'Technology Is More Broken Than Ever': Centercode CEO Luke Freiler on Creating More Meaningful Tech
Our imagination is outstripping the pace of innovation - which creates many opportunities.
In this series called Member Showcase, we publish interviews with members of The Oracles. This interview is with Luke Freiler, co-founder and CEO of Centercode, a customer validation provider helping companies bring products to market. It was condensed by The Oracles.
What was a defining moment early in your life?
Luke Freiler: Early in my career, I fell in love with an emerging domain called usability. At the time, the idea that technology should be friendly and easy to use was still somewhat novel, yet usability proposed a framework to deliver on that goal. My early obsession with this field eventually blossomed into a career and a thriving business.
Share an interesting fact about yourself that not many people would know.
Luke Freiler: I love technology, but ironically, I have incredibly limited patience for it. If you put these two ideas together, you can understand why Centercode exists. As a tech-obsessed kid, I was troubleshooting every computer, network, and printer within a five-block radius. I started the company to solve this problem at the broadest level possible.
What excites you the most about your business right now?
Luke Freiler: It sounds sadistic, but stay with me: What excites me most is that technology is now more broken than ever, which creates many opportunities to fix it.
Today’s technology products are incredibly sophisticated and interconnected. They’re expected to do and be more than products of the past, which makes it harder than ever to ensure that they fit seamlessly into today’s diverse, complex environments. As we use established technology to push the boundaries of what’s possible even further, our imagination is outstripping the pace of innovation. For a tech fanatic like myself, looking for new and better ways to test products is like Christmas every day, with an endless supply of puzzles to solve. I love that I get to figure out ways to make technology even better.
What’s your favorite quote?
Luke Freiler: “Technology is a word used to describe something that doesn’t work yet.” I saw this idea as an opportunity to create a life-long career and have built my entire business around this quote from Douglas Adams, the author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Almost everything we use today is “technology” of some sort — but we don’t think of it that way when it integrates seamlessly into our lives.
What was your biggest challenge starting in business? How did you overcome it?
Luke Freiler: We started our product-testing business right as the internet bubble was bursting in the early 2000s. It’s hard to imagine a worse time, as trust in technology was at an all-time low. There we were, trying to solve problems that many companies didn’t even know they had.
Funding wasn’t an option, but we decided to stick it out anyway. If we weren’t young bachelors at the time, I doubt that it would have turned out as it did. We lived as cheaply as possible, kept getting our name out there, and eventually, struck a deal with a major tech company that financed our entire first year. It paid to be aspirational, and our perseverance won out in the end.
What’s the biggest common leadership mistake?
Luke Freiler: I see so many leaders stuck in this paradox where they can’t learn from their mistakes — because they can’t admit that they made them in the first place. Too many people at the top think that they need to keep up the appearance of being perfectly informed at all times to justify and maintain their position.
Admitting your mistakes gives you social currency with the person listening on the other side. It’s also a learning opportunity that can be extremely valuable on a personal, team, and company level.
How do you evaluate a good business deal?
Luke Freiler: As we bring new talent onto our leadership team, I’m continually benefiting from the wisdom of their diverse experiences. I recently picked up a new way of thinking from our vice president of sales that stuck with me: A good business deal happens when there are clear, mutual benefits for both parties.
When evaluating a potential deal, we go through an exercise of assigning figurative points to each element of the deal. We assign a point in one column if it’s something our customers want and a point in another column if it’s something we want. If the points aren’t balanced on both sides, the deal won’t happen. It’s about being symbiotic partners, not parasites and hosts.
Which single habit gives you 80 percent of your results?
Luke Freiler: Being transparent with my team is a key part of my leadership style that noticeably impacts their success and performance. Sharing details that I might have otherwise kept to myself as a CEO empowers them to approach roadblocks with a broader perspective. When they can get into my frame of mind, they can anticipate what I’ll ask before they approach me with problems and potential solutions. This makes problem-solving faster and keeps the team in sync.
What are you working on right now?
Luke Freiler: The explosion of sophisticated technology and mass adoption means there are exponential problems to solve. Right now, I’m focused on driving the next generation of customer testing to help new companies create tech products that align with their customers’ needs. There are many nuances to solving these challenges, and you discover a new angle every day. It’s hard work, but it’s also incredibly fun.
What do you want to be known for, or what do you want your legacy to be?
Luke Freiler: Our company is evangelizing the idea of bringing customers into the development process earlier and more often to help shape the products they use. Building a framework for co-creation and making tools readily available create a path to collectively produce more meaningful technology. It’s the guiding principle behind everything we do.
Connect with Luke Freiler on LinkedIn and Twitter, or visit his website.
The words and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee alone. What worked for them may not work for everyone. Any claims in this article have not been independently verified.