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The Making of a Development Team: Josh Diskin

Welcome back to The Making of a Development Team where I get to interview my teammates and show what we are made of. I rounded up 14 fellow Detroit Labbers to talk about what they do, what they love, how they got here, and what makes them tick.I rounded up 14 fellow Detroit Labbers to talk about what they do, what they love, how they got here, and what makes them tick. In my first post I interviewed Tijana Milovanovic, Junior Developer, and talked about her college life as an NCAA student-athlete and CS major, as well as her transition and growth as a professional developer.

For today’s post, I sat down with one of my “Biz Dev” teammates. I would describe Josh Diskin as one of the happiest people at any given time of the day. He is always positive — willing to listen on a tough day, uplifting and fun to be around on a good day. This day, it was my turn to listen to him.

Josh on a trampoline

Tell me a bit about yourself.

I grew up in Michigan. I was part of the inaugural class of 30 at my Jewish high school. I honestly loved being a part of a small class. I often see a lot of similarities between my school class and Labs; we felt that we were building something. We were called “The Pioneers.” I created the “Intergrade Masquerade,” and came up with the name of our newspaper, “The Paradigm.” I named it that because we had just learned about the concept of paradigm and I thought it would be cool to call it paradigm and sell it for a “pair of dimes.”

I was the first person in my high school accepted into an Ivy League school. I call my University of Pennsylvania and Cardozo (law school) time my “7.5 year sabbatical on the East Coast,” because I always wanted to come back. I had a lot of friends who stayed in school here in Michigan, and who wanted to live somewhere else like Chicago or New York because they hadn’t left. Since I had gotten that out of my system, I was ready to come back home.

Detroit Labs - T-Shirt

After graduation, I didn’t know that many people who were going straight into the workforce unless they were investment bankers, and I came from a family that wanted me to get a graduate degree. I was interested in continuing my education and going to law school but never wanted to practice.

My first year in law school was the year of the big economic financial collapse. All of the traditional legal summer internships or associate jobs were just not there. It was so cutthroat, and only about 5% of my class were able to get traditional summer associate jobs. Instead of fighting to do that, I went to a startup law firm and loved the startup mentality. Being pretty sure that I didn’t want to be a lawyer after graduation, one day, on a napkin, I wrote down my professional goals. I just had to figure out how to get there. I knew that one day I wanted to launch a successful business, and the only way to get there is to learn how a business is created. I needed to join a startup.

My buddy started a clothing company in New York called Orley, and I asked him what I should do. He said to check out Detroit, and I eventually found Labs through Detroit Venture Partners.

Tell me about your role in sales? How did it start, how has it evolved, and what have you learned?

When I thought about what I could bring to a startup with my legal degree, I had writing and analytical skills, so I applied for Business Development here. After starting at Labs and getting sales training, I realized that I would also be helpful with contracts. I had been working on both for a bit, but nothing too aggressive, when one of our largest clients at the time got a new decision maker. Paul, Nathan, and Dan asked me to put together a survey of our past work, as well as new ideas to present. They loved it, signed us on for more work, our team grew, and with a new need for an internal Project Manager, I agreed to step into that role.

I switched gears from sales to PM for about a year until our first Delivery Lead was hired. I continued to help on the account side for another year, and then came back to full sales. You know, I learned a lot as a PM, and got to learn all of the different aspects of business development, but had never fully devoted myself to sales. It is such an important part of growing a business and I am happy to be in this role now. What’s that saying? The strongest steel is forged by the hottest fire? The same thing around here. There’s an amazing willingness to throw people into the fire here. There has been so much experience by doing as opposed to just observing. Law school, in general, made me comfortable with being put on the spot. You have your stereotypical law professor who calls on you in class. You have to be comfortable learning and speaking under pressure. It works best for me to learn by figuring it out for myself.

I fully believe that as a sales person, it is incredibly important and invaluable to have the ability to wear many hats, especially at the beginning, because you get to see all of the different sides. It would be hard for me to do sales without having worked on a project team, to see what goes into building an app from start to finish. Having this context also allows me to better empathize with a team, and make sure that the client AND the team are considered when making a sale. That mentality is very important.

People always say, “Oh, you don’t want to be the jack of all trades.” I never listen to that advice. I had this view of growing a business and that means a lot of different things, and finding out what you’re good and not good at. Sometimes the best way to do that is dive in and help wherever there is a need.

What I discovered after working in sales was this: selling is two parts, selling to the client and selling internally. Sometimes we have to make tough decisions about working with clients.

Part of the thing that I love about sales is working with clients to really set them up for success. So many people in this world try to do what’s best for them. Being in services, I like the approach that everything we do here should be in the best interest of our clients. In turn, it will also be in the best interest of DL. What goes along with that are sometimes difficult conversations because it’s important to recognize that while our clients are experts in their area, we are experts in ours. Sometimes our suggestions are difficult and difficult conversations are always in the best interest of the client. Being in that and establishing trust are my favorite parts of working in sales.

Josh Diskin talking to a crowd

As a history major, what was the most interesting historical event that you studied?

I love the French Revolution, and the 1960’s. I think I enjoy learning about both for similar reasons. There were revolutionary changes that happened in society. The French Revolution was amazing. It was the birth of modern thought, science. You actually had people who completely thought in a different way. Not just big thinkers, but everyday people. Before the French Revolution, people would walk down the street and would slip, and honestly think that God caused this, not oh, “I should avoid this or put up a sign to say slippery when wet.” Simple things about every day. People trying to explain the world from a scientific approach, and concepts of the universe.

What three questions would you ask Voltaire if he were here today?

If you had a problem to tackle today what would that be?

What’s the most ridiculous abuse of power?

What advice would you give to America?

What was the greatest piece of advice you learned from working in law?

It’s all about your appetite for risk. Often times people will ask a question for this or that and there isn’t a right or wrong answer. It really comes down to how risk averse are you. Law school is like learning another language. You have to learn legalese, a ton of jargon that you have to nail down. You have to learn to become comfortable enough that you can talk in that language of law. Tech is that same way. So much learning initially, but it’s like a whole language of people in the industry.

So, we can’t talk a whole lot about our clients, but what type of project have you been the most passionate about getting?

I love working in new areas that we haven’t worked on in the past. Ones where we can work on different technologies where our people can become experts in the big thing or a brand new industry. The most boring thing would be to work on the same projects over, and over, and over again. Hopping industries is great. We are quite the experts in Quick Service Restaurants and automotive right now. Some of my favorite projects are ones that are in new areas.

Earlier this year you went out and got an altMBA from Seth Godin. What was the most inspiring part? What really sung to you?

I thought it was really fun. DL is an amazing place and we are surrounded by amazing people, but it was nice to take a half-step out of this group of people and go interact with vastly different people day-to-day with businesses and circumstances. I loved the diversity of opinions and what’s out there. I loved his constant reinforcement of a lean approach to building businesses and marketing strategies. I loved his emphasis on empathy and the why as opposed to the what or how.

Creating an MVP, building it up. A smart, calculated approach to what you are doing, and building on that and iterating and seeing if it works, and working through it once it becomes public. Not being slow — being smart and efficient. Bootstrapping.

I know that you love music…. Who is your favorite band again?

Phish.

Ahh yes that’s it ;). How many concerts have you been to?

After this weekend, 109.

create - Detroit Labs

LIGHTNING ROUND:

What did you eat for breakfast today?

Two eggs, carrots, apple, a piece of ezekiel bread toast. I am now eating healthy…Every meal some fruit veggies, whole grains, no processed food, and protein that is grass-fed and comes from happy animals.

What was the last movie you saw?

I just rented Hail Caesar. I forgot how much I loved the Coen Brothers and The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou?… it was so good. The writing and directing was phenomenal. There was one scene with a priest, a rabbi, and an imam, and it was insane. It was such a smart movie and I loved it. The ending was so-so, but it was so fun. I loved it. I recommend it.

If you had one item in the zombie apocalypse, what would it be?

An axe? Maybe a bike. Is that a good one?

Best decision you ever made?

Getting married. It’s fun being in life with a partner.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten?

My grandpa always said to be in the middle, because you don’t want to be the first person doing something and not knowing the pitfalls, and not last and irrelevant. I think he meant second. It’s nice to learn from the mistakes of the people in front of you. Second or third.

Ooh, also this. Nathan Hughes once told me that sometimes you just have to go into the bar and throw a punch and see what happens. I wouldn’t give that advice to everyone, because some people might take it too far, or too aggressively, or not be thoughtful about throwing that punch, but sometimes when there’s conflict that’s not yet resolved, sometimes you have to be the one to take the first step and resolve things.

Come back next week, when I get to talk to iOS developer Jeff Kelley.