Adeel Zaman is a CTO who never imagined himself as a CTO. Now he’s leading the technical team at DOZR in Kitchener. Read here about what gets him out of bed in the morning and the advice he has for other leaders.
What’s your major internal motivation for doing what you do?
My passion in life is to solve complex problems that help the world. A few years ago, when I thought about how I can best work towards this goal, it made sense to me that there is a dire need for more people to work on utilizing the awesome plethora of breakthroughs coming out of the deep learning research community to tackle real world problems. In short, working on building AI-powered products that solve important world problems seemed like a fun and meaningful goal to strive towards. I have tried to do that through my last two startups and currently am fortunate enough to do the same with Dozr.
One interesting aspect of Dozr that keeps me motivated throughout the long nights is that if Dozr succeeds, everything we build in our civilization will cost less. We as a society will be more efficient at building infrastructure, homes, everything, and that’s an inspiring thought!
I love it because there are a lot of challenges day to day. We’re working on a matchmaking algorithm to match and suggest equipment for people using DOZR but equipment moves frequently so we need need to do this in real time. We have to employ machine learning and DevOps together in a way that no one else has done before. There’s no research paper that has the information we need so it’s purely problem solving.
What are your favourite aspects of what you do?
Well firstly, I get to work with an incredibly talented team everyday, and tackle some exciting problems spanning from machine learning, to data engineering to DevOps and product design, which always peaks my curiosity. And the other is that I get to work in a place like Dozr that has the culture it does. The whole team knows that we’re all very much in this together, and everyone loves problem solving at the ground floor.
It’s also exciting being at the front line, and being the first to present a solution to a problem. We recently launched the world’s first search engine for construction equipment rentals, and that was one of the best experiences of my life.
Building something that allows someone in North Bay to search for the exact tractor they need, find it in Toronto, see pricing, see specs… that’s new and unique that we’re providing to the world.
What’s been the most surprising part of your journey?
All of it! I never considered entrepreneurship. Growing up, I wanted to be a mathematician. Math was my first passion. I grew up competing in a lot of national and international math competitions. But believe it or not, I think that set a great base for problem solving in general. And as a founder later on in life, I used the same skills learned then towards business problems, management problems and product-focused problems.
My university roommate was the one who led me to start my first startup and introduced me to the unique challenges of being a Founder/CTO. He was a great friend of mine and was trying to convince me to come on as CTO of a company he was starting. I was on the fence for a while. I’d read some papers on the problem. I’d dabble and help him out without officially signing on. Then finally, on trip to NYC for a conference, I read this quote – “Write your own story, or being part of someone else’s story.” Right in that moment I decided I needed to write my own story, so I walked to my uni’s room and said “let’s do it.”. Since then I fell in love!
Another part that I didn’t realize early on in my career is how much one learns from failure. Never be afraid to fail as it is one of the best learning experiences. When I accepted that part of a good life is always challenging yourself and accepting that you can do whatever “this” is, that’s when I really started getting into my own element.
What are you most proud of professionally?
Leading the research and development behind Euler (named after my favourite mathematician) at Navi was probably one of the most fun and rewarding experiences in my career. Euler is a multimodal dynamic knowledge graph with over 30M nodes, aggregating knowledge about the world in audio, video and text format. It was the underlying technology being our flagship product Navi Smart Feeds which reached millions of readers.
The other thing is the largest product launch I’ve done with DOZR. We created the world’s first, Expedia-life search for heavy equipment. My team and I pulled lots of all nighters and worked really hard on this product’s completion. Remember what it was like booking a vacation before sites like Expedia? That’s what it was like booking heavy equipment. Now with this DOZR product, people can search and compare prices by like they do in other industries. It was huge and I think it’s going to make a big difference.
What piece of leadership advice have you received that has made the biggest difference to you?
It’s important to not let your ego stand in the way of growth – important to make mistakes, ask questions, and look stupid. This will help fuel constant growth. And always be learning.
Just believe in yourself and never take no for an answer then it turns out well.
What do you find the most interesting about the Waterloo tech ecosystem?
I really love how close-knit this community is and how open everyone is to help. At my first startup, we were at Communitech and we felt very fortunate to be surrounded with this supportive culture. People are always willing to grab a coffee, give advice, or offer connections. I try to carry this on throughout the years and at DOZR, we are committed to continue growing with this ecosystem.
I am a huge believer in the innovation, people and culture we have here, and am excited to see #TOWRCorridor grow into one of the best in the world. There’s a huge debate raging about talent and talent moving south to the US. But this area does so much to support the talent being nurtured at the universities. I saw how much the City of Waterloo gave and continues to give to support students, so once I finished my education at the University of Waterloo, I decided to stay in KW and give back to the ecosystem that helped me develop.
Read more stories like Adeel’s on our Humans Of Tech page.