Embracing Fearlessness In The Tech World With Tom Frazier

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The tech world is evolving and advancing nonstop. Most of the time, it is too much too handle or catch up with. But Tom Frazier fearlessly jumped into this space, wherein he found tremendous success. In this conversation with Tony Martignetti, he shares how he bravely faced all kinds of risks to ultimately become the CEO of Redivider, a sustainable modular data center. He explains why the tech space must learn how to properly navigate the inevitable artificial intelligence. Tom also talks about the need for more data centers to cater to the rapid data growth of today’s ever-growing digital world.


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Embracing Fearlessness In The Tech World With Tom Frazier

It is my honor to introduce you to my guest, Tom Frazier. Tom is the CEO and Fund Manager of Redivider, a sustainable modular data center. He has over 25 years of global expertise in technology, finance, and information security. He has been involved with data centers since the mid-‘90s. He has held positions at Verizon as regional director for cloud and security business and has managed a multi-hundred-million-dollar private currency economy. He holds patents in cloud computing. He lives in Issaquah, Washington, where they filmed Twin Peaks. His office is in a converted horse barn. That’s so cool. Tom, I'm so thrilled to welcome you to the show.

Thanks for having me.

You have quite an impressive background. As I was going through your bio, there are so many things about it that I'm like, “Some people might not quite understand what a sustainable data farm, a data center is,” but I know we're going to dive into that. When you have a lot of cool things going on, there's obviously going to be some chance people are going to be like, “What does that mean?” Let's go dive in and find out more.

That's what we're going to spend time on, getting to understand more about all the things you're doing in the world, but not so fast. We must first figure out what brought you to the world you're doing now. We're going to do that through what's called Flash Points. These are points in your journey that have ignited your gifts into the world. I want you to share some of those moments, wherever they were in your life, that created the person I'm standing in front of right now.

I'm not sure where to begin, but I think the earliest moment when I knew I wanted to be involved in technology was buying my father a one-megabyte RAM chip when I was in high school. It was like, “That's the coolest thing. This is such a huge massive memory component for a computer.” It was this real sense of pride. Ever since, I’ve been involved in technology and loved it.

It's cool. You think about it like how far we've come.

One megabyte is nothing now.

It's Not even a song. It's wild.

I was maybe, I don't know, 14 or 15 years old when that happened. It's been great to see this transformation after transformation. I think one of the other flashpoints for me about getting here was that I went to university in upstate New York in Rochester. I went to a school called RIT, the Rochester Institute of Technology. They don't do fraternities like other schools. They have what are called special interest houses. I joined Computer Science House.

Seeing all of the innovation and projects that all these students were doing at Computer Science House felt like magic. It was the cutting edge of the cutting edge. We had a vending machine, like a drink machine, that was hooked up to our private network in our dorm rooms. You could log into the server and say, “I want to Coke and make a drop in twelve seconds.” You walk down the hallway and then it spat out. I remember thinking like, “This whole internet thing, it's going to be beyond anyone's expectations.” That turned out to be true.

I love that story. It's so cool. I want to know more about where you are from originally. Were you from New York originally? Where are your family from?

I grew up in Arizona. My whole family, except for me, lives in Arizona. Conversely, I’ve lived and traveled everywhere. I’ve been around the world, but I don't know how many times. I lived in Australia for about ten years. It was definitely a contrast to go from Arizona, which is always hot, to Rochester, which is like the craziest amount of snow ever. It was an education system that, at that moment in time, was so spectacular and everything was new. We'd have our teachers who would be learning a day before the students because the curriculum they were teaching was so new they didn't even know. It was spectacular.

It's neat when you think about it. It reminds me of where we are right now, like this sense of with AI and everything's happening in the moment and everyone's learning and teaching at the same time. It's cool. I'm still bringing you back to your early days because I'm curious about your family. What were they like? What professions did your parents have?

My dad was a builder. My mother’s a real estate agent. We didn't grow up with a lot of money. This became another personal flashpoint, not a professional one, but I remember my dad. I have to go to work with my dad and my brother. We'd get up at like 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and he'd go do a job site in Arizona. You'd got to stop work by 10:00 or 11:00 because it's so hot.

I remember one day, we stopped by this junkyard and he went in and came back out with the little thing and off we went to the job site and he is like,” Tom, the inside of this thing is this tiny little spring and while I'm over here working, I need you to get this spring out. He's so carefully and meticulously laid out all the screws and all the parts and looks for this spring.

My brother and I sat in the bed of the truck for hours, taking it apart, which I now know was a tape deck from an old truck. We found it this spring, and my brother and I were so proud of what we had done. He is like, “That's a good job, boys,” and then scraped it all in the trash. That was effectively our babysitter. It was this old tape deck from a junkyard. My parents are still married. They still live in Arizona. They taught me the value of exploration and a lot of those lessons are what led me on the path, my professional career. When I did a lot of computer security, it was born out of one of those moments.

I love that you share that because there's something about going into that, taking things apart, looking at the details, focusing and having patience are important to move into the field that you got into. If you didn't have the patience to persevere and dig deeper, it would be hard to focus on some of these real technical challenges and problems you're facing. I think it all starts with curiosity, too, which I think was ingrained in you. Tell me about the early days of here you are at RIT, which sounds like it was like the perfect timing for you to be there, but what was that a springboard to? What did that lead you as you moved into your next chapter?

I don't say this with any disrespect to RIT, it's a phenomenal school, but I didn't get a lot from my formal education. My learning wasn't in the classroom. I have had a very atypical experience, and I want to caveat that. I was hired as a faculty staff when I turned eighteen. I worked at my university while I was going to my university and also became chairman of this Computer Science House because I'm so enamored with how all of these pieces fit together for technology.

The biggest thing for me then was the fearlessness. You don't have to be afraid of technology. That's something that stuck very early and to this day. You don't have to be afraid of technology. It doesn't bite you. It can't hurt you. All your potential is built up from your experience and your experience can only be unbridled if you have no fear. For me, that manifested across a range of technologies, from security to data centers to crypto to all kinds of things.

Something about what you said landed squarely with me, this fear. When we first started to touch electronics or software, a lot of people had this fear of getting it right or of what happens if we hit the wrong key or what have you. The reality is, in most instances, it's not the end of the world. We restart from the beginning. We restart from a different place. I think there is a sense of not fearing it, just embracing it and being okay with making mistakes because that's how we learn.

As you mentioned, AI is a huge portion of my career right now, designing data centers for AI. I’ll say that moment of fearlessness is here again. The beauty of AI is that it's such an opportunity for people who are afraid of technology to get deeply involved in a way that only enables it. There's zero downside in terms of interacting with AI. There might be some macro fears that people have around losing jobs or deep fakes or whatever, but on an individual basis, this is a great moment to be fearless in technology.

Fearless in technology | Tom Frazier | Tech World

It's so crazy when you think about fearlessness in so many different capacities. When you start to embrace it in one part of your life, it starts to seep into other areas of your life, too. You said you've lived and worked all over the world, which is powerful. A lot of people are afraid to take that leap, afraid to get out and do things like that. I'm sure that that was part of your journey into fearlessness.

Just another example, and I do like that term flash point, but the way I traveled before kids, it's a little hard with kids was I'd show up at the airport and I'd say, “Where does the next plane go?” I jump on that plane and go there. I literally have a tattoo on my hand that's a question mark and an exclamation mark as one symbol.

I don't know where life will end up is the question mark, but I'm excited about the journey is the exclamation mark. That's the core tenet of how I live my life in general. The journey is you only get one shot at it. Sitting around, being afraid of this or doubting your abilities, these things don't help you on that journey. They don't move you forward in a positive way.

I know that this is also what's driven you through all the different business endeavors that you've done, which I'm now looking forward to hearing more about all the risks you've taken along the way. Some probably didn't pan out, but that's okay. It's all part of the journey. Tell us more. What happens next on the twists and turns of your entrepreneurial journey but also your journey into the tech world, if you will?

I’ve always been in tech my whole career. I went to university to study IT. I ended up getting a job at the university when I was eighteen and I’ve been in that ever since. I did take a 10- or 12-year portion of my career focused on computer security because everything I said before about fearlessness was an indicator. When you think about security, there are risks and there are things to protect. That got me absolutely fascinated of how you could protect against the proverbial bad guy and what the bad guy was after and how to get them.

Back to the tape deck story, security is understanding the building blocks of how some bigger units fit together. When you can decompose that into smaller pieces and understand their strengths and weaknesses, you can identify how to do that for the building blocks of a company, the building blocks of software, or anything. I loved it. Security has been a major portion of my career. I think now, as we approach AI and another abstraction layer of technology, security's going to be even bigger.

Security is understanding the building blocks of how some bigger unit fits together.

That's the biggest thing that every company has on their mind. How do you secure yourself in the world of AI because it feels like an open playbook? Maybe we can talk a little bit about that for a moment to say what is your perspective on how companies are dealing with security in the world of AI? Are they putting firewalls up? If you are comfortable, I'd love to hear.

I think there isn't a right answer here. It depends on what your company does and the size and scale of your company. In general, as long as you view AI, and more broadly, this concept of machine learning, as long as you view those as tools to help you be more efficient, then the security portion is a slice of that. It shouldn't be secure against it. It should be integrating it and securing more robust.

For example, if you're Adobe, you're worried about people using your software properly because they're putting AI in everything. They have a problem securing the AI instead of securing against the AI. Whereas the federal government needs to secure against AI. How are they going to do that? They're going to have to build their own AI system that can act as fast as some AI that might be attacking it.

Either way, the story's moral here is get ready because it will be involved in every aspect of every single company and person's life in some form or fashion. This isn't a hype cycle. This is bigger than mobile. This is bigger than the internet. This is bigger than iot. It's going to be probably the biggest technological trend in my lifetime.

Fearless in technology | Tom Frazier | Tech World

I think to come back to what you said earlier, it's not time to fear this. It's time to embrace it and figure out how we want to face it. If we face it the right way, then everything's going to be great. It's going to be a game-changing technology, which it already is, but it'll be even more so. We can't fear it. We have to embrace it.

The fear part of AI is actually what I do for work day to day, which we could talk about. The idea of the data center component for AI. It is something we have to understand. It is something that we need to have a little bit of fear of in terms of what it does to society and humanity more broadly because the computing requirements are unlike anything we've seen before. The scale is enormous. We need to understand how it impacts not just you or your company but civilization at large.

We went fast into AI because it's such a hot topic, but I want to get back into the journey a bit and talk about how you spent some time at Verizon, which is quite a remarkable company and obviously, you had a remarkable role. Maybe you want to talk a little bit about your journey there, but then what led to Redivider? Maybe talk about Redivider as well. Wherever you'd like to go, choose your adventure.

I was working for the US government doing computer security and it was great, but it's crazy stressful. Literally, my escort was a guy with a gun everywhere I went. That stresses you out. I said, “I'm going to travel the world a bit and leave America.” I settled in Australia, which is a beautiful country. I'm now a citizen there as well. Obviously, it's hard to get a job in Australia when you're in America. I had so many frequent flyer points. I applied for jobs and I told them I was local. I'd schedule the interview for ten days out or something, and then I would fly there on points. I did that 3 or 4 times. I landed a job and then the day before I started, it got acquired.

Pump the brakes before you fly over. We got to figure this out. Anyway, so they made an exception and I ended up joining there. About a year later, that company was bought by Verizon. The next thing you know is that I'm the cloud and security nerd guy for all of Asia Pacific. I traveled to tons of countries around Asia, and it was great.

Verizon, awesome company. I learned so much about how to do things the right way. You see a lot of the startup community wing it the whole time. I had the inverse in that I learned all this stuff about how these massive companies do things and the key takeaway I learned there was big companies do not innovate. Big companies scale innovation. To that end, I woke up one day and very vividly remember going, “I think I’ve climbed the wrong corporate ladder.” I got to the top of the ladder where I wanted to go and I was like, “This is it? This view is not what I was after.” I thought it was. I quit and started my own company and I’ve had an entrepreneurial bug ever since. That's taken me to a lot of very exciting places.

Big companies do not innovate. They scale innovation.

I want to stop here for a moment because I think what you shared is so cool. Not cool because it was not an easy journey to be on. First of all, the time that you were working in cloud computing, at least you can clarify for me here, this is probably the earlier days of cloud computing.

Very early days. Amazon was the market leader. People were still getting their heads around as a company, “Why would I move to the cloud?” You've got this whole IT department and they're all hugging their servers. The business case for cloud was still being developed. It was a very exciting time. I feel like I hit the beginning of the internet and then the beginning of the cloud. Now, the beginning of AI. It's nice to be in the firsts.

Wherever you are going next, I'm following you. Keep me posted.

I loved my time at Verizon, but I felt very unsatisfied because if I did all this amazing work, it would grow the business 1%, and no one would care. If I lost 1%, everyone was in trouble because when you're king, you care about staying at the top of the mountain. I went down this entrepreneurial path and I started a company and started another company and ran an incubator that started companies. To date, I’ve been an investor advisor, shareholder, and board member of about 70 companies.

As you said, they don't always work out. In fact, in my experience, most of them do not work out. That's okay because it's about getting to the next step. It's not about any one step. At least for me, it's not been one step is this super successful thing. I think nowadays, the startup community idolizes maybe an individual for what they've accomplished, but they're not looking at the math.

The math is the 5 guys or women that you picked in your brain; that population is probably 20 people in total. The number of people trying is 20 million people in total. You've got to look not at the top. You've got to look at the rung above where you are. Wherever you are, how big is that population? What are they doing? How do you get to that rung and start to go up the pyramid that way? The odds of you going from a nothing burger idea in your head to being one of your idols in a short period of time is nil.

When running a business, do not look at the top. Instead, look at the size of your audience and what they are doing.

I love what you said because it's a powerful thing for people to realize that nothing's quite as it seems. There's not this idolization that you should be creating. Also, when we see someone failing, like a business going on a startup that doesn't quite pan out, we have to also support them and say, “At least they tried. At least they gave it a chance,” because a lot of people don't even give that startup an opportunity to even see the light. Failure is the start of the next thing.

The process shouldn't be quitting your job or starting a company. I realized that's what I did, but I did that because there was no startup community then. There wasn't a group of people that would lean on me or I could lean on and ask questions and they say, “You should keep your job. You've got this amazing job that pays you a boatload of money. Do this on the side until it takes off.” Those people didn't exist for me. Now, they exist everywhere. That community is something you should take advantage of.

I had a guest talk about having a good learning community. His name was Eduardo Briceno, and he was talking about learning communities and how important they are. Choose wisely, though, because you want to make sure you have people around you who are there to champion and support you and not one-up you or feel like making yourself look bigger in the company of others. I think you have to choose the right communities to be part of. There are toxic communities.

There definitely are. There are also communities that are time wasters that add no value. Another personal point is early on in my professional career, I also found dance to be an incredible outlet. I started doing swing dancing. I’ve done dancing all over the world in all these different communities. The takeaway from that was you don't go out to do a social event if you're in a bad mood.

The energy of all of these people is very congruent. They all want to have this exciting moment. It's a very positive experience. It also is a social equalizer. If you are a parking lot attendant or an investment banker, in that moment, you're exactly peers. That's a rare thing. That's stuck with me. How you treat people along the way and the communities you're in matter. If you go into a community that you think is beneath you and you treat people poorly, that sucks. If you go into a community and you try to kiss butt up the chain, that's not a good look, either. The communities you're in do matter for sure.

We're in this conversation where there are so many ways we can take this, but I do want to dig into Redivider because I think this new company that you're up to is something that is unique. I’ve never heard of anything like this. I think it'd be great to hear a little bit more about what brought you to this idea and then what is it.

Redivider, very simply, is a data center company. We make the buildings that have all the servers that you use every day, from how you connect to things like the cloud or TikTok or whatever. The uniqueness of how we do it is the exciting part. Instead of having a building the size of a football field, which is pretty typical, all of our buildings are modular. They're small form-factor buildings. It's like when cars were invented, there were a lot of people that were making things that were handcrafted as cars and they were very slow to make new ones, etc. Henry Ford came along and made a factory that spit out cars at much higher quality, a much lower cost and a much greater volume. That's what we're doing with data centers.

We can put them literally anywhere by building them in a factory and shipping them on a truck or train. We can do so at much higher quality and much lower cost. The biggest problem in the data center industry is time to market. Now, we're able to bring them online faster. To answer your question, we started all of this when we were all stuck at home for two years. There's this idea called edge computing that's been around forever. We're going to push all the servers to the “edge.” It never took off because when you look at the core principles, you had a big data center connected to a big internet pipe, connected to a big office building full of people. The system wasn't broken. It didn't need edge computing to run the internet.

Everyone was working from home. Now, all of a sudden, the entire structure of the fabric of the internet didn't work because you didn't have 20,000 people going to a downtown area for 8 hours a day. That's where it was born. It’s this moment of forever the definition of work has changed, which means the definition of the internet has changed, which has opened the idea for these small data centers. That's what we're doing.

I'm sure you see this already, but I’ll reflect on what I see. It is this connection that you have to the deconstructing and taking things apart and rethinking them, building them back together, which is exactly what brought Redivider or at least I think what Redivider to what it is right now. It's this connection to your childhood of taking apart that the radio and seeing those pieces. Once you understand how it's built, how can you rebuild something from there?

I think that's something that resonates with me. Your dad was in the building industry. Maybe you are thinking about how we build something that's a little more sustainable in the grand scheme of things. I always find these little connections with how we were raised and how our childhood has hidden secrets to where we end up.

I think that's totally true about my dad being a builder. For a moment, if you think about the amount of technology you use now compared to ten years ago, it's staggering. I’ll give you a little statistic. Not to bore you with numbers, but the amount of data we're consuming from 2019 to 2025 will grow the total amount of data 5 times what it was before. Not five times 2019. Five times the data since the beginning of data ever being created.

The amount of data we're collecting, it's mind-blowing. The need for computing is also mind-blowing. If you look at it by the power consumed or physical space or number of servers, it doesn't matter. They're all crazy. That creates a massive sustainability problem. Back to the building thing, it is also an unachievable goal to grow because our construction workforce is anemic. There's no new blood coming in.

My dad, who's now retired, where are the guys that are replacing him? They don't exist. They've gone off to do other things. From my perspective, building data centers in a factory is not a novelty that's useful. It is the singular way that we can continue to grow the computing field with the limitation of our workforce along with our unbridled demand for tech.

Fearless in technology | Tom Frazier | Tech World

It's powerful to think about this is how we sustain ourselves if we continue to go at the rapid pace we're going at and there's no reason why we would end up, we would slow down or stop because we know it's working for us. This is how we sustain ourselves.

When you think about it from a power perspective, again, from the sustainability side, we are not adding enough renewable capacity into our grid in America, nor is anyone else in the world. There are a lot of reasons for that I won't get into, but the demand for computing is still going off the charts. Are you going to curb the amount of TikTok that you use or are you going to be okay with turning back on coal power plants? That's what it's going to come to. Social media for coal power. I can guarantee you what people are going to vote for.

The idea of doing this more sustainably is a very critical factor. We have to remove as much embodied carbon as we can. We have to have a much more efficient way of operating these facilities and thinking about circular economies. We need to apply all the thinking of all these sustainability experts to our field, which is what we've spent the last few years doing. As long as we have a blank sheet of paper, why don't we do it in a way that benefits the planet, benefits people through social impact, and meets the insatiable demand?

I have to be honest with you, Tom, I could talk about this for hours, but I want to be respectful of your time and I have one last question I have to ask before I let you go. My last question is, what are 1 or 2 books that have an impact on you and why?

I’ve read a ton of business books. I like reading business books because it sharpens my brain. There are two things I would say. A time-tested book that I love is called Personality Not Included. The author's name is Rohit Bhargava. That book was incredible. You could come up with the best widget ever, but if people aren't attracted to it, they won't use it and therefore, you won't have the impact on the world that you want to have. That book was eye-opening for me in that regard. Also, I like anything by Jack Trout and Al Ries. They’re such brilliant minds about how to position a company or position a person or how you get ideas across for anything. I’ve read every single book that those two have ever made and they're amazing authors.

VCP 225 | Work Life Bloom

I have to be honest with you, both books are fantastic. First of all, I will say Personality Not Included. I’ve heard that before and I have not read it, unless I forgot about it because I do read a lot. I'm putting that on my list.

Yeah, it's a good one.

This is fantastic. Tom, this has been nothing short of amazing. I appreciate you bringing all your insights and you your wealth of knowledge. I feel like I'm going to follow you wherever you're going. Keep me posted as to what's going next and what's around the corner and we'll go with you.

Great. It's amazing. Anybody who wants to help improve the planet, jump on board with me. That's what we have to do together. We've got to keep our technology use high so we can advance civilization, but we have to do so in a much better, broader way.

If we want to improve the planet, we have to keep our technology use high so that we can advance civilization. But we have to do so in a much better and broader way.

I love how you said that because there's a part of this, which is to say it doesn't have to be in conflict. We can do good things for the planet from a technological standpoint that feeds our minds and helps us from a technical perspective. They're not at odds. They actually can complement each other in a very big way.

The technology will enable the other as well. We can't get to these new goals without new ways of thinking.

I have to thank you again for sharing all you did. Before I let you go, I want to ensure people know where to find out more about you if they want to learn or connect with you.

I'm Tom Frazier on LinkedIn. Basically, any platform that exists online. I'm Tom Frazier. Very early on, I learned to grab your social handles on, even platforms that aren't going to make it. Because you never know which ones will. I'm Tom Frasier everywhere on the internet. For Redivider, you can go to the website Redivider.co.

Thanks again and thanks to readers for coming on the journey. I know you're leaving with your mind blown. Go check out Tom and we'll see you next time.


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