Mike Henry is the Co-Founder, CEO and Chairman of Mythic, a venture-backed AI hardware company. He oversees a team split between Austin, TX and Redwood City, CA. Mike formed Mythic after earning his Ph.D in electrical and computer engineering from Virginia Tech.
Check out more interviews with entrepreneurs here.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET FEATURED?
All interviews are 100% FREE OF CHARGE
Table of Contents
Welcome to your ValiantCEO exclusive interview! Let’s start with a little introduction. Tell us about yourself.
Mike Henry: I started Mythic out of grad school with Dave Fick in 2012; I was at Virginia Tech and he was at the University of Michigan. Very early on, we knew a step change in technology was needed to serve the insatiable and ever-increasing compute demands of artificial intelligence. We believed that analog computing — which had been researched and attempted for many previous decades — was ready for a revival given newer developments in flash, processes, and analog circuits. Over the past seven years, the founding team pushed through many obstacles to set Mythic apart as the foremost pioneer in analog computing for AI.
NO child ever says I want to be a CEO when I grow up. What did you want to be and how did you get to where you are today? Give us some lessons you learned along the way.
Mike Henry: From early in school up until Year 1 in Mythic, I was more in the mode of letting the river current carry me along. At least that’s what I’d tell my parents when I came home with awful grades. Mythic was started with government research funding to research new compute methods. When we saw an opportunity with AI, that’s when I started paddling furiously to pick my own course in the river. I do think luck is always a big factor but spotting when luck is presenting a big opportunity and driving hard to capture it is a skill.
Tell us about your business, what does the company do? What is unique about the company?
Mike Henry: Mythic is the pioneer of analog-in-memory compute, a new type of computing that is a radical departure from the last five decades of digital computing and will deliver AI that is hundreds of times more powerful than what we know today. We have an AI hardware and software platform that is ideal for multiple vertical markets including smart cities, industrial applications, enterprise applications, and consumer devices. Mythic’s groundbreaking inference solutions offer unparalleled performance, scalability, and power efficiency so companies can deploy AI at an unprecedented scale.
We have about 75 competitors with venture funding and about a dozen competitors with more than $50M in venture funding. Additionally, every large tech company is investing a significant amount of money in AI hardware. All of them have taken conventional approaches to solving the challenge of delivering AI to the masses. These conventional approaches have already started running out of steam, and you’re seeing a stagnation in the quality and breadth of what AI can deliver in our everyday lives.
Mythic’s analog compute approach is radically different and can deliver improvements for AI applications at a far faster pace than everyone else.
How to become a CEO? Some will focus on qualities, others on degrees, how would you answer that question?
Mike Henry: There’s really only two ways, climb the ladder to the top or start at the top and build below. The people who climb the ladder come from a wide diversity of backgrounds, but the most successful have some product DNA and customer obsession in them, even if they come through finance or operations. For people who start as a founder and grow the company below them, they will clearly need to land on a winning idea. Either side though requires a person with a substantial growth mentality – that is, they are humble enough to know their weaknesses and work diligently on them, yet at the same time have a massive amount of drive to plow through the challenges ahead.
What are the secrets to becoming a successful CEO? Who inspires you, who are your role models and why? Illustrate your choices.
Mike Henry: Jim Collins has it figured out with his definition of Level 5 Leadership: it’s about personal humility, knowing what you don’t know and having a growth mindset, combined with professional will, which I would call pure grit and an intensive drive for success of the company.
During a reference check for one of our board members who has been a CEO, the phrase “he cannot be baffled by anyone” came up. I read that as him having an excellent BS detector, he can speak the language of every team in the company, and he can cut through smoke screens and dust clouds that some ineffective managers try to kick up. I thought that was a great quality to have as CEO.
Many CEOs fall into the trap of being all over the place. What are the top activities a CEO should focus on to be the best leader the company needs? Explain.
Mike Henry: CEOs should have the ability to be all over the place, but it is indeed a trap to be all over the place all the time. The best CEOs can drill deep on problematic areas of the company, fix the issue (usually it comes down to the right people in the right seat), then go back up to the 10,000 ft. level and repeat. The best CEOs I’ve seen that truly build disruptive businesses are knowledge vacuums, watching every aspect of the company from a high level, and willing to be hands on when needed.
It’s important for leaders to dedicate time to building a culture in which their employees can thrive. Culture eats strategy for breakfast — it’s more than likely that CEOs don’t get the culture quite right from the start and the culture needs to go through a series of iterations as the company scales. Our strategy has been remarkably consistent since day one and has kept us grounded as our company evolves. Don’t get too obsessed with your culture since it may need to change, and don’t ever lose sight of your mission.
The Covid-19 Pandemic put the leadership skills of many to the test, what were some of the most difficult challenges that you faced as a CEO/Leader in the past year? Please list and explain in detail.
Mike Henry: The earliest part of the pandemic, most CEOs had no idea what was going to happen, and the scenarios presented tended to be mostly on the hugely negative side, like a massive recession and startup fundraising to grind to a halt. I had people tell me do everything you can to have 18 months of money in the bank with zero revenue. It took about 4-5 months before everyone realized that the tech industry would be resilient, fundraising would adapt, etc. Keeping the team rallied during this period was as tough as keeping myself rallied.
What are some of the greatest mistakes you’ve noticed some business leaders made during these unprecedented times? What are the takeaways you gleaned from those mistakes?
Mike Henry: I think many leaders fenced themselves in with the remote vs. face-to-face debate. Some companies came off as dead set that five days a week face-to-face was the only way of getting back to normal. They then had to walk this back and they burnt a lot of good will with their employees. Others immediately went fully remote in such an aggressive way that it will be tough to walk back from it even in five years. We tried to be very flexible and adaptable from day one so we could observe how the work culture was changing, and see what worked and what didn’t work.
Good supply chain people saw the issues coming. This can be an overlooked role, especially when things are going well. When things hit the fan is when the strength of the supply chain team becomes apparent. I already see companies focusing on modeling black swan events into their supply chain planning, which is great. The other thing I’ll add is that the semiconductor industry takes supply chain incredibly seriously since chips power the most important products on the market. Things like building inventory, eschewing just-in-time, and making sure there are multiple sources are commonplace and even with that, there have been huge struggles. I think the supply chain world will take away a lot of lessons from the last 18 months.
In your opinion, what changes played the most critical role in enabling your business to survive/remain profitable, or maybe even thrive? What lessons did all this teach you?
Mike Henry: The critical moment for Mythic was when we pivoted to AI in the early years of the company. We were toying with other ideas, and AI was in its infancy, but we were intrigued. We did a simple experiment to create a program to detect the differences between an image of an arrow and an image of three random lines. With classic computer programming techniques, this would have taken a month to perfect. With AI tools, we had a solution in 90 minutes.
This is when we realized that the modern AI tools were powerful, generic tools for solving a myriad of data problems and not novelty problems like whether something is a picture of a cat or dog. Eventually Jeff Dean at Google called this concept “Programming 2.0.” Now, AI is providing a solution for everything from cybersecurity to protein folding, and we’ve only just scratched the surface.
What is the #1 most pressing challenge you’re trying to solve in your business right now?
Mike Henry: We are building a hardware and software platform in a very fast growing and dynamic space that other developers will use to add great new features and capabilities to their products. Having amazing specs on performance and power is great, but the developer cannot see a significant increase in the friction of their workflow, otherwise they’ll stick with established products. Delivering that frictionless environment to developers while at the same time developing a breakthrough new method of compute under the hood that has never been done before is a massive challenge and a typical reason why new technology does not succeed.
We have been obsessed with this since day one and we’ve solved a lot of the challenges, but it does come at a cost of our own product velocity in the early days.
You already shared a lot of insights with our readers and we thank you for your generosity. Normally, leaders are asked about their most useful qualities but let’s change things up a bit. What is the most useless skill you have learned, at school or during your career?
Mike Henry: The most useless skill I have is that I’m really good at knife throwing. I learned it at college, but not in a formal course. It was also not a skill I revealed to my wife until we were dating for many months.
Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, we do have one more question. We will select these answers for our ValiantCEO Award 2021 edition. The best answers will be selected to challenge the award.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make, this past year 2021, for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Mike Henry: The hardest decisions are always whether the right people are in the right seats, and it’s always the kind of thing that I handle with an extreme level of discretion that means the answer to this question will be very boring.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Mike Henry for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Mike Henry or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
Did you enjoy this article? Check out similar stories:
Disclaimer: The ValiantCEO Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.