Chat with Elim Kay, Top Pioneering Innovator, Young Entrepreneur, International Board Director, Notable C-level Executive

This week, I have an exclusive interview with Elim Kay.

Elim KayElim Kay is Co-Founder and COO of Zaka Inc., a consumer/business technology and analytics company. He has been involved with technology startup ventures since 2002. Through a private partnership, he acquired the then-small online community, in 2002 and served as Managing Director until its acquisition by Internet Brands, Inc. in 2007.

In addition, he is president of the Kay Family Foundation, Board Director of a private consortium of operating and holding companies, Venture Partner of K5 Ventures, and Managing Partner of a number of private opportunistic investment funds.

Elim serves on the Board of Governors of Chapman University and on the Board of Trustees of the Academy Charter High School.

He is a strong proponent of information age innovation, especially in education and healthcare. He enjoys partnering with leaders of all generations on meaningful collaborations that yield positive impacts for the world.

To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

You founded the Appreneur Scholar Awards presented at the International CES in January. What lessons do you wish to share from this experience and what is the value to the audience?
"....The lessons that I've come to understand is that it really validates the value of the information age as the era that has helped democratize opportunities for people (not restricted by age or experience), to innovate and embrace entrepreneurship....The Appeneur Scholar Awards are fortunate to partner with Living with Digital Times to provide a global platform for students to showcase their hardware. It really speaks to entrepreneurship, the next generation and their willingness and desire to make a change in the world using technology and especially mobile apps to do so...."

You are invited to sit on many boards due to your fine reputation and successful history. Can you talk about some of the boards that you sit on and the valuable lessons that you have learned from each of them?
"....The Academy Charter School is a startup public Charter school and its mission is to support and foster at-risk youth in the local community. The Chair, the vice-chair and several of the other Board members have spent many years not only planning the school, but trying to raise the funding, trying to work with the city government, trying to get the Charter approved. A valuable lesson for me was to see how their investment of time, talent and hard work, energy and their passion made this school come to fruition. Another lesson is the value of an active Board where all of the members are working hard to see this school become a success....The second is the Board of Governors for Chapman University. The lesson that I learned there is how do you seek to change the dynamics at the heart of learning, especially at the university level? Seeing, observing and taking part in the strategies, tactics and steps which a growing university is taking to adapt to an environment that is totally disrupting and changing education...."

You are a notable investor and entrepreneur, what are some of your tips for startup success?
"....I'm still learning in my ways as an investor and as an entrepreneur. If I were to isolate some, at least from experience, into a few tips I would boil it down to choosing the right team. There are three primary variables that revolve around the right team. One is that the team is aligned with the vision, mission and the values. Two is that the team is congruent in both hard skills and soft skills. Three, and in my opinion probably the most important, is that the team has a strong foundation of trust in which there is no second guessing of one another. ...."

What are a few of your passions for giving and why?
"....There are a lot of cutting edge innovations and individuals who are doing great work within communities. Giving is just a way to accomplish many greater ends...."

You sit on several Boards and you have also been involved with some startups and investments where you have a leadership position. With all the different kinds of things that you do, can you share (from your perspective), some tips for outstanding leadership?
"....Working with the right team (complementary in different skills, but being complementary and congruent in the alignment of character and absolute trust)....Trusting in the power in the team, creating an environment where everyone can have a seat at the table regardless of age and experience....Keeping an environment where it's fun and safe, but where they keep each other accountable and disciplined....Creating or facilitating an environment where the team is not afraid to try and even recognizing that making honest mistakes are only steps to continuously improving and making better decisions...."

What are some of your forecasts for the future?
"....The first forecast is at the conceptual level, but the digital world and the physical world are blending further and further and it will become increasingly harder and more difficult to differentiate....With the rise of mobile devices (smarter devices), the rise of social media, the rise of wearable devices and the collection and gathering of information and data on the individuals from all aspects of the body, augmented and virtual realities, artificial intelligence - all these ingredients are obviously changing the way and leading the charge in which it is really combining or encoding the two worlds, digital and physical to become blended further and further....The second one is with the rise of the advancements of technology we are entering a world where the gathering and understanding of unfiltered thoughts will become more and more prominent....That really comes down to another sub-forecast which is where there is no more mystery of the human being anymore...."

Share the value of your latest venture and lessons you are actively learning from your latest venture?
"....My latest venture is a company that I founded with my co-founders, called Zaka. We are building a platform which will change how everyday consumers (folks with purchasing power. etc.) engage their local stakeholders of their respective communities (typically businesses, places and services)....I keep emphasizing the right team and that would be the lesson that I've learned – working with the right team, working with smarter people and creating that environment that really allows everyone to have a seat at the table and to feel that they are a major contributor to this organization, because they are...."

Do you practice things like Steve Blank's Customer Development, Eric Ries' Lean Startup; those kinds of principles?
"....We have, and those are concepts and principles we have embedded into how we test our products and we have pivoted our products many, many, many times....We are trying to do what we can embracing what's relevant (relevant principles), to continuously try to shape our product that will eventually meet the needs of our customers in our target market...."

What do you wish to accomplish in the next few years?
"....When it comes to Zaka the goal is to help Zaka together with the team to grow and become a highly utilized platform in which the community stakeholders (not only the consumers, but businesses of all sizes), can discover, engage, share and socialize together in a trusted manner..... On the personal side I am just excited to be part of my nephew's and niece's lives and their growth and lifelong journey of learning...."

What surprises you?
"....Witnessing the transformation of fiction into reality is a constant surprise for me and that's number one....Number two is being able to live in the present future. We are in the era of crowdsourcing, sharing economies, embracing tools and vehicles and mediums that democratize opportunities and it's now blending the roles of stakeholders and communities and the clear lines between....The third one is living in an era where a few can impact millions and even billions...."

How can the world's leading scientific, educational, innovation associations like the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) play a role?
"..... Organizations like the ACM serve as brain trusts, gathering, filtering, sharing of top research information knowledge that provides meaningful information to key stakeholders, leading the charge in the current era. Organizations like the ACM are anchoring foundations of information on which research is built...."

Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials? [See and the Global Industry Council,]
"....The simple answer is yes and the second answer is absolutely....We are living in the information age so therefore information technology and other technology-related professions should be recognized and relevant in this information age...."

From your extensive speaking, travels and work, please share some stories (amusing, surprising, unexpected, amazing).
"....The first one is my personal journey growing up (which might contrast differently from my current work and some of the things that I've been involved in and the folks that I've been fortunate and blessed to work with)....My second story is about my work and personal learning (my journey and growth) and trying to grow my career....The next story - I was fortunate to have an opportunity to live in China for almost a six month period in 2010....These are three stories that I keep at the back of my mind as reminders as to where I come from (or I should recognize where I come from), and hopefully these stories will be good foundations for me to continuously make sure that I'm going in the right direction...."

If you were conducting this interview, what questions would you ask and then what would be your answers?
"....What are the implications of this massive adoption of various technologies around the world on the human race in the long term?....What would symbolize the end of the information age?....What would be the next age after the information age?...."

Elim, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.
"....It's a long road ahead, I have a lot to learn....I am really fortunate to have a chance to work with some of the finest people...."