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Lucas Morales, Founder & CEO of Zeall, Gave Entrepreneurship Its First Shot at the Age of 14

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Lucas Morales is the Founder, CEO and Lead Frontend Developer of Zeall – a task management and social platform with a mission to revolutionize volunteer collaboration and lead the next generation of social change.

The team behind Zeall believes that people want to help each other, but they need the right tools to do that. Founded in 2015, Zeall uses technology to empower people to coordinate volunteer efforts at scale for non-profits, social movements, activist, political campaigns, and community groups.

With degrees in electrical engineering and math, Lucas comes from a background of entrepreneurship – he started and managed a number of small businesses. His time spent abroad and working in various industries has given him insight into today’s social issues and their potential solutions. Interested in languages, technology, politics, economy, and more, Lucas sees himself as a perpetual student of life.

From our interview you’ll learn more about the books that triggered his first venture into entrepreneurship, those that ignited the strategy ideas that form Zeall’s basis, his reading habits, the mistake he personally made and recommends aspiring young professionals to learn from it, and more.

Estimated reading time for this interview is 13 minutes. If you'd rather listen to it, you can do it on iTunes, Google Play or Stitcher.

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

My favorite books are Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, and the Similiarion. In fact these books hold a special place in my memory. In highschool I was so into Tolkien that I delved into linguistics on my own time. I was obsessed with Quenya (Tolkien’s elvish language). I combined that obsession with my mediocre skills as a programmer, and made a sort of dictionary/translator program. This was actually my first venturing into entrepreneurship, because in my naivety I thought I might be able to sell my software to fellow enthusiasts (the first movie was just coming out at the time).

Needless to say that didn’t really turn into anything, but somehow I must have made a sort of reputation for myself because someone from the language department at the University of New Mexico contacted me and asked me if I would like to participate in some sort of language fair event. They wanted me to do a workshop on Elvish. I didn’t know what I was gonna do, because I really wasn’t an expert in anything, but accepted the offer. My dad drove me the 4 hours away to Albuquerque New Mexico, where I just sort of winged it. While I did my thing, my dad sat at the back talking to some UNM professors. They thought he was a fellow professor, and I was his grad student. I think my dad, who was not a professor and had spent his life in the areas of farming, military, and construction enjoyed the experience of being a PhD for a day. He took me out for pancakes afterwards. I don’t think they ever realized I was a 14 year old highschool student.

I usually like to periodically come back and pretend I know what’s going on in the Tao Te Ching.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

High Tech Startup: The Complete Handbook for Creating Successful New High Tech Companies by John L. Nesheim is a bit dated, but because of that, it’s very revealing as to how investment has changed over the years. I have always felt unease about the trend of “unicorns”, and subscribe more to the approach of being a “cockroach”. This book helped me better understand how to strategize for being a cockroach.

For my current venture into volunteer organization, Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything by Becky Bond and Zack Exley is a more recent example of something that validated my business idea. Many of the strategy ideas I guessed at, namely decentralized and distributed organization techniques that form the basis of Zeall, emerged in this book by two of the top organizers of the 2016 Bernie Sanders Presidential Campaign.

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

Like most everyone in their mid-20’s, I started eyeing the stock market and wanted to learn more. Coming from my background in PRML and computer vision I picked up Trade What You See: How to Profit From Pattern Recognition by Larry Pesavento to see how I could apply machine learning techniques to trading. I soon realized from this book that “the market” might not be based on people who actually know what they are doing, and believe in fanciful things like astro-trading, rainbow charts, Fibonacci ratios and the like. Such things were a far cry from the regression techniques, neural nets, and Markov models that I came from doing in image processing.

I want to be clear, I do not in any way recommend this book. But it is a book that changed my career path by turning me off to getting involved in trading and to instead do other things that I feel are much more worthwhile endeavors.

I was introduced to the book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt via Ian Shapiro’s Yale Open Courseware course The Moral Foundations of Political Science. This dramatically changed my outlook on the usual career path for graduates from my university that predominantly went into the defence industry. I am now perhaps overly conscious (maybe to a fault) that whatever I do purposefully aims to be a positive to society.

What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

Depending on your interest and goals, if you are like me and always looking for the trends in the big picture then I highly recommend being an active contrarian reader. Read what no one else is reading. Your goal is to think outside the box. To look at the world and ask “why hasn’t this been solved?” And that gives you a roadmap as to what opportunities may exist for your entrepreneurial efforts. So to that, here’s a snapshot, in no particular order, of what might help you push your intellectual boundaries:

I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

While I prefer physical books, digital books are much easier, and a subscription to a service like scribd can go a long way. Reading is an essential part of my daily routine, so if I am not reading books, I am keeping up-to-date with articles and papers on web development, politics, and the like.

How do you make time for reading?

I don’t think there’s any secret to it, just set aside time and make it routine. I usually do quick reading first thing in the morning, and then spend an hour or two in the evening. Audiobooks or video lectures from youtube channels like Politics & Prose lets you listen while you do dishes or other things. One of my biggest suggestions to entrepreneurs is to become an information sponge. Think of yourself like an information broker, or intelligence officer. It’s your job to not only thoroughly know what you are doing, but to know what your competitors are doing, and what trends are in the wind of the market, people, and society. This can be difficult to do, but that underscores the importance of reading. I take time out of my day, every single day, to read up on something. The problem is that my interests are broad. I keep up on everything, because I feel I have to.

Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

Usually I just have a Google Doc open to type notes. I used to rely on services like Scribd that allows you to bookmark pages and highlight text. But I noticed I just never went back to look at what I saved. The Google Docs are more useful because rather than just bookmarks or highlights, I write actual complete thoughts. You commit things to memory better when you synthesize thoughts together, put them into context, poke holes in them, approach them from different angles. I would say that allows you to conquer the torrent of information better than anything else.

How do you choose what books to read next?

I used to use The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as a way to source books. The interviews with book authors was a great way to filter what was potentially interesting and not.

Nowadays I usually start off with video lectures, sourced from places like the London School of Economics, the Graduate Institute Geneva, the Aspen Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center, or the Brookings Institute. Again, the lectures make a good filter to decide if it’s worth committing time to reading the whole book or not.

What book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

I am currently reading Why Minsky Matters: An Introduction to the Work of a Maverick Economist by Randall Wray. I am an enthusiast of Modern Money Theory and participate in a group interested in financial systems, the nature of money, and economic policy. I am hoping to get closer to the expert level of understanding that others in that group have so that I can contribute more to the discussion. I believe that if we want to make real change in the world, we need to be looking at the most fundamental aspects of our social lives, and there is nothing more fundamental in society than the point system we use to track IOUs between each other.

Most successful people give the advice “follow your passion”. What would you recommend to someone who’s very young and not yet aware of their passion? Where should they begin their professional journey?

Assuming you are still in school, I would recommend an aspiring young professional to learn from my mistake. Going to university I felt like I wanted to get it out of the way and get into the real world as fast as possible. As a result I made fewer friends and kept mostly to course work.

After graduating, a lecture (that I cannot find at the moment) changed my mind and underscored what I did wrong during those years. According to this research, those that go on to be the most successful are not those with the best grades or most advanced courses. The most successful are those that have large and diverse networks. According to the speaker, those who participated in the university choir had the most correlation with success, because usually a choir is made up of people from every department of the university. In the mix were also groups like fraternities and sororities.

So my advice, don’t be shy, or even if you are shy, work on connecting with others inside and outside your interests. You never know what will influence you and how others will contribute to your life. Whether you want to believe it or not, your success is greatly based on those around you. So find the best people to be around.

Links where you can follow Lucas Morales or find out more about his projects:

All books mentioned by Lucas Morales in this interview:

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