Alex Fielding Ripcord | SAP Interview Series
Alex Fielding was born in Santa Clara, California and was somewhat of a child prodigy when it came to computers and tech. By the age of 18, Fielding was already working for Google, contributing to such eminent projects as the MacOS and the PowerBook. He even worked directly under Steve Jobs to help create the original iMac.
For the next decade, Alex Fielding was an employee or contract worker for many successful computer engineering and tech companies, including Cisco Systems and Exodus Communications. During this same time, circa 2001, Fielding got together with Apple’s other Steve, Steve Wozniak, to co-found the very popular Wheels of Zeus (WoZ) company. The company sold for a large profit a short five years later.
Over the next several years, he worked for many other high-profile companies, developing his leadership style, vision and expertise as he went. It was while working as a contract employee for NASA that he had the idea for Ripcord, the company for which he is now the founder, CEO and board member. As of this interview, Alex Fielding‘s Ripcord has over 80 employees and is worth upwards of $250 million dollars.
As a former young entrepreneur turned successful CEO of a multi-million-dollar corporation, Alex Fielding is exactly the kind of man we wanted to talk to about turning our dreams into reality. So that is what we did; we sat down with Alex and asked him a few things.
An Interview with Alex Fielding Ripcord
Q: First of all, tell us. What is it like being Alex Fielding?
A: *laughs* Well, it has been a wild ride, I have to say. I never would have dreamed all those years ago when I was just a kid with a dream that I would be as successful as I am today. I’m very thankful and grateful to all the people who’ve helped me along the way, and I am just really humbled by all I’ve been able to achieve. I never want to take any of it for granted.
Q: You’ve worked with some really prestigious people. What was that like?
A: Yes. In my career, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work with some of the biggest names in technology. I’ve worked with both Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Working with them was never boring. *laughs* They just have so much going on in their brains. They are constantly working to improve and enhance some of the most innovative products on the market. We’d create something really amazing, something we just knew couldn’t be beat, and before it had even hit the shelves, they’d be planning the next big thing, trying to figure out how to make it even better.
I think that is where I get a lot of my drive from. I’ve always had this passion to do things better, to make life easier for people. However, working around people like the two Steves and Ellen Hancock – the former CTO of Apple – fueled that passion in me, turning it into something akin to mania.
*laughs* You hear people say all the time that if you want to work with the best, you have to be the best. I think it’s a little different. I think when you work with the best, it helps you become the best, or at least your own best self, I suppose.
Q: When did you know you wanted to work in tech and own your own business?
A: I always loved technology. I’d been fascinated with it since I was a small child. It was all I really loved. I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life. As for owning my own company, that’s always been something in the back of my mind. Who doesn’t want to be your own boss, you know?
Q: So true! So what do you think you would have been doing right now if you hadn’t gone into the tech business?
A: Like I said, this is the only thing I’ve ever really loved doing. I can’t really imagine doing anything else. I guess being an astronaut would have been pretty cool. I’d like to see if there really are any little green men out there somewhere. *laughs* But seriously, if my life had taken a different direction, I have no idea where I’d be right now. I honestly can’t see myself doing anything different.
Q: So how did you learn to do all this stuff? Did you learn it in high school? College?
A: Well, I did go to college, but I was actually already working for Apple before I ever stepped foot on a college campus. *laughs* I attended both San Jose State University and Stanford University eventually, and I even helped found Singularity University, but my career started long before then. Like I said, I grew up fascinated with technology. When you love something, you just kind of pick it up on your own, I guess.
Q: What is Singularity University?
A: Singularity is a university dedicated to educating young businesspeople, entrepreneurs and leaders. Our goal is to prepare the leaders of tomorrow through various technologies and programs. You can learn a lot more about our mission and our vision by visiting our website at https://su.org.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your company Ripcord.
A: Well, I founded Ripcord in 2015 with Wozniak. At its core, it is a document digitizing company. What we do is use AI – robots – to help people digitize their records. Our robots have the capability to do the sorting, scanning, digitizing, indexing and cataloging for a company’s files and documents.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for it?
A: *laughs* I lost a bet.
Q: You lost a bet?
A: Yes. I lost a bet. One day, a buddy of mine and I were having lunch. He was a little stressed out because his tech company was about to move into the public sector. It had been a private company initially.
Well, my buddy was horribly stressed because he was having to review just about every file and record the company had ever had. The company had paid a document company to go to the company’s storage trailer and retrieve the boxes, but when the guy with the boxes arrived, tons of them were missing because the company had lost them.
My friend and the rest of his entire company were going nuts. They were doing everything in their power to try to reconstruct or replace or like magically conjure these records back into existence. *laughs* I’m laughing about it now, but at the time, my friend was in a really bad way, and I felt bad for him. I really did.
But there was this other part of me thinking, “Why weren’t all of these records digitized? Why were they still storing paper records? With all the tech out here in Silicon Valley, there has got to be a company that digitizes records.”
So I asked my friend these questions. He told me no such company existed. I bet him that it did and set out to find it and win that bet.
Q: But you lost instead?
A: I did. I lost. It turned out there was no company out there digitizing records. It was like a lightbulb went off in my head. That’s how things get invented, right? Someone wants something to serve a purpose. That something doesn’t exist. So that person makes that something so he has it to use. That’s how I made Ripcord.
Q: So people pay to have their companies’ records digitized by Ripcord. How long does that process usually take?
A: The turnaround time is usually about ten days.
Q: So what do you like best about being the CEO of Ripcord? Other than being your own boss, I mean.
A: Ripcord has been very successful. That in itself makes me proud to be its CEO, but one of the things I love best is that it has given me the funds and resources to allow me to give back to the community that I love. I want to be able to help others achieve the success that Ripcord has afforded me.
Q: So you do a lot of charity work?
A: I do try to give back to the community in all the ways that I can, and I especially love working with and helping out causes about which I am passionate.
Q: Can you give me some examples?
A: Sure! I’ve been a co-author of many different patents for some great ideas. I also serve as a mentor on the board of Orange Fab, which is a telecommunications company.
My time at NASA was no accident, either. I love space. We, as humans, have pretty much explored everything we can explore on this planet. The next frontier really is space exploration. I’m so fascinated by space and what they do at NASA. So another thing I contribute to is the Stealth Space Startup in San Francisco. I’m actually one of their advisors.
I’m a contributor to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and am on the board of directors for a non-profit called California Women Empowering Women (CAWEW).
Q: What is that?
A: Oh man. The CAWEW is an organization of which I am particularly passionate. It’s a great organization. It was founded by the amazing Amyen Evert. She had this amazing idea to help support women who had been sexually abused and weren’t getting the kind of help they needed or deserved.
CAWEW gives much-needed funds to California with the express purpose of testing DNA evidence that has been collected from rape kits after an assault.
Q: That is great.
A: It is. It’s such a wonderful organization. Amyen and the CAWEW also work very closely with what is known in California as SART. That is the Sexual Assault Response Team. CAWEW provides them with services, funds, equipment and other necessities whenever they can. There just are not enough resources out there to help victims of sexual assault. CAWEW is trying to mend that. I’m proud to be associated with it.
Q: Wow. That is wonderful. I said that already, but still. That’s just amazing. I read somewhere that you also help train doctors or something?
A: *laughs* No! No. Medicine is not my field. I was never going to be Dr. Alex Fielding. *laughs again* I could no more train a doctor than I could tame a lion. *laughs* No, I think you’re thinking of TEDMED. It’s an online resource for doctors to help strengthen their communication skills with patients. To help them work on their bedside manner, so to speak.
Q: That’s kind of like training doctors!
A: No. I don’t train them. I’m simply an advisor to the organization. I help them with the tech side of the online site. It has numerous videos and an online training module. I give advice on that side of things.
Q: That’s very cool. You’re a successful businessman. You are constantly giving back to the community. But what do you like to do in your free time?
A: What free time?
Q: I imagine you don’t have a lot of it!
A: *laughs* I don’t. I like to keep busy. When I do have free time, I like to play with new tech, see what kind of neat new stuff has come out and what it does. I have a lot of fun gadgets at home I like to play with when I have the time. I like to read about the evolution of computers, engineering and the Internet. And occasionally, when we can all make time in our schedules for it, I like to go out and have dinner with my friends. I do have those, but they are all just as busy as me, so we don’t get to see each other as much as we’d like.
Q: I totally understand that. Well, Mr. Alex Fielding, I have taken up enough of your time today. I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me. I know you’re a busy man. Can I ask you just one final question before you go?
A: I believe you just did. *laughs* No, I’m kidding. Go ahead. It’s been a pleasure being here. I’ve really enjoyed it. Thank you for having me.
Q: Thanks again for coming. Okay. Last question. There are people all over the world whose sole dream in life is to make it just like you made it. Do you have any final words of wisdom for those struggling entrepreneurs out there?
A: Never give up. I know it sounds a little boring and cliché, but it’s also true. Never give up. You go to the Ripcord website and read my bio, read about the company, and you think, “This guy had it easy. Everything just fell into place for him.” That’s because that website only hits the highlights.
I struggled, too. I definitely had some pitfalls. I had a few dark periods when I wanted to give up, throw in the towel. We all make mistakes. We all get rejected. We all struggle. That just makes success all the sweeter when we achieve it. Never. Give. Up.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. I was so fortunate to be able to work with some of the people I worked with. If you think I wasn’t running things by them and asking them their opinions on things, you are dead wrong. Use your resources. If those resources happen to be people, then don’t be afraid to ask them questions and rely on them. If people are willing to help you out, let them.
But most importantly, never give up. You can do it. Just believe in yourself and never give up.
Q: Thanks again, Mr Alex Fielding. This has been great.
A: Thank you! Hope to see you again soon!