03 April 2024

Cervin Founder Spotlight: Chas Ballew of Conveyor, Part 2

Chas Ballew, Founder & CEO of Conveyor, sat down with Cervin partner Daniel Karp to share his experience as a second time founder and offer advice for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Conveyor is the leading generative AI-powered platform that automates and scales the most tedious part of the sales process: customer security reviews. Here is part two of their interview, part one can be found here



Daniel Karp, Partner, Cervin: So I’d like to ask you a few questions about your style of management and your style as a CEO. This is your second CEO role. Between your first company Aptible and now Conveyor, it's been a 10 year journey. What are some of your thoughts on what you would do differently if you were to start a company now?


Chas Ballew, Founder & CEO, Conveyor: There's some things I've learned to do well, and then implemented with Conveyor. One is to hire good people and trust them, hold them accountable and be accountable myself, but really, let good people make decisions on their own. Many entrepreneurs benefit from having a certain amount of risk and ego, which empowers them to make decisions and trust their own judgment. This approach can scale to some extent and may be effective for a period. However, one thing I've discovered, which is both daunting yet remarkably productive, is the practice of hiring talented individuals and trusting them to make decisions, decisions may not be ones that I would necessarily agree with. It's something I've had to learn over time.


DK: I find it interesting because there are two thoughts to consider. First, as time passes, you come to realize that you cannot scale yourself. You need to encapsulate the essence of the culture, the DNA, the priorities, and values in your hiring process. This is crucial because those hires will carry these values to the next layers of the organization. I completely agree with you on this point.

The other interesting aspect is that we don't always recognize it, but there's a certain ego inherent to being a CEO. There are expectations from everyone in the company when they interact with the CEO. Therefore, having the confidence to bring in talented individuals to lead practices and to continue scaling the team, while acknowledging that you don't have to be the smartest person in the room all the time.


CB: I think about the difference between a founder and a CEO.


You can hire a CEO, but you can't hire a founder, right. And a founder brings a unique energy and attitude. There's something just very special about founders.


DK: So another question to follow up on that. What keeps you up at night? Or what is the first thing that you think about when you wake up?


CB: I grew up as an athlete and ran in college, so I've always tried to prioritize sleep, so something has to really be concerning before I lose sleep. But every morning when I wake up, I'm thinking about AI. And it's both really exciting, and also kind of terrifying, and a lot of uncertainty in a lot of ways. The capabilities that technology is unlocking right now are incredible. 


DK: I think all of us are thinking about the impact of AI. And there's so many variations to it, though so many layers to it. It's changing everything. 


CB: It's changing the products that we're building at Conveyor, but it's also changing how we work and the tools that we're working with. Every day. It's changing how we market and how we get the word out about Conveyor. It's really incredible. 


DK: It's fascinating and you're at the bleeding edge of it. One of the things that impressed us the most is the use case that Conveyor brings to the table as it relates to the usage of applied AI. 


CB: It's a great use case. Fundamentally, what we're doing is helping scale completing questionnaires in compliance and security, which requires precision and accuracy. By being able to bring our experience in compliance and security, and blend that with technology that can answer questions, but also harnessing that technology to make it more accurate, more reliable, and safer.

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DK: Another question - You are the leader of a company for the second time. Talk to me about what you think are the most important traits that you should have as a leader in a company? 

CB: The two that are table stakes, especially for tech companies, are intelligence and ambition. You have to be smart and incredibly ambitious. And that I think those are necessary for success.

However, just being very smart and ambitious, that is not enough. You also need integrity, and a long term mindset, which can be difficult in startups, especially early stage startups.

DK: It's interesting, because in the first meetings that we had, when you talked about your background and experience, you mentioned long distance running. And I thought, “Okay, typically long distance runners have a strategy in place and are very strategic, ambitious, and goal-oriented, this is something that is very, very intriguing.” 

CB: So there's a joke in distance running, that getting better at distance running is the process of removing molecules of rubber off the bottom of your shoe one step at a time, over and over and over again. There's no way around it, the only way to get good is to do it. But I think you're right, that if all you do is just work and you're not smart about how you work, then you're not going to get the kind of results as somebody who can bring that level of self reflection and focus. 

DK: So you're a second time founder and you also went through Y Combinator. As we speak, like there's another YC batch. So what advice do you have for YC founders and new founders in general?  

CB: It sounds a bit cliche, I always think “know thyself”. It's really important to understand your own motivations. Some people just want to build cool things and cool products. And that's great. Some people want to get rich, some people want to be famous and well known and respected. I think those are all worthy motivations. But knowing really knowing yourself and asking yourself, “Why am I doing this? Why would I be working on this in 10 years?”.

I think one of the things that has changed my thinking is when I started Aptible with my friend, Frank, and we went through Y Combinator. We didn't have a long term plan, we just liked building products and making customers happy. It wasn't necessarily a 10 year plan. But then 10 years later, we found ourselves successful and still running the company. 

I think in a lot of ways, knowing more about what you wanted to optimize for, will help your journey play out in the direction you want it to. It's tough to say that with a first-time founder, it becomes really hard to have the confidence to even shut-out all the noise and distractions. As a CEO, there's constantly people and organizations and messages coming at you and telling you how to be successful and how to be more productive. You don't really know how to separate the signal from the noise. 

DK: Yeah, early on, it’s tough. Plus there's so many angles that you might be blindsided by.

CB: Even though you're not going to be able to weed out the truth from noise in the beginning, if you know yourself, and really have a good sense of your own motivations and why you want to create, it gets a lot easier.

DK: Yeah, I completely agree. That's very sound advice.

Chas, thanks a lot for your time today. So you're up for an incredible year. What has happened since the beginning of the year and what are you going to go and accomplish this year?

CB: Last year we were fundraising and I had to recruit my executive engineering teams. I’m really happy they're all in place and now we’re starting to build the rest of the team. So this year we’re completing our hiring, growing our customer base, and just getting out there and getting more companies using Conveyor to automate their sales process.

DK: And the good news, there’s a big tail wind behind you guys.

CB: Compliance and security are not going anywhere.

DK: 100%! Chas, thanks for coming in today and this was a wonderful conversation and I really do appreciate all the insights and the candidness. 

CB: Thank you.