Chris Sprague is the CEO of Leapfrog Technology Inc., a software company headquartered in Seattle, USA, with its development center in Kathmandu.
After completing the undergraduate degree in Human Computer Interactions (HCI) and Computer Science from Stanford University, he joined Masters studies at Georgia Institute of Technology. He then worked for Oracle and other Silicon Valley startups before starting his own company, called OpenStudy. At OpenStudy, Sprague was CEO while the company raised venture capital and experienced a growth from hundreds to millions of users each month.
Appointed as the Chief Technology Officer of Leapfrog in 2013, he was recently promoted to the CEO of the company.
Basanta Kumar Dhakal from Glocal Khabar sat for an interview with Mr. Sprague in his recent visit to Nepal. Here is an excerpt from the lively conversation:
Basanta: You had already worked with such amazing and reputed companies in Silicon Valley. What attracted you to working with the company founded by a Nepalese?
Sprague: After seeing the categories of problems that Leapfrog is to solve, I felt that it was much more validating and challenging than what I could do in the US. I felt I could contribute more joining the company. Innovation in the US is about creating a better solution in general for the problems, most of which have already been solved. In the case of Nepal, there are hospitals that don’t have any electronic system. People don’t have access to banking. There are schools that don’t have any systems to manage their students. There are many such fundamental problems that technology can solve. This is what made me get associated with the company.
How enthusiastic are you about the operation of the Leapfrog so far, and your role at the company?
I would say that everyone at leapfrog is super-committed. And, this is what our clients love. We have the commitment to deliver, and being successful. We are open to feedback and advice from clients, and we really value that. I am super-excited about the operation of the company so far.
You have the headquarter and corporate offices in the USA, whereas the development center is located in Nepal. What are some major setbacks for such a company?
Earlier, the internet speed as well as the constant blackouts used to be major headaches for us. It’s almost resolved now.
Besides that, the other big challenge would be the time-zone. We are basically at the opposite sides of the world. So, we work with the US clients during the day, and then resume working at night and coordinate with the team here in Nepal.
How hard is it to find qualified people to work for your company?
The answer to this has been changed over time. It used to be a tough set of skills that everyone had to know. But now, what’s more important is the challenge for people to learn new things.
What Nepal does not necessarily have is the talents in engineering, but it does have is lots of smart and motivated people. So, we take people that are smart and willing to learn, and then put them in an environment with their peers, and enable them to learn new things. That’s what we have succeeded in. We are successful in building new engineers. More than 95% of those who join our company are just fresh out of the college.
You have done a lot of impact projects that have literally transformed the lives of people, or at least made it easier. And, you’ve recently been appointed as the CEO of the company. What are you planning next?
We are committed to being a double bottom line company. That means we are judging ourselves not just on how successful we are on generating revenue, but how successful we are in terms of impact. Now, the next thing is, we’re starting to focus more on innovation. By this, I mean creating new things by habit. We are providing solutions, not just building new products.
We want to do end-to-end consulting on the service side, that means learning about people’s problems and conceptualizing the right solutions for them. We want to be an innovation partner, not just the development partner.
You have mainly worked with foreign clients until now. Are you also planning to work with Nepali clients?
Yeah, absolutely. We are doing some of that now. For example, we’re implementing an EMR (electronic medical record) system at Star Hospital. We are also coordinating with the Gurkha Hospital to implement similar technology, that has 22 centers all over Nepal. It means, we’re enabling them to serve Gurkha veterans better, and help keep the medical database and better enable the referrals and prescriptions.
Until ten years ago, the IT industry of Nepal was really nascent. Now, it has grown to be a very vibrant industry, and there are many multi-national and Nepali-owned IT companies. So, where do you find Leapfrog in the crowd?
I find us wanting to be the leaders of that transformation.
Honestly, what we care about the most is not necessarily the glory or the money. It’s about solving problems and providing value. So, we do work with lots of other companies that are here.
What do you look for in a person before making a hire at Leapfrog?
First, they have to be smart. Second, we need to ensure that we’ll get along with each other. You don’t have to be the best personality, but we should feel like working with you. Thirdly, you need to have a willingness to learn, and willingness to bring yourself outside of your comfort zone. That’s what defines technology industry.
What message do you want to give to those youths who are eying their career in IT sector?
I would say that IT is one of the best investment that you can make. But, you should be passionate about it. In general, people learn and perform better at what they are motivated to do already. So, join the industry only if you are a fan of technology and a fan of programming.
The industry is ever changing. So, it doesn’t matter if you are the world’s best JAVA engineer, but the eagerness to learn new things. For an example, two years down the line, none might want a Java engineer. You need to have an eagerness to update and upgrade yourself constantly.