Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 45: Dan Miller and Brian Zuercher

I always told myself that I would stop pushing forward when there was an overwhelming force from the outside saying that this is not working. But even when I reached that point, I continued to try to brute force it into existence. I wound up losing a lot.

We followed every test and experimental process from the get-go but we didn’t tell our investors we were doing that. They still thought we were building what we had presented in a PowerPoint slide. When they found out, they questioned my decision-making and me as an entrepreneur.

The same passion that got your startup idea off the ground can blind you to signs that your company is failing.

And not keep investors informed about changes to your business model can have serious consequences.

How to recognize when it’s time to pull the plug on your startup idea, and why founders can’t operate afford to operate in a vacuum were the focus on today’s Entrepreneurs are Everywhere radio show.

The show follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

dan-miller

Dan Miller

Joining me in the Stanford University studio were

brian-zuercher

Brian Zuercher

Listen to my full interviews with Dan and Brian by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interviews are below.

Dan Miller is the co-founder and CEO of Level Therapy, which provides access to psychotherapists through video, voice, and text. Before Level, Dan was the founder and CEO of Freshsessions, the world’s first marketplace for musicians to find and book studio time anywhere.

Before setting out on his own, Dan held various product, research, and operations roles at Salesforce, SurveyMonkey, Forrester Research, and The Ladders. He was also on the team that wrote the business plan for BlackGirlsCode. In 2014, Business Insider listed Dan as one of the top 46 African Americans in Tech.

With Freshsessions, Dan thought he was on to a great idea. Other people thought so, too, but weren’t willing to pay for the service:

It was going pretty well at the very beginning. We built a landing page, and ran some ads, and started to drive targeted traffic to the ads to see if people would be interested in it.

There was a lot of interest. But it was very difficult to find engaged studio owners that wanted to change how they were operating their businesses to adopt a technology-based model, and find musicians that had enough money to book consistent sessions through the platform.

We found the need, but no payers.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

He wanted Freshsessions to work so badly that he was tone-deaf to signs that it was time to shut the business down:

I always told myself that I would stop pushing forward when there was an overwhelming force from the outside saying that this is not working. Even when, I believe, in hindsight, that I reached that point, I continued to try to brute force it into existence.

We were trying out different cities, and I was flying around the country, and we were trying different campaigns and various things, and ultimately they were not working.

Through that process, I lost a lot including some relationships with individuals, and I started to develop symptoms of acute anxiety.

 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Brian Zuercher is the CEO and co-founder of Seen, a marketing software platform that is helping marketers tell the story of their brand and build relationships with their customers through consumer generated photos and videos. Seen was recognized as the “Innovation Game Changer” at the 2012 Ohio Interactive Awards.  

Actively involved in the local startup community, Brian is a Startup Weekend Columbus host and MC at the monthly morning pitch event for entrepreneurs, WakeUp StartUp.

Additionally, he has an extensive background in building and launching consumer products at Seen, Clearwish (founder), and Woods Industries.

Today, Seen has achieved some success, but it took Brian and his team several pivots to get where they are. They didn’t always keep their angel investors informed about the changes they were making and it nearly cost them:

We followed every test and experimental process from the get-go but we didn’t tell our investors we were doing that. They still thought we were building what we had presented in a PowerPoint slide as the product, but that didn’t work out in our case. 

We did three iterations of the product in less than 12 months, each one progressively going off of different consumer metrics that we found and then partner feedback.

Ultimately, it didn’t work and we decided we had enough time to maybe do one last iteration. We did the tough thing of letting everyone go, reducing the burn down to two of us from almost 10 at one point, and gave ourselves six weeks to turn into a new product.

Meanwhile, the investors thought we were dead. We’d told them, “Hey, we let everyone go. We’ve got some money left, but we don’t know if we’ve got much left.” 

They questioned my decision-making and me as an entrepreneur. Fortunately we had the confidence of a couple board members as well who were able to stand up for us.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Seeking help to cope with the anxiety he developed as Freshsessions was falling apart, Dan tried some web-based mental health practitioners. The experience wasn’t positive, and led him to come up with the idea for Level Therapy:

I tried one that was solely web-based, with an interesting subscription model, but they didn’t accept insurance. I walked away from that experience feeling cold, and more like a number than a person.  

Immediately, the entrepreneur in me started to kick in, and I started to think about why, objectively, was I having those thoughts? Where did this company miss? How could I build a solution that would address those points?

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Dan suggests other founders seek out not just a single mentor but a network of fellow entrepreneurs that can act as a kind of advisory board:

I would aim to find other entrepreneurs that are perhaps six months ahead of where you currently are as a company, or six months to a year or two years ahead of where you are, so they are contemporaries that have experience, potentially the same types of challenges that you’re experiencing. They can give you timely advice.  

Also, individuals that are further out, so perhaps they have either sold companies or they’ve been operating companies for three plus years, five plus years, etc. They can give you more long-term strategic advice.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Based on his experience with Freshsessions, he also counsels founders to never work with friends:

It was difficult to overnight go from being someone whose relationship was based around just having fun to actually motivating them and inspiring them and pushing them.  

Maybe that was a function of me being young in my professional career as well, but that was my experience. I wouldn’t do it again.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

In his first startup, Clearwish, Brian learned it isn’t enough to focus on trying to realize your vision. The founding team must be on the same page about possible future directions for the company, too.

We were approached to get funded and had enough success and promise at the time, but we couldn’t find alignment around the notion of building a lifestyle business first, a venture-based business, and how big it could really be.

 We had never discussed everyone’s expectations when we founded the company. Oh we had a happy, fun conversation over a couple of beers, but we did not sit down and say, ‘Hey wait, where’s everyone want to go with their life?”

Instead, we launched the product, got momentum very quickly, and were swept up in this process. We misfired on that and broke down that team. It was a learning experience for sure.

 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Having worked with startups in Columbus, Ohio, Brian says it’s not necessary to be in a startup ecosystem to make your startup work:

When I was complaining about raising money in Columbus many years ago, Bill Diffenderffer, who ran SkyBus and is now one of the founders of Silvercar, told me, “You keep saying here, but there is no here here, so just go get the money.”

That really stuck with me. The place isn’t necessarily going to make the business go.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

His advice for other founders? Think big:

I think I try to ask all the questions that I’ve been asking myself, like why are you doing this? Why are you making the decision? Why are you looking at that? Is this what you believe is right for the business versus right for what some financier asked you to do? I push them to think really big.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Listen to my full interviews with Dan and Brian by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here (And download any of the past shows here.)

Coming up next on the blog: Emily Kennedy, founder and CEO of Marinus Analytics; and Chris Cabrera, founder of Xactly

Tune in Thursday, Oct. 13, at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111 to hear these upcoming guests on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere: George Zimmer, founder of Men’s Wearhouse and now founder, chairman and CEO of Generation Tux; and Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

 

Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 42: Tina Fitch and Alice Brooks

The more that people pay you, the more influence customers feel they should have, but they don’t necessarily know what they want.

Customers will try to be polite and tell you want you want to hear. We had to figure out how to get honest feedback.

Doing customer discovery isn’t the same as running a focus group. And customers don’t always know the best way to solve a problem or fill a need they have.

How entrepreneurs gather, understand and use customer feedback to improve their products was the focus of the guests on today’s Entrepreneurs are Everywhere radio show.

The show follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

tina-fitch

Tina Fitch

Joining me in the Stanford University studio were

  • Tina Fitch, co-founder of Hobnob, an app that lets users send and manage event invitations via text message
  • Alice Brooks, co-founder of Roominate, toys meant to promote girls’ interest in science, tech and engineering
alice-brooks

Alice Brooks

Listen to my full interviews with Tina and Alice by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interviews are below.

Tina Fitch thrives on building products that enable real-world experiences. Before co-founding Hobnob, she founded Switchfly, a SaaS platform that continues to work with airlines, hotel chains, payment companies, and loyalty programs in. She returned to her home state of Hawaii to become a mentor and advisor to tech accelerators and startups, and a parent of two before launching Hobnob.

In both of her startups, Tina did a lot of customer discovery to understand customer problems and see if her products offered the right solution. Here’s what she learned about managing customer feedback:

When you sell into the enterprise, there’s a very fine line between making your customers happy and potentially having them influence the product a little bit too heavily. 

You have to have conviction in your product to balance making them happy, but not necessarily changing your entire product priorities based on what they think they currently need.

The more that people pay you, the more influence they feel they should have, but they don’t necessarily know what solution they want.

You have to have enough conviction in your own vision of how you’re going to solve that problem for them to be able to take all those data points and feedback they gave you, then make a better solution for them. 

 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Alice Brooks is the co-founder of Roominate. She grew up playing in her dad’s robotics lab and made her first toy when she was 8 years old using a saw she received for Christmas instead of the Barbie she asked for.

Alice graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a B.S. in mechanical engineering and holds a master’s in mechanical engineering from Stanford.

With Roominate, Alice wanted to build a toy that would encourage girls to explore science, technology and engineering. She and her co-founder, Bettina Chen, didn’t have kids of their own, so before designing the product, they did a lot of user testing:

We went out into people’s homes and watched girls play with their favorite toys and asked what they liked about them, what they didn’t like. We saw a lot of dolls – Barbies, American Girl dolls – and we saw a lot of doll houses.

We brought some building toys with us to see how girls would interact. We found they liked that just as much, but it was all about the story they were telling around them and the context that they put it in.  

With Roominate, we give them the context of ‘this is what you can with your dolls in.’ Introducing it that way first opened the door. All of a sudden they wanted to build and add more circuits.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

During customer discovery, Alice learned a critical lesson about gathering customer feedback:

Customers will try to be polite to you and tell you want you want to hear.

We did a testing session with a group of girls where we had to make this spinning-disco-ball-dance party. We were trying to use circuits and build together in some way. They all seem like they really like it. They were dancing to Rihanna with it.

The next day, their dad calls us up, and says, “Kate didn’t want to upset you, but she told me it was very stupid. She asked me not to tell you.”

That’s how we started figuring out ways to get more honest feedback, always following up with the parents the next day.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Tina explained what’s different about starting up a second time:

I remember reading various business books or reading about different entrepreneurial journeys, and I thought at that time probably arrogantly that, oh, I’m never going to make those types of mistakes, I’m too smart for that. And I probably, the first time around, made every single one of them, everything from challenges with co-founders or investors or board members or clients.

The second time around, I not only have the confidence of experience, but I also have the confidence in my own instincts.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

In her first startup, she quickly learned that everyone has suggestions and advice for how to do things, but that a founder must stand up for their vision:

It’s important to take data points and advice from people, whether they’re your peers, advisors or your board members. But ultimately, you’re going to have to bear the weight of your decision and you can’t point a finger at anyone else.  

You have to have that courage of conviction of your own instincts and believe wholeheartedly at your core that what you’re doing is the right thing. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Having now done two startups, Tina is struck by the different leadership skills needed to build and manage a company:

All the skills that get you to a position where you’re building something and going against the grain – the competitiveness, the aggressiveness, almost like the Darwinistic approach to success – are different from the skills you need to run a company.

As manager, you really have to shift gears and become more of a communicator. You have to have empathy for your team and learn how to get the best performance out of people.  

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

She was also surprised to find that being a founder can be isolating:

When you’re a founder of a company, it becomes almost part of your very being.  

Bearing that responsibility day in and day out and feeling the weight of ownership over not only a product, but your team and their welfare and your community of users and their happiness becomes a very hard and lonely experience a lot of times.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Alice and her team made it point to not just get customer insights but to understand all aspects of their business model.

That included getting first-hand knowledge of how their manufacturers operate:

We spent two weeks in China getting to know our manufacturers face-to-face and understanding what it would take to build this product; what trade-offs we needed to make; and what we could do now, what other opportunities there were.

It was beyond helpful. When we first started setting up our manufacturing, we were using a go-between, and we didn’t understand what was really happening.

Once we got there, walked the factory and saw all the different machines they had, we got to know our manufacturer, how they do business. It was really helpful not just for that first launch, but as we grew the company and as we tried to expand knowing how business was done over there.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Once they found product-market fit, they launched quickly.

We had a prototype version so you could get the idea. We had to work very quickly to then make it a real product, and we did. From the start of our Kickstarter to when we actually shipped to customers was less than seven months. It was a very quick turnaround, which often doesn’t happen these days with companies.  

We didn’t have any funding. We didn’t have any money ourselves to spend, so we didn’t do any kind of hype around the launch. It was all just people that we’d met and tested with that were excited about the idea and shared it out to people. I don’t know if that would work now.

 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

As a first-time founder, Alice had a steep learning curve. Her advice for other first-time founders is be prepared to work hard:

It gets to be more and more work as you go.

There’s this image when you’re a student thinking about being an entrepreneur that it’s going to be really glamorous and you’re going to do your product and raise a bunch of funding and then you’re going to be set. The reality is the more you do, the higher the stakes become. You become responsible to a lot of different stakeholders.  

The exciting part is you can actually get your ideas and your designs out there into real people’s hands so much faster than you could by going a different route.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Listen to my full interviews with Tina and Alice by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here (And download any of the past shows here.)

Coming up next on the blog: Dakin Sloss, founder of Tachyus; and Ajeet Singh, co-founder of ThoughtSpot.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111 to hear these upcoming guests on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere:

Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 42: Sunny Shah and Curt Haselton

We as researchers go in with a bias – that obviously these guys want our technology – but that is not the case for a lot of customers. What you think about your technology is great, but at the end of the day you’re not the one buying it.

It was intimidating from day one. I am good with doing research and doing experiments but talking to customers is not my forte.

Scientific research it is hypothesis-driven. You’re just guessing and then trying to prove it true or false. This whole commercialization side of things is not that much different

For scientific researchers who want to commercialize their technology, doing a startup first pulls them out of their comfort zone. But then the Lean Startup’s scientific method of validating their business idea quickly has them feeling right at home.

What it’s like to go from the comfort of the lab bench to the chaos of a startup was the focus of the guests on today’s Entrepreneurs are Everywhere radio show.

The show follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

sunny-shah

Sunny Shah

Joining me in the Stanford University studio were

curt-haselton

Curt Haselton

Listen to my full interviews with Sunny and Curt by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here.

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interviews are below.

Sunny Shah is an Assistant Director for the ESTEEM Graduate Program at the University of Notre Dame.  In addition he conducts research with Dr. Hsueh Chia Chang in Chemical Engineering. Sunny received his Ph.D. from University of California, Davis in Biomedical Engineering. For his doctoral work, his research focused on liver tissue engineering and stem cell differentiation.

Sunny’s startup idea emerged from a diagnostic tool he’d developed in his lab to detect pathogens. He thought it might have an application in the food service industry and so leapt at the chance to join the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps.

He was initially overwhelmed:

It was intimidating from day one. I was out of my comfort zone. I am good with doing research and doing experiments but here there are these four teaching faculty trying to infuse into us to find the need and then see if your problem fits the need.

The only way to do that is by going out and talking to the customers who would eventually buy this. We’re used to just talking to scientists, but here they were asking us in six weeks to do a 100 interviews. Not on the phone, not over Skype but in-person interviews with potential customers.

I’ve never talked to people at food processing plants and meat processing plants.

On our flight back from the workshop, I was trying to come up with excuses to drop out of the program. I thought, ‘This is not something I signed up for. I’m interested in the commercialization side but this fast-paced talking to the customers is not my forte.’

But we stuck with it. We found people to talk to through Google searches. We went to the USDA list and found whatever meat processing plants they inspect and food processing plants they inspect, and went from there. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Once he found customers, he had to speak with them. Here’s what he did, and why he had a change of heart about I-Corps that marked a career pivot for him:

I started not even cold calling; it was cold showing up. There were a couple streets, the meat district of Chicago, and I just started knocking on doors.

I was afraid these guys weren’t going to understand what I was doing but it turned out that once you get in the door and start talking to them about how they do testing for pathogens right now, that’s when you saw them open up.

That’s when I realized that this is something I can do because even though it is uncomfortable for me, they are very interested in talking, they just want a sounding board and that’s what I wanted to be. 

 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

I realized the importance of talking to customers, listening and learning from them. The more you talk to them you start seeing how painful it was for them.  

They said, ‘We currently have detection techniques that take two days and while we wait for the results we have to store the food.’  What that meant was that until the test results came back the food can’t ship and that’s lost revenue for them. In talking about how expensive the costs of that two-day delay are for them we could start seeing that maybe our research could help these people.  

For me, it was seeing not just what goes on the bench in our lab but there is some sort of real-world application for it.

And to hear it from these people who are not scientists, that was kind of cool.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Curt Hazleton is a leader in structural earthquake engineering, focusing on building code development, building collapse safety assessments, and earthquake damage loss estimation. He’s a co-founder and CEO of HB Risk, and a Professor and Department Chair in Civil Engineering at California State University, Chico. He received his Ph.D. in Structural Engineering from Stanford University in 2006. Among his awards, Curt received the 2013 Shah Family Innovation Prize from the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, honoring an individual under the age of 35 for creativity, innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit in earthquake risk mitigation and management.

Like Sunny, Curt participated in the NSF I-Corps and quickly learned how illuminating customer interviews could be:

We were extremely surprised that by simply getting out of the building and using the customer discovery process you can go and interview people and they’ll tell you exactly what they need and what you can build for them and how much they’ll pay for it.  

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

In doing customer discovery, Curt and his co-founder started out with one customer in mind, but quickly found a more lucrative option:

We initially started with the structural engineers as our target market because that’s what we knew. That’s where we saw the initial need.

As we went through that it’s been verified that there is a market there and they’re interested, but we’ve also seen there’s another market that we call the risk-pricing market. Those are the people insuring the buildings and underwriting the mortgages for the buildings.

They care more. Engineers care about the design of the building, absolutely, but they’re not the ones with the money on the line.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Along the way, they met both skeptics and visionaries:

The difference between early adopters and mainstream people was very interesting, especially in the emerging market on the structural engineering side.

The early adopters would see the vision that we see. I was told by one of them it doesn’t even make sense that not everybody is adopting this right away today, because in five years everyone’s going to be doing it.

Then I’d go to people that I would characterize mainstream and they’d say, “Well, it doesn’t meet a need that we have right now.”

We had to take both pieces of feedback and realize it was an emerging market and not everyone would see the vision.

Since then, a few of those skeptic mainstream people have actually come back to us for licenses once they’ve had clients that want this done for them.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Ultimately, Sunny and his co-founders killed their startup idea

We decided as a team that there was no match between what we’d learned in customer interviews about where the need was and what we were providing.

We decided we shouldn’t pursue this market.

It was tough at first but when you think about it, we saved time and money. That was the whole point of the exercise.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Today he teaches his students at Notre Dame how to use Lean Startup principles. He tells them:

Scientific research it is hypothesis-driven. You’re just guessing and then trying to prove it true or false. This whole commercialization side of things is not that much different. It’s a scientific method.

What you think about your technology is great, but at the end of the day you’re not the one who will be buying this, it will be the customers who will be buying this. The only way to know what they want is to get out of the building and talk to them.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Curt said the pace of startup life surprised him

I made more progress in the startup in the first four months than I did in the first four years as an academic chair.  

That doesn’t mean we didn’t make progress in the department. We made a lot. It’s just a different nature. The startup pace has been a lot of fun.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Here’s his advice for other academics with tech ideas they’d like to commercialize:

Most researchers come at it with, “I have a product that I really love and I think someone should buy it from me,” and don’t come at it from, “There’s a need in the industry somewhere and I can create something to fill that need.”  

Getting as quickly away from that first approach as possible would be my first recommendation, because in the Innovation Corps process we clearly saw that.  

Most people said, “I have this great technology. I’ve never been out of my lab. I think someone will want to buy it from me,” but the commercial side of it wasn’t there.

You need to get at, “Does anyone care? Does anyone want to buy it?” as quickly as possible.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Listen to my full interviews with Sunny and Curt by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Coming up next on the blog: Tina Fitch, co-founder and CEO of Hobnob; and Alice Brooks, co-founder and CEO Roominate

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111 to hear these upcoming guests on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere:

 Want to be a guest on the show? Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 40: Stan Gloss and Matt Armstead

A lot of people, especially in the Midwest, will spend their time thinking too small. They’re a creature of their habit and habitat, in looking at potential investors and market opportunities.

If you see a need or problem and you think you can solve it, you don’t want that destiny to belong to someone else.

You have to disprove the naysayers. You sometimes get a chip on your shoulder and say, “You know what? I’ll show you.

 Thinking big, destiny and naysayers — three things in the life of a startup founder.

Why founders need to be their own boss and how they capitalize on business opportunities were the focus of the guests on today’s Entrepreneurs are Everywhere radio show.

The show follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

Stan Gloss

Stan Gloss

Joining me in the Stanford University studio were

  • Stan Gloss, co-founder of BioTeam, consultants that design computer systems for life sciences companies
  • Matt Armstead, a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Lumos Innovation, which helps Ohio-area founders launch their startup ideas
Matt Armstead

Matt Armstead

Listen to my full interviews with Stan and Matt by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here.

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interviews are below.

Stan Gloss co-founded BioTeam following his tenure in business development with AVAKI Corporation, a pioneer in global grid software solutions. Previously, at Blackstone Computing, a computing and IT consulting company for scientists, Gloss led the sales initiative that launched the company in the life sciences market. Prior to working at Blackstone, Gloss was a department chairman and faculty member at Quinnipiac University. 

Leaving the corporate world to do a startup was a leap of faith Stan welcomed:

The previous jobs that I had in big corporations were almost like being in school again. There’s all that structure and all these things that really didn’t play to my strengths.

By being an entrepreneur I have the freedom to build things and do things that play to my strengths.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Stan was an account manager at Blackstone Computing when the company was reorganized under a new CEO. Though they’d never done a startup before, Stan and some of his co-workers saw an opportunity in the leadership change. Together, they started down a new path:

Eventually we saw the writing on the wall with the new company and four of us decided to go off on our own and continue doing the consulting piece of what we did. 

We were already entrepreneurial. We just took a leap of faith and said, “We can get all the clients that we had in the consulting company, and we can go out and get more of them together. Look at how good we did here. Let’s just go do that.”

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Starting the company was a little scary, but it helped that Stan was surrounded by domain experts and recognized his personal strengths, he says:

Everything was new every day. I didn’t even know that area, so I used to sit at meetings and not understand the science. I really didn’t understand high-performance computing either.  

But I knew how to make meetings productive, I knew how to facilitate meetings, and I was smart enough to put our domain expert in the room with the domain expert from the customer.

I used to sit there and just let them talk — and then collect the order at the end.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Stan adds that being dyslexic gives him an edge as a founder because from an early age he had to develop skills that turn out to be critical when building a startup:

Every day in school was a day of fear, uncertainty and doubt. You never knew if you were going to get called to the board, you were going to have to stand up and read, all of these things that are very challenging for kids like me with dyslexia. School became was just day-in and day-out hard to do.

You learn to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. You learn to outwork everybody.

You also learn to negotiate. You say, “Hey listen, you’re good at math. I’m good at English. I’ll do your homework if you do mine.” Or you negotiate with the teacher.

And you face people telling you, “No, you’re not going to go to college, no you’re not going to be doing this, no you’re not going to be doing that.” You have to disprove the naysayers. You sometimes get a little chip on your shoulder and say, “You know what? I’ll show you.”

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Having now done several startups, Matt has learned to keep his eye on a singular aim: The goal is to get customers, not to raise money:

There are a lot of people that are just chasing dollars, trying to get a VC to fund them, and they’ll give up 40 percent of their company in the first round just to get some major amount of money.

I learned that you can actually do things very inexpensively. You can bootstrap it. You can build a Minimum Viable Product. You can learn from your customers.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

He learned, too, that building a company outside a major startup ecosystem like Silicon Valley doesn’t have to limit a founder’s horizons:

A lot of people, especially in the Midwest, will spend their time thinking too small. They’re a creature of their habit and habitat, in looking at potential investors and market opportunities.

They have to think outside of their own back yard, get really active and make trips out to San Francisco or to New York to build some very important relationships.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Matt’s advice for other entrepreneurs included this recommendation about finding co-founders:

I’ve talked to a lot of startup and entrepreneurs that need to find a technical co-founder. They’re just looking for the first person that can code, the first person that fits that capability that they’re looking for.

That’s a mistake. You really have to date a little bit. You have to build a relationship with a prospective co-founder. These are the people you’re working 24/7 with.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Listen to my full interviews with Stan and Matt by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere: Chris Schroeder, Internet/media CEO, venture investor and author of “Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East” and Andy Cunningham, founder and CEO of Cunningham Collective.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111.

Want to be a guest on the show? Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 39: Jeremy Johnson and Michael Eidsaune

The existence of a problem doesn’t mean there’s a solution to that problem. Wanting to create impact is great. But to do it, you need to actually have a sustainable business model.

I don’t recommend anyone become an entrepreneur. It’s too hard. It’s too painful. Starting a business is too risky. There are better ways to make a living. Yet I can’t imagine doing anything else.

One mistake was trying to build out too much tech too quickly. We thought that the tech was going to be the solution, that if we added more features, it would solve the problem. We were wrong.

Identifying a problem doesn’t mean you’ve automatically created a business.

And building a startup is not for the faint of heart.

The tools and temperament needed to get from startup idea to startup success were the focus of the guests on today’s Entrepreneurs are Everywhere radio show.

The show follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

Jeremy Johnson

Jeremy Johnson

Joining me in the Stanford University studio were

  • Jeremy Johnson, founder of Andela, which embeds talented software engineers on the African continent into top engineering organizations worldwide
  • Michael Eidsaune, co-founder of Carely, a software platform that facilitates communication among families caring for sick or elderly relatives
Michael Eidsaune

Michael Eidsaune

Listen to my full interviews with Jeremy and Michael by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here.

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interviews are below.


Jeremy Johnson is an education innovator. Prior to founding Andela, he co-founded 2U, an education technology startup that went public in 2014. 
Outside of Andela, Jeremy serves on the board of the Young Entrepreneur Council and the education non-profit PENCIL and co-authored a book Education & Skills 2.0: New Targets & Innovative Approaches.

Before founding 2U, Jeremy developed Zinch, intended to be a virtual guidance counselor to help low-income students navigate the college application process. He explains why it didn’t get off the ground:

It was a great idea, but a terrible company. 

It turns out the existence of a problem doesn’t mean there’s a scalable or profitable way to solve that problem — or at least at the time.

The goal was to help low-income students better understand the college application process.

For the past 30 years great colleges have approached recruitment by creating a list of names from the PSATs and then sending out glossy brochures. Often they don’t think about it through the lens of what is the best way to spend or allocate resources to try to get better students. So while Zinch was trying to create an offering that would support low-income students that wasn’t where the majority of college recruitment dollars were being spent. So it was tough. We couldn’t charge the low-income students we were looking to help enough to keep the business going.

In the end we learned that wanting to create impact is great. But to be able to do it, you need to actually have a model that sustains it.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

The effort was a good learning experience, he says:

The beauty of trying things when you’re 21 and have no idea what you’re doing is that you get the chance to make a lot of mistakes really quickly and learn from them.

One mistake we made was trying to build out too much tech too quickly and thinking that the tech was going to be the solution, that if we added more features, it would solve the problem. We were wrong.

We thought, ‘Why don’t we think through all of the different potential users that might use a system and how they might want to interact with it?’

We tried to boil the ocean in the most literal sense.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Prior to founding Carely, Michael Eidsaune earned his MBA in finance and spent several years in investment management, eventually earning his level 1 CFA certification. He also worked for a time as a contract negotiator for the US Air Force.

The idea for Carely was sparked by personal family experience. Michael started the company with his father-in-law, working on it part-time, while he worked with the Air Force.

Since its founding four years ago, Carely has seen ups and downs. Michael’s vision and passion have gotten him through it:

I don’t recommend anyone do this. It’s too hard. It’s too painful. Starting a business is too risky. There are better ways to make a living that are much safer.

And yet, while I would never recommend anybody do this, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here 

An experienced team made all the difference to 2U finding success, Jeremy said:

We had a phenomenal early group of people that were brought together to try to address the problem.

You might look at it and say, “In some ways, that team is overkill for an early-stage company. These people are overqualified for what they’re doing.”

But it turns out that when you’re growing really quickly, having folks who have been through it a couple times before is really useful in the early days, even to make sure that you’re able to really grow effectively while maintaining culture. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Andela selects and trains world-class tech talent from Africa and matches them with U.S. companies. Here’s how Jeremy came up with the idea for Andela, and why he decided to create the company even though he was still working on 2U at the time:

A good friend invited me to Nairobi to give a talk for the MasterCard foundation on the state of online education around the world. That kicked off this long conversation about how you might try to leverage this evolution of education technology to create scalable impact in places where tuition couldn’t be the driver of growth.

At the same time, I’d gotten to know a young Nigerian serial entrepreneur who had become sort of a friend and mentee, and was building something similar to 2U but focused on Africa. Through those two experiences I became more and more familiar with the continent. As I was thinking through the notion of what would become Andela, my initial thinking was, “We’ve just gone public. We’ve got a lot of work to do. This is not something I can spend time on. I could potentially fund it and put the team together, but I’m busy.”

At the same time I thought, “This should exist in the world.” We put a small team together, funded it initially, put a pilot together. We were looking for four students for the program, four developers in training, and we ended up getting 700 applicants in a week.

We got that down to six finalists. I went to Nigeria to meet that first cohort, interview them and try to pick four from the six. I realized after half a day of interviews that each one of them would’ve run circles around my classmates at Princeton. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Jeremy dropped out of Princeton to become an entrepreneur. Here’s what he says about founders going to college:

You’re never going to convince someone to work with you because you have a degree.

You’re never going to come up with a different strategy for how you approach the world. You’re never going to raise funding or bring in different teams by virtue of your degree.

A college degree is great if you’re looking to get hired. But if your goal is to be an entrepreneur then it’s a little bit different and folks care a little less about it. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Carely was built to foster communication among family members with sick or elderly relatives in a nursing home, assisted living residence or hospice care.  

At first Michael and his co-founder thought they’d be selling to individual users, but after talking with service providers, they realized there was a bigger opportunity:

I took our prototype – a PowerPoint presentation — out and sat down with several CEOs of a hospice organization, a nursing home, home-care company and said, “Hey, this is something we think we would use as a family. Tell me why it won’t work.”  

In doing that, we learned that the problem was more applicable than just our family — that lots of people were dealing with this idea of miscommunication and frustration wrapped around care giving.

We realized that there was a value proposition there for the actual industry. The providers of care actually liked the product and would pay for it because when a family’s not doing a good job communicating with each other around their loved one, it’s often the facility or the care provider that has to step in and play middleman to those conversations.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

A pivotal meeting with nurses at Hospice of Dayton in Ohio helped them figure out what features to build:

It was a bit like leading sheep to wolves, and became one of our biggest learning moments.

The reality is nurses don’t have a lot of extra free time to learn a new system and to try something new. They wanted something that would help improve the lives of their clients’ families. They loved that part of the company. But they didn’t want to have to learn a new system and learn a new task and add something to their to-do list at the end of the day.

So we just said, “OK, if you guys don’t want that piece of it, we’ll leave it out.”

At this time, we hadn’t even built the product yet. We hadn’t invested any money into development, so we just didn’t develop that piece.

If we’d built the product first, however, we would have wasted months and thousands of dollars.

This is a perfect example of why it’s important to talk to customers. For the first six months we spent only a couple of hundred bucks.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Somewhere along the line, however, Michael and his co-founder stopped listening to customers. Here’s what happened:

We got the product out; we got paying customers.

We thought we figured it out. We assumed we had product-market fit and all we had to do was keep selling.

The problem was had the wrong business model at the time. Our revenue model was wrong.

We were charging a really high up-front annual fee to these providers and the end result of that was a pretty long sales cycle. It involved lots of face-to-face selling and it wasn’t enabling us to scale the product very quickly.

It took about 2 months to realize we needed a new pricing strategy, from, an average $5,000 to $10,000 a year per provider to about a $99 a month provider fee.

We tested the new strategy with several customers in the pipeline and it took our sales cycle from about 60 days to 1 week. Plus, it enabled us to scale much more quickly with much less effort.

But by then we were so far along our original path. My co-founder didn’t quite agree with the change of direction because it was going to involve us taking on some outside capitol.

I made the tough decision to go against what he wanted to do and it led to us kind of breaking up the company at the time.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Listen to my full interviews with Jeremy and Michael by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere: Stan Gloss, co-founder of BioTeam; and Matt Armstead, co-founder of Lumos Innovation.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111.

Want to be a guest on the show? Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 38: Ryan Smith and Lane Merrifield

If you don’t value your product neither will your customers. No one used it when we gave it away for free. Freemium was a going out of business strategy.

When a reporter asked, “Your kids must think you’re the coolest dad in the world,” I couldn’t answer the question, because I realized that I hadn’t seen my kids in three weeks.

I learned that making a complicated thing look easy is extremely hard.

People appreciate things more when they pay for them. And no amount of business success is enough if you don’t have time with your family.

Values – who and what founders and customers hold dear – were the focus on today’s Entrepreneurs are Everywhere radio show.

The show follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith

Joining me in the Stanford University studio were

Lane Merrifield

Lane Merrifield

Listen to my full interviews with Ryan and Lane by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here.

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interviews are below.

Ryan Smith co-founded Qualtrics in 2002 with his father in the family basement. Their goal was to make sophisticated research simple. As CEO, Ryan has grown Qualtrics to one of the fastest-growing technology companies in the world.

In the early days of building Qualtrics, Ryan tried giving the product away to entice customers to use it. Their reactions surprised him:

There’s something about people appreciating something they have to pay for.

Our pricing model was something like $5,000 a school. For the big schools we tried to give it away, but in every school we gave it away to, no one ever used it.

I remember that at Wharton I gave it to them free, went back a year later and there were only, like, five people using it. We had to charge them to get them to use it. Now there’s thousands of users across campus. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Lane Merrifield is a co-founder and CEO of FreshGrade, a learning collaboration and portfolio tool focused on enhancing teachers’ lives and making students’ learning visible. Lane’s first startup was Club Penguin, the largest online virtual world for kids, which was acquired by The Walt Disney Company in 2007 for $350M.  Lane served as Executive Vice President at Disney for five years before returning to his entrepreneurial roots to become an angel investor and launch FreshGrade. 

Lane also founded Wheelhouse, a Canadian organization that supports other entrepreneurs through mentorship, access to early stage capital, and connections to global business networks and executive expertise. 

Lane explained that and his co-founders, Lance Priebe and Dave Krysko, built Club Penguin to give their kids a safe place to play online. It quickly became a hit, but that success had a dark side, Lane says:

It totally consumed my life.

I was sitting in a press interview in Australia talking about Club Penguin, and the reporter asked, “Your kids must think you’re the coolest dad in the world.” I gave her some pat answer –“Well, they like to play it once in a while, but to them I’m just dad” — but I almost couldn’t answer the question, because I realized in that moment that I hadn’t seen my kids in about three weeks.

Ironically, this thing that I built for them now had me traveling around the world and being a pretty crappy dad.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Finding early customers for Qualtrics was difficult, Ryan says. It was a challenge to convince companies to think past the traditional method of hiring consultants or researchers to test user experience:

At first I tried to call business and enterprises. But in the corporate world in 2002, no one was ready for it.

I specifically remember calling one airline, and they said, “Hey look, if our customers aren’t happy, they’ll just call us.” Now today that mindset seems silly.

In the meantime, we had this case study that said academics were really ready for us. So we started in the academic market — because they would actually buy. I remember selling Angela Lee at the Kellogg School of Business, and Angela referred it to someone at Wharton, who referred it to someone at Columbia and Duke, and the rest is history. 

Ironically, though, academics are horrible customers. They have a laundry list of features they want that are more than you can listen to in an hour. They’re hard to service and support because they want to talk to someone as smart as them, which is almost impossible, and they have no money. No MBA business model would ever come out with, “Hey we’re going to go target the academics.”

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Still, academics made up Qualtrics’ core market for five years. Over time, students at those institutions took the product with them into their corporate jobs, growing Qualtrics’ customer base.

While it looked to the world like Ryan and his team planned to grow that way, nothing could be further from the truth.

Everyone comes up now — the VCs, the market – and they say, “Hey wow, that was a beautiful business model. You guys were geniuses.”

I kind of start laughing because no one ever thought we were geniuses; it was desperation. Typically that’s when innovation comes out. You innovate when you’re desperate.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

One important lesson Ryan learned was how difficult it is to make a complicated thing seem seamless:

Everything my dad wanted to build was way too complex for anyone to understand. So we had this built-in test where we’d see if I could figure it out, because if I could figure it out, then others could. 

I learned that making a complicated thing look easy is extremely hard.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Club Penguin launched with modest expectations. Lane and his team built a virtual world to give their kids a safe place to socialize online, thinking others might like it, too. They were in for a big surprise:

Our hope was just to be able to find enough people out there that we could keep it sustainable. We bootstrapped it. We took out lines of credit on our homes; we maxed out credit cards. There were no investors.

We hired a few people part-time, we contracted a lot of work, we’d pay as often as we could, and we started a subscription business, which back in the day was insanity. It was freemium, but the term freemium didn’t exist yet. It was try and then buy.

Through some of these mini-games that my co-founder, Lance, had created, we had a small audience initially. But when we rolled out the virtual world, it grew from a few thousand kids to 30,000 or 40,000 within about a month.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Built before Facebook existed, the company was at the cutting edge for scale, which attracted potential investors, but also presented some interesting challenges:

We had some great VCs come out of the woodwork, and we said, “Listen, have you dealt with infrastructure problems like this before? We have hundreds of thousands of concurrent users logging into servers that are meant to be having long, 2-, 3-, 4-minute sessions, and we’re having millisecond sessions, and our servers can’t handle that?”  

We brought in experts from IBM, we worked with the biggest service providers in the world, and some of the largest data centers. They all had no idea what to do with us, because they were used to a database and the web, and the web sessions last for minutes at a time. At this point in time, we had hundreds of thousands of users. We were basically hacking these servers to do what we needed them to do.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Like most founders, Lane and Ryan are glad to pay their success forward.

Today, in addition to running FreshGrade, Lane mentors other founders. He tells them this:

Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Don’t focus on the what, don’t tell me about the market opportunity, don’t tell me, “I’m Uber for this” or “I’m Slack for that.”

I don’t care about that. Tell me why are you building what you’re building.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

He said that because the Club Penguin team was clear about their “why,” they embraced being acquired by Disney in 2007:

Our goals weren’t about an exit. I didn’t even know what the term “exit” meant. For us, it was about taking Club Penguin to the next level.  

By the time we were acquired we had millions of users, we had a massive demand for consumer products, massive demand internationally. We needed to translate the game into other languages. We didn’t have any of the infrastructure to do that.

Disney gave us more resources to make our vision happen.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Ryan counsels other founders to never give up. Qualtrics has 8500 customers today, but back in his father’s basement in 2002, things weren’t so rosy. This memory helped him keep things in perspective along the way:

I remember thinking, “We’re in the basement, no one knows about us. We need to go to a trade show and get some exposure.” I called this trade show company that was putting on this great marketing event in New York City.

I borrowed my brother’s trade show booth and flew to New York. We took the train from the airport, because we couldn’t afford a taxi, and I sat on the train with this trade show booth in a bag between my legs. I remember specifically hauling that thing up the stairway and coming out of the subway station pretty close to Wall Street.

Fast-forward ten years. We were hosting a Qualtrics Live event for our customers in New York City in a hotel in the same neighborhood where the trade show had been. We now had 250 New York customers there; the room was full. Coming out of the hotel walking around the street, I was looking for somewhere to eat, and I passed that subway station. I could almost picture myself as a young kid hauling that trade show booth up the stairs.

It was kind of surreal, a message like, “Don’t give up. Trust your ideas.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to rely on that memory and the lessons I learned from hauling that trade show booth up the stairs.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Listen to my full interviews with Ryan and Lane by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere: Jeremy Johnson, founder of Andela; and Michael Eidsaune, co-founder of Carely.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111.

Want to be a guest on the show? Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 37: Michael Ingle and Graeme Gordon

I simply wasn’t happy in corporate America. I was a square peg in a round hole and needed to be someplace where I could think creatively.

You are 100% responsible for your own decisions, your career, your failures, your success. You can’t rely on anybody else.  


Self-motivation, drive and creativity are key entrepreneurial traits that can’t be discounted or ignored, say the guests on today’s Entrepreneurs are Everywhere radio show.

The show follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

Michael Ingle

Michael Ingle

Joining me in the Stanford University studio were

Graeme Gordon

Graeme Gordon

Listen to my full interviews with Michael and Graeme by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here.

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interviews are below.

Michael Ingle ran away from home at age 14 with $140 and a dream of bettering himself. In the years since, he’s been driven to succeed. Before founding Clean Sleep, he worked for Boeing as a teenager, did mechanical drafting and design for a combustion engineering company, ran a beach volleyball bar with friends and founded Quick Set Concrete.

He says that being on his own from a young age provided a critical learning experience:

I didn’t really have a childhood, but I don’t regret anything. Every step along the way has put me where I’m at today and has driven me as an entrepreneur. I realized how important relationships are, and how important hard work is.

It taught me that in the end, you are 100% responsible for your own decisions, your career, your failures, your success. You can’t rely on anybody else.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Graeme Gordon founder of Sneak Guard had 20 years of manufacturing and retail marketing experience working for companies like Ashley Furniture and Mattress Giant. Over the years, he dabbled in startup ideas, but frequently returned to the safe haven of a steady paycheck.

Working in corporate America, he gained enormous experience that serves him today, he says, but his heart wasn’t in working for others. Instead, he yearned to channel his creative energies.

When you’re hooked to getting a paycheck for over 20 years with the great benefits, stepping away from that is difficult, but I simply wasn’t happy in corporate America.

I didn’t fit. I was a square peg in a round hole. I’m entrepreneurial and creative. I needed to be someplace where I could think creatively.  

I’m definitely a happier person now, doing my startup.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Partner disagreements and a lack of planning killed Michael’s beach volleyball bar venture, but he doesn’t consider it a failure:

It cost me about $80,000, but the way I look at that is it was tuition money. It cost me what it cost me to learn what I learned, and I used that, and moved into the next deal, Quick Set Concrete.

There was a bit of serendipity around that opportunity, he says:

I didn’t really know a lot about construction, but a friend of mine said, “Well, I can run the crews and do the work if you can get the business,” so I said, “OK, let’s just figure it out.” With $24, I started the company: $3.99 to print your own business cards, and 20 bucks to register with the comptroller.

It’s still around, and we’ve evolved into adding dirt work and masonry to our scope.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Both Michael and Graeme started their companies after identifying a personal need. Michael came up with the idea for Clean Sleep in one sleepless night after falling asleep on his bare mattress.

SneakGuard was developed after Graeme’s 4-year-old daughter managed to open a prescription medicine child safety cap. The experience pushed him, once and for all, out of his corporate comfort zone. Here’s what he did:

I quit my job, went out and raised some capital from angels, strictly on a drawing, basically, and a concept.

I went out and talked to customers, friends. I did all these focus groups. I actually built prototypes, sat down with people and asked them, “What do you think of this? Would you buy it? How much would you buy it for? How much space can it take up, because it’s going to go in your refrigerator, if you want it to?”

I did a lot of groundwork before I moved forward.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here 

The customer feedback he received led him to a market he hadn’t considered:

I learned SneakGuard was a good product for cannabis, because once you take the air out of the container, it’ll make it the cannabis last longer. Also, there are some real problems with edibles like cookies and gummies.

There have been liability cases where parents have actually been charged with criminal charges for kids getting hold of dad’s pot cookies, so it’s a big part of our market.  

But it’s an interesting challenge to approach. Safety doesn’t pay attention to borders. Cannabis is legal in some states, and it’s not legal in others. Even though we’re selling a container and not cannabis, it’s a difficult pitch to retail America, because they don’t want to have anything to do with it. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Initially, things were going well for the company Graeme originally named SnoopGuard. He quickly received orders and amassed an inventory of containers.

His launch was short-circuited by a lawyer, though:

We got a cease and desist letter from a very well-known celebrity whose name had the word Snoop in it.  

Although the U.S. Patent Office gave me the registered mark that I owned for SnoopGuard, that was a pivot point for me because we had already produced product that had the name on it.

Lack of time and money kept me from fighting it. It really tore my heart out, but I decided I’d have to make a really quick recovery, or potentially not recover.

I changed the name to SneakGuard, then had to change the product, throw away a lot of original product and move on.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Although a February appearance on the reality TV show SharkTank brought Clean Sleep some brand recognition, Michael is struggling to find a scalable business model.

Until I got the machine to work, I hadn’t even thought about the business plan. I just knew that this was a huge problem, that everyone has a mattress.

Then I realized, “Okay, this is a perfect franchise model.” That’s how we starting writing our projections.

I spent every dollar I had to go to the best franchise attorneys, and got the franchise disclosure documents done, and agreements, and everything else. I thought a franchise model was the ticket.

But through a lot of trial and tribulation, we’re still growing the company into the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. So now we’ve decided to push franchising off until we can figure out how to scale the business.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Because Clean Sleep is creating a new market, Michael recognizes he must educate consumers who don’t know about his product or understand why they should clean their mattress. Looking back he wishes he’d spent more time and money on sales and marketing to do that, because things have been tough financially:

I’ve spent a lot of money on this company.

To this day, I don’t know how I’ve managed. I’ve got everything except my underwear in this thing. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Listen to my full interviews with Michael and Graeme by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere: Ryan Smith, co-founder of Qualtrics; and Lane Merrifield, founder of Fresh Grade.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111.

Want to be a guest on the show? Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

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