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Cerius Journeys: Interim Executive, CTO, Blockchain Expert, Venture Capital Partner

To Listen To ‘Cerius Journeys: Meet Barbara Bickham’ Podcast, Click Play

One of the first questions we get from business owners at Cerius Executives is, “Why would a top level executive be available to step into my company at a moment’s notice and help me for a short period of time?” Answer: incredible and accomplished executives such as Barbara Bickham. Barbara is an interim executive, CTO, blockchain expert, and a partner in a venture capital firm. Learn more..,

In this series, we talk to some top executives and learn more about their journey to being an interim executive.

Transcript:

[00:00:00] Denise Montgomery: Welcome to serious journeys, a conversation with top level executives who handle crisis management and other important transitional decision making for organizations in need. Today’s guest is Barbara, become a CTO who is working heavily in the AI and blockchain spaces. Hi, Barbara. 

Barbara Bickham: Hi. How are you? 

Denise Montgomery: I’m fantastic. So I wanted to, before we get going, bring attention to just quickly who you are, what you do. So I wanted to let you tell us that in your own words first. 

Barbara Bickham: Wonderful. So I’m Barbara . I am the founder and CTO at trail and ventures trail and ventures helps put companies on blockchains.

So we provide strategic, technical advice to help companies innovate in the blockchain and artificial intelligence space. So we’ve been doing that about four years now. trailing, trailing did AI first, and then it kind of pivoted or moved into the blockchain space. [00:01:00] so that’s kind of who I am and what I do.

Denise Montgomery: Alright. Okay. Blockchain and AI, those are both enormous. challenging, innovative, groundbreaking spaces, and you’re in both of them. How do organizations know that they need to give you a call. 

Barbara Bickham: Well, if companies were to two ways, they know they need to give me a call. First of all, if they want to innovate in their processes or automate their processes, then they would call me about artificial intelligence.

So how do you automate things? How do you, get good information from data? How do you create good data? I mean, I think we all have learned about models. And how incorrect models can be, how data and models are important, how in assumptions in models are important. And then AIS could do projections or regressions, [00:02:00] like can also look back, projection, look forward, regression with back.

And so it’s important to understand the data and information that you have so you can get proper data and information out of these kind of AI models. So that’s one way. If you want to put your company on a blockchain, then that’s another reason why you would call me. So what we do is I work with practical usage of a blockchain.

So I’ll give you an example. One of the companies I work with is called the active group. The equity group does sustainability on the blockchain. So what we do is we track companies that have sustainability plans. So I want to reduce my carbon footprint. I want to do more recycling, I want to become a paperless office.

And then we track that on the blockchain. And we validate and verify that with a registry, which actually we’re applying to become a registry. So that’s one way you can use a blockchain without it being so [00:03:00] mysterious. 

Denise Montgomery: You know, I love the fact that you bring up that word mysterious because still to this day, when you use the word blockchain around a lot of people, their eyes glaze over with a combination of confusion.

And, Mystification and sometimes I think even just a tiny little bit of terror. 

Barbara Bickham: yes. 

Denise Montgomery: If you have to explain blockchain to someone at a cocktail party, what do you, what do you tell them? 

Barbara Bickham: I tell them what I say all everywhere watching is four words. It’s, encrypted, private and protected. It’s, distributed, not in one place or decentralized, not in one place.

it’s immutable, permanent record and it’s a ledger, debit and credit. That’s it. That’s all. Blockchain is. Four words.

That’s the essence of a blockchain. 

Denise Montgomery: Thank you. You actually just helped to demystify something for me that I’ve been trying to wrap my head around for six 

Barbara Bickham: months. [00:04:00] There you go. Now, now you have the other hand. Okay, so now that I’m being mystified, now you had the other half. So now that you kind of know what it is, the real question is how do you apply it into your organization or company?

And so that’s why you would call and say, Hey. Okay, now that you’ve demystified this, how do I actually apply this in a real world way? And so I work with companies in applying it in a real world way. 

Denise Montgomery: And that leads me right to my next question, which is, before we started recording, I know we talked, you’ve been doing this since 1993.

So what, what industries and niches and types of projects and assignments have you been able to bring your. Particular group of skills, knowledge, expertise too. what have been the sorts of, assignments and, and projects that you have been able to shepherd to completion and success? 

Barbara Bickham: Well, so I’ve worked on multiple projects that have gone.

Through a completion [00:05:00] and success. So I’ll give you an example of one. I worked with a company called exchange rate IO, and they are a trading bot. And I actually did trading bots in the Forex, which was kind of the currency trading area. So I had some knowledge about how trading bots worked. And so for that company, I helped them raise money, which a lot of the technical people have to raise money.

And then I also helped them kind of set up there. Overall company strategy and their, like how they were going to be interfacing. With blockchain and these exchanges which are built on top of blockchain. So that’s kind of one successful project. It’s still going. It’s still running. Another project I’m working with, it’s called blips lifts, is a company that does social networking on the blockchain.

But the thing about the social networking is it’s. You know, a lot of companies now are being [00:06:00] censored or vanish or banned from a lot of social media, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook. We could go on, you know, a lot of them are getting banned. So this particular network is blockchain based. So your, your, there’s a record of kind of your, your, interactions.

But the other half of it is, is that as kind of an open and. More free community than the traditional ones that we work with. Like Facebook, where they control your data, you control your data, and you control all of your content, and you also control the ability to monetize that for yourself. So this is kind of a, these social networks are starting to come up because other social networks are being.

More restrictive, I’ll put it that way. 

Denise Montgomery: I can see entire new horizons opening up, especially as a, apparently we’re going to be finding whole new ways to network in 

Barbara Bickham: coming. [00:07:00] Absolutely. I work with a lot of blockchain companies that are evolving. A lot of the. Newer technologies as far as, you know, I worked with a company, now we’re trying, we’re getting them ready.

That’s, I don’t want to say zoom competitor, but they can do video on demand on a blockchain. So, I mean, you know, there’s a lot of companies now trying to solve a lot of these. Problems or they were solving them prior to, and so they’re still solving these problems. And so how do you, how do you kind of position yourself in this new economy?

Denise Montgomery: Yeah. And probably also speed to market and speed to or through the technical issues is going to be critical in these times. 

Barbara Bickham: Absolutely. 

Denise Montgomery: Yeah. All right. So the next question that I was going to move us on to is, let’s just back up a little bit. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from?

Where’d you come from? How did you learn to do what you do? Take us through? Was it the school of hard knocks was at school? Was it a combination? Did you 

Barbara Bickham: look down at everything? [00:08:00] So I’m a native LA. I’m, I’m born and bred in Los Angeles. as far as my career journey, I went to Berkeley computer science degree from Berkeley.

my very first job they asked me to architect and design a system from scratch and I really thought they were crazy cause I literally just graduated from school and I said, are you sure you really want me to do this? I just graduated. No, no, that’s fine. You went to Berkeley, so you’ll figure it out where your dad out.

So like I was lucky to really be able to craft something from nothing, which is very rare when you first come out of school. So I had a very traditional kind of trajectory. during that time for, so for the first kind of half of my career, I did a lot of architecting, designing, managing people, things of that nature.

Then I started a company, so I had a com, I’m actually one of the wireless pioneers in the United States. So when you text help, one, two, three, four, five, that’s partially my fault. The tenderness, all that messaging, all that messaging [00:09:00] data, you know, all the texting. It’s partially my fault. So I did that for nine years.

I actually came up, I actually coined the term digital strategy as well cause I pivoted my company from my product to a service and cause all these Hollywood people were like, can you do that American out. Stop voting and pulling in my show. I said, yes, of course. 

Denise Montgomery: Could you repeat that? 

Barbara Bickham: The American idol style voting and polling back in the day, you know, like, I knew all those texts people.

So you know, that’s so like I, I helped companies get their things onto phones and then also put content on phones and help them create their mobile and digital strategies and monetize it. So one of my expertise is monetizing things. It’s not just about like creating it. I also am always mindful of how are you going to powder this?

How are you going to make money with this? So that’s very important. Let me keep going. I’m almost there. Almost done. So then in the intersection of that, I ended up, being [00:10:00] able to start an angel group. So I started an angel group.

But then after, you know, 2008, kind of had less angels. 

Denise Montgomery: I’m going to ask you to back up with, I started an angel group cause I had a glitch on this end. 

Barbara Bickham: Okay. I’ll start again. Yes. Around 2007, 2008, I got an opportunity to start an angel group. And then after that, you know, 2008 came less angels, 2009 close.

I grew down, then I went to private, merchant bank. So private equity, private merchant bank. Did that for a year. Went back to my coding roots, one, Gartner cool vendor award for my company during that time. And then I came out and became a CTR. So that’s how I got into the. CTO space. It’s how I became a CTO.

Denise Montgomery: It sounds like you have seen pretty much every important development in tech from 19 the [00:11:00] PC 

Barbara Bickham: and the Sportster modem, which I worked on as well. I worked on some very famous products. I don’t talk about that too much, but I’ve worked on some, but then I look at it and say, everything old is new again. Oh, how do we do this?

I believe he did not just do this, like, and then I’m thinking like, didn’t I do this? Years ago we had to do all this training? And I was like, Oh, it’s interesting that you 

Denise Montgomery: also mentioned that because, that that full circle perspective that you have is kind of rare. in terms of the tech world, because we have a lot of folks who haven’t been around as long and who haven’t seen as much and who haven’t seen tech go full circle.

 

that leads me to another question actually. we learn what we learn in a lot of ways, and I wanted to ask you, do you have a mentor or any particular, person in your life that you learned things from that you have a particular memory of or affinity for that you would like to share. 

Barbara Bickham: Absolutely. [00:12:00] So I had a very excellent a boss.

His name was Steve rice. I don’t know where Steve is. I’ll have to call and find it, find him. but he’s in the computer security space. And it’s actually funny how, how we met this. This happens to me quite a bit, but he was the first one to do whatever. So I was just doing my normal work as I do. And I guess he had heard something about me.

And so he decided he was, he’s in, Maryland. so the company was remote, so I’ve done this remote thing for awhile. So he flew in, you know, now he, that’s when he could fly. I don’t know about flying anymore, but he flew out to meet me and, and find out like, who is this person doing this? This computer work cause I guess he had heard about me.

So that was pretty awesome. And after that we kind of forged a bond and he kind of mentored me into, you know, management. He mentored me into, you know, really leadership. He mentored me in many, [00:13:00] many aspects of my life. He’s, he’s a very great friend of mine. I have another, I have another person that was very influential in my life.

His name was Hartman. Penny. he actually made flex time in Germany. That’s his claim to fame. So, he mentored me for a very short time, but he was very influential in my life as well. So that was pretty awesome. I mean, I’ve met some pretty cool entrepreneurs as time has gone on 

Denise Montgomery: and were there. So were there lessons that you picked up from either of those or both that you have been able to carry with you and in your own work and pass on down to other people?

Barbara Bickham: Yeah. I think, I think the things I learned from them, it’s more about like how do you, how do you really lead people and how do you really connect with people? Especially. When you’re remote. I learned that very well from, from Steve [00:14:00] and Hardy as well, because they were not physically here. We were not in physical proximity all the time.

And you know, we have these wonderful zone tools like there wasn’t all this back then. So how do you communicate and how do you. Keep that connection going. And how do you lead multiple people in multiple locations, in multiple time zones? you know, constantly. without you having impact in you as an individual because we’re all complete people.

That’s how, the other thing I learned is like, we’re complete people. We’re not just like, I’m a worker. I’m this like, we’re whole people. Some people are moms, some people have kids, some people we have all aspects of life. And you can’t look at somebody and say, you’re just this because you’re not. That’s one aspect of you.

And because we have many aspects. And so that’s one thing I learned from them. It’s kinda like you have to look at people as [00:15:00] whole people, cause they’re not robots. We’re not robots. So, you know, sometimes when things are happening, like things are happening now you have to, you have to ask yourself like, how is this impacting people?

You know, because a lot of people are impacted in different ways. Like I did my process very quickly. Like, okay. and then, you know, I have my days as well, and I go do something. I’m like, okay, it’s launched. Boom, boom. You know, I have my way of handling it, but you know, every, you know, a lot of people are in shock and shock and awe.

A lot of people are, you know, don’t know what to do. A lot of people are like, not prepared. A lot of people. You know, thought, okay, this, this won’t impact me. And it does impact you, even though it’s indirectly. I mean, so there’s a lot of emotion and like, how do you handle that as a leader and as a person that’s, you know, helping other companies or moving your company forward or advising other companies for mentoring other people.

How do you, how do you deal with that? [00:16:00] Even for yourself, and then you have that energy of the other people. So you also have to preserve your energy as well. 

Denise Montgomery: Absolutely, and I love the fact that, you know, even though you are CTO, you are at the top of the tech. You are also talking very clearly about the fact that there are emotions here and we’re not robots, and that that’s a crucial part of leadership.

Barbara Bickham: You know, they say you have, you know, I have IQ, intellect, intellect. I have TQ, tech, tech, tech, intellect, you know, high tech intellect. But you also have to have the, where’s your emotional intellect? How did you handle these things? Because people are already, and they may not say it and it’s okay. And you know, we have a PR.

You know, the other thing I’ve learned about myself and people as well is like, we all have our process. Everyone processes things in a different way. And you have to acknowledge and honor that for that person. So, cause the way you do it [00:17:00] is not necessarily the way they’ll do it. 

Denise Montgomery: Very much appreciate that perspective.

So I wanted to quickly take us through, if you could just pluck from your years of experience, and experience, a client project that you worked with, What was the challenge? What was the problem? How did 

Barbara Bickham: you approach it 

Denise Montgomery: in your role as a top level executive who specializes in crisis or non-normal everyday operations work?

And, you know, how did you solve it? Where did you find the resources? How did you manage the resources? What was the outcome? 

Barbara Bickham: Okay, so, let me say, Oh, here’s a good one. Here’s a good one. so when I first became a manager, when I first became a manager, I was on the project that was, I call it the dead project.

Literally that project was seven years old. It had gone through for the managers, [00:18:00] for the product owners. All the developers had left, except for the one. there was one contractor. He had been there the whole time. and basically they’re like, here at Barb, just do it. I supposed to do this on me and know what to do.

I have no idea. I never met her. Anything. Okay. So I, okay. So I said, okay. So after I calmed down on that, I said, okay, I’m managing this project. So the first thing I did was, okay, so what was the problem? The problem was there was no corporate memory about that particular project. Like literally everyone had left except the contractor.

And nobody liked that contract because a part of the reason why I was given the project was to see like, could I handle this person. So the first thing I did was, is I got in contact. Well, I had another worker as well with me. So I got in contact with the group and I called a little meeting [00:19:00] and we mapped out these milestones because we had to get this done fairly quickly, like within a couple months or if they were just going to cut the project off.

And so we got all the milestones set up and then. I decided, I said, okay, I’m going to speak with the consultant cause he’s got all the memory of everything. Like he’d been here the whole seven years when this project has been doing nothing basically for years. So I talked to him and he was very curmudgeony.

But once you got past his, his rant, his, his. Essence, his, his kind of, way he communicated. He got his work done. He was very, very good at what he did, but he just didn’t like the people. It was just a plethora of things. So every day I would talk to him and he would go through his plethora of things from seven years, you know, it was like [00:20:00] seven years of things to, cause no one actually listened to him either.

And so the fact of the listening. And the fact of, you know, acknowledging his work and the fact of, you know, us, and then getting the other team member. And then he kind of had the seniority because he was the main person. So like I made him feel like he wasn’t just a contractor, he was a part of the team that moves the ball forward.

And we actually got that project ahead of schedule. Because I had to make up these, like I had to make up these webpages and give status and do these other managerial things. Like I had never done that before. So I was creating my own little managerial style. But that project actually got forward ahead of time.

So fast forward a couple months and I think I went on vacation cause it was, it was done like during the summer. So when I came back. They said, Oh, did you know that, the [00:21:00] CEO is here talking about your project. No. Am I supposed to know that this? Oh, yeah, they’re taking credit for it. I said, well, I don’t.

I don’t care if they’re taking credit for it, it’s fine with me, you know? Yeah. So that project became the largest selling project in that company’s history ever. 

Denise Montgomery: That’s amazing. I love that story so much. 

Barbara Bickham: So. You know, that was little on me with my little, my very first manager. And so the thing I learned from that was, you know, listening is important and understanding people is important.

Understanding how people work is important. Cause that was a part of his work process as well. Understanding how people feel where their places in a, in an environment, and this was, these were remote, this person was remote as well. So he wasn’t always in, he wasn’t in the meetings all the time. He was, you know, he felt like separated.

So, you know, making them [00:22:00] feel included was important as well. So, you know, there were many, many things that I learned from managing that very first project. Thank you. 

Denise Montgomery: That’s great. And I just checked the time and although I could talk to you all day, this is great. I now have to ask you our final parting question, which I borrowed from inside the actor’s studio from James Lipton, who used to interview actors.

And if you ever watch the show, you know what the question is, which is, if heaven exists when you arrive at the pearly Gates, what would you like to hear. 

Barbara Bickham: What would I like to hear? Well done, my good and faithful servants. That’s what I would love to hear. That would be a very good statement. 

Denise Montgomery: I love that.

Thank you so much for spending time with us today. Very much appreciate everything that you have shared and, your insights about [00:23:00] managing tech as a human endeavor. 

Barbara Bickham: Absolutely 100% thank you so much for having me. 

Denise Montgomery: Thank you for joining us on Cerius journeys. For more information, join ceriusexecutives.com.

 

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Pamela Wasley Kristen McAlister

Pam and Kristen, co-owners of Cerius Executives, both come from running a business, not the staffing industry. They understand the challenges of growing a business and not having the right leadership team or expertise. Our client services team is comprised of current and former business owners. We have the background and expertise to listen, understand and work to successfully put together the right profile for what you need and the right executive. The executive talent world is always undergoing a never-ending evolution. Some of it is trial-and-error, and some is due to a constantly changing marketplace. We will always be working to predict what businesses will need next and how can we best help them find it.