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Joe Davy, CEO and founder of Banzai. (Banzai Photo)

When he was still a very young man — like not even old enough to drink legally — Joe Davy was on an accelerated path of career discovery that can take others decades to navigate.

A native of North Carolina, Davy went straight from his STEM-intensive public boarding school to both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and to what he thought was his “dream job” at IBM, taking classes in the morning and writing software into the evening.

“I just learned a lot about myself in the time I was [at IBM]. I learned that I had trouble working at a slow pace and being part of a big organization,” he said. He didn’t like the disconnect with consumers. None of his colleagues “had ever talked to an IBM customer.” He lasted a year.

From there Davy launched a startup called EvoApp that he described as providing “social media business intelligence solutions.” The company grew to 50 employees, had dozens of Fortune 500 customers and was earning millions of dollars. He dropped out of college to run the business.

Then came another moment of reckoning.

“We committed one of the cardinal sins of startups,” he said, “which was premature scaling.” EvoApp began struggling and the board replaced Davy with a more experienced CEO, putting him to the side as the company continued to go off the rails. In 2012, the business was sold in an asset acquisition.

To explain the experience, Davy paraphrased a Mark Twain quote that says when you pick a cat up by the tail, you learn something that can’t be learned any other way.

“You survive,” he said. “You get your scars. And you think long and hard about what you want to do the next time.”

Davy seems to have successfully taken these lessons to heart.

In 2015, he launched Seattle-based Banzai, a SaaS company that automates tasks needed to host events and webinars. The business has about 50 employees and a second office in Apex, N.C. Davy was recently named to the Forbes 2019 30 Under 30 list for Enterprise Technology.

Davy and his wife, Allison, on vacation in Kauai. (Photo courtesy of Davy)

Before Banzai, Davy was a general manager at Avalara, which brought him to Seattle from North Carolina. He’s come a long way from his days at EvoApp, Davy said, but by no means feels like he has got all of the answers.

“I definitely am trying to learn something every day,” he said. “I have learned a lot, but mainly I think that I’ve learned a different approach on how to solve problems and how to learn. I’ve really refined that.”

We caught up with Davy for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: Right now, I’m in our new office in Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle. We’ve been here a little more than a month. It’s a great location because it’s very close to light rail, water taxis, ferries, trains and Highway 99, which makes life easier for our team. We also love that it’s a part of the historic fabric of Seattle and has so many great restaurants and shops. You never have to leave.

Computer types: I own a Macbook Pro for home and a Windows 10 desktop in my office. I don’t like carrying a laptop back and forth because I find it harder to disconnect at home when I bring work home with me.

Mobile devices: I have an iPhone, but whenever possible I leave it behind and just bring my Apple Watch.

Favorite apps, cloud services, and software tools: Slack and G Suite are essentials. Lattice and Todoist are my secret weapons for staying in touch with my team and keeping myself organized.

Davy on the job at Seattle’s Banzai. (Banzai Photo)

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? It’s pretty minimal and comfortable. I read a lot so have a lot of books and typically 3-to-4 newspapers. I have a few pieces of memorabilia and art I’ve picked up over the years. We always have snacks and La Croix stocked in the kitchen.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they’re too heavy to be broken. Work on creating positive habits and letting go of negative ones daily. It’s tough at first, but eventually it becomes automatic.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? I don’t use most social networks. Sometimes I check out art on Instagram. I do check LinkedIn occasionally, to stay connected with our team there and occasionally share a new episode of our Pipeline Podcast.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? Zero. I get a few hundred per day. That’s a habit that took me a while.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 16, it’s a heavy week for me. About half are 1-on-1s and our weekly leadership meeting.

How do you run meetings? I like to have a clear agenda and outcomes defined up-front when it makes sense. Honestly, I am not the kind of person that thrives on being heavily scheduled (3-to-4 meetings in a day is pushing it for me). I meet with my team 1-on-1 weekly, and of course, we talk throughout the day.

Everyday work uniform? Usually a button-down shirt (from Sew Generously on Cherry St.), one-step-up-from-jeans pants (Bonobos or AG), and Allbirds or loafers depending on my mood that day. If it’s cold out I’ll wear my Berkshire Hathaway pullover or Arc’teryx vest (it gets cold in my office).

How do you make time for family? I get to work around 7:30 a.m. each day and leave the office most nights by 5:30 p.m. I take one day off per week where I completely disconnect to spend time with my wife. I typically work six days a week. When I go on vacation, I turn off work as much as possible. I am always working to some extent. Because of the nature of my job, even reading the newspaper or meeting a friend for a beer is somewhat work related. I try to be purposeful with family time and work-life harmony.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? I exercise and play a lot of racquetball. I recently joined the Washington Athletic Club, which has been great. That is my happy place. Of course, the best way to handle stress is to avoid it in the first place. I try not to sweat the small stuff or get myself into stressful situations. The nature of business is that there is always more work to be done, so I don’t lose any sleep over unfinished projects. I write everything down and each day decide what needs my attention most.

What are you listening to? Where I grew up in North Carolina, bluegrass music is big. Steep Canyon Rangers, Chatham County Line, Mandolin Orange and The Avett Brothers are at the top of my list right now.

Davy confers with Penny Fischer, Banzai’s office manager. (Banzai Photo)

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? My usual reads are The Wall Street Journal, Economist and Barron’s. I also love Money Stuff on Bloomberg by Matt Levine and, of course, TechLoaf, a weekly satire on the tech industry published by my friend and Banzai CTO Stew Fortier.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Titan” by Ron Chernow, a great biography on John D. Rockefeller, and “The Snowball” by Alice Schroeder. I really love a good biography. It’s the best way, in my opinion, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the life of exceptional people.

Night owl or early riser? I go to bed around 10 p.m. and get up around 5:45 a.m. most days. I have a morning routine: take out the trash, unload the dishwasher, read the newspaper, catch up on emails and eat breakfast before everyone wakes up. I’m very light sensitive so I sleep with an eye mask, which my wife hates, but I sleep so much better.

Where do you get your best ideas? Who said I have good ideas? (Hah!) Most of our great ideas at Banzai come from our team, and my job is to filter out the bad ones (I have an abundance of those!). Most of my ideas come from reading. Content diversity is very important.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? I can appreciate Warren Buffett’s delegation-heavy approach to business. I also admire Richard Branson’s approach to business and life. Branson may not be the richest guy in the world, but he looks like he’s having a lot of fun!

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