The Future Is Now: James Boyd Of Adyton On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Trust your instinct when it’s strong. There may be experts in the room, but they may not have done as much research and analysis as you have. Just because they are an expert does not mean that they are right.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing James Boyd.

James Boyd was born in the United States to British parents and grew up primarily in the United Kingdom. Electing to attend university in the U.S., James graduated from Stanford. Soon after, James enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the Army’s 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) as a Special Forces Communications Sergeant. Following his service James went on to work at the military-focused, data analytics giant, Palantir. Now, he builds world-class mobile software for people who serve at Adyton, a builder of mobile software that links users in the field to enterprise systems.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

This story is really a convergence of two journeys — two core parts of my identity. I’ve always been passionate about technology and the promise of bettering our experiences through innovation. When I was 12 my uncle Bob taught me how to build my first computer. As a teenager I read the biographies of Scott McNealy, Bill Gates and Jeff Hawkins. I’ve also been deeply motivated to serve others — to protect people. 9/11 happened my first week at Stanford, and shortly after I met a Special Forces Officer — Joe Felter — who was doing his PhD, and he encouraged me to enlist and try out for Special Forces. My parents were thrilled. Fast forward to 2010, and I found myself on my 3rd deployment with my Special Forces team, working to track down Bin Laden’s finance networks in South East Asia. I had been trying to pin point bomb makers in our local area, and follow the money to uncover the network. We had plenty of intelligence information but it came from different Army systems that didn’t talk to each other, which made it impossible to understand. While I was on the deployment I started writing code to bring this data together. We’d train our partner forces by day, advise them by night, and in the off hours I would hack together scripts and databases to fuse together information from different sources. Some guys from another team came in from Afghanistan and said, “you’ve got to check out Palantir”. I looked on the website and saw my friends from college and thought — “these are real software engineers at a real software company, building real software”. I knew that this was the path — combining my passion for engineering with my mission to protect people. It’s what took me to Palantir, and led me to found Adyton.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I’ve had the privilege of briefing heads of state, directors of intelligence agencies, and senior military commanders. I’ve worked in some punchy places on some things I can’t discuss, but for me the story that stuck with me the most was one about someone else. In 2019, my brother called me up from western Afghanistan. He and his team were at a remote outpost, and were faced with hostile forces on a near daily basis. He told me that he, his team leader, and their intelligence sergeant used two of the products that I had helped build and launch on a daily basis. They used these products to prepare for their missions, and over the course of dozens of operations had only failed to find their target one time. They had been so successful that the leadership of the NATO forces in Afghanistan came along with them on their missions. But most poignantly — they used these products to identify hostile forces planning an ambush and successfully evaded the attack. These were products that my team and I had built and sold to SOCOM and the Army — and there in western Afghanistan my brother found himself as a user of these products, and used them to keep himself and his teammates safe.

Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

We are working to revolutionize the way militaries and similar “hard hat industries” interact with their field personnel. Today the allied militaries and large enterprises operate in a world with decades of legacy IT investment in architectures that are secure but brittle. They were designed for a world of mainframes, terminals and offices, not a world where the primary computing device is carried in the pocket of field workers who operate in far flung places — on flight lines, under the decks of ships and on job sites. To truly empower these workers in the enterprise environment — it takes leveraging the infrastructure that the private sector has built out and the consumer carries in their pocket, and to do that you have to reimagine trust. We are building out applications that help field workers do their jobs more effectively and safely, and turns them into data generation engines for the enterprise. But the key to this is the set of foundational technologies we built that power these applications and allow them to work securely in a zero trust paradigm. They enable enterprises to extend trust in a world where you may not trust the network, and you may not really trust the devices that they run on. Once you can do this — for the end users this is huge. We’ve had over 100 soldiers and marines identify PTSD and mental health issues using our application Mustr. We’ve had Navy sailors tell us this gives them more sleep and more time with their family, and we’ve had Air Force deployment officers tell us that this helps them get troops to where they are needed more quickly and more efficiently.

How do you think this might change the world?

At the individual service member level — we are working to change expectations. That their time is valuable, that their work is important, and they deserve to have great tools that help them do their jobs more effectively. At the enterprise level it’s building a foundation for more agile forces, and challenging mental models for what is possible. Aspirationally we envision this as the backbone of productivity that helps allied forces collaborate and work together more fluidly. I remember being in Baghdad in 2016 when there was an imminent threat warning at our base. There were NATO forces running the operations, but communication between countries was incredibly high friction. There was one network that they could communicate on, but not everyone had access to it. I remember seeing a NATO officer strolling into the office the next morning, coffee cup in hand, and log into the computer that they can communicate on and check his email. He threw his hands up in the air in exasperation as he saw that there was an immiment threat 8 hours earlier. It’s just absurd that we are so hamstrung in our collaboration that he couldn’t receive threat warnings except by email on a computer in a different building on the other side of base. That’s the kind of absurdity that we are working night and day to change.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Caveat — I’ve never seen black mirror

We’ve spent a lot of time listening to the leadership teams of the units that use our software. Leaders have to realise that there is a fundamental shift taking place in the same way that technology impacts our social lives. This is technology that adds leverage leadership. It’s not a substitute for it. Leaders recognize that our application Mustr gives them more time to spend mentoring and coaching their personnel. It gives them a new mechanism to control risk to their force and their mission. It gives them a new means to engage with their personnel, and a new tool to establish open door policies. It’s not a bandaid though. A negative organization culture is still a negative organization culture — micromanagers are still going to micromanage, but with greater power. We’ve been fortunate to work with innovators and thought leaders who are seeking ways to improve the quality of work life for their personnel. At the same time, there are leaders out there who shun technology, who would look to block any interaction between their leaders and their personnel through mobile technology. We see this as a missed opportunity, and a failure to recognize that as the world evolves, we have to evolve with it.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

In 2018 I had been doing some research on the Apple Secure Enclave. That’s the tamper resistant chip built into iPhones that runs the cryptographic functions. I had been tinkering reflecting on the communications security architecture in the military, and the physical devices I used to haul around in my backpack which stored the cryptographic keys. I realised that fundamentally what mattered was where you trust the math — the algorithms and random number generators that are used to generate and process cryptographic key material. If you trusted the math you could do anything in between. I built out a few proof of concepts for structured data interactions across a distributed group of users using what’s called a fanout architecture — it allowed you to send an instruction or message to tens of thousands of people a the same time. As I was considering applications for this I caught up with a friend from In-Q-Tel — that’s the venture arm for the CIA. He had also been in the Army and he immediately thought of the applicability to the military. By coincidence the next day, a Navy SEAL commander I had worked with previously in Iraq called me up lamenting the time wasted by his instructors capturing structured data in training environments. He explained that his instructors could spend their time mentoring students, but instead were doing data entry — and yet, they didn’t have adequate structured data to analyze and prevent their injuries. It was this coincidence, this connection that drove home that it was the military that needed this technology.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

In technology we often talk of the early adopters — the innovators that are keen to try new solutions. For our technology, for Mustr — I think it’s pain. It’s leaders in organizations that feel pain, that believe there has to be a better way, and that it doesn’t have to be this painful. Those are the people that are willing to try, and those are the leaders that change their organizations. Once they try it, they recommend it to their colleagues, they take it with them to their next assignment. It builds up a groundswell, a movement of people that want to see things better.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There have been so many people that have helped me — from childhood, through college, the military, Palantir, and now at Adyton. You learn different things from different people. One thing that always struck me is how much luck is involved. I count myself particularly fortunate to have worked for a man named Rod — sadly who passed many years before his time. He and I shared a mission — to transform intelligence in Special Operations. We were both dedicated and hard working, but had our different ways of doing it, and occasionally butted heads. Sometimes it was heated. If I’m honest, I was probably not the easiest person to work with at the time — I had little patience for others who didn’t experience the same urgency. It was Rod’s feedback that taught me one of my most important lessons. He said, “If there was someone who had James’s talent and Paul’s attitude (one of our other colleagues), I’d work for them in a heartbeat.” I realised that you can’t go it alone. It takes a team, and to build that team it takes a lot of investment in the soft stuff. The soft stuff is the hard stuff. It’s why we’ve invested so heavily in culture at Adyton to build the strongest, most resilient team possible that can tackle any challenge.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The men and women that use our products create the most goodness in the world. They use our products to coordinate firefighting for wild fires in California, to mobilize nurses for emergency rotations in New York during COVID, and to respond after natural disasters and tornadoes. For my part, I’m proud of the team that we’ve built, and the culture we’ve grown together at Adyton. We’ve created opportunities for people with passion and talents to contribute them towards impact. We are proud to say that we have no ceiling at Adyton, and have brought together a diverse group of people — veterans, military spouses and engineers from post-conflict countries — people from all over the world who are united in a belief that we can build products to make things better.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

Trust your instinct when it’s strong. There may be experts in the room, but they may not have done as much research and analysis as you have. Just because they are an expert does not mean that they are right.

When something keeps you up more than one night — it’s time to solve the problem. The problem may seem large up close and that you have to endure it for a better time, but more often that not it’s best to just eliminate it.

Luck comes from surprising places. It may be the last place that you would think to look. We thought our strongest traction would come from the Special Forces community because of our network. It turned out to be the Air National Guard — a place we had no relationships.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

That people lead their interactions with empathy. When we come from a place of empathy, we understand that everyone is living their own lives, in their own worlds, with their own set of experiences that have shaped their reality, and to truly connect with others we have to first be empathetic with ourselves. From this place of compassion with the self, we can be open to others, and when we are open to others we can understand them — and that understanding is the foundation for communication, cooperation, and creating a better world together.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Winning is a habit. Watch your thoughts, they become your beliefs. Watch your beliefs, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions” — Vince Lombardi

I’ve been consistently lucky. I lucked into the right habits that carried me through some challenging situations. Sometimes you don’t realise that these were important habits until later — until you are struggling in a different situation. The way we think is so important. The words we use in our thoughts influence how we perceive ourselves, how we shape our personas to the world, how we consider the value of our own worth. Winning takes a vice like mental discipline to build positive attitude and resilience patterns, and at the same time be able to clinically and rationally self-assess to determine what is true.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

This is not about us at Adyton — this is about investing in the companies that are working to strengthen the institutions which defend democracy, freedom and the values we hold dear. I’ve seen first hand what insecurity and instability looks like. It looks like a child holding a rifle. It looks like food and starvation used as a weapon. It’s looks like elections that are manipulated by oppressors. The institutions of national security matter. The companies building products that help protect our security matter. The allocation of capital and investor talent matters. These companies aren’t building apps that exploit the attention of our youth — they are building technologies that keep us safer. This is a sector that is ripe for innovation, but it demands bold and diligent capital to fuel it. An investor that is looking to plug some numbers into a spreadsheet to fit a model that works in the B2B or B2C sector is the wrong investor. This sector needs investors that want to go deep — that want to understand how the transactions happen, that want to understand where the value is created, that want to understand the physics of growth. The growth is out there for the taking, but it takes investors willing to do the work, who believe that the world can be safer, and know that they have not just a role to play, but a responsibility to participate in the ecosystem that defends our freedoms.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow us on

Twitter: Adyton JJ Wilson

LinkedIn James Boyd

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

The Future Is Now: James Boyd Of Adyton On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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