Dedication, creativity and the ability to pivot gracefully are some of the attributes that made Sean Hsieh a success as a professional hip-hop dancer. They are also characteristics he has employed as a tech entrepreneur in finding success as one of the co-founders of Seattle-based Flowroute.
As the chief product officer for the company, which makes calling and messaging easier for developers and SaaS companies, Hsieh’s job is to build new services that help others incorporate and operate communication services. His tech chops coupled with his dance background make Hsieh a unique personality, and he’s GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week.
Hsieh has worked with a number of dance teams since his college days at University of California, Irvine. He was part of the first generation of Kinjaz — who were featured on season 8 of MTV’s “Best Dance Crew” — and he also danced with professional teams Funkanometry LA and Mavyn.
When he started Flowroute, Hsieh relied on his own individual focus as well as the team approach that defined his dance pursuits.
“Just like with music and dance, the worlds of technology and business are always evolving,” Hsieh said. “The competitive pressure to bring something creative and original to your audiences is a constant challenge. I had to develop a mindset with my dancing to always stay nimble and passionate about going beyond the status quo, and that’s been instrumental in helping me and my co-founders bring something new to the table with Flowroute.”
Flowroute has flourished under the simple premise of providing high-performance communications services to create unique customer experiences, for a fraction of the cost of traditional carriers. Bootstrapped and profitable, the company is growing rapidly, expanding its headcount 500 percent in just three years. Revenue in 2015 grew 35 percent over the previous year.
“A good performance has the potential to make someone’s day better, but it can also change their lives in very profound ways sometimes,” Hsieh said. “The same can be said for the impact that a well-managed, innovative business can have on its customers, its employees, and its community.”
Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Sean Hsieh:
What do you do, and why do you do it? “I’ve had a lifelong passion for entrepreneurship, technology, and design. I founded Flowroute with two of my classmates after graduating UC Irvine. Our thesis was to make working with telephony resources as easy as a Gmail account. In 2009, we started seeing the business scale quickly and started to believe we were on to something. Knowing that this traditional space still has room for innovation and change, is exactly why I do what I do.”
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Most of us treat our phone numbers as a single identity, but today, more than ever, people have multiple phone numbers, and they’re getting to the point where they’re being used for dialing strategies for local presence, or masking of identities. They’re starting to look a lot more like IP addresses and domain names nowadays than they ever have before.”
Where do you find your inspiration? “I believe inspiration is all around us. When I need to retreat from the fray of day to day tech life, I enjoy checking out creative arts, such as dance and visual arts. I also find that being out in nature brings me moments of peace and gives me time to reflect on the hustle and bustle we all go through each week.
“And no judgment, but I watch anime. There I said it. I’m a fan of anime. Naruto is one of my all time favorites.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “My iPhone. It’s pretty self explanatory.”
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “My workspace is spread throughout our office. I get so much flack from our office manager for not just utilizing my desk — more than once she has told to clean up my mess — but it is a creative space to me.”
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “When I feel stressed out or overwhelmed with what is happening at work, I like to take a moment to myself to zoom out in life, and gain a different perspective. It helps to remind myself that the world isn’t always crashing down on me, and then I allow myself to zoom back in and focus in on the moment with a different attitude.
“I’ve also come to the harsh realization that I’m a terrible multi-tasker. I love focus too much.”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “I use Mac. I’ve been in all three worlds before, but Mac allows me to not have to think about managing my computer so I can focus on the bigger picture. When I want to do really weird, quirky things I play around with Windows and Linux.”
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Kirk. He’s ballsy and says what he means.”
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Transporter — I don’t want to go back on any decisions or problems I’ve experienced in my life simply because I have always learned from those experiences. I do wish that I could see more of my friends and family without distance being a huge wedge in between.”
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Tell me more about this startup?”
I once waited in line for … “I have waited in line for so many things, most of them I am embarrassed to talk about including some invites to software betas that never evolved into anything meaningful. As a kid, I also spent a lot of time waiting in line for churros at Disneyland or trying to get the best seats at one of the many awesome ’90s movies.”
Your role models: “Tony Hsieh (no relation) because he lives his word and his beliefs. It is nice to know there are people in the business world who are unwavering when it comes to their convictions. He has a number of qualities as a person and a businessman that I strive to achieve.
“I also look up to Steve Jobs because he was fanatical about everything he built. His focus and determination to create amazing user experiences was to a standard that was near impossible for most companies to create at that time.”
Greatest game in history “Easily, ‘Oregon Trail.’ Dysentery has never been a larger villain in any other game.
Best gadget ever: “iPhone.”
First computer: “Commodore 64.”
Current phone: “iPhone 6S+.”
Favorite app: “Gmail — I have it open all the time.”
Favorite cause: “Water.org (charity water). I find the harmony of technology and betterment of our world refreshing in their approach to bring transparency to an industry that has become so opaque even though everyone has good intentions.”
Most important technology of 2016: “Bots, because we’re bringing contextual computing to the places where we spend the most time — in conversations.”
Most important technology of 2018: “Virtual reality. I’m very excited to see the true application of VR in everyday-use cases.”
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “The world is a busy place, and we get consumed with all the awesome technology in front of our eyes, but it is so important to take the time to get to know yourself, the people around you and your environment because that is equally amazing.”
LinkedIn: Sean Hsieh