Five Questions For … Dallas Entrepreneur Center CEO Trey Bowles
Dallas—Ask around Dallas who the city’s entrepreneurship ambassador is, and it’s likely that Trey Bowles’ name will quickly pop up.
Bowles, who founded the Dallas Entrepreneur Center in 2013, is a high-profile supporter of the various accelerators, programs, and other efforts that have cropped up in North Texas to support innovation.
In addition to running the DEC, Bowles has sought to connect the organization to community-wide efforts such as a pitch contest with Comerica Bank that would support women and minority entrepreneurs and opening facilities in Dallas’s southern sector, a largely minority area of the city that has historically been neglected.
Bowles’ work to expand entrepreneurship opportunities has expanded beyond North Texas. The DEC has franchised its model to other places including one in San Antonio.
In our latest installment of “Five Questions for …, ” Bowles speaks about why he didn’t work with Skype, “The Lie Detector,” and why he doesn’t love being the boss. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
Xconomy: If you could go back in time and get five minutes with any major historical figure, who would it be, and what would you want to say to them?
Trey Bowles: I would want to go back and talk to Jesus. Seems like a fairly stereotypical answer but I have really strong faith. You need to talk to the person that builds your faith. I would want to listen more than anything. I probably would say what’s the most important thing to you? What makes a successful life in your eyes? I probably would ask for clarification on a few things. Things like so much of what was said in Biblical times, if you interpret it, could [interpretations] be culturally relevant based on the time versus the time in the Old Testament? If you’re hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Do you really mean that? Or, as I was talking with some friends about this. Is it harder for a rich man to go to heaven? Well, what does that mean? If you’re rich, you can’t go to heaven?
How do I love my neighbor as myself; what does that mean? The ultimate question would be, ‘What do I, at the end of my life, what are the things you would like to see in my life?’
X: How do you relax outside of work when you want to tune out the noise?
TB: I don’t relax often. I get about 15 to 20 minutes a night when I get in bed when I usually watch something on Netflix. Or if I want to completely numb my mind from any potential form of work, I watch reality television. I used to write reality television shows so I really find it interesting from the perspective of how they’re written. People say, ‘How do you watch reality TV shows?’ For me, it takes zero brain cells, so that’s what I do.
I was building a company in New York that was based around the most sophisticated lie detection technology ever created. It was in Tel Aviv; we licensed the technology in the US. It was layered voice analysis; we analyzed the frequency of your voice. It was not a polygraph test; it was not based on your pulse but the frequency of your vocal cords. You couldn’t change anything by inflection, by tone, by pitch. By the time the words came out of your mouth, it was already analyzed by this machine. This was related to counterterrorism.
There are 129 parameters of the voice; 16 were related to attraction, arousal, infatuation, everything that would go into a relationship. We created this technology called “The Love Detector.” This was before there were apps on phones; I was living in New York, building this portion of the company—I didn’t want anything to do with the counterterrorism stuff. I had some friends that worked at MTV. I said, ‘Hey we’ve got this really cool technology, what about writing shows to build awareness of the technology?’
We ended up having 6 to 10 show ideas that I went and met with ABC. The guy that had the American rights to the technology wanted a million upfront for any show idea. … We sold a couple shows, one that MTV eventually ran. One was on the History Channel. One got adapted into this show on NBC.
X: What’s your most impressive or most quirky skill that has nothing to do with your day job?
I take songs—and this is mainly for my kids … anything not related to work is related to my kids—songs that are popular and change the words and sing it to my kids, which is really funny. It’s hard because you have to rhyme the words but the tune is there. My daughter does it all the time now; she’s five. We’re changing the words to a Katy Perry song about how she wants to go to the bathroom.
X: What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I think on a practical level I wanted to be an attorney. On a non-practical level, I wanted to play professional football. I played college football, but I’m not a big person so that was never going to happen. When I was young, I just knew I wanted to be the boss. That sounded fun to me—and it’s not. I tell people, ‘Everybody wants to be a CEO until they are the CEO. Then they’re thinking, ‘Damn, this stinks.’ You have all the bad stuff to deal with; you spend 70 percent of the time doing things you don’t like, or things you’re not especially good at.
X: What’s your biggest failure as an entrepreneur?
So, I would answer this a couple different ways. My biggest failure that people would say is my biggest failure, which I don’t consider a failure, is that I passed up on being the head of the US for Skype before it launched. I was with the guy who created it. I was with this thing called Morpheus; they were literally jumping from city to city in Europe because they were being chased by the US government, which was trying to sue them for copyright infringement. I was traveling around Europe after I left Morpheus; I met them in Copenhagen. I thought it was going to be at least three years before people would use VOIP. I thought Skype was the dumbest name I ever heard. I said, ‘You’re going to get sued because people will use it for music.’ It took three years for the technology to grab on; nobody was doing VOIP for three years, and I think they did get sued for copyright.
The first company I worked for sold for a ton of money in eight months. The first company I ran had 110 million customers quickly. My error was thinking that three years was a long time. I was 22 years old. I had no idea.
I consider it part of the learning process, not a missed opportunity.
My biggest entrepreneurial failure … that’s really hard. I’ve never had, knock on wood, a big failure, never had a company that I’ve built that didn’t work. But that’s because I’m really risk-adverse inside of an entrepreneurial mindset. I don’t usually start a company until I’ve got customers, something in place to make it work.