Small Business Stories featuring Marc Ward

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Marc Ward joins the SBS podcast to discuss his company, Socian Technologies, and his efforts to support underrepresented business founders.

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Transcript

Vincent Aguirre: Hello, everyone, my name is Vincent Aguirre. I'm the host of the Small Business squad. Today, I have a special guest with me, Mark Ward, CEO of Socian Technologies. Mark and I met a few weeks ago through a program we're both participants in I graduated a few months back and Marcs in it now called G beta. And instantly I knew Mark was someone I wanted to bring on the show and share his background, what he's working on some of his passions, projects, and all these great things that I love about him. And I think everyone watching this will have a good time. So without further ado, I'm gonna welcome Marc onto the screen. How are you?

Marc Ward: Good morning. I'm great. How about you?

Vince: I'm good. I'm better now that I'm with you.

Marc: Dude, I feel the same way. It's like, one thing is that I'm such a fan of what you do, as you know, from the moment we met, and I know that you're good for a nice intelligent conversation on your show. So, I appreciate you making an exception for me.

Vince: Listen, I know you're going to carry us today. Without further ado, why don't you start carrying this conversation by telling us about your background?

Marc: Sure! For those who are mildly interested, I grew up as a Star Trek nerd. In real life, the original series Star Trek nerd. That kind of gate I think what I liked about it was the fact that there was always someone in engineering who had to solve a problem. Then I took it upon myself as a seven-year-old me to become an engineer. And I reverse engineered my parents VCR, which almost got my rear end, reverse engineered. Like take it apart a my, my mother yelled, “I'll kill you!” And I was like, okay, I put this thing back together. Taking the old way apart, and I put it all the way back together. So that's what my dad realized, like it might be something here, started helping him work on cars, develop that aptitude, went off to Roosevelt University, right here in Chicago. Studied political science because I wanted to help out my community. Then I volunteered for a couple of political campaigns. It was like, that's not the way to help. Nah, not the way to help. Took advantage of our bridge program went to, what was then known as John Marshall Law, which is now UIC law, to study law because I help my community through the system of jurisprudence. And once I clerked for a judge like, no, no, that's not it either. No, no, no. Kind of went back home, my dad Jimmy told me, “Well, you can't stay here. So, you either have to, you have to go to school, get a job or go to the military.” Neither one of those is appealing. So no, I decided to go back to that mechanical aptitude. I applied to MIT, I was accepted into a theoretical physics program with a focus on this brand-new thing called machine learning, its brand new no one ever heard about it. Like, what, what is this? What's a neural network? Unfortunately, I was unable to attend because they're kind of expensive, and I was kind of broke. But through perseverance, I stayed in touch with a lot of professors who kind of coached me through, I would get manage of the syllabus and continued learning on my own. I took those skills in the private sector started working for companies like U-Haul, Genesco, General Unblock, and building out infrastructures. And that is pretty much how I got here. Just a lot of pitfalls. But I'm here now.

Vince: That's incredible. I feel like I only knew like 5% of that coming in. I have a U-Haul story that I can't say on live afterward, because I have beef with U-Haul. And if I would have told you you were involved with U-Haul. I don't know if we'd be having this conversation right now. It's big beef.

Marc: Not a resume builder. I tell you that. Not a resume builder. They're like really? Well, I get that a lot.

Vince: Yeah, you know, I find it interesting, there's two things you said about your background that I noticed often. One is people who tinker as children and get in trouble, always tend to be creators and do great things with that tinkering once they're adults. But the other is people who look to politics or the public sector in general for making a change and then realize, like, “I can just do this on my own.” Like, there's too much red tape here. I wonder the impact I can make without that. So, I'm curious to hear more about like other tinkering projects that got you in trouble and then kind of what made you shift your mindset from the public sector into other things?

Marc: Oh, too many tinkering. Good old Bloom High School right. And if there's any old-faculty there, they're like this guy. He's still alive. Bloom has a science lab. Accidentally, I was like, “Huh, he's seen compounds. Let's see.” Like, they keep warning me about this. Oh, I wasn't even this dark before. It was actually far lighter. I would buy cars, back in those days you could buy cars from the junkyard. You could just buy an entire car. And I rebuilt cars. I still do that. I still do that as a little side hobby. I have a 2010 Mustang that I've been rebuilding during the Coyote motor. So even back then I would rebuild cars and I started realizing I learned about compression. And I would learn about all these things. And then I come and gone and, in those street, raising, a little bit. Tinker with the cars, you know?

Vince: That doesn't surprise me at all.

Marc: I may or may not have outrun law enforcement once.

Vince: I feel like I'm now I'm an accomplice to something. I don't know if we can…

Marc: Yeah, you have no plausible deniability. I took that for me.

7:10 Eliminating ‘Future Me's' from Destroying the Earth

Vince: Well, not to cut off your story. But I feel like your history of running from law enforcement allegedly could be a good segue into how you're looking to help law enforcement through Socian Technologies. Because I imagine if local law enforcement had your technology, it'd be much easier for them to keep up with the hooligan’s street racing, right?

Marc: I know right. They have to do far less work.

Vince: So, why don't you tell us how you're trying to crush the fun of children who are living your youth, through your current company.

Marc: I'm definitely eliminating ‘Future Me’s'. From the future, going back to the past, eliminating any ‘Future Me's' that are possible, we're destroying the earth. So, I'm doing with Socian Technologies. I was inspired, of course, when George Floyd was killed. And I was really, really sad. And I was tinkering in my little Batcave if you will. And I really kind of went on a rant by myself, I was just going nuts. And my son comes downstairs. He's, what's wrong with you? I was like, you don't understand. You could have been me, that could be you and it's just never gonna stop. And my son, I don't know why he looks at me. He's like, 13 years old. He looks at me and goes, “Well, why don't you just build something?” Like build some, you can't just build something to stop systematic racism and rampant crime through the streets, you'd have to build something like with advanced AI that acted like a mobile camera that responded to incidents and could record on the fly and offer feedback to law enforcement about what they're seeing and what they can't see. You have to build an entire infrastructure. You know what, go upstairs that gave me an idea. And don't eat my chicken when he walks in either. Which is the most important part of that story because he'd still ate.

Vince: Did he really?

Marc: Of course, he did. Of course, he does. He lives in the refrigerator, doesn't bother going to his room. He's cuddled up next to a plated chicken and refrigerator. Might as well. Why take the stairs?

Vince: Yeah. Path of least resistance.

10:04 Building Technology for the Community

Marc: It did, the kid smart. And then he wily. That's an old-fashioned term. He's wily, so as long as that is free racing. As long as he's not street racing, I'm okay with it. He's gonna do other things. We decided to have law enforcement out mainly because the thought is always, they didn't know what was going on. So, I had to take a sympathetic view to that, right? You can't villainize anyone through technology, you have to always have an open mind about what you're building and who you're building it for. So, it was I building this tech for the community, I had to build it for our law enforcement community as well. What I came up with was an advanced AI that could listen in on a 911 call, kind of parse it. And it's listening for keywords like gun knife, murder, all these different violent words. But contemporaneously, it's also kind of looking at your address, what, what's the history of this address? Has there been a history of violence? Have we been out to this address before? And most importantly, is there a history of mental illness at this address, because as we all know, and studies have shown this, that if you respond with a mental health professional, instead of armed militia, somebody might not get shot. And we want to be able to preserve those lives as well. Once our AI makes a determination pushes that determination to the 911 operator, the system autonomously will dispatch our drone. And the drone gets out there much faster than law enforcement can gets out to the scene begins recording only on scene. So, there is no surveillance, we record on scene. And we're giving feedback to law enforcement to continuously update them on what they're walking into. And then we'll record until the situation is over. And then the drone goes back to its nest. That's it.

Vince: I think it's just so cool. And, you know, being from Chicago myself, you and I've had this conversation. There are in some parts of the city they have gunshot trackers, right. They hear a gunshot camera turns on a stationary camera that's always there always in the corner, turns on, and starts to do surveillance. Talk to me about how your technology is different and better than that.

12:30 How Socian Technologies Differs from Other Tech Companies

Marc: I guess as I see you, I better say, “Oh, yeah, we're far better!” Now's not the time to be home. I think all the other things are half-measures. Right. Okay, gunshot detection. Great. We know where the gunshot was. But I don't think… here's the thing. Here's the thing. And I'm just gonna put it bluntly, for your audience because I think audiences get tired of being talked down to instead of being taught to, shooters don't shoot and stay. Shooters shoot and leave. Nobody shoots up. You don't shoot up a street party and go, “I got some food now. I think you're gonna grab some meat off that barbecue.” You don't do that. If you're a criminal, you're thinking, “Oh, I shot someone I gotta get out of here before the police arrive.” So, a gunshot detection is to have measure, yet we know where the gunshot came. But at the same time, you got 911 calls pouring in. Shooters long gone. For a future version of our drone, it will have a similar geo echolocation sensor where we can hear the gunshot. And the drone dispatch itself to that area, looking for what I call a social abnormality. Meaning, “Oh, we arrived in this area where the gunshot was heard. And we see a lot of people running. This is probably where it happened. And now we're looking for maybe a car driving away erratically. We're looking for.” So, little things that you can train and then stationary cameras, that's always a problem in Chicago. You're capturing only part of the story. You're capturing one angle, with us you get the entire story from an aerial view, which is why like, helicopters are always big, right? “Oh, we got to send out the helicopter.” But they're expensive to deploy, expensive to operate. We're cents on the dollar to operate.

14:37 How Socian Technologies Differs from Other Tech Companies

Vince: Yeah. I think when I talk with people about technology, they're always quick to become afraid of some of the negative repercussions right? And when you say drone, surveilling criminals and people go, “Oh, deep state, big brother.”, things like that. But especially in those areas like Chicago, where I'm specifically talking to you right now. These cameras are on the corner 24/7. So, when you talk about a drone that can come survey and leave? To me, that's a huge advance in the community aspect and the privacy of the community. I think there's a lot of really awesome potential specifically in those situations. But for you, and I've talked about this before, too, I'm based in a rural community. A lot of my clients and a lot of people watching this are in rural communities, talk about the capability of, a large county with maybe just a handful of sheriffs to cover the whole county how, how they could benefit from having this technology stationed around the county.

15:47 How Can Technology Save Lives

Marc: Absolutely. And for something like that, I actually have a scenario I'd like to give you. So, you have a beautiful rural county, and you got a couple sheriffs. And now we can't be everywhere at once. Again, these are human beings can't be everywhere at once. So, Mrs. Edna, who lives on a particular street and her cognitive abilities are starting to decline. But we love Miss Edna – Miss Edna looks outside of her window goes, “Someone's breaking into my neighbor's house, someone's in the police.” And she calls 911 and the 911 operators saying, “Okay, somebody's breaking in.”, “Yeah, it's a guy across the street.” Well, option one would be for you to take your sheriff who may be working another call, he could be eating like to just be in the bathroom. So, he's got to drop something get out there. With our option, the drone is deployed, it goes out goes directly to the address. And it looks across the street from Miss Edna. And it's giving automatic feedback to that 911 operator who still hasn't been said on the phone. And the 911 operator looking at her screen can say, “Miss Edna, I don't think you have anything to worry about. See that car, the person who's driving. Notice that it says Pizza Hut on the side. He's delivering pizza, okay?” This already saves your county money. It saves that area money; it saves it time. It stops the embarrassment of all these squad cars coming to our house. It just, and all great startups either save you money or save time or save lives. Those are the three big ones. So, once we're out there, we can record it. It's just a pizza guy. It can leave we make a note. You know, ‘Miss Edna suspicious of the pizza guy.' Now, let's play that out a different way. Let's say no, there's a guy really kicking the door it. Okay, same thing we can get out there provided feedback to him and said that to make sure she locks her door while we now dispatch human officers to the scene. Human officers who know exactly what's going on now. “Guy with green pants, black shirt. He's already made entry into the house.” Law enforcement isn't guessing. Once they get there. They know exactly what they're doing.

Vince: Yeah. It's fantastic. It's so cool. Well, you're trying hard. And you're and you're doing good work. So, speaking of trying hard one thing, I'm starting to ask people as we're interviewing as we're going on live, and you can take a minute to really think about this if you need because I didn't prepare you for this. But what have been some challenges that have forced you to grow in specifically in this business? Everyone talks about entrepreneurship and growing a business. And you hear all the good stories you hear about Mark Zuckerberg, right? People don't talk about those challenging moments. So, is there anything that comes to mind if that's kind of challenge you to force you to grow?

19:07 Challenges That Helped You Grow

Marc: Tons, tons of things. Yeah, literally tons and tons and tons. And you and I have talked about a few of them. But one thing is social media has created this idea of the overnight success story. “Oh, yeah. We have raised $600 million back of a napkin.” And sure, does happen. It does. But not for every idea. And when you start… if you're not prepared for the rejection, if you're not prepared for the “Hey, this is a great idea but no. Oh, yeah, I love this idea. But you're too early.” It says if people say, “Oh, we invented the idea stage.” and they respond with a, “Little too early.”, it can be deemed motivational. You've got to stay the course. So, those are some things I had to get over. Going from, as you say, The Tinkerer, right, going from The Tinkerer to, “Oh, man, I'm running a company. Oh, wow.” It's a shift. It's a paradigm shift, right? Because I'm responsible. Responsible. I've never been responsible in my life. What? Yeah, it is.

Vince: You have power now.

Marc: I have power. It's crazy. So, those things, just the growing pains of having a company, is this the right investor? Is this the right capital? Am I releasing the right product at the right time? Doesn't have the right features. It can be overwhelming. So make sure you get a great support system. Join a great accelerator. Like I don't know. Maybe like, what is that? The G-beta, Gmail? top of my head? I've talked my head.

Vince: Anyone heard about it.

Marc: It's a great one and didn't really think about it. The G-beta program that has so much built into it, and then you guys have been so helpful and even offering advice. So yeah, but it's a lot. It's a loaded question. Like you wake up every day, be prepared. You got to think to yourself, if you can't do this, every day for the next five years minimum, don't do it. You can't wake up and love it every day. Don't do it.

Vince: Yeah, absolutely. And to that point, what is your long-term vision? In the perfect world as far as the mission and the good you can do as a company. What does that look like in 10 years, 20 years? Strategic drink of water. I like it.

Marc: Yeah, yeah. That is definitely not water. That is vodka.

Vince: It's only 10:30 in Chicago, great.

Marc: I had to kill this interview. I had to get loose. It will be to go to have some being the good guy or the bad guy. I'll be Dr. Evil shards of laser beams on their heads. I'm gonna be that guy. I was a nice guy and I'm the evil overlord, you know, running things need some Avengers-level team to stop me.

Vince: So, here's the beauty of that joke. In 20 years, when your company's public and you're in every major city, someone's going to find this, bring it up, and start a conspiracy theory against you. And now I'm going to be involved in a conspiracy theory. So, I'm honored to be a conspiracy theorist.

Marc: You're definitely involved, it was an entire Cabal. Entire Cabal involved. Actually, I wouldn't what I'm aiming for in 10 years, is for us to become the Samsung, of the public safety sector, to always push for the great innovative products that make your city smarter and safer. Because that's what we're doing right, with this tech we're introducing IoT (Internet of Things) to cities, we're making them smart. So, why not keep that ball rolling and keep making products that just make people feel comfortable? At home again?

Vince: Absolutely. Oh, absolutely. I love that. I love that. Yeah, that's fantastic. And I know you're gonna do it.

Marc: And a few sharks right of laser beams.

Vince: Yeah, a couple days don't hurt. They try to make dolphins work in the military, right? Surely you can get sharks to work for us.

Marc: Yeah, I need you… I believe when I do, my employee values you. Open up the Shark Tank.

Vince: Nothing like real fear in the workplace to make people…

Marc: Like a good dose of fear. And you got to do it at like nine in the morning. Like it's soon as they get it, “Well, yeah, it's Shark Tank time.”

Vince: Oh man. I can't wait for this to research. This is gonna be fantastic. So, we normally keep these out 30 minutes, we're at 25 minutes right now. What would you like to share? Is there anything we haven't touched on that you feel it was important to get out? Or you know, maybe tell people how they can find you or even who you're looking to connect with? Maybe someone watching can help connect you with someone. Let you kind of take the floor and close us out with those types of things.

Marc: Really? You don't say… Halle Berry if you're watching…

Vince: Hold on, for that kind of call out. You need to be the focus. Hold on. Go for it.

Marc: Listen, Holly. For years now you and I have played this cat and mouse thing. I've avoided you avoided your calls and emails and you've seen me in the street, and you've run away. That's all right. I'm not kidding. Oh, my God. Halle, I'm ready now. I wasn't ready then. But I'm ready now. Sure, you have kids.

Vince: But I have drones.

Marc: But I have drones. We can watch the kids with the drones. I love you. Now, that'd be hard to get out like Halle Berry's. Like what? Why is this weirdo talking to me?

Vince: Hold on. She's sending the drones. This is getting weird.

Marc: Oh, yeah, that's the new publicity leak, “Tech nerd sends drones to follow Halle Berry around.” That'd be great. You guys can find me on social media Marc Ward, at Twitter.com/socian08. That's really where I'm most active. Find me on LinkedIn, Mark Ward, M-A-R-C, it makes sure to the C, not a K. Important. I'm very contemporary. But mostly what I'd like to say it's our company is out here to do good. As you can tell, I'm a guy who doesn't mind laughing at himself for the world. But make sure to be good to each other. And if you are starting a business, we go to yourself and take care of your mental health. And let's just do right by people. We've had enough jerks for a while. So, let's try to be good to one another.

Vince: Absolutely. I love that. Well, Marc, as you know already, you're always welcome to come and chat. This is definitely the most fun I've had in a while. So, I can tell how boring my life is. I'm just kidding. Yeah. I'm not gonna tell you what was in my two different beverages. It is Friday. You know… Indiana, so, it's all about having a good time. Thank you very much. I stick around after I shut down the stream love to catch up with you offline. But you got hopefully we'll do this again soon.

Marc: Hopefully let's get it done.

Vince: For sure. All right. I'll talk to you soon.

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