On Episode 110 of The Edge of Innovation, we’re continuing our conversation with inventor Falk Wolsky! This time we’re talking about what sets inventors apart from other people! 


The Necessity of Curiosity & Patience
Curiosity As a Child
Falk Wolsky’s First Invention
More of Falk’s Inventions
Making Money By Inventing
Being Able To Sell A Product: The Magic Of Timing
The Story is What You Sell
Building a Story For Your Invention Takes Time
More Episodes
Show Notes

What Sets Inventors Apart From Other People? – Part 2 of Our Conversation With Falk Wolsky


Paul: We’re talking with Falk Wolsky. He’s the Chief Innovation Officer with Innogate Tech.

So, what’s different about your experience? How did you grow into this? What happened to you as opposed to somebody that you grew up next door to? What’s different? Why are you somebody that looks at a problem and can say, “Gee, I got all of these tools or parts out there that I can go and build stuff with, or I can invent a new part.” As opposed to somebody who you said, you know, with the pie chart, which we’ll provide a link to if you can provide that. Why are you sort of saying… You ended up in the 1%. And I’ll bet you didn’t, when you were five or six years old, say, “Oh, I’m going to be an inventor.” Maybe you did. But…

Falk: Let’s say I was eight, it seems.

Paul: Okay.

Falk: I cannot say.

Paul: But what’s the difference? What’s that trigger that makes you want to say or just see? Because I think that, as I’ve experienced my own innovation development, I just see things and I’ve been eager to talk to people, other innovators and inventors of why do you see differently? What makes it so obvious to people like you, to people like me? And how do you explain that to other people that don’t see it? That don’t even see things that might be obvious?

The Necessity of Curiosity & Patience

Falk: I might say… Let’s go back to my age of sixteen years old. And my parents actually gave me, really early, pretty heavy books. I mean, I was reading Albert Einstein in the— what is it? — ninth class. So before high school anyway. But this is nothing extraordinary. I was just interested.

Well, let’s go back. I had a lot of books. I was reading. So, I had an attention span. I could survive a question. I was not being frustrated fast. And, after my six years, I was unbelievable. A lot of time just in the nature. We had a garden outside from our hometown, and I spent kind of every weekend pure into nature. I was turning everything. Stones, animals, grass, trees. I learned about how, how things moved, what is inside. So, I was just turning it. I was curious about everything.

And the difference, I do believe, is curiosity compared or connected to state of mind, that you don’t accept things at the first moment. I have an insight trigger that, all the time, let me ask, when everybody runs in one direction, a huge crowd, one direction, the first thing I said, “Stop. Why? Why they run?” Maybe it’s not good. Maybe it’s good. I don’t know. Let’s look at it. At least have an opinion to it. Not simply run.

And this question to everything compared with the curiosity then leads into the possibility to combine to make these sparks out of… You have seen a lot. And you have read a lot. But you do all of this and, honestly, without stop, I break up and brain start to work, and I go to bed, and the brain hardly stops to work. And between that and I swallow again, everything was just really interesting.

I have also, like you, exchanged with a lot of people. But I read also a lot. Right? This is kind of, 50%. I cannot say. But let’s say 20% of time per day, at least, I read. And this in combination, I believe, it makes it, for me at least, curiosity is kind of… Everything is interesting. I want to turn everything, and see how it is working.

Curiosity As a Child

Falk: I had a lot of technology stuff at home. What I did, actually I damage it. I just was kind of, I had this screw or tools, what you need, and I just kind of look inside. What is inside the clock? What is inside the radio? What is inside electric power? I was hit seven times by this 220 volt.

Paul: I’ve been there myself, yes.

Falk: Yeah, so I was curious. Right? And, the good thing is I was patient enough to put things together again that they work. And most people would get frustrated fast, and they left things in this age damaged. And maybe this is also the point. This attention span by the early reading, that I could survive frustration and go through and see hope, the possibility that things will work again compared to curiosity, compared to, or connected to this. We question things. I don’t accept status quo. And that is maybe the key.

Paul: Interesting. Now, how did your parents react when you took apart a clock or a radio or something like that?

Falk: I must say, from the point that when I see them now — they’re pretty old now, eighty years already and more — they must have an unbelievable patience with me. It seems to me actually there was, at that time, when I was young, they were already forty-something, almost fifity — I get adopted. Right? They were already pretty old when they get me. Maybe Five. Maybe they just said, “Let him do.”

Paul: Right.

Falk: And to make it, this was the huge chance I had. I had a free space, and I had the free space to, to try, and I was not cleaning up the room. It wasn’t mess, but it was all full of this technology stuff. And they somehow accepted it. I cannot say they were supporting it, but they accepted it simply and was not, not caring maybe too much or they were smiling. But it did allow me this freedom to have all of this.

And I might say, in all the time we say clean up in childhood, maybe this is bad. Maybe this small mess or this let them do helps.

Paul: Well, it sounds like they didn’t scold you, which is a big benefit.

Falk: Yes. I might say yes. This is true.

Falk Wolsky’s First Invention

Paul: Interesting. So, what was your first recollection of doing something innovative that was beyond just something that was interesting to yourself, but other people paid attention to.

Falk: The very, very first patent I wrote was virtual acoustic renderer. I was that time selling studio electronics — synthesizers, mixing poles and all this stuff, because I was DJ. I was young. I loved techno music — boom, boom and so on. And so, I was soldering a lot of stuff. But then I came to, what is, if you can calculate like in the [inaudible], a 3D rendering, but you can calculate sound. Actually, it was existing somehow to make architecture possible but not in the effect scene. In the effect scene, we still had a very classic compressors, echos, delays, and all this stuff.

Paul: What year was this about?

Falk: Oh, 2000 maybe. Something like this. It was roughly the time when I found my first company, agency. And, what happened, I got a lot of attention because at that time I was employee. So, they said, “Young boy, this is our invention.”

I said, “No, no, no. It’s my invention.”

“No,” they said, “No, this is our invention.”

“How’s that?”

“No, because you’re an employee.”

“Yes, this is an employee. This and an employee innovation.”

So, I was really angry.

Paul: You learned an important lesson.

Falk: So, I was a little bit disgusted with them. It was very nice to me. Gave it to me. I resigned immediately, and since then, I’m a freelancer. That was really the first time I got, recognition about an invention I did.

Paul: Wow. So that was pretty bold. I mean, that was a pretty big invention in the year 2000, to be able to do that type of modeling. It was not really easy at that time.

Falk: It was not. And now it comes from curiosity.

More of Falk’s Inventions

Falk: But fantastic story to tell. Can you believe? I’m born in the Eastern part of Germany. So actually, till I’m roughly twelve, we had no access to modern computers, let’s say. Exactly today, I shared on my LinkedIn, a picture of the computers of Eastern Democratic Republic we had. And I was experimenting on them. I cannot say I’m the super hacker. No, no. I was just experimenting and trying a little bit and was curious. And then we had the C64 Commodore, like everyone. And already on C64, I made a lot of music with trackers, and then we had Amiga. Wow. Huge. Amazing. Amiga 600 I had.

And then I’m stumbling on ray tracing program. It was calling. The first private ray tracer. You could 3D generate pictures at home. That was something completely outstanding. You couldn’t believe. We have 320 and 256 pixel. And this computer was calculating days. For once, in the picture, you could even watch, pixel by pixel, how it calculate backwards. It was not that clever like we do today. We have a lot of shortcuts invented since then in the 3D modeling.

So, I was watching these pixels calculating, but I did understand, as the documentation, it was very nice and described everything, how this works, how this ray tracing actually. What is the fundamental principle of following and live stream back from the object to the camera and so on. And that brings me to the idea, why not to do this with sound, and actually then you can…interpolate. You can say, okay, sound has these characteristics. It has resonance, it has some material, characteristics on the wall, on the instrument and so on and so on.

But this ray tracer from the Amiga 600, it was the birth of the idea, I might say. It was where it comes from.

Making Money By Inventing

Paul: Wow. Wow. So now, as you started to come up with these technology ideas, you learned that important lesson that you work for somebody, and they said, “Oh, no. We own it.” So, you started to crossover from ideas to the business side of it to understand that there’s a business aspect to it. How did that go? And what did you learn, and what lessons would you say to other people? Because, inventing something is one thing. Making money out of it is another thing.

Falk: That is a pretty hard thing. I completely agree. I had pretty struggling years with everyone, because mostly likely, I started after the dot-com bubble. So, all IT things was already suspicious in Germany especially. So, I had hard years with low income, I might say. I was running my own agency, and I did very classic things — websites first, corporate design, styling for companies, small programs. Then they asked me, “Can you do something that we can manage the content on website by itself?”

“Ah, database. You need. I can do it.” Develop.

“Can I sell something on a website?”

“Yes, you can sell.” Ecommerce, in this case. I did payment APIs and all this stuff. Very, very classic stuff. Right? No innovation here. That was for sure, some years.

Being Able To Sell A Product: The Magic Of Timing

Falk: And, then it comes to wonderful thing when we invented this coffee machine. And exactly as you say, this step, we’re still struggling. The coffee machine with this Twitter, is a nice thing. And actually, if you do it right, it could be a wonderful thing for brands, for customers, for food service and so on. And even though he liked it a lot that time. But wrong timing. It was too early.

At that time, investors didn’t even heard, in Germany, from IoT. They didn’t understand. There was still an ecommerce. There was a lot of rocket internet, and there was a lot of ecommerce stores, and that was the huge invention. So, we actually, we developed it, we presented it, but we did not land it. We was not able to make something bigger out of it. Actually, after one and a half years, we just gave up. This also could happen because we was not able to convince people, that time, how cool is it.

As you can imagine, it was 2009. And in 2016, they present a product so near to our first prototypes that we was frustrated a lot. And this is the magic of timing. They had the better timing for it.

Paul: Well, I’ve always said, “It’s not inventing the product. It’s being able to sell the product.”

Falk: Exactly. Exactly.

Paul: This is probably before your time, but there was a product called WordPerfect, and WordPerfect was not the better product, but it was sold much better than Word at the time. And, the story works out that Word was a better product and eventually got better sales, but it’s a fascinating story of, if you haven’t heard or read about WordPerfect, you should go back and do that. More for our listeners. But, I mean, that’s really the story between Mac and Windows. I don’t know if you’re a Mac or a Windows user, but the many people, the Mac ecosystem is very mature. But it has to be sold. And Windows was easier to sell.

Falk: Well, the most sales I had was actually, in all this time till of 2013 was my brain, that is IT stuff. Right? I made a lot of solution. I connected systems. I helped people to manage the different data stacks they have and so on and so on. So, this was more fundamental. And it was easy to sell because people needed this solution.

Products came later. But exactly as you say, that there’s a large gap between a technical solution, an idea, or a fundamental new way, how to see things, and how to sell. So, I collected, in this time, valuable experience exactly about this, what I call fundamentals. Right? Technology, business model. And all this together shapes products. And not technology itself, not the marketing itself and so on.

The Story is What You Sell

Paul: So, well, let’s get into that a little bit. How do you cross that chasm of selling? Do you see something that a customer has a need for and approach them? Or do they approach you? Or is it a combination? Or how do you talk about that?

Falk: Hmmm. That’s very interesting and fantastic question. And, that is the hard part, I might say. When we come back to the pen, somehow it happened all in this first twenty minutes. Because I saw the situation. I saw the kid. I saw him struggling, and I do understand it was all about attention, and all our economy is now already about attention. Do we have fundamental attention? Not problem but it’s in the room. Right? The topic. So that was easy. And let’s say all that was born in this — the story was there, and the story is what you sell.

Now I work already since, one and a half year on the product. It’s still a little bit in stealth mode. But it’s somehow in redefinition of how we work and working place and IT sector. And it took me, honestly, one year to find a good story for it. I understood what it is. I had seen clear where to go. I was already in a product development with my team. But I was not finding a good story, the catch, where, where you can explain what actually it is and why it is so good. It took one year to find it.

And it, I cannot say when it happened, somehow maybe in an airplane. Maybe it was even on a back flight from New York. It could be. I had six hours undisturbed, and I believe I did it in that time. I just opened the PowerPoint, and I start the question. “What will do if you go now to an investor? What you will tell him?” And the investor is somehow a little bit of an, of a preflight for the customer. Only if you convince investors you will have enough power to later on tell the story to the client. And investors are very critic. Right? So, we have just elevate the pitch, and we must fit or not. And I believe only by then, by this strong focus to this question, I was able to solve it.

Building a Story For Your Invention Takes Time

Falk: And I came actually to the very remarkable and fast thing. Let’s say if John, and John is the CIO, the chief information officer from big companies, and they have all the same problems. They need to deliver applications to their people. And they have not enough resources or not enough money to actually – the desire for application is kind of several ten times higher than John will ever be able to deliver.

So, I do develop a system. I mean, low code is nothing new, but we do it in a very nice way when you actually save, you can develop in ten times less. You don’t weeks. You need some days. You need a lot of less people. Instead of nine in a team, you need two people. That’s wonderful for an IT budget.

But the story behind is I have very first picture of John jumping out of the window. Right? Because he has the big problem. And the next picture is like on the fire workers, they have some time when they secure people. And that’s a nice picture. It’s a story, right? When you fall down on this pillow, we are glad for him, and he’s now safe because, well, we show him how we can deliver faster the applications. In some way, this gets visual. It gets tangible. People can understand there’s a pain from someone and so on. And so, we build a story on that, but it took me one year.

Paul: Interesting.


Paul: Well excellent. we’ve been talking with Falk Wolsky. He’s the chief innovation officer with Innogate Tech. And we’ve had a great talkabout innovation and there’ll be a lot of links in the shownotes to both his company and some of the things we talked about.

Well, thank you very much.

Falk: Thank you very much too. It was a pleasure to talk to you.

Paul: It was a pleasure to talk to you too.

More Episodes:

This is Part 2 of 3 our interview with Falk Wolsky. If you missed Part 1 you can listen to it here:

Part 1: Exploring Innovation & Inventing With Falk Wolsky

Show Notes: