STRATEGY

The Way I Work: Amos Winbush III, CyberSynchs

He seemed destined for music stardom, but instead Amos Winbush III started CyberSynchs, a $13.5 million-a-year New York City-based mobile phone backup company.
Business and Pleasure Amos Winbush III — sporting, as always, a bow tie — lunches with Joe Gemmo, his financial chief.
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Amos Winbush III seemed headed for pop stardom. Most of his family was in the music business, and in 2007 he was poised to keep the family tradition alive when he landed a record deal and released a series of singles, mashups of Europop and R&B. So how did Winbush wind up atop a hot new tech company? In the midst of a recording session, Winbush found that his iPhone had gone black, resulting in the loss of hundreds of valuable contacts. So he recruited two engineers on Craigslist and began work on CyberSynchs, which automatically backs up data on phones, computers, and mobile devices. It turns out that company building is as exciting as showbiz: Today, the New York City–based company has revenue of $13.5 million, 15 employees, and more than 60 million users worldwide.

"I'm at a place where I am only hands on when I need to be hands on. But I still want to be involved."

Every morning, I go for a walk. Since I live in downtown Manhattan, I can just walk near the Hudson River, clear my head, and listen to music. I have an eclectic ear, but in the morning, I usually have on Nicki Minaj or Rihanna. I'm able to center myself so that I can come into the office and be 100 percent present with my employees and with our partners. No one likes a grouchy person.

I usually skip breakfast. After I take my walk, I take a shower. Then I pick out a bow tie and a pocket square—I have 250 bow ties and maybe 70 pocket squares. All of my other clothes come from that. I immediately jump on my iPad and start checking e-mail. Then I take the train to the office.

I'm normally in the office around 8:45. Joe Gemmo, my director of finance, comes in at 8 o'clock. Tyler Thackray, the CTO, and his team come to the office between 9 and 10:45. But they also stay until 9:45 or 10. I'm not one of those guys that say you have to be here at this time. It's a tech company; we're free flowing. Joe is 65, and Tyler is 28. Our tech team ranges from twentysomethings to 40-year-olds. I'm a strong believer that you have to have a mix of young and old. I don't think I could have found a 28-year-old to do what Joe's done for the company. He helped us raise our first $1.6 million.

On Mondays, the very first thing we do in the morning is have our meetings. It's the entire executive team. We discuss what's going on in the tech community, what our initiatives are, our development cycle, where we are. Later, Joe and I discuss financials. We talk a lot about burn rate. We're currently at $33,000 per month, but we are inching toward $83,000, and with that comes growing pains that you have to heal. We're hiring a new COO, so we're also going through candidates for that.

During the day, my door's normally open, so Tyler and the engineers just bounce in. They'll come in with their laptop in their hands and say, "Dude! Let's sit down and talk about this." I'll go over to see them once or twice a day. I am at a place where I am only hands on when I need to be hands on. But I still want to be involved in the experience of developing the technology and not have this mentality of "They're over there, and my office is over here." Joe and I, we have a different relationship. He likes structure around everything. We don't go two hours without talking to each other.

The majority of my day is spent checking e-mails, talking to the team, and going back and forth with our lawyers on patents we're developing and negotiating contracts. I don't like getting the bill, but I love talking to our lawyers. I'm learning so much about structuring contracts. I'm paying $480 an hour for this, but I'm able to get information to give to someone else for free.

I answer every message that people send me, whether it's on social media or if it's coming directly from CyberSynchs's website. If someone sends you a message, and you don't respond to them for months or weeks or days, nine times out of 10, they'll lose faith that you can actually secure their data properly. We are always interacting with customers via Twitter and Facebook. I'll jump in there and thank customers for using CyberSynchs's technology, and then we have conversations on what the company can do better. That's the way we came up with our parental mode, which generates automatic bulletins for sexting, bullying, and violence.

The rest of the day, I focus on making partnerships around the world. Overseas, you have an opportunity to get billions of subscribers, versus pandering to the U.S. market and having access to only 300-odd million. Before we received our first investment, in late 2009, we were spending a little over $30,000 to acquire 13,000 subscribers. If we had continued to do that, we would have gone bankrupt. Now we have two subsidiary companies, for Central and South America and Africa.

Ninety percent of our business deals are done via e-mail, phone, GoToMeeting, and Skype. Recently, we signed up a partner that wants us to come out to Ghana to meet; I'm going there in December. I've never met them face to face. Our partnership with Widefense de Centroamerica, in Guatemala, is a seven-year deal, and I've never seen them. It's exciting, and it's also frightening at the exact same time. You have to manage all those expectations in the term sheet and contract. Luckily, we've been blessed to have some great partners that are really up front.

I try hard to take at least 60 seconds out of each hour to meditate. I'll turn the lights off, put my computer down, and just sit quietly and do nothing. Sometimes, I'll break out of the office and go to Brooks Brothers or J. Crew. I'm known for coming back to the office with a bag of clothes at weird hours of the day.

I still keep a footing in music, but I just don't have time to get out and sing and record anymore. I recently secured a deal with Sony for a song I wrote in 2007 called "#1." Namie Amuro, who is like the Britney Spears of Japan, heard the song, liked it, and recorded it.

In the evenings, I try to spend time with my wife, Tiffany. I don't get to see her a lot. She owns a PR firm and serves on the downtown community board and is active in the state Democratic Party. On a good day, I get home around 6:30. It takes us 20 minutes to debrief. Then we'll take a walk on the pier, or we'll go up to the rooftop of our apartment and eat dinner, watch the sunset, and drink wine.

At night, while my wife's on her computer, I'll be on my special spot on the couch, watching television and surfing the Web and answering e-mails at the same time. I come up with a lot of ideas sitting in front of the television. I think of CyberSynchs not from a CEO standpoint but from a consumer standpoint. Right now, I'm kind of infatuated with voice command. I think remote controls are crazy.

When I'm not at home, I'm running around at other events. It's been my mission to connect with more people and find organizations to work with. In October, I was in D.C. talking to Congress about innovation and entrepreneurship. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas asked me to be a part of an initiative to get more people of color into technology.

I try to take a vacation once a quarter. My wife and I are going to Aruba this winter. I haven't had much time to spend with my friends. We get together twice a month, if we're lucky. But I'm happy to be busy, because if I wasn't, I would be wondering, OK, why am I not?

I never thought that I would own a tech company. I always thought I'd do something in music. But everything happens for a reason. I miss getting in the booth, the process of creating music. But I've replaced that with my company—it's just a different type of creation.

IMAGE: Mark Peterson
From the December 2011 issue of Inc. magazine




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