Hum-an Stories: Q&A with EVP of Research and Development Chris Dolezalek
This interview is part of Hum-an Stories, a Q&A series with Hum Capital Leadership, companies, and investors providing a look under the hood at what drives Hum and its Intelligent Capital Market.
Chris Dolezalek (CD) has been in the startup game a long time — five stints, seeing two IPOs and three acquisitions. But his career focus hasn’t always been dot-coms, fintech, or banking. In fact, janitor, K-8 teacher, and climate and carbon credits researcher are featured on Dolezalek’s curriculum vitae.
He’s a man who loves to wear many hats, figuratively and literally. Of course, it’s CD’s passion for building the most motivated and effective engineering teams that always brings him back to tech.
Today, CD is Hum Capital’s Executive Vice President of R&D. In this Q&A, he dishes on pressing industry challenges, team priorities, and more. (It’s been lightly edited for clarity.)
Q: Why did you choose to join Hum as the next step in your career?
My first stint in fintech was in the dot-com era where we built a platform for online banking. More recently, I came back to fintech to work for Prosper in the personal loan area.
Having experienced what was possible using AI and machine learning to enable personal loans, I was fascinated by the idea of doing something similar in funding companies — especially having spent so much time in close proximity to venture capitalists.
The potential for making the fundraising process more efficient is really exciting to me. This is especially true when you consider what that could do for companies and entrepreneurs that might otherwise not get funding just because they didn’t enjoy the same access to traditional sources of capital.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge in tech right now?
The biggest challenge we face is being able to adapt to unforeseen change.
Enabling human transformation is essential in our rapidly evolving world. We have a number of paradigm shifts being brought on by climate change and pandemics that we’re going to need to adapt to and overcome. Finding and enabling people in the tech industry to not only adapt to the world around them, but to build architectures and systems that can also adapt is key. Imagine if Amazon had limited themselves to only ever selling physical books, rather than evolving into a platform that would eventually sell web-services.
In this age of disruption, we must not only embrace change, but also be a catalyst for it.
Q: What are your priorities and goals for Hum’s Intelligent Capital Market in the next year?
I’m focused on building out the Intelligent Capital Market to make it more robust and improve the access it creates to the right capital for more companies in the US and eventually globally. Every company is unique and we need to build a platform that gives all of them an opportunity to find the right capital to help them grow.
Q: How do you approach managing teams of developers that are completely remote?
Interestingly enough, in 2019 we ran an exercise at the company I was with to explore our resilience to disasters. We simulated a major global pandemic, which assumed everyone had to work remotely for an extended time. As a result, COVID wasn’t such a black swan event for us.
The biggest unknowns were around engineering morale and productivity in a remote environment. Applying what I’ve learned about what motivates engineers, we closed 2020 with significant improvements in employee morale, and by almost every measure, 2020 was our most productive year ever. I believe a big component of that success comes from enabling engineers to see the meaning, purpose, and impact of their work — and to receive recognition directly from the leadership team for those accomplishments.
The possibilities of remote and hybrid work, when managed well, has proven to hold a huge potential for companies and employees as well.