Ed Hallda is a study in contrasts: animated and reserved; quick on his feet and a quietly deep thinker; enigmatic and open; a would-be comedian/actor but a tech innovator by trade. He delivers witty one-liners along with stories that wrap you up, full of color, character and complexity.
“I was always that kid who had his hands on a gadget,” he says. “I wanted to take it apart to see how it worked. I wasn’t necessarily able to put it back together, but I could definitely figure out how it operated. My grandmother was fascinated by how often I was taking things apart.”
Solid ground for his tenure in the Navy. There he went through the nuclear power program, acquiring the fundamental principles about “how things worked, detailed processes and sustainment of systems, which I was inevitably drawn to. I credit the Navy with giving me the discipline to always follow through.”
But Ed’s childhood also included being raised by an interior designer, who encouraged him to be creative and artistic. Fast forward to the ‘80s when he was dropped off in Kitsap County, Ed gravitated to technology because it was the perfect merger of creativity and “possibility thinking.”
Today, as Founder and Principal of HEED CXO, Chair of Kitsap Economic Development Alliance’s (KEDA) Technology Committee and a Founding40 member at Vibe, Ed strives for visionary leadership in all that he does, whether it’s applying blockchain to government bonds, urging others forward in the start-up realm, managing human capital or building high-performance teams.
Tell us about your childhood. Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
Ed: I spent my first nine years in Miami as a minority white kid in the projects. I spent the next nine years in an all-white suburb in the sticks of Pennsylvania. That experience provided stark contrast. My strongest memory from that time is when my father bought the town church and made it our home.
I was raised in this fabulous 20,000 square feet of rich town history. Everyone who came knocking at the door was always looking past me to see what in the world we were doing living in their church. Our bedrooms were in the Sunday school rooms in the basement, and our living spaces were upstairs in the gigantic open area. We’d have 17- or 20-foot Christmas trees. It was fabulous. Christmas was probably the most memorable—and having a 19th-century graveyard in my backyard.
When you’re building a team for a client, what’s the first thing you ask them (the client) to do?
Ed: I loathe obstacles. So tell me everything that you think is an obstacle so we can figure out a way to overcome them, and they’re no longer in our way.
Once there’s nothing in our way, “Now what?” I want people to think that. I want them to break down all the obstacles and barriers, and once that’s out of the way ask, “Now what?”
What’s one of your top product or service launches that you’re most proud of?
Ed: Well, it’s not a product. I chair the technology committee for the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance (KEDA) that’s focused on five pillars: infrastructure, cyber security, partnerships, talent, and innovation. We’ve been working on this for the past three years, give or take.
One of the key initiatives we’re pushing is access to high-speed internet. It’s really table stakes for any community that wants to evolve and become more innovative. I specifically ran for commissioner of Kitsap Public Utility District to give broadband a bigger voice within our county. Connectivity will be invisible in the future, but it’s not at all there yet. Most people associate access to the internet with more traditional providers like Comcast, becoming a slave to their offerings.
I don’t think our community realizes that we have an incredibly fast internet backbone and we own it. It’s a community-owned commodity. It’s so important that we understand the power of broadband infrastructure for our generation and for future generations.
Each day, 47,000 people commute outside of Kitsap County for economic gain via car, bus and/or the ferries. Our kids are growing up in a wonderful environment here. Then they go off to college and pursue their futures elsewhere. They’re not necessarily coming back.
Why is that? Where is our spirit of innovation? We live in one of the most beautiful areas in the country. That’s what kept me here. Why aren’t we a greater incubator for ideas? A center of excellence for research and development? We’ve got an incredibly viable asset with the Navy in our backyard, producing highly-trained engineers. We are tangentially connected to major universities in a hotbed of technology giants. We are perfectly positioned, as an affordable community, to be the innovation hub for all those wonderful neighbors.
What do you see in Kitsap's future?
Ed: After arriving here in 1987 while serving in the Navy, I quickly came to appreciate Kitsap and the entire Pacific Northwest. Since that time, I've watched Kitsap grow without sacrificing rural charm while evolving into much more than just a “Navy town.” Coupled with the population surge anticipated, bringing its own set of challenges and opportunities, I'm hopeful Kitsap will prosper.
But to thrive, we need leaders to step up and the community to work together to harness the power of our historical strengths, support small business as the key driver of our nation's jobs and innovation, and deliver significant STEM education aimed at the future of our planet.
I want Kitsap to be an incubator for innovation.
What attracted you to Vibe, and how has it fortified your vision?
Ed: Vibe is an entire community built around creativity and possibility. Coworking isn't a new concept, but the model has mostly been “rent a desk” with library style rules and an occasional accidental meeting. The Vibe environment was intentionally designed for community and collaboration.
I was immediately drawn to Vibe Coworks because it's a safe place to dream out loud. It's just the right size that you could easily find dream-conspirators to further drive, challenge and fuel visions worth chasing and embracing. I'm working on several initiatives from cyber security to blockchain and experiencing acceleration because of the relationships I've made through Vibe and their subsequent collaborations.
When a small group of us created Startup Kitsap, one simple tenet was to create a supportive ecosystem for talent to safely test their ideas and drive innovation in our backyard. It's essentially a sibling concept to Vibe and, in my opinion, a critical component of Kitsap's future. I'm excited to see where this takes us.
You mentioned blockchain. Let’s pretend you’re at a dinner party with guests who know nothing about blockchain. How would you explain it?
Ed: Immutable transparency. Everything we do in life is a transaction. Transactions that have a monetary value associated with them are often clouded, forgotten or exploited. Implemented effectively, blockchain eliminates exploitation of our transactional life. Identity theft and stolen credit cards are two tangible examples.
Rumor has it you’ve got a penchant for Haiku. True?
Ed: True. I’ve spent quite a bit of time writing haiku and music, which has taught me to be more succinct. I spent a good bit of time exploring a variety of religions, including Hinduism, Catholicism, Buddhism and Judaism, for example. I even took the book of Matthew and created a translation in haiku about the Sermon on the Mount.
What it did for me was begin to help me simplify my approach to living and to the application of technology, which is where I found my professional life. I believe fundamentally that technology should be simple, accessible and invisible. There are examples of that now, and it will become even more so in time.
You describe yourself as a ‘growth hacker’. What do you mean by that?
Ed: I cut through the BS necessary to accelerate revenue. Growth hacking focuses on the data – it tells a story of the past and is a reasonable predictor of the future.
What was your best post during your Navy years?
Ed: I did six years in the Navy—three years in school and three years at sea, and I’ll take the three years at sea any day. Because, when at school, I was with very like-minded individuals in pursuit of knowledge and understanding. When I was at sea, I was in a mixed bag of nuts. I met the most incredible people from all walks of life. It was a pursuit of fun and culture.
Your house is on fire. What are the 5 things you’d take with you? (Besides your humans and pets)
Ed: The first thing I was going to say was the dog. The five things I’d take with me? Hmm. My cell phone, backpack, Gortex, and my drop bag. It’s got everything you need for survival.
It’s your last supper. What are you having?
Ed: Steak! A filet, roasted potatoes, green beans, salad, crusty bread. Red wine. Claret.
What’s your favorite thing about being a part of startups?
Ed: I love embracing this culture of creativity and possibility and “Why not?”
The best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Ed: “Always work yourself out of a job.” That’s essentially automation of my position. I’ve been doing that since the ‘90s. The other good piece of advice was about integrity: “People and society can take everything from you, except your integrity. You have to give that away.”
Where else in the world would you like to live, and why?
Ed: Central America, because I feel they’re ripe for innovation and open to possibilities; and Europe, because I love our ancestral ties with its deep, rich history.
You’ve mentioned the ‘happiness quotient’ before. What do you mean by that?
Ed: I find it fascinating that the world continues to grow, and we often think of our growth in terms of structural impact versus meaningful impact. There is an alarming trend of addiction and a variety of mental health concerns. While capitalism has proven to be a powerful foundation, it often leaves humanity wanting. Some cups can never be full.
The “happiness quotient” is more about designing and building communities with happiness as the intent.
What’s your favorite movie of all time?
Ed: Most things Coen brothers. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? is fantastic. LORD OF THE RINGS is epic. I also love a good Western.
Ed: The prayer of St. Francis. For me, it’s a constant reminder to be selfless.
If you weren’t in technology…
Ed: I would have been an actor/comedian. I’m just an animated and impolitically-correct human being.
Meet the author: Vibist Susan O'Meara is a Poulsbo-based freelance writer, editor and journalist with global experience. Back in the day, Susan did event marketing for the electrified Don King, boxing’s bad-boy biz whiz. Then she got roped into writing and producing TV spots for Love Boat: The Next Wave, the ‘90s reboot, and nonfiction programming for Showtime (e.g., Roswell: The Real Story). She's not sure which was more surreal—going with the flow of those Hollywood highs, so to speak, or navigating Nairobi’s magazine scene. Susan has worked in the US and abroad for the likes of Bloomberg Media, Deloitte, Discovery Communications, and the United Nations. She's obsessed with wrangling language and messaging that helps brands, businesses, and individuals to grow and shine. Except when it comes to Don King's hair.