Mayur Kamat has always gravitated toward building “the next big thing.”
While he has held several official job titles during the course of his career, Kamat, who now heads up product development for Seattle-based Hiya, said he wakes up every morning with the same question on his mind: What’s next?
“The uncertainty, the excitement and the possibility of building products that help millions of users is what drives and inspires me,” Kamat said.
The Redmond, Wash., geek got his first foray into product design in high school when he built an e-book reader for PCs. In college, he expanded upon that knowledge, but with a focus on content security and DRM (Digital Rights Management). Two of his college research papers on DRM were published and he says that ultimately got him a post-grad scholarship to Texas A&M University.
“It also got me an internship at Microsoft, where I was part of the team that built the first enterprise DRM product (RMS),” Kamat said. “RMS is now a big business for Microsoft.”
Kamat left Microsoft to start his own company, called PeerIdol, which was an online version of “American Idol.”
“This was before the days of App Stores and mainstream Facebook usage, so we ran into distribution issues,” Kamat said. “PeerIdol as a company didn’t last long, but what I learned about building (or not building) a scalable business still serves me today.”
Kamat also worked at Google, where he started the Android for Work initiative, working on early versions of Android security and building mobile Google Apps for businesses. He was part of the founding team for Google Hangouts, which has now surpassed one billion installs, and during his last two years there, he led the product and business functions for Google Voice.
Learn more about Kamat, what he does and how he does it, in this week’s Geek of the Week questionnaire:
What do you do, and why do you do it? “I head up product development at Hiya, working with the product, marketing, and dev teams to build out our caller ID and spam protection mobile apps and services.
“Hiya is the only company in the world that has built an advanced, algorithm-driven threat intelligence and protection solution for phone calls. I work closely with our Data and Reputation Services teams to organize our massive database of phone record information that helps identify unknown callers to bring this world-class protection to our mobile users through Android, and iOS apps, and for T-Mobile subscribers and Samsung Galaxy S7 users.
“There are more than five billion users who make phone calls across the world — possibly the largest target market for any service. The ability to provide a secure experience to this enormous base of users is the primary charter for me and my team.”
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Phone calls have existed for more than a century and the experience has been largely unchanged. If you think about it, we still make phone calls using the same modality like we did a century ago — pick up phone, dial number, wait, wait, talk, hang up. Messaging on the other hand, has been hugely innovative in the last decade. We can now send pictures and videos, book car rentals, buy clothes, and even pay our friends via messaging apps. The same innovation can be brought to phone calls, transforming them from a mundane relic from the yesteryears to a modern communication technology. There is so much potential in this space.”
Where do you find your inspiration? “From our users. We have tens of millions of users who are constantly interacting with us. I love listening to their stories of how our product has changed their lives for the better. I also learn from those who may have not had a great experience with our products (thankfully the latter is a much much smaller percentage). Either way, these stories provide validation for the work we are doing and inspiration to keep pushing forward to make our products even better.
“I also find inspiration from my CEO, Alex. He took an idea he had in his dorm and made it into one of the top companies in Seattle and beyond. And despite his title, he is still a product guy who spends most of his time building next-gen products. His work ethic and technology vision are a big source of inspiration to me.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “High-speed, low-latency internet. I recently got back from a month-long stay in India and while I had my latest smartphone there, I did not have my super-fast internet. And while the stay helped me better understand the constraints for building a product for high-latency networks, I was so glad when I got back to my 250 Mbps internet connection.”
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “I spend most of my day with people — brainstorming and collaborating which means that I do not spend much time at my desk. My desk keeps moving around to make space for our fast-growing team. Their rationale is, ‘You don’t use your desk so you shouldn’t mind when we move it!’
“I love spending my quiet time (an endangered species) in one of our many corner lounges. I get lots of work done here, with fantastic and peaceful views of the Puget Sound and the Space Needle.”
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Focus on your strengths and build an awesome team to help you with the rest. Life is too short to improve your weaknesses. This applies for both work and personal life. I’d be totally lost without my awesome wife to keep tabs on all aspects of scheduling our increasingly busy life.”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “The browser is my OS. I live in the cloud. The real question to ask nowadays though is: Android or iOS? I carry both devices in my pocket — they are each great for different things. Why choose when you can have both?”
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “I’m more of a Gandalf, Dumbledore, Lannister guy.”
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Do what I am doing right now — working with my current team to enhance mobile communications.”
I once waited in line for … “Black Friday deals at Best Buy. I was one of those guys that camped overnight in sub-freezing temperatures, to survive the ensuing stampede only to save a few dollars on a desktop.”
Your role models: “I worked briefly with Sundar Pichai at Google and am hugely impressed by his management style. He can get two folks with completely opposing opinions to find common ground and each walk away winners. I have not mastered that skill yet.”
Greatest Game in history “The NFC championship game in 2015 between the Seahawks and Packers. I walked away from that game with a sore throat and a broken sofa.”
Best gadget ever: “DJI Phantom 4 — a device that literally opens up a whole new perspective.”
First computer: “A Pentium 1. I couldn’t afford the Pentium 2, which at that time was so drool worthy.”
Current phone: “Galaxy S7 and an iPhone 6+.”
Favorite app: “I am biased, but the Hiya app is pretty awesome. I also love Google Photos.”
Favorite cause: “Children’s rights. They are our future. CRY is my favorite organization.”
Most important technology of 2016: “Virtual reality.”
Most important technology of 2018: “Augmented reality. I can’t wait to see what Hololens and Magic Leap have in store for us.”
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Embrace change — it is the only constant.”
LinkedIn: Mayur Kamat