On Episode 91 of The Edge of Innovation, we’re talking with Entrepreneur Paul Rush, about the basics of business and entrepreneurship!


Substantial: Paul Rush’s Product Development Company
Products that Substantial has Worked On
How Old is Substantial?
The Two Philosophies of Entrepreneurship
Other Companies Paul Rush Has Started
The Very Beginning
Learning Playground: Computers in the 90’s
Connecting With People Online: In the Beginning
More Than Just Wires Connecting People
Nurturing Talent at An Early Age
Opportunities For Innovation in Education
You Can Lead a Horse to Innovation but You Can’t Make Him Do It
The Concepts of Work and Leisure
Deciding on A College Based on Interests
More Episodes
Show Notes

The Basics of Business & Entrepreneurship with Paul Rush

Introduction To Paul Rush

Paul Parisi: Well today I’d like to welcome Paul Rush from Substantial.

Now Paul, you’re in Seattle today and is one of your offices there or is that where you normally are?

Paul Rush: Yeah, we’re headquartered here but I go back and forth between here and San Francisco.

Substantial: Paul Rush’s Product Development Company

Paul Parisi: And what is Substantial?

Paul Rush: Substantial is a product development company so we help clients get new software products into the market and primarily we provide software development design services. But often we go as far as helping clients figure out what they want to build and what kind of audience they want to address. So, it’s kind of like a startup team in a box.

Paul Parisi: Oh cool! So, do you have specific technologies that you sort of… If I’m looking for a job, a shop? Or is it not really a shop kind of thing? Who is your typical client? What do they look like? Are they entrepreneurs or are they companies already in the market and they just want somebody reliable?

Paul Rush: Yeah, it’s a pretty broad range. So, we work with everybody from Fortune 500 companies – Large companies that are getting a new product or service into market. We actually do a lot of work in the education foundation space. So, helping people build learning platforms and then probably the bulk of our work, about 50 percent or so, is in the startup space and that could be from anything from a very early stage company that doesn’t have a product in market yet. We often help them figure out how to do product development and implement best practices in their organization. So, standing up DEV team and DEV process as well as design.

And then we work sometimes for larger Series B or Series C startups that either have something new that they’re putting into market or need help with an existing product.

Paul Parisi: Do you have a specific technology bend or are you agnostic? How does that work?

Paul Rush: We are fairly agnostic. We have technologies that we like more than others, so we don’t do implementation work against some of the large platforms. We’re not like a sales force company or a WordPress company. We do custom software development and we have technologies that we use more than others, but we really believe that the best developers want to be able to work in different arenas. So, you get a lot from working with different platforms.

People bounce around a lot on our projects and it’s more what fits the client. That said there are things that we try to stay away from. We don’t do that much work in the Microsoft Suite. We’re pretty more on the open source side, and IOS and Android for mobile development.

Products that Substantial has Worked On

Paul Parisi: Cool! Excellent. Are there any products that you can publicly rave about that you’ve been involved with or are those all confidential?

Paul Rush: The larger ones are usually confidential but two that we can talk about that are really fun on the smaller side, are Exploding Kittens which was a friend of mine’s Kickstarter that was the biggest Kickstarter game of all time. It’s a card game.

Paul Parisi: Yeah, oh yeah.

Paul Rush: They’re in the cards against humanity world. We did the mobile application which allows you to play online against people. That was a really fun project.

And the other one is a part of the Trello ecosystem. We did a plugin called Hello Epics. That’s one of our own products and it’s doing quite well. It’ll add Epics functionality to Trello which is their biggest requested feature. And we have more coming in that world of product management and organization

Paul Parisi: Well, that’s cool. So, we have you to thank for our mobile Exploding Kittens.

Paul Rush: Yes.

How Old is Substantial?

Paul Parisi: Excellent. So, how long have you been at Substantial? Where is Substantial in its growth? In its maturity? Is it a teenager? Is it a child? Is it a mature company? Where is it? How old is it?

Paul Rush: Maybe a preteen. We’re getting there. It’s twelve-year-old company and I was the CEO of the company for the first maybe, six, seven, eight years. Then I left to go start a new business and took some time off and have gone through a very interesting process of figuring out how to have someone take over your company. There are lots of entrepreneurs that have been at that position, considering that, and know that it is a very difficult process. It’s not something that is “Oh hey, anyone can just take over a company.” It took a couple tries to get it right.

The Two Philosophies of Entrepreneurship

And I think there’s sort of two philosophies in entrepreneurship. One is build the company, run it, stay with it a long time, or until it has some kind of exit event. And the other is start companies and have other people come in and run them. Richard Branson is famous for doing that. That’s the model that I’m most interested in because I want to get a bunch of companies off the ground and out there. So, learning how to find very senior management and put them in place successfully, is super important for that. I’ve been working on learning that – that ultimate delegation skill.

Paul Parisi: It’s one of many things that are so very important. So, you would characterize yourself as a serial entrepreneur. We’ve got one company, Substantial. What other companies have you started?

Other Companies Paul Rush Has Started

Paul Rush: I started a company before that called Future Tracks that was digital download service which I raised money for. It was before iTunes was out. I’ve been involved in music for a lot of my life, so I’ve been playing around with music on and off since I was a kid. And before that, I was playing music professionally and before that I was doing a consulting company for the music industry.

Paul Parisi: Oh okay.

Paul Rush: That was right out of college. Also, technology.

The Very Beginning

Paul Parisi: We’re going to jump around a little bit, but I think it will make sense. So, let’s sort of rewind. When you were ten what was your dream job? What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

Paul Rush: That’s a really good question. I wonder if I can even remember that.

Paul Parisi: Or eleven. Within a couple of days.

Paul Rush: Somewhere around there I really got the bug of being involved in computers. And this is a very different time for computing.

Paul Parisi: Do you want to share when that was?

Paul Rush: Yeah, this was the early 90’s. So, computers were just coming out of their phase of being a little bit more home brew and very small technical audiences. So, Commodore 64 just passed and we were in a sort of new era of the beginning of the user interfaces. But they were something that you needed to know quite a lot to get a lot out of. So, being a geeky computer kid was something that I loved. For all the people who were involved then, I’m sure it’s the same now, although computers seem so much easier to use now and it’s harder to see behind the curtain in a lot of cases. Which I find a real shame about IOS.

Paul Parisi: It’s opaque.

Paul Rush: Yeah. And it stays running all the time and it never crashes and you never have to figure out what’s wrong and they don’t provide a great access layer to below the surface of the operating system. But back then you really did have to go that far, and it really was a learning playground.

Learning Playground: Computers in the 90’s

Paul Parisi: So, what was your first computer? You said you were in the close of the Commodore 64 era, so what was the computer you were playing with?

Paul Rush: It was called an Amiga 500.

Paul Parisi: Okay.

Paul Rush: For the people that know that computer, it was an extremely special computer. It had a tiny soul and heart. It made that landscape really really fun and enjoyable. And I don’t think to date there has been a product like that on the market.

Paul Parisi: How did you get that? Who said, “Oh, we need to get Paul a computer because he’s geeky or just because kids need a computer?” What was the impetus to get that computer into your hands?

Paul Rush: Yeah. My parents were soft science and art so it wasn’t from them. I had had some experiences where I actually started doing some programming and stuff below the surface with computers and it struck me like a lighting bolt that this was the thing I really needed. You know you talk to people who are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives but for whatever reason, I was very lucky. I don’t know how it was for you, but I was very lucky that I found a few things when I was in that ten to fifteen range, that I really loved, and this was one of them.

Paul Parisi: So, you really enjoyed it. I’m speaking from my own experience. It was sort of all just “This is the coolest thing in the world. I’ve never seen anything like it!”

Paul Rush: Yeah it was completely that. And it’s such a fun time for technology because you could see the potential and if you had any idea about where things might go you could connect the dots and see this as coming.

Connecting With People Online: In the Beginning

Paul Rush: The thing that really put it over the edge for me was connecting to other people online. So, bulletin board systems. And then I got very early access to the internet and seeing how computer networks could shape interaction and human beings’ social activity was just phenomenal.

Paul Parisi: Was that in retrospect or did you actually feel that or detect that or identify that at the time?

Paul Rush: Oh no! I felt it right then!

Paul Parisi: Really? That’s insightful!

Paul Rush: It was pretty easy to say “Okay. There’s this small number of people here now and the interest is growing so eventually there will be a lot more and this is so useful and so universal.” Finding information online was already a thing. The internet as we know it was a project of the 70’s so by the time the 90’s hit there were enough people online and enough information online that you could really see “Wow! This is something that’s going to be massive!” Imagine another ten times the number of people on and then ten times that. It felt big even at the time.

Paul Parisi: Interesting. I will say something that’s very embarrassing. I was at the Mac World when Netscape came out of the closet and honestly, they were in the corner of the Mascarpone Center in San Francisco and they had a huge booth. I was one of the people who walked round the idea and said, “So what’s this going to do for me?” And it was just like “Okay. I can connect to other computers.” There was networking and stuff at the time. But the perception of the content wasn’t there. I was obviously completely wrong and that’s why it’s embarrassing.

More Than Just Wires Connecting People

Paul Parisi: So, what I’m pointing out is that you really had an insight and wisdom as a fifteen-year-old kid to say, “There’s something more than just the wires connecting this.”

Paul Rush: Well, what’s funny is that I actually had this same reaction to the web. The internet gave me that feeling but the web didn’t.

Paul Parisi: Interesting.

Paul Rush. I was at Columbia Research Facility when Mosaic came out, which is the predecessor of Netscape and I looked at it and was like, “Boring.”

Paul Parisi: Yeah that’s what I said. I was talking about Mosaic actually, yes. So, I said the same things. That’s interesting. So, you identified that there was a connection medium?

Paul Rush: Well, the internet was great because I was on IRC and we were all chatting with each other and I was talking with people all over the world and it felt so connective. I had friends in London when I was fourteen.

Paul Parisi: Interesting.

Nurturing Talent at An Early Age

Paul Parisi: So, you’re fourteen. I know you have an affinity for music. Were you playing an instrument? Or did you just love music?

Paul Rush: No, I grew up playing an instrument since I was old enough to hold one.

Paul Parisi: Was that put upon you or was that something you took to?

Paul Rush: It was discovered as something that I wanted to do pretty early. I don’t remember who was there first when I was five or six. I loved it and was extremely good at it and then the nagging of my parents drove me in the opposite direction. So, for a long time I didn’t practice and didn’t want to play and then back in high school I got back into it. And I really wonder what would have happened if I’d kept playing for those five or six years in between. Because I was really good when I was a kid and then those five or six years, I sort of fell behind. I went from ahead to behind.

I think about this a lot with talent in general. It’s one of the world’s biggest problems. How do we get and nurture people to find a thing that they have aptitude for and desire to do early, and encourage them to do it? Because so many of the people that we know and love who are artists, musicians, creators, technologists, they happened to find it, have the right resources, have the right mentorship early on and you always wonder “What if?” What if I’d practiced those five years? What if I’d have had someone else keep me on the track? Of course, those “What if?” questions continue forever but it’s an interesting thought. Like how do you encourage people to dive into something?

Paul Parisi: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. We have a son who took piano lessons and actually showed some affinity for it but his parents, me and my wife, were a little bit too encouraging of it and he wanted to quit as quickly as he could.

Opportunities For Innovation in Education

Paul Parisi: I agree. That is a key opportunity for innovation – How parents nurture their children in music or in talent and things like that.

Paul Rush: Well, it’s society really. It’s not just parents. I have this same feeling that something is going to change massively for humanity with education. We’re going to figure it out. We’re going to get more cognitive about it and understand how people’s brains work and really be able to tailor education to people. Imagine what would happen if people loved learning and people have their natural aptitudes. I’m a bit of a futurist and a science fiction fan so I think about these things a lot. But imagine if you could go from a couple percent of the population being super engaged in something to seventy or eighty percent. I mean humanity just gets so much more productive.

You Can Lead a Horse to Innovation but You Can’t Make Him Do It

Paul Parisi: Okay, well, let’s explore that. I’m naturally wired to learn. I just love to learn. One of my brothers has a joke that whenever their family was talking about something and they said “Oh, you know, what about this?”

“Oh, well, why don’t you just call your brother, Paul.”

Because I would have some opinion about it. Not that I’m this rocket scientist or anything but I just have this insatiable curiosity about everything. I’m not sure what my parents did. I don’t know if its genetic. I don’t know if it’s learned but I’ve recently just started teaching an innovation course at one of the universities here in Boston, and I am struck by the lack of motivation. So, I’d be interested in your thoughts on that because you can lead a horse to innovation, but you can’t make him do it.

Paul Rush: Yeah, I’m curious as well. I feel like this is a thing I could get to in my career, so to speak, in a few years. But I’d really love to know how to identify talent and then encourage it to grow. I don’t know where it comes from. I’m not a neuro-scientist. I’m not a behavioral psychologist so I haven’t approached this from any real angles yet.

Paul Parisi: But you have experience. Why are you interested?

Paul Rush: It seems like the whole reason that we’re here, I mean there’s nothing. Not to get too philosophical, but if you take life for what it is without curiosity and engagement. I feel like it could be a dull or difficult process.

Paul Parisi: Sure.

Paul Rush: But if you have that spark then it provides all the purpose and meaning for an interesting life. There are so many things to learn about. So many things to experience. So it seems base level connected to who I am, which makes me think that it might be a genetic disposition to just be so interested in that. But I don’t know. Maybe there were key moments in development where that became important. What do you think?

Paul Parisi: Well, I don’t know. My parents were very… If I showed interest in something, they did everything they could to encourage it. So, if it was electronics, “Oh, let’s get him with one of the local electrical engineers and have him talk to them.”

“Oh, you want to take apart a radio? Oh, here’s a radio to take apart.”

Whatever it was. Coin collecting. “Oh, well, let’s introduce you to the coin collectors.” Stamp collectors. Same thing. Whatever it was that I showed an interest in. I remember I showed an interest in wanting to play football and they dutifully took me to football practice and I just said this is not worth it. So, that was very affirming of me.

The Concepts of Work and Leisure

Paul Parisi: So, I’d be interested to get your feedback on this. I’m actually working on a book that’s talking about the concepts of work and leisure. And what I’ve learned in research is that leisure is a relatively new concept. Traditionally, you had an agrarian economy where people had to work most of the day and didn’t have much time for leisure as we define it. As we’ve moved into the 20th and, 21st century where we have these different levels and scales of economy, you have people that are given time where they have nothing to do.

And now, I fill that up with learning and stuff like that. But a majority of people, it seems like, leave that to do nothing. And it’s almost like everybody’s working for the weekend to quote 38 Special and I think it’s a placebo effect of sort of the… what is it? Sedation of the Masses. Sort of like, “Well, okay. Have your leisure time.” Basically, unplug and shut off or disconnect and shut down. There seems to be a stratification in society of people who don’t do anything that is building one’s self up. They just want “Okay, I’ve gone to work so I can celebrate for the weekend.”

Paul Rush: Yeah. I mean, I am a very amateur student of history. I’ve been reading little bits and pieces. Sapiens was a big eye opener for me. And from that book – did you read that?

Paul Parisi: No, but it’s on my list.

Paul Rush: It’s a fantastic fantastic book. From that perspective, we kind of lost something when we entered agriculture as a society, as a civilization on earth, where we actually had a lot of leisure time and we knew what to do with it prior to agriculture. And it kind of got worse and worse through the industrial revolution and I agree that it may be reversing now and we may end up with more and more time as automation kicks in. We may wind up with people with a lot of time on their hands.

But I think the big difference between when we were very early on the planet as Homo Sapiens and now, is that there’s so much stimulus and a lot of it drives you via capitalism to have an ethic of comparison. And that can drive people a little bit mad psychologically. So, I feel like we need to figure out what leisure time means for us in a way that’s healthier and leads us to more satisfied lives.

And I hope that there’s some kind of movement where we start learning and teaching each other how to be connected to some purpose because that’s, I think, a path through the noise. Imagine people with ten, fifteen, twenty more hours of time on their hands and we can do something. It would be potentially disastrous if we don’t give them something to do that is meaningful for them. And we’re seeing it already. People are magnifying problems way out of hands. We’re having a lot of difficulty having reasonable conversation across different demographic apps.

Paul Parisi: In some ways it’s WALL-E.

Paul Rush: Shhh! No! That’s the dystopian side of this. It goes towards a WALL-E or Idiocracy which is another great movie. You could easily see it going there. So, what’s the anecdote to that? My naïve, unstudied answer would be finding a way to connect people with purpose, so they don’t feel a meaningless void in their lives.

Deciding on A College Based on Interests

Paul Parisi: So, now you’re fifteen years old. You love computers. You’re getting back into music. Did those two things synergize together at all?

Paul Rush: They did a little bit, but they were pretty separate. It wasn’t until much later that they started to come together.

Paul Parisi: So, what instruments did you play?

Paul Rush: I played all woodwinds, but saxophone family was my big instrument group.

Paul Parisi: Cool. So, now you decided, I would imagine, at some point, that you were going to go to school. Did you go to college?

Paul Rush: Yes.

Paul Parisi: What were you going to be?

Paul Rush: Again, like I was saying, it’s hard to identify with people who didn’t know what they wanted to do, because the two things I checked off on interest… I think I put, when I was looking for schools, computer science, computer engineering and music. And I did all of those things at school. So, it was very natural. I think the thing that wasn’t’ captured is that I had already started playing around with entrepreneurship and trying to figure out how to make money. I was a hacker kid, so it was up to nefarious stuff that thankfully I did not get in trouble for but a lot of it was driven by ether meeting people or figuring out how to make money.

It’s funny because some of these softer skills, these things that you kind of can’t study. Entrepreneurship is something that it’s great that we’re teaching it, but it’s not necessarily taught as a curriculum. It winds up being, in some ways, the most valuable. Then the hard subjects are things that are more bridges to get somewhere.


Paul Parisi: Well, we’ve been talking with Paul Rush today of Substantial. And he’s been joining us from Seattle. We’ve had a great conversation about both entrepreneurship and innovation and businesses he’s been in.

I’d be interested in feedback from our listeners, other areas you might like us to explore. Whether it be science fiction or people problems or things like that.

Well, thank you for coming on and I’m sure we’re going to invite you back.

Paul Rush: Looking forward to it. Thank You.

More Episodes:

This is Part 1 of 3 our interview with Paul Rush. Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon! We’ll be talking about getting out of your comfort zone and overcoming the first hurdle of starting your own business!

Show Notes: