Ken Fichtler is a multi-time entrepreneur, angel investor, and proven leader who’s tackling the problem of real-time impairment testing with Gaize. He previously served as Director of Economic Development for the State of Montana, founded three companies, TEDxBozeman. Ken has been featured in a variety of publications, including WIRED Magazine. He lives in Missoula, Montana, and enjoys a broad variety of outdoor activities.
My name is Ken Fichtler, and I’m the founder and CEO of Gaize. We’ve developed a new way to test for active impairment from drugs and alcohol using eye movement analyzed by artificial intelligence. We’re excited to be bringing new technology to bear on the problem of drunk and high driving. We’re headquartered in Missoula, Montana.
Oprah once quoted ‘Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher’. How important is it to you to surround yourself with the right people?
Humans are inherently social creatures, and we’re deeply influenced by our tribe. There have been many studies that validate this – for example, it’s widely quoted that your earnings are the average of your five closest friends. With that in mind, it couldn’t be more important to surround yourself with people who will elevate you, challenge you, and drive you to do better. You’ll almost certainly find that you rise to the occasion.
Nelson Mandela once quoted – ‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’
What has been one fear you have overcome?
The fear of failure is something that every entrepreneur experiences. For some, it’s overpowering enough that they never start. For others, it can be turned into motivation to show up and drive toward your goals every day. I’m no exception, and the fear of failure is something that’s omnipresent. I’ve learned to overcome that by challenging my assumptions to the point that I’m confident in my path forward and then working diligently to get there. I’ve also been fortunate to be able to surround myself with positive, talented people who help me through the dark days and serve as a sounding board.
Tell us what the word “empowerment” means to you?
Empowerment is the knowledge that you have the ability and permission to work toward a goal. Both of those must be present to feel truly empowered. If you have the ability but not the permission, you’ll be held back and ultimately will feel discouraged. If you have the permission without the ability, you can’t actually succeed at what you’re working on.
What has been one of the biggest business ideas you have had and how did you have the courage to implement it?
One of the biggest business ideas I’ve had and implemented was use artificial intelligence to evaluate the data from our tests. This can be done more rapidly, and more accurately than the current (human-centric) process. I knew that the development would be expensive and challenging, but that the outcome could be revolutionary. Finding the courage was something that took me many months of conversations with my partner, de-risking it with researchers and customers, and ultimately, deep introspection.
Running your own business can be scary. Success requires moments of courage to push through to the next level, please tell us one of the moments you have had to push through to take your business to the next level?
Gaize is a very young company, but the one moment that leaps to mind is when we launched. That’s a scary time for any company, but for a startup, it’s even more so. Failure with a single product can mean the failure of the whole business, and knowing when to launch can be extremely challenging. The product has to be ready enough, but you won’t have the time or resources to make sure it’s perfect. It’s all the other intangibles that you can provide as a small company that make the difference. Get ready to do things that don’t scale, provide outstanding customer service, and deal with any problems with a white glove approach.
Tell us what attributes you feel make a good leader in business today?
Leadership is all about surrounding yourself with great people, and empowering them to do what they need to succeed. Ensure that incentives are aligned too, but never stand in the way of your people doing good work. I think that I’m an effective leader because I can help people see the vision that we’re building a company around (get them rowing the same direction), and then set them loose on things that matter. We all wear a lot of hats at Gaize, and it takes that to make a startup work.
What is your favourite quote about empowerment?
“Fear is the thief of dreams.”
While this may not seem like an empowerment-related quote, I believe it is deeply so. Fear is one of the most fundamental human emotions, and managing that as a person and leader is vital. Empowerment for leaders is about helping your employees operate without fear so they can be creative, positive, and engaged.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start their own business?
There are two pieces of advice that I think are most important for people who want to start a business. The first is to choose a problem that actually matters. Entrepreneurship is one of the hardest things a person can do. It’s a marathon of emotional and financial hardship with extremely long house and it can be very lonely. In order to get up and face that every day with the attitude it’ll take to make the company succeed, you must be working on something you actually care about. Second, be extremely honest with yourself about whether or not you’re ready. It takes extreme focus, lots of time (that’s unpaid), and unfailing belief in your company to make it. If you have doubts about your tenacity, think twice about entrepreneurship.
What would be one (1) question you would you ask the person who most inspires you? Also share with us about this person and why they inspire you?
When are we getting fusion energy?
I’d ask this of Chris Sacca. He inspires me because he seems to have real backbone and works diligently on problems that matter.
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