Sam Peterson is Chief Technology Officer of Metrc
For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?
After college, I had the opportunity to work for a startup and be mentored by great developers. After this startup, I joined a company that would later be called Overstock.com. I was there for 14 years, eventually becoming the CTO. It was an exciting time for the internet and ecommerce, and I was able to see the company go from a few million dollars to a billion and a half, learning valuable knowledge from CEO Patrick Byrne and his father Jack Byrne, who was Chairman of the Board. After Overstock.com, I became the CTO of Open English – their founder’s goal was to virtually teach English to students in South America, and it was amazing to help make a difference in people’s lives. My next chapter was as CTO at Boats Group, a Florida-based advertising and software company for the marine industry, leading a global team of engineers and tech professionals to deliver a world-class shopping experience and big data insights to the recreational boating space.
That brings us to last year, when I met founder Jeff Wells and CEO Michael Johnson at Metrc, the most trusted and experienced provider of cannabis regulatory technology systems in the U.S. Today, I’m proud to be the company’s CTO and support their continued innovation of product offerings and expansion into new markets.
Was any one person who was instrumental in helping you get from where you started out, to where you are now?
Jack Byrne, who was Chairman of the Board when I was at Overstock.com. He was a great mentor when I was learning my way as a CTO and trying to build out software development teams. Their CEO Patrick Byrne was also someone I worked very closely with who helped me immensely in my career growth.
Is there a particular piece of advice you were given in the early days of your business journey that you still benefit from today?
Jack Byrne’s advice, and what I talk about with leaders now, is all about the term “sunshine”. Many organizations, especially in tech, end up creating a black box scenario where nobody knows how to get anything in or out. Jack taught me that it’s important to bring sunshine into an organization, giving substantial visibility into how the engine is running, the decisions being made, and even the problem areas. As a CTO, when you bring in sunshine, you can align the other executives and management to open a crucial line of communication.
What is the most important lesson you've learned about leadership in your business journey so far?
It’s vitally important to be a good partner to your team, so that you can get to the root of the business problems you're trying to spot and solve. It’s not just about solving technical problems, but thinking about the bigger picture – how does this help the company or the industry? I see a lot of technologists build great products, but they don’t always think through the reasons for why it matters to the organization.
What are the top three things you wish you'd known when you were just starting out?
The top three things I wish I'd known when I was just starting out:
When it comes to problem solving, it’s all about the people. Having a strong team that works well together will beat out good technology any day.
Don't over-architect early on. Get it off the ground. If something takes off, you’ll always have scalability issues, but those are good problems to have.
Have a service-oriented architecture. It helps you to figure out how to break up your application in logical chunks and it adds real value.
In your experience, what is the most effective way to build a strong network of mentors and advisors to guide you in your business endeavors?
Identify the impactful people you meet throughout your career and figure out how you can stay in touch, whether it’s catch-ups, coffees or Zoom calls. It's great to meet new people, but make sure to foster existing relationships. It can end up being very powerful.
How do you determine when it's time to pivot, and what factors should you consider in making that decision?
Leverage the entire leadership team. The best CEOs never make decisions in a vacuum; they surround themselves with smart, talented people and create a culture of holding discussions about pivot decisions. This feedback network can lead to the best outcome for the group.
How do you stay motivated and inspired during the business cycle of ups and downs?
Make sure you maintain passions outside of just work. Create a balance that includes things you're doing for yourself, and make sure you have adequate time to spend with friends and family. When you put all your eggs in one basket, you have nothing to fall back on when things aren’t going well. This is such an important factor that helps avoid burnout. It's tough to rebound from a disappointment at work if you don’t have additional passions.
Looking back, what one thing would you do differently if you could start your journey over again?
I wouldn’t change a thing, from my beginnings at Overstock.com, to growing as a CTO, to teaming up with Metrc. I’m grateful for my whole path, because these experiences led me to where I am today.