For entrepreneur-investor Manoj Saxena racing some of the world’s fastest cars is not a diversion from his work. It helps fuel it.
“Racing slows my mind down and racing helps me connect with myself and to become one with myself and the car,” said Saxena, whose racing experience includes a 24-day event across Southeast Asia. “Done well, it feels like meditation, and done poorly, it’s like being in the middle of a horror movie. So, it’s a fine balance between horror and meditation that you’re trying to strike. I like it as a way to center myself.”
Saxena, a seed-fund founder and high-tech visionary based in Austin, was the general manager of IBM’s Watson Solutions, known for developing the Watson supercomputer that beat human contestants on the game show Jeopardy!
Now he is funding entrepreneurs in the field of artificial intelligence and is executive chairman of Cognitive Scale, which produces machine intelligence software.
Saxena said a key moment in his development as an entrepreneur occurred at Michigan State when he “fell in love” with the theory of creative destruction, from the late economist Joseph Schumpeter. In Saxena’s words, it’s the cycle of how companies form, succeed, and get too big to innovate; then an entrepreneur comes along who “sows the seeds of destruction” by producing a new company. Saxena remembers thinking, “I want to be that entrepreneur who goes and does that.”
The Internet would soon become the object of Saxena’s love.
“When I saw the Internet for the first time in 1996, I got excited enough about it that I knew it was going to change the world,” he recalled. “I left my very well-paying job at 3M and I took $200,000 of credit on 13 credit cards.” Saxena launched two software start-ups, first Exterprise, then Webify, both of which he sold to larger companies.
Saxena’s next target was artificial intelligence—the ability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior. It “is going to be bigger than the Internet was,” he said. “It will be as big as electricity was in terms of the impact on society and business.
“AI for me is not artificial intelligence; AI for me is augmented intelligence,” he said, whether it is helping people shop, travel, get better medical care—or address climate change. “AI is going to augment us and make us much smarter.
“There is a lot of hype and worry—and there should be, to some extent—about the 18 million jobs AI will take away, but there is a greater potential in the 1.3 billion jobs that AI will uplift.”
Saxena, who also serves as chair of the San Antonio branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, credits three traits for his ability to see things that perhaps others don’t.
“It’s curiosity, compassion and, I would say, a good dose of being unreasonable,” he said.
The curiosity is for emerging technologies and the compassion is shown in spending time with customers and thought leaders to determine their needs.
“Most entrepreneurs are unreasonable,” Saxena said. “They have this undying belief that most problems can be solved with the right set of people enabled in the right environment—and given the courage to fail.”