Pro Athlete to Diplomat to CEO: Valuable Lessons VoxCroft CEO Casey Schmidt Learned in Government
December 15, 2020 · 7 min read
- Fred Lutz
The VoxCroft team has over 40 years of combined experience in the open-source intelligence industry. Industry veterans, such as Casey Schmidt, lead the team to create industry-leading intelligence products. We asked Casey what lessons he's learned over his career in government that make him a better CEO of a tech company like VoxCroft.
Fred: Hi Casey, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. So I hear your career actually started as a soccer player?
Casey: First of all, thanks so much for taking the time to interview me. Yeah, my journey to VoxCroft started as a professional soccer player about 20 years ago. For a long time, soccer was my life and my passion. I played it ever since I was very young, and I was exceptionally fortunate to play for the U.S. junior national team, receive a full scholarship at Boston College, and then play professionally in the United States' Major League Soccer.
But for me, I always saw soccer as this vector to pursue other things that I truly cared about. There was traveling, getting exposed to different cultures, teamwork, collaboration, leadership, and simply being a positive influence in the world — these are all things and values that I had ingrained in me ever since I was very young, and I always saw soccer as this vehicle to explore them. I worked and trained hard to be a better player — often at the expense of a normal teenage and college experience. But I knew my success on the field would open doors off the field to make a positive change in the world.
Professional soccer was fun, exciting, and challenging. But while many saw professional athletics as the pinnacle of one's career, I was itching at that time to start something new and take my life in a different direction. I felt that I had taken soccer and that vehicle as far as it could go, and it was time to transition into a career of world politics and international affairs. Stepping away from soccer was an agonizing decision, but I couldn't be more pleased with the path I chose, and my destination at VoxCroft today.
F: You've had a career of over 15 years working in different roles in government, including a diplomat and an open-source bureau chief. What made you decide to make the jump into a tech company?
C: When you look at my career more broadly, it doesn't seem to make sense. You go from athletics to the public sector into a tech company that builds artificial intelligence. But it's all connected by a desire to make a difference. I am a very purpose-driven individual, and was drawn to work for the U.S. government because I could use my life experience and my education to keep people safe, and foster international partnerships and stability around the world.
The opportunity did not disappoint. I served my country as a diplomat where I helped the United States lead a famine response in Somalia and broker peacekeeping activities in Sudan and South Sudan. I led foreign policy analysis teams that informed the President of the United States and supported critical national security decisions. I loved working for the U.S. government, and I'm very thankful for the opportunities I had there, and the people I worked with.
But in my last position for the U.S. government in Cape Town, South Africa, I worked with a truly remarkable team that is the VoxCroft team that I'm working with now. In government, you're often surrounded by very, very smart people. Folks that have gone to Harvard, University of Chicago, Oxford, and have a lot of experience. But all too often, these highly talented individuals and teams don't click and underperform. It's an unnecessarily competitive and counterproductive environment, and you are left wondering what's the point of all the talent if you can't unlock all that experience and make it sing into a team that is highly productive and drives innovation.
When I worked with the team in South Africa, it was just truly magical. Super smart people, but a work unit that was very inclusive, challenged each other, and was just a true innovative force delivering automated solutions that fixed so many real-world problems. Everyone within the team viewed the world differently and brought a unique skillset to the table. But these differences were strengths. They yielded better products and better business solutions. By the end of my time in South Africa, it was crystal clear this group and their new company called VoxCroft Analytics would be my new vehicle to solve complex global problems. I genuinely feel that the VoxCroft team is rare and special — we can solve any problem you bring us, and I think our technology and early results are proving my intuition.
F: So in your words, what does VoxCroft do?
C: I think it's a very simple concept. We empower leaders and organizations to make better decisions. Period.
The world is incredibly unpredictable and unstable — there's just constant change and volatility. So for your business to thrive in this type of environment, where there's so much information — so much conflicting information, so much politicized information — we use our technology and our expertise to distill all that information down into information that truly matters to you, so you can make the best decision possible.
And that's a hard thing to do. Building the right technology, using the right forms of artificial intelligence and machine learning and matching that up with the right expertise on the human side is no easy task, but I feel that in VoxCroft we've been able to do that. The results that we see with the type of insights and intelligence that we're giving business leaders around the world is truly helping organizations thrive.
F: So Casey, what lessons have you learned from your career in government that has helped you be a better CEO for a tech company?
C: So, I have three primary lessons.
First and foremost, it's taking care of your team and taking care of your people. Even at the CEO level, it is just absolutely essential that you pay attention to your people and ensure your company is happy, inspired, and engaged. I spend a lot of time thinking about business strategy, resources, and product-market fit. But I spend most of my time thinking about our people and our company culture. You can't just direct people to be innovative, you must actively build trust with your teams, empower them with autonomy, and give them the resources to create new value, new products, new processes. You must genuinely care for your staff, be thoughtful and consider the life stressors outside the office. All of this takes time and a ton of effort. But it's worth it. I learned with all my teams that when you focus most of your attention on the health of your people and your corporate culture, that truly leads to better results on the product side.
Number two is to focus more on the trajectory of your business, not on perfection. I think working in government, especially in the national security space where you often have lives on the line, there is the impetus for perfection and to never make mistakes. But I think we all know that's impossible. When you focus on perfection, even the smallest mistake can become toxic within your team and toxic to customers. So to be a good leader, focusing on the momentum that your team has, focusing on the momentum that your mission has, and the trajectory of your overall performance is exceptionally important to ensure your customers and your team see where you are going.
With that, if you have this momentum, being opportunistic with your business is very important. In government, where things frequently muddle along slowly, different opportunities come and go, and you have to be there to strike when the iron is hot, and have your team primed to go all-in when you think you have something that will truly make a difference on the policy side. VoxCroft is using that ethos with different customer sets in different industries where we see that there's a space to exploit and get our product out there. We move quickly, we move fast, and we move with conviction.
Then the last lesson is staying calm. In government, again where you are dealing with lives on the line and a customer set that is very demanding, every little problem can seem like a fire that needs to be put out. You can have this corporate culture or office culture where you're ambulance chasing and everyone's just running around frantic. But as a leader, consistently staying calm and being that calm face in front of your team is just critical again in keeping that momentum and ensuring everyone can keep their eye on the longer term prize.
F: Thanks Casey. So what is your dream for VoxCroft?
C: Now this is the fun stuff! I have a threefold dream for VoxCroft. My first dream is to disrupt the risk analytics industry and become a leader in that space. We truly believe that we have a new form of tradecraft where you are blending human intelligence and artificial intelligence and machine intelligence into something that is delivering the highest quality insight for our customers. And with that, we feel we can capture market share from other global leaders that offer primarily consulting services, or primarily tech solutions — we believe we have a formula that brings the most valuable elements of human and machines together to disrupt and lead the industry.
The second goal is a little more nuanced. We also want to be a disruptor of corporate culture worldwide. I've talked a lot about how our people and our corporate culture are the most important things in business. And so with us, I want VoxCroft to become the most rewarding and inspiring place where any employee can work. This does not necessarily mean we're going to adopt this culture of letting a thousand flowers bloom and where everyone shows up wearing board shorts and flip flops — even though having that laid back atmosphere is nice! What I really mean is that VoxCroft is striving to become an unparalleled place for the highest quality talent in the world to be challenged, to be inspired, to work with other incredibly talented people, and solve the world's most vexing challenges.
We are the fiercest purveyors of growing people and ensuring VoxCroft is a vehicle for both professional and personal enrichment. We believe this attitude, this quest, to create the most rewarding and inspiring place for anyone to work, is real leadership and that's where a lot of our commercial success will come.
Lastly, we want to be a part of world-changing solutions that benefit humanity and our planet. We are very excited to launch our Project Florence in 2021 — a push to apply our technology and services into the humanitarian, disaster relief, and development domains. With our values, we believe human-centered artificial intelligence and data driven analytics should be accessible to organizations both big and small. So whether it's rolling out COVID-19 vaccinations in developing countries or augmenting aid worker security in conflict zones, we want VoxCroft to be there behind the scenes helping organizations address these massive global challenges.
F: Thanks Casey, and thanks so much for taking the time.
C: I appreciate it, absolute pleasure.
To find out how the VoxCroft solutions could help you in your industry, schedule a call here.