Ideas & Insights from Decision Lens

December 28th, 2011

Decision Lens CEO John Saaty Talks about Business, Family, and Achievement

What inspired you to start your own business?

My parents were very entrepreneurial growing up, and I watched them start businesses from their home. It made me aware of what can be done. In my early 20s I already had decided that I would start my own technology company.

At the Wharton School of Business, I studied entrepreneurship and family business planning. Coming out of Wharton, I could have taken on a variety of different high-level consulting or finance careers. I chose instead to start working for Intel, so that I could learn more about how a well-run business operates. I cloned a lot of that for Decision Lens.  We use the same type of planning cycles, the same type of reports to communicate out to teams on how people are doing. It was useful to our success to have learned the way to build a successful company.

I took the “tortoise and the hare” approach, and assumed the role of the tortoise—I didn’t need to come right out of business school at 27, go for my investment banking riches and burn out at 35. I preferred to look at it as a 25 to 30 year progression of positions that would give me the experience to be successful.

What is the best part of your job?

The creative process, without a doubt.  That’s why Decision Lens’ current stage of development is the most fun. Everywhere you look, you’re building something, coming up with new ideas, hiring people, signing new customers, finding new partners. Three years ago we were at seven people, now we have 32 and we’ll be at 40 by years end.

By January, we will have launched a completely new platform for our product. The credit for most of that has to go to my brother Dan (CTO Daniel Saaty). He is always tinkering; he’s always the earliest adopter for new technologies. That’s a great person to have as your CTO. It’s lucky that we have someone like that driving things.

The new platform has many new features, from at-your-convenience loading of data, to a multi-tenant platform so that multiple companies can work from the same platform, receiving updates as they come out, to mobile device interfaces. These are the brainchildren of a team of very creative and capable people in our software engineering area.

What’s the most enjoyable part of your work?

I most enjoy seeing people in the company do things that they never even realized they’d be able to do – especially the young folks. Younger people coming right out of college are much more capable than their jobs demand. If you give them the latitude, they are much more innovative, creative, and technologically astute than they are given credit for being.

Entrepreneur magazine recently named us the top 25 best small companies to work, which I consider to be a real achievement. For me, it really doesn’t matter what your top line performance is, if everyone hates to work for the company.

What is your hobby?

Cycling is my main interest outside of Decision Lens.  Every year I watch 70 hours of the Tour de France (which doesn’t necessarily make my wife particularly happy).  What many people don’t realize is the huge amount of strategy by teams and individuals to win stages, to win the overall tour. Each member of the team is not necessarily looking to win but to provide his particular skills to the team. All of the roles need to be working like clockwork in order for a team or individual to win the tour.

What would you be doing with your life if you weren’t the CEO of Decision Lens?

Mountain climbing, probably. I like the feeling of being able to get off the treadmill. One climbing instructor I had told a story about living outdoors for 270 consecutive days. You realize that you don’t need all the support systems and accoutrements that society provides for you. You come out of experiences like that realizing that you can handle a lot more day to day than you previously thought was possible.