Self-awareness — you almost need to do a SWOT an analysis of yourself; assess where you are stronger, weaker and you have to be able to think critically.

We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Heath Ahrens.

A true expert in his field, Heath has invented innumerable AI and voice changing technologies for over fifteen years. He established the very first cloud-based, text to speech platform, iSpeech in 2007; which brought to market DriveSafely 2009. 
This was the first app to dictate text messages aloud (CES Best Mobile App 2011, Mashable Best Mobile App 2010) before creating iSpeech Home in 2012; a connected home precursor of Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

Both an early and follow-on investor in multiple tech startups including Andreessen Horowitz-backed, ReadyPlayerMe, Heath has lectured on the social impact of artificial intelligence, bootstrapping and speech technology at many industry conferences including TEDx, NJTC, CTIA, AI World Forum 2017 and Mobile Voice Conference.

After iSpeech, Heath built an enormously robust app portfolio from scratch — building over fifty apps, acquiring a further fifty and exiting over a dozen. He has had iPhone apps in the top 50 and has continuously built technology that is lightyears ahead of its time.

At the core of these accomplishments sits a demonstrable love for the power of voice; be it human or synthetic. It is this fervor that sparked the inception of, reverberates throughout the business and ignites excitement with both colleagues and communities alike.

An ex-opera singer, tech paramour and respected advisor for startups, Heath is an avid gearhead and boater,. In any spare time he can grab, will be found fly-fishing the flats, eFoiling or being relentlessly humbled by his small children.

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?

Currently, I’m navigating fatherhood and all of the lessons that come with it; having two very small children at the same time brings an upward trajectory of energy, and I’m finding the entire process of learning how to be good parent exciting.

Funnily enough, raising kids kind of gives you an idea of how AI learns too — they both benefit from reinforcement learning so it’s been a surprise to see those parallels between work and parenting. Kids are like little learning machines themselves, and the context that you need to teach children helps you to solve technical problems to which the answers were elusive before. Who knew that by helping your kids learn the ways of the world, you can also discover the technological breakthrough that can change a voice in 30 milliseconds.

It’s a complete cliche, but children are the future — the new generation of kids is the first of its kind to grow up with AI. The last generation was raised with the ability to search for any answer to any question online; the growing Gen Alpha is growing up with the ability to create anything they can think of with powerful AI technology.

The future holds endless opportunities that we can’t even conceive yet. We weren’t raised with these solutions, but each generation stands on the shoulders of the one before, and the developments begin from there. This new generation of humanity could solve issues that we’ve not yet been able to, such as world hunger or climate change. All of that is hugely exciting on a personal and professional level.

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

My mother. Without question, she has been my lifelong leader and influencer. As a kid, she pushed me into opportunities that I never thought possible, and I didn’t fully comprehend or appreciate that until I had kids of my own. We lived in New Jersey and she’d drive me into Manhattan every day to practice in the Children’s Chorus at the Metropolitan Opera.Often, we wouldn’t get home until 9–10pm.

I was excited because it meant I got to miss school, but it’s as an adult I realize the huge sacrifice she made that other parents might not have.

I got to sing on stage with Luciano Pavarotti because of my mom, and spend time with other legendary opera stars.

She’s led our family through good times and bad, and I look up to her resolution and strength.

Professionally, I’m led by our community. We believe in a community-led product,; helping them solve their own problems and achieve their goals.

Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?

I’d say I’ve been pretty guilty in the past of trying to take on too much alone without actually building a team. My brain thinks fast, but with that I may think the entire process of something through and can end up skipping the detail.

I’ve learned, in more recent years, the importance of establishing an awesome team around you and letting yourself be led by their expertise.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

Being a good leader means enabling other people to lead; the only way to reach success is to bring others along with you and trust them. It’s less about leading others and more about empowering others, because you’re really nothing without the people around you.

It’s important to foster a culture where different, challenging viewpoints can thrive and people feel comfortable enough to bring these to the table.

You have to show up every day as a good leader by listening to the people around you, picking up on their cues and treating every day as an opportunity to learn.

You have to check your ego at the door, because you can’t survive in business thinking that you know everything. Hubris will lead to failure.

Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?

My Dad was a builder; and from that, I love construction. I’m a real hammer swinger with an inherent passion for refurbishing beautiful places.

And so, when we initially started building the tech, I wanted a place. A building.

We found a place that needed a lot of work, and put in nine months of construction to expose beautiful wood beams, create a real industrial, NYC feel and create a workspace we were proud of. I loved the entire process; I showed pictures of the remodel to my Mom and we moved in January 2020.

Those were some of the best months working in that office; sure, we were building a product but we were also building a culture. We ate together, hung out together and it was truly a incredible place to be.

Then covid hit. And of course, we had to send everyone home.

We had to adapt, like everyone, but what I learned was that I’m actually a better leader remotely. Sure, we work hard to manufacture that same culture within a decentralized team, and that’s something we’ll get better at; but calling impromptu two-hour long meetings is a legacy behavior that we’re so much more efficient without.

Building relationships remotely is still a challenge that exists, but a challenge that we’re having a lot of fun solving.

What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?

I’m working hard with my team to build a remote culture that feels human, connected and joyful.

It’s singularly the most valuable, relevant part of a company and has to be prioritized.

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?

I think particularly when it comes to building new ways of working, in a remote or hybrid setting, it’s really important to think about where you’re finding your team. If you’re recruiting on a global scale, all of a sudden, your talent pool expands massively and you now have the possibility of finding humans all over the world who love what you do. You can build rapport organically and virtually; this isn’t something we need to shy away from.

Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?

Listen to the people that you’ve hired to do things and learn to take a step back. I apply this to myself too, I’m naturally inclined to be hands-on and while that’s great, it’s important to let your people own their expertise.

Keep an open door, keep talking to your team and ask lots of questions; show that you care and you will get the best from people.

Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.

Self-awareness — you almost need to do a SWOT an analysis of yourself; assess where you are stronger, weaker and you have to be able to think critically.

Resilience — things will go wrong; what’s important is what you do next. A good leader has the ability to bounce back, learn from what has already happened and have the thick skin to move forward.

Humility — you have to know when you’re not the smartest person in the room and learn to be okay with that.

Adaptable — know when to pivot, as we’ve all had to over the last few years but also, know when to stick to your guns.

Spirited — if you bring the energy, people around will follow. Invigorate people around you and they’ll bring the very best of themselves in return.

American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.

Every day is an opportunity to show up again and be your best self; it only takes one idea to do something truly great and the amazing thing is that this can happen any day. A Tuesday lunch hour, a weekend sunrise — there are possibilities everywhere if you choose to show up and see them.

Minutes are precious and you can’t get them back. Losing a parent taught me this. You simply cannot waste time; and more importantly, you have to make time for the people who matter the most to you. Say everything you want to say, release your inhibitions and don’t wait.

To this end, every day can be your masterpiece.

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

I want to make the world better for my kids, leave it a better place than I found it. If I can inspire others to feel this way too, to take care of the people who matter and try to squeeze all the juice out of every single day then my work is done.

And be nice to your mom. That’s important.

How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?



Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!