Going Against the Flow: Nasos Topakas, CTO of Art.com

Nasos Topakas brings more than 20 years of software engineering and executive technology management experience to his role as Chief Technology Officer at Art.com Inc. Before joining the team, he served as CTO for SendMe, CTO at StubHub, and VP at Charles Schwab & Co.
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Nasos Topakas brings more than 20 years of software engineering and executive technology management experience to his role as Chief Technology Officer at Art.com Inc. Before joining the team, he served as CTO for SendMe, CTO at StubHub, and VP at Charles Schwab & Co., and Pacific Bell Information Services. He received his Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from San Francisco State University. His favorite artists are Wassily Kandinsky and Ansel Adams.

Nasos Topakas

What does entrepreneurship mean to you, and what underlying characteristics do you see in successful entrepreneurs?

Nasos: I see entrepreneurship as having a clear vision, unrelenting passion, and the executional acumen needed to lead the development of whatever it is you're trying to achieve or create. You also need to be able to clearly communicate the value of what you're creating -- this will be your true north compass along the way. As an entrepreneur, you'll likely make many mistakes but your passion will enable you to learn quickly and keep driving forward. I've found that passion drives greater thinking and resilience to solve the impossible. Finally, no matter how many ideas you have or how inventive of a vision, if you don't know how to execute, you will not make it. The vision shows you the path, the passion helps you overcome obstacles and build quality, and the execution gets you there.

What are you most proud of in your professional career? If you could do something over in your life, what would it be?

Nasos: There are many professional career moments that I'm very proud of, but a common theme I've noticed among them is the creation of products that enable or drive transformation. For example, I'm currently leading the Art.com Labs team, which focuses on the development of future technologies that can enhance the way we experience and discover art we love. Our most recent project, Klio, is a device that brings digital art into the home. I believe it's not a matter of if but when digital art will start augmenting existing art on our walls and eventually replace the way we decorate with and collect art. There is much evidence to suggest that the time is now.

Another notable moment: When I was at Charles Schwab, one of my initiatives was to build a mobile-trading product solution. We started working on that in 1999, when most companies were just beginning to build their websites. Within six months, we finished a product called PocketBroker, which offered wireless investing for mobile devices; it was a mobile app before the concept of the mobile app existed.

Tell me about an instance where you had to go against the flow to realize your goal.

Nasos: I often find myself going against the grain when working on pioneering initiatives. Many people are only driven by data or what a customer says (both valuable), but I believe transformation requires the right balance of data, customer feedback, and creative drive in order to deliver something that doesn't yet exist. I was told many times that we will not be able to build this new digital art platform because consumer electronics is a particularly complicated industry to break into. I was told that this would be difficult and would require a huge team and effort. Ultimately though, Klio, which was meant to only be an R&D project became a real consumer product. A small team of passionate individuals, united and ignited by a common vision, were able to make it real. We started selling our first version this past December.

What market need are you addressing with the creation of Klio?

Nasos: Digital art has struggled to find its own space outside of galleries and the hidden depths of Tumblr. There wasn't an easy way for artists to monetize their work and share it with art collectors looking for something new. As the innovation division of the world's largest art e-tailer, we saw a great opportunity in solving this problem by providing a platform for the public consumption and collection of digital art. Klio is that platform. At the same time, we are helping to propel the digital art movement through the invention of novel digital art genres like Chrono Art, which changes steadily over periods of time ranging from 24 hours to a year, Morph Art, Clock Art, and more. Digital art can now exist inside of people's homes and thus far the feedback has been encouraging.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?

Nasos: I would tell my 22-year-old self to take more risks to achieve your dreams. The younger you are, the easier it will be to take risks. Don't be afraid to make mistakes-they will allow you to learn faster and succeed in the future.

Also if you're an idea person, take the time to document and apply for patents early on in your career. There are so many ideas, prototypes, and products I developed or was involved with early on in my career and I wish I had applied for patents. Some wouldn't be worth much now but some, which came into play at the wrong time, could be extremely valuable and transformational today. Believe more in your gut. Lack of data or experience doesn't mean you are wrong.

Follow Nasos Topakas and his team at @kliodigital, check out the other interviews in Going Against the Flow series at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charu-sharma/ and join this movement to empower 1 million female entrepreneurs on goagainsttheflow.com.

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