Proust Goes Tech With Brendan Carroll, Founder and CEO Of Skycision

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon with a masters in Information Systems Management, Brandon Carroll turned down a corporate investment job to found Skycision, an AgTech company that endeavors to address the global food shortage phenomenon. The company allows farmers to increase farming efficiency by capturing and analyzing aerial images of crop fields and quickly identifying weaknesses.

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Last week, we learned that Brandon’s passion is what drove him to found a startup and what has pushed him to study Spanish again. He joined us to talk about his path, his character, and his hopes for the future on the latest installment of Proust Goes Tech.

What would you otherwise be doing right now?

I did my masters at Carnegie Melon and upon finishing chose to launch Skycision, but I had a full time offer which I actually reneged on with one of the major investment banks in New York. So I’d be in investment banking in Downtown Manhattan. It seemed like a great corporate gig, but I’m super happy with the path I chose and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.

Your main fault?

Perhaps one of my main faults is also linked to one of my main strengths. I’m very ambitious and I always like looking into the future– investing today and building tomorrow– a lot of times I don’t have the chance or allow myself to live in the moment. I’d like to be able to have those moments where I’m appreciating time as it comes as opposed to always thinking of the opportunity costs of what I do today and how I can have an impact tomorrow.

The quality you most desire in a tweet?

I think there are three things that I look for and personally enjoy.

The first is wit. Someone who has a very sharp mind and can fire off from the head. Two is insight. And the third element is humor. I think if those three things are combined in a single tweet it’s probably going to get retweeted by me.

I always like people who look at the world from a contrarian viewpoint– that introduce a thought that not everyone is thinking. If it opens your mind to alternate viewpoints and if they can lace that with humor then its all the better!

Your idea of misery?

It would be living the same year a hundred years in a row. For me, that’s what a nine-to-five is. I did the corporate America thing for a little bit. I worked for a Big Four consulting firm and did a stint in investment banking. Having a job that feels like a job would be misery for me. With Skycision, I work a lot more and a lot longer hours, but it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like my life’s work—like a passion.

What do you appreciate the most in your friends?

I guess the common characteristic in my closest friends would be that they are just very genuine and authentic. They all come from different backgrounds, cultures, heritages, and have different upbringings. They are all very much so their own people, and they’re really loyal in the sense that no matter what direction we go in our lives. We genuinely want to see each other succeed and be happy.

Your chief characteristic?

Passion. I’m very competitive and also very driven, so when I have my focus set on something there’s really nothing that can deter me from whatever that goal is. Regardless of what the odds have been whether it was football in high school, playing at the collegiate level, or doing a masters at Carnegie Melon—when my eyes are locked on that future goal there’s really nothing that deters me and that level of passion is just really intense.

What skill do you wish you possessed?

I grew up just north of Miami in South Florida, and that area has a very strong latin influence. A lot of my friends were South American or Central American or from island countries. I love hispanic culture—the food is amazing and the people are fantastic—all of my friends’ moms growing up were like second mothers to me. I kind of spoke a bit of Spanglish growing up, but post-college I lived in Australia for a little bit and I lost that. I want to become truly bilingual, so I’m trying to teach myself Spanish right now. It’s going pretty well but, at the same time, being able to roughly communicate and being fluent are two very different things.

Your most impactful book?

This is going to be bias because I just read a couple of books, so those are the ones that are most recently in my memory. I just I finished Zero to One by Peter Thiel. He looks at different elements from a very unique and contrarian perspective. He talks about approaching competition from a monopolistic mentality and has different views on everything from politics to building startups. I thought that was a really good book in terms of challenging my existing thought processes and expandin gmy frame of reference.

Another book I just really enjoyed was Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future by Ashlee Vance. I’d say he’s probably one of the most, if not the most, outstanding individuals of our current era. So to kind of understand where he came from and those influences earlier in life, and his development even before Paypal and how he came to be where he is today is really interesting.

What defines success?

A lot of people define success as a salary or a job title. For me, success is less tangible. A measure for success for me in life is the amount of lives that we can touch. So if you can impact one person, or change one person’s life or help them to do something amazing, the potential that you’ve had is infinite. That person could impact other people as a result of your influence– it’s a chain effect. So for me, success is defined as the amount of people that I can impact, help succeed, or help to be better versions of themselves.

When is confidence lost?

My confidence isn’t ever lost, but it has been rattled. When you’re founding an early stage company—especially as a first time entrepreneur—and you’re going through those initial phases of your concept or idea you have to convince people why it’s worth funding, why it’s worth it to join your team, and why a client should stay with you when you have bugs in your product. In the process of creating that vision that people buy into and actually bringing it into fruition, there are constantly little failures and rejections. Those can add up and start to weigh heavily. I think that’s when I’ve seen my confidence rattle the most. But I’m also a very persistent individual, and I’ve been confident about where we’re going, so I’ve been able to persevere through those times.

Which buzzword is exhausted?

Artificial intelligence. I’m sick of hearing about it. That isn’t because it’s not relevant. It’s definitely relevant. But it’s being used as a catch-all by the industry. Even grammatically it doesn’t make sense. “We’re going to deploy an AI.” Um, no. You’re going to deploy an algorithm. There are different types of machine learning—computer vision is a type of artificial intelligence, for example—so AI is this massive umbrella, catch-all term. But it really kind of obscures the actual realities of how machine learning works with the different types of technical components. Being from a data science background, that just kind of irks me.

What virtues do others have that you don’t

I’d say the ability to maintain a routine. It’s something I’m working on. But because where we’re at and what we’re working on can be so demanding it’s hard. One week I might be on a plane to meet with clients; the next week I might be on a plane to meet with investors; then there’s a board meeting, and then I’m back with the engineering team next. I’m always on the go, and there’s almost never a spare moment. With that amount of travel and work that’s on my plate, maintaining a set routine is borderline impossible. So I’m really try to work on it. I’m trying to get into the routine in terms of fitness, health, and diet. It has definitely been a challenge because the demands of the stage we’re in are all over the place right now.

What impact do you want to leave behind?

I’d like to leave an impact in a couple of different ways. When it comes to Skycision, we’re living in an age today where we’re facing massive global issues. With a potential global food shortage, rural poverty in developing countries is huge.

From a personal standpoint, as we continue to grow and succeed, I hope that what I learn and do can be passed on to other entrepreneurs that also have visions to change the world. Whether that’s in the form of mentoring or coaching, or even if someone is just inspired by something I did, I think that enabling that next wave of change through other people is really important.

What’s the biggest problem tech is failing to solve?

I’m very passionate about this. I think it’s failing to solve educational reform at young ages in the United States. I think our educational system right now is archaic. We’ve een doing the same thing for a long time, but we’re not living in the same world that we were living in even five years ago. So the educational system has not caught up. You’re seeing a lot of college graduates with massive amounts of debt, and they still don’t know what they want to do in life, but because society told them to go through college they did. Now they’re left kind of stranded.

I think a shift in focus to STEM competencies at a younger age, a larger proliferation of trade schools, and making content more accessible to all demographics in terms of premier education is important. I think there’s a lot that tech can do here, and I think it’s a massive opportunity, but it’s still hugely underserved.

Editorial Note: Answers edited for brevity and clarity.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

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