With Ralph Clark, President & CEO of ShotSpotter
By Ashu Garg
This episode’s guest is Ralph Clark, the president and CEO of ShotSpotter. Ralph has more than 30 years of experience in corporate finance and organizational leadership roles at IBM, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and several successful tech startups. He and Ashu talk about how executives and the tech industry can confront bias and systemic racism.
Ralph was born and raised in Oakland, California. His first professional gig out of college, Ralph worked for IBM as a large-systems sales rep, selling mainframes to Boeing. A few years and a few promotions later, he left IBM to pursue a business school degree. From there, he made his way to Wall Street to work as an investment banker. But, the Bay Area called him home and eventually he made his way back home to pursue his passion for technology and finance, helping young companies to grow and scale.
Ralph has worked for ShotSpotter for over 10 years. The company, founded by Dr. Bob Showen, has been working to help law enforcement officials and security personnel prevent and reduce gun violence, using acoustic gunshot detection, for 20 years. Ralph was introduced to Showen and offered the role of CEO after selling his company, Guardian Edge. Ralph describes Showen as a compassionate man and a brilliant mathematician and engineer. While he was impressed with the technology, it was obvious to Ralph that the business model needed work. In the early days, the technology was built exclusively for police agencies and had roughly 20 customers. However, during this time, the police agency was responsible for owning the infrastructure.
When Ralph was approached with the job, he told investors if they would be willing to support a radical pivot, they could shift from a legacy business model to a subscription-based model they could overcome the technical challenges of a smaller business as well as the financial challenges. They needed to bet on the long-term revenue stream so they could make up for the investment in infrastructure. The board was supportive, so they went for it.
Ralph acknowledges how successful he’s been in his career, but he also realizes that he’d likely be in an even better position had he not been faced with systemic racism. Despite his lifetime of dealing with racial bias, the public’s response to George Floyd’s murder gives him hope.
Throw pattern recognition out the window. Ralph knows that as investors, we rely on pattern recognition to pinpoint an industry boom. But this has not served us well when it comes to whom we invest in. If you continue to hire and fund from the same pool just because that’s what you know, nothing will ever change. You have to confront your biases and change your patterns.
Ralph says upfront that he doesn’t have a straight answer to this question. But, if he has to guess, it probably has something to do with the Silicon Valley notion of the minimum viable product: everyone is doing just enough to get by. A full overhaul of structural racism takes too much effort for large enterprises to make significant change. But, he is encouraged by the conversation and the movement behind Black Lives Matter. More people are open to the conversation surrounding white privilege and are willing to acknowledge how they have benefitted from this system.
Published on 09.14.20
Written by Ashu Garg