a more streamlined ordering experience. CTO Alain Avakian said the company’s commitment to diversity in hiring has been crucial in building a team that thinks outside the box when working on new projects.

 

What are the biggest projects your team is working on this year?

At Appetize, we pride ourselves on being innovators in the point of sale industry. We are laser focused on improving efficiency for our customers, while also providing them with real-time intelligence to analyze and act on data.  

We constantly monitor industry trends and customer needs. This year, we’ve seen interest in self-service at an all-time high, so the team is especially focused on evolving our kiosk product with a newly designed user interface and more robust functionality. Across our entire product suite, we are enhancing our real-time analytics with a more robust data warehouse built for speed, scale and accuracy.

 

When it comes to thinking outside the box, it starts with hiring a diverse team with varying backgrounds and coding experience.”

How do you encourage your team to think outside the box, and are there any new technologies you’re eyeing for the future?

Our technology organization makes up nearly 75 percent of the company. When it comes to thinking outside the box, it starts with hiring a diverse team with varying backgrounds and coding experience. By doing so, it brings employees with different experiences and perspectives together to drive innovation and build new products. Beyond that, we host bi-weekly Lunch-and-Learns as a way for the team to come together and discuss new technologies, architectures and roadblocks.

We’ve also invested in regular hackathons to foster innovation within our products. Our most recent hackathon winner developed a facial scanning technology for kiosks that reacts based on gender, expression or team colors. Right now we’re investing in instrumentation across our entire platform to help the team concentrate on areas that have the biggest impact on quality, security and performance.

 

NEXT Trucking Los Angeles tech jobs

 

NEXT Trucking’s end-to-end shipping logistics platform is designed to help shippers and carriers work more efficiently and with more flexibility. VP of Engineering Chris Lankford said that, when it comes to big projects and implementing new technologies, his team is guided by the company’s mission to serve its drivers and make its platform as painless to use as possible.

 

What are the biggest projects your team is working on this year?

One of the projects we are implementing is our freight marketplace, where drivers can choose loads curated for them based on their driving habits and preferences. Our goal is to fully automate the experience for drivers at yard facilities via optical character recognition technology, dynamic routing and optimization algorithms to manage yard space so drivers spend less time idling and more time making money!

Our other major initiative is increasing driver engagement. We are building machine learning algorithms that enable drivers to make more money using route optimization and bundled loads that minimize drive time. All of this requires us to collect data from multiple sources, both within our product ecosystem and outside of it. To do this, we are utilizing Airflow to manage data ingestion. Intelligent use of data improves the lives of consumers, terminal operators, drivers and minimizes environmental impact through increased efficiency.  

 

One of the ways I encourage my team to think outside the box is to use our mission and vision to ideate and realize the future state of our products, services and technology.”

How do you encourage your team to think outside the box, and are there any new technologies you’re eyeing for the future?

One of the ways I encourage my team to think outside the box is to use our mission and vision to ideate and realize the future state of our products, services and technology. Our vision statement, “painless freight,” is deliberately broad and is an excellent catalyst for coming up with product and technology platform enhancements. We ask the questions: Where is there an opportunity to remove pain? How does our continuous delivery pipeline help us remove pain for our customers? How does our use of Kubernetes or Terraform minimize pain for our shippers?

Looking ahead, we are keeping our eyes on two big categories of technology. One technology we are looking to introduce is service meshes to make managing a polyglot microservice environment easier. The other category is data simulations. Specifically, we want to build simulations to help us better predict supply and demand in our marketplace so we can maintain consistently high levels of liquidity.

 

Lumi Los Angeles tech jobs

Lumi’s software is used by online brands like Casper, MeUndies, FabFitFun and more to optimize and manage their packaging supply chain. According to Senior Product Manager Brian Kobler, before kicking off a new project his team asks three questions to decide if what they’ll be working on is truly important and impactful.

 

What are the biggest projects your team is working on this year?  

We’re working on several big projects that will directly impact our ability to scale. We’re focused on increasing transparency and collaboration between our customers and manufacturers. We’re essentially bringing old-school supply chain operations online with platform features that will allow customers to easily collaborate with our team to request quotes, submit orders, view and validate pricing received from manufacturers and check on production statuses. All of these capabilities center around providing more transparent sourcing, purchasing and billing experiences for our customers, something very few folks — if any — in our industry are doing.

 

Before every new project, we make sure we’re focused on the right problem for the right group of people at the right point in time.”

How do you encourage your team to think outside the box, and are there any new technologies you’re eyeing for the future?

Before every new project, we make sure we’re focused on the right problem for the right group of people at the right point in time. We do this by answering these questions: What outcomes are we aiming to achieve? Whose lives are we impacting? Why is this important right now?

We often look at adjacent industries to identify common design patterns, then combine them with our own unique set of tools to deliver something that’s never been designed or built before, like our product and packaging specification engine.

We researched several tools and patterns while developing a new set of technologies for modeling and exchanging product specifications by focusing on solving core problems around the structuring and transferring of data required by manufacturers. The result is an advanced data modeling engine masked by a simple user interface. Later this year we'll experiment with exposing more of our specification tools directly to customers in hopes of establishing a new set of standardized protocols across the entire manufacturing industry.

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