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30 Best CEOs of the Year 2021

An Interview with Sean O’Shea, Majestyk Founder: ‘Our Mission is to do More than just Build Cutting-Edge Products but to Shape Industries through Digital Transformation’

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“Any solution we create aligns with a company’s current needs and fits seamlessly into their existing system.”

Sean O’Shea is the founder of Majestyk—a premiere digital product studio— where he leads a team of engineers, developers, creatives, and strategists in defining the future of mobile experience.

Majestyk was incorporated in 2012 and is headquartered in New York, NY.

During the last eight years, Sean has worked with a diverse array of clients ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies such as Citibank, IBM, and Pepsi. Sean’s top priority as the founder is to ensure each of his clients achieves success through well-designed, easy-to-use digital products.

Sean also co-founded Elemental Path, creators of the CogniToys Dino. Sean and his team entered the IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge and won with the idea of using the world’s most advanced language processing program to entertain five-year-olds. He leads the day-to-day development and design of all Elemental Path and CogniToys platforms. CogniToys was named one of the ‘25 Best Inventions of 2015’ by Time Magazine.

Sean O’Shea, Majestyk Founder, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Q. How do you manage to understand a company’s operations/culture in-and-out before strategizing a transformation plan?

Digital transformation starts with awareness and education.

As the old saying goes, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’. Many non-digital companies haven’t been exposed to or educated on how certain digital solutions can benefit their company. They may view a mobile app as a luxury rather than a necessity or a new internal dashboard as a frivolous expense when their current operations have been working fine for years. Since every company has a different stance on digital solutions and varying degrees of technical know-how, education must always be the first step in digital transformation.

When we work with a new non-digital client, there’s always some resistance to change at first. Some companies think they have so many potential problems (which may not even be core issues) and can get overwhelmed thinking about addressing them. Others believe that technology will replace jobs when technology works to augment what they’re already doing. To reduce this stress and bring clarity to the client, we start by addressing a very specific and tangible pain point they may be facing and show them how a digital solution can alleviate it.

Q. To enable continuous transformation, the operations of a business/organization should be flawless and streamlined. Do you help companies patch their internal inefficiencies?

It’s our job to help companies understand that when they invest in digital solutions, they’re investing back into their company’s efficiency and the satisfaction of their customers. Through a comprehensive discovery and strategy process, we ensure that the products we build are right for our clients and implemented on the appropriate platforms. This can lead to an overall company product roadmap, where we start in one area and grow with the company as we continue to find areas for tech.

Any solution we create aligns with a company’s current needs and fits seamlessly into their existing system. Ensuring everyone is impacted by the solution is comfortable with the changes and showing them how this solution positions them for long-term success. The real work of digital transformation can begin.

Q. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful CEO or President?

The ability to listen and learn from the past, taking calculated risks that are outside-the-box and strong communication skills internally and externally.

The ability to listen and learn from the past – As a CEO, your day is always different, and you need to learn from each experience of each day. If you aren’t continuing to grow based on your good and bad experiences by looking at them retrospectively, you hinder your personal and company’s growth. Listen to your team, clients, mentors, investors, etc. They all have different perspectives and agendas but understand all angles of a situation will allow you to make the best decisions.

Taking calculated risks that are outside the box – Leaders haven’t climbed to the top by playing it safe and taking things easy. But that also doesn’t mean they recklessly make hard decisions. They calculate the risks they take by backing them up with data and a strategic plan. And they can jump on an opportunity when it is in front of them. This is where CEOs have managed to turn their companies around, grow them into unicorns, and ensure that they are stable with a large market share in their industry for years to come.

Strong communication skills internally and externally – Being able to articulate your points or ideas for every individual is hard. Speaking to more individuals with different personality types will allow you to tailor your communication to them as you understand how they learn and work best as employees. Without clear direction from the top-down, it’s a recipe for failure. Being able to speak publicly and to clients is also a considerable skill that takes time to get good if you aren’t a natural public speaker. In order to grow your brand and company, the more you can push your messaging as clear as possible, the better you will do.

Q. What other CEOs do you look up to? Why?

Some of my favorite leaders, CEOs, and entrepreneurs are Bill Gates and Ben Horowitz.

Bill is one of my favorites because we would not be here without his remarkable advances in BASIC, which has changed the technology and computer world since the 1970s. Since then, he has focused on building Microsoft to be one of the world’s largest companies, which doesn’t happen by accident. Now that Bill has stepped away, he is even more involved in social and world issues through his foundation. It shows how much he wants to help and change the world for the better. He’s using his success to help others in a meaningful way.

Ben is similar to Bill in being a world-class CEO. I first came across Ben when learning about his VC firm Andreessen Horowitz. After heavily researching his firm, I learned about his background by reading his books and his journey with Mark Andreessen and building Opsware to be eventually acquired by Hewlett-Packard. In his books, he gets into the full journey and discloses his experiences that not every CEO talks about, which allows him to be relatable to any CEO or leader. He also loves classic rap and hip-hop, which he always brings up in books and interviews on how it’s helped him and others to get through hard times.

Q. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting, what would it be?

Ask as many questions as possible, and build your network. If you can skip the bumps in the road that happen along the way of running a business by asking subject matter experts, it will allow you to grow faster and prevent challenging situations. It is good to deal with some complex scenarios on your own, but no one can be good or great without a support system. As you gradually build your network, leverage them, and provide support to them as well. It’s a two-way street, and make sure they are aware of this. Always keep relationships open and be friendly and supportive because you never know how things will turn out. It’s a small world, and you may be sitting across the table from them in the future, signing the biggest deal in your company’s history.

Q. What do you think is the most memorable moment in your career?

One of my favorite memories was winning the IBM Watson Mobile Development Challenge (www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/44057.wss). In 2014, we had the opportunity to come up with our own idea and present it to IBM. We ended up being three of the grand prize winners out of thousands who entered the competition worldwide. After forming our partnership, we focused on building out the world’s smartest AI-powered toy for children aged five to nine called CogniToys. We successfully raised multiple crowdfunding campaigns (www.wired.com/2015/02/cognitoys-ibm-watson) and shipped over 40k products worldwide. CogniToys was later named Time Magazines’ best inventions of 2015 (time.com/4115398/best-inventions-2015).

My most significant memory was launching our first crowdfunding campaign on ‘Kickstarter’ while at NY Toy fair and achieving our goal within the first 24 hours. That day was one of the most excited and fun-filled days of my career. It validated all of our assumptions and research that CogniToys is something that parents and children would love!

Full case study: www.majestykapps.com/work/cognitoys

"Through a comprehensive discovery and strategy process, we ensure that the products we build are right for our clients and implemented on the appropriate platforms.”