Interview with Cathy Edwards
Cathy Edwards is the CTO and co-founder at Chomp, a search engine for mobile apps. She created Chomp's proprietary algorithm that understands the function of each app, allowing you to search for apps based on what they do rather than just what they're called.
An Interview with Cathy Edwards CTO and Co-founder, Chomp
Date: April 11, 2011
NCWIT Entrepreneurial Heroes: Interview with Cathy Edwards [music]
Lucy Sanders: Hi. This is Lucy Sanders. I'm the CEO of NCWIT, the National Center for Women in Information Technology and we have today another great interview with a wonderful entrepreneur. I'm very eager for this interview because not only is she a co-founder of a technical company but she's also the Chief Technology Officer. I think our listeners understand how much we at NCWIT care about technical women. Very eager to get to this interview. With me is Larry Nelson from W3W3. Hi, Larry.
Larry Nelson: Hi. I'm happy to be here, of course. You know one of the interesting things is that we've found over this past few years now is that we have many different people that listen to these shows, business leaders and parents as well as many younger girls who are looking into technology.
Lucy: Well, they're definitely going to be interested in listening to this interview with Cathy Edwards. As I mentioned before she's the CTO and co-founder. It's at Chomp, which is a great company. I went and looked at it again today. I just love it. It's a search engine for mobile applications, which if you're like me it's pretty difficult to find all the applications that you can have on your mobile device today. Cathy created Chomp's proprietary algorithm that understands the function of each app so you actually get to search for applications, not just on what they are called but what they do. For example you can search for puzzles, you can search for games, I was searching for gardening, and search for fitness, et cetera. It's a great site. It's a great company. Cathy we're really happy to have you here. Welcome.
Cathy: Thank you. I'm really really pleased to be on the line.
Lucy: So what's going on with Chomp? Tell us all the latest news. I know that you launched in January of 2010 with a platform for the iPhone and just recently for Android. Give us the latest.
Cathy: Yeah. Things are going really really well and the app market, as I'm sure everyone is aware, is really taking off right now. It's kind of interesting. If you look at the stats, the rate at which apps are growing both in terms of the number of apps available and the rate of adoption is very, very similar to the early days of the web. This is really looking like being something that's going to be very very big. And of course as it gets really big people are going to need ways to find those apps, just like maybe in the early days you browsed around Yahoo's directory of websites and saw all the gardening websites on the Internet in one place. After a little while it just becomes too many. You need to start searching for them. We think the same thing's going to happen with apps.
Lucy: I think that's absolutely true and I have to say this factoid. My husband has an early Yellow Pages of every web site on the Internet. [laughter]
Cathy: That is priceless. That's fantastic. You should hang on to that.
Larry: Yeah. Lucy: I know. It's one of our family heirlooms.
Lucy: So I mentioned that Cathy's a CTO and she also has a great technical background. She has worked in industry at Friendster and Telstra working in areas of research related to natural learning and language processing. Cathy, why don't you tell us, based on your technical background, how you first got interested in technology.
Cathy: Yeah. I was actually extremely lucky. I'm really grateful that I had these experiences when I was young. I was lucky enough to go to two separate primary schools that both really had a lot of opportunities to actually begin programming. I remember doing my first programming when I was quite young using a program called Logo where you could basically draw pictures, program a little turtle around the screen and draw pictures. I just loved it from day one. Really there was no distinction about "Oh, you're a girl so you can't program." I was really encouraged to get into it. Everything just really grew from there. I continued doing programming throughout high school and did Computer Science as one of my majors at University. I've always kind of been technical the whole way through, but I really do think that it was because I was given some of these opportunities when I was young that I really got into it like I did.
Lucy: That's one of the things I'd say we're trying to do here, you know?
Lucy: To get girls interested.
Larry: That's right.
Cathy: Yeah. I just think it's so important, and particularly in contexts that they can really connect with. When I was about 12 years old, I did this competition with the Lego Mindstorms robots, which was this, you had to program this robot to pick up an egg and take it from one side of a track to another. Things like that, particularly when you've got robots and it's fun and you're with your friends, it takes it away from being a nerdy, geeky dungeon thing, if that makes sense.
Lucy: Well, based on your technology background, we also like to ask people we interview what's your view of the future of technology? What do you think is going to be particularly interesting, perhaps even over and above what you're doing at Chomp?
Cathy: Yeah, well I was going to say it's pretty obvious that apps are going to be a pretty big thing. But I think in general, this kind of post-PC world that we're moving into, computing moving away from a single device that sits on a desktop and into every little object, computing becomes a part of everything that we do. Now we have running shoes that can track how far we've run or a wine rack in our house that can track our inventory of wine. To me, that is a really really interesting future to contemplate.
Lucy: Ubiquitous computing.
Larry: You betcha. Lucy, you mentioned when you went to Chomp.com that one of the things you looked up was gardening.
Larry: Now I understand why you carried in a shovel to your office this morning. [laughter]
Lucy: No way. [laughter]
Larry: Cathy, this is either a tough or an easy question. Why is it you are an entrepreneur? What is it about entrepreneurship today that makes you tick? Cathy: I feel really really privileged to do what it is that I do. I love getting up and going to work each morning. I really think that very few people in the world are in a position where they can genuinely say, "I spend a lot of time working and I love every minute of it." To me being an entrepreneur is about really two things. The first is about creating and building really amazing products. The things that people use and that people love. It's almost like, I don't know, being a carpenter and building a table or something. There's this kind of tangible "I built that" feeling that goes along with being an entrepreneur that maybe you don't get at a bigger company. Then the second piece is about creating and building an amazing team of people and I really love working with people. I have the most amazing team at Chomp. It's just that process of bringing people together for a higher purpose to build this thing. It's really an amazing feeling.
Lucy: It's very creative.
Lucy: Just a very creative process. Along that path of becoming an entrepreneur, who particularly influenced or supported you?
Cathy: My parents have just been amazing my entire life. They've been very supportive of my career. They're actually both entrepreneurs, although they're back in Australia and they do entirely different things from what it is that I do. But all through my life I have grown up around this idea of entrepreneurship, and being involved with the family business and just this idea of making stuff happen on your own. I really think it was their influence that has helped me get to where I am today.
Lucy: Well,you know, you see them taking notes, risks, and creating something from nothing. That's got to be a very valuable childhood experience.
Larry: For sure, Now Cathy, just as a little sidebar here. My family and I lived in Australia for three years. Met an amazing number of people there. I just wanted to say welcome.
Cathy: Oh, thank you. I love it over here. The start up community is really growing, in Australia. And it's really exciting to see what's coming out of there. But definitely exciting to be in a much more established start up community, here in silicone valley.
Larry: All right now, with all the things you have done and the support you have had, and the amazing team that you have been able to put together, what is the toughest thing that you have had to do in your career?
Cathy: I actually think that that comes back to managing people again, and the pain. I think learning to manage and lead people effectively, is an extremely difficult thing to do. I think it's actually particularly difficult thing for young intelligent people, who are really used to being in control of what they are achieving, and doing everything themselves. I definitely made a lot of management mistakes, when I first started managing people. Learning to overcome that end, to be good at building a team, is something that I had to focus on. Obviously I still focus on it today. There's obviously a long way to go there. That is probably the toughest thing I had to do.
Lucy: Wow, I think there is some hidden advice around what you said, about building great teams, as being necessary in entrepreneurship. What other advice would you give a young person about becoming an entrepreneur, if they were on the phone with us today.
Cathy: This is actually a really difficult thing to do, but I think if at all possible, please try and find one person that you can trust to start a business with. My co-founder, Ben Kieghran, has been the most amazing partner, as we have gone through this kind of wild, crazy startup ride together. It definitely has made a big difference, just to have somebody that you can talk through problems with, somebody that you can trust and brainstorm with, and somebody you can have a little freakout to when it all gets a little too much. Not doing it alone I think is very important.
Lucy: That's what they do down under. They have a little freakout.
Larry: I think I remember those, yes.
Lucy: I didn't know what to call them, but now I have words for them.
Larry: Now, with everything you've been through, the things that you've been developing, and knowing where your going to grow. What personal characteristics do you have that give you the advantage of being an entrepreneur?
Cathy: I think I have this interesting combination of extreme impatience on the one hand, but also focus on the other hand. That means I have this bias towards getting things done, I just want to make progress, make progress, get things done. Execution is just so important when your an entrepreneur, that first few months when you just got ideas, and you're out networking, and there's so many things you could do just starting a company. That just like coming back to, "What am I building? Is there evidence that people actually like this?" All of that is just so critically important, that I think that kind of impatience helps me get through that
Larry: I love it.
Lucy: Yeah, really. Turning to a slightly different topic for a moment, being an entrepreneur is, of course, hard work, all the time seven by twenty four, yet we all are people and have our personal lives as well. How do you either balance or integrate the two. How does that work for you?
Cathy: This is a really difficult question, obviously. I think it's something everybody struggles with. My take on it is, work life balance is something that is measured more on a span of years, more then a span of kind of weeks or months. Paul Graham actually has this really great essay where he talks about how economically you can really think of a startup as a way to compress your whole working life into like kind of five years. I feel in that context there's really no way to work a forty-hour week, and go to yoga every night. Really I see that this is the time in my life where I'm really dedicated on the work side of things, but I also expect there will be other times in my life where I will be more dedicated on the family side of things. Having said that, my New Years resolution was not to work a six-day work week every week. I'm working hard on that at the moment.
Lucy: I had that resolution, too, and I haven't done it.
Cathy: Very difficult
Larry: It is tough. When we lived in Australia, we would escape every now and then to Mullewa, and that was a great escape.
Cathy: Lovely, I've never actually been there, but I've heard wonderful things.
Larry: Oh yeah. Now you know you've already achieved a great deal. You started out working with your programs of iPods, and just recently launched for the Android. Are there other things that you plan on doing.
Cathy: We are really just very focused on building the best possible search experience for apps, and app search and web search are really quite different. This is a really difficult problem that hasn't been solved yet. We expect it's going to take us awhile to really get that to be amazing, so that's just what we are working hard on right now.
Lucy: Although this question isn't on our official list I just now have to ask it for sure. Based on what you found out so far, with your search for apps, are there any missing areas, where we could all go write apps and get really, really rich.
Cathy: You know, everybody asks me that. Well actually we produce an app search analytics support each month. That goes through what people are searching for and that sort of thing. I believe that we are planning on focusing on unfilled areas of app interest in one of those reports in the future. I don't have an answer for you right now, but stay tuned.
Larry: I will
Lucy: I will, we can write apps, to fund NCWIT.
Larry: There you go, I like it.
Lucy: Wow, Cathy, Thanks so much for joining us we really enjoyed talking to you. I want to remind listeners that they can find this at w3w3.com, and also ncwith.org.
Larry: We'll put up chomp.com on the website also.
Lucy: Well, Thank you Cathy.
Larry: Thank You.
Cathy: Thank you very much. [music]