Expanding the human side of technology businessesSep 23, 2023 03:18PM ● By Randee Brown
Founding member of Hatch Innovation Hub and CEO and Co-Founder of Anthroware Jon Jones has a front-row seat at the table of growth in tech businesses in Asheville.
Jones said for a town as small as Asheville, there are so many companies that have big ideas and the guts to pursue them. “The town attracts a lot of talent,” he said. “People are moving here with experience in big tech jobs and being pulled into mentor and advisor programs. They are helping connect the dots — they’re active in the community and turning into investors, helping to create a ‘San Francisco bar of excellence’ in Western North Carolina.”
Working as a mentor with both Hatch Innovation Hub and Venture Asheville, Jones said both help high-growth and rapidly growing businesses, many in the technology industry. Many of these growing businesses are creating jobs in the tech sector, and when they work with organizations like Venture and Hatch, it can buffer the impacts of being a single entity who, working alone, would have a high likelihood of failure.
These partner startups are moving and growing faster, thereby creating more jobs by working with support organizations, according to Jones. When startups don’t work out, that provides options to the ecosystem of tech companies which are constantly looking for talent. He said this is really good for other tech companies, and personally he would rather hire someone that was part of a startup that didn’t work because they have already learned “bloody, messy lessons” from failure that they can’t learn anywhere else.
“That creates a highly desirable background and skill set,” Jones said. “A lot of businesses can take advantage of the startup community full of amazing people.”
Jones said his own tech company, Anthroware, is more of a strategy and research company that just happens to build software products. He said everything the company does hinges on being really good at research.
“Companies know that there is a problem hindering their process, but they don’t know how to fix it,” Jones said. “We study the people doing these jobs and figure out what is working and what is not, and use a human-centered design approach to address what we can with tech.”
Anthroware often solves problems of companies being hindered by using poor tools, according to Jones. Better tools can often take businesses to the next level, and though it can cost a lot to raise the bar in that way, his clients have to think about what it will do for their companies to make that investment. Digital transformation products provided by Anthroware must make a big difference and add a lot of value so clients feel like they get more out of their solution than the cost of the products.
A newer aspect of technology in business Jones said he noticed is the rise of chatbots and leveraging artificial intelligence. “AI is so big; it’s a massive innovation in technology, and we haven’t seen anything so massive in a long time,” he said. “You can ask computers to analyze tons of information and data points from various sources. It’s already adding superpower to insight, and you don’t even know the variety of ways that can change a business.”
While Anthroware is building large language apps right now, he said no one cares about the technology. He said they care that people can make it do what they want it to do, and his company is designing products that people actually need and want to use.
“We work with real users and customers to design solutions that actually move the needle, and 98% of other companies miss some of that. They build exactly what their customers want and though these companies may be amazing product designers, the product may be something that people don’t actually want to use. Instead, we sit down with companies and ask all kinds of questions about tasks, where they feel time is wasted, and continue to ask more and more until we get a really full picture and intimate knowledge so that the people will want to use these products as intended, creating an even bigger impact for the organization. ‘Anthro’ is in our name for a reason — our goal is to really understand the people.”
Jones said the ethics of the company are human-focused as well. He and his team think about how they want to be treated and create the culture in that way. Pouring into the staff, sharing wealth with the team, being a great place to work, and growing leaders is important for the overall business plan, and according to Jones, breeds responsibility rather than accountability.
“Asheville really has something to do with it,” Jones said. “There is a workaholic culture in the startup scene of other cities where the expectation is to work 80 hours a week. Asheville slows that down a bit. The vibe is more about caring for the whole person, and that fits really well with Anthroware.
“When we started the company 10 years ago, the initial conversation was whether to base the company here or in San Francisco,” Jones said. “San Fran had a bigger direct market, but Asheville had the vibe, plus North Carolina is a way better place to start a business. That conversation led to discussing Charlotte or Raleigh, but we chose the mountains because we wanted to be here.”
Jones said tech is growing in Asheville as an industry, and he gets the sense that it is a much better place to start now than when he started Anthroware. There were several other tech companies when they got started and now he could easily list more than 30.
“There are real businesses here with real chances for doing big stuff,” Jones said. “It’s good for everyone when they are dreaming big, and when companies are making progress, it shows others that those things are accessible here.”