IEEE Entrepreneurship’s Founder Office Hours Program seeks to help early and growth-stage technology entrepreneurs within the IEEE community to succeed in creating technology-driven businesses that impact humanity. The program will connect entrepreneurs to mentors that can provide helpful feedback and potentially help them advance their company.
Every start-up’s journey is intense, yet rewarding. There are so many stages and so many people involved. It truly takes a village to raise a startup, regardless of its stage of development, and if anybody can prove that they single-handedly grew their startup into a company, I will gladly buy them dinner at a restaurant or takeaway of their choice.
My mentor Ken Stauffer, Chair of the 2020 IEEE Entrepreneurship Steering Committee, is a serial entrepreneur in life! His professional career spans 16 years at AT&T Bell Labs and then another 20 years as an entrepreneur—first with a US$480M startup in Florida and then with several other start-ups that took in venture capital funding. Stauffer is the Co-Founder of Technology Assurance Labs.
Sounds impressive right? It is, but I’m not saying this to simply flatter Ken. He has started four companies. He has the experience. The quality and depth of his suggestions came from that experience. Coupled with his willingness and ability to share his knowledge, the suggestions made the office hours program incredibly impactful.
The office hours session assisted me, Co-founder and CEO of Philia Labs, through three specific points.
- Validating the product more efficiently.
- Thinking about the pros and cons of various business models.
- Defining an Intellectual Property (IP) Strategy that will create value.
These points were extremely beneficial, as they helped Philia Labs find an accelerator and ultimately, helped develop a value proposition at a level that a few investors are already greeting with due diligence.
To understand how I came to this conclusion, a description of the entire process is necessary.
- What was the mentoring process like?
I applied and by February of 2019, Thomas Monaco, IEEE Entrepreneurship Project Manager, organized the first Webex call with Ken.
I submitted a slide deck a day or two in advance with my current challenges. We had a fruitful discussion, and I walked away with a lot of bullet points to work on. The second chat was organized in April 2019, and the third and fourth ones were organized in July and September.
Typically, I provided a slide deck before each session in preparation to discuss challenges. Stauffer was able to understand the business logistics very quickly. In hindsight, this is impressive, as nine out of ten people in the respective fields in which I communicate cannot follow my train of thought.
- How did the program help me as an entrepreneur?
The program shaped my thoughts as to how to validate the product, earn revenue, and protect the business. I learned that this can be accomplished by adhering to the following key points.
- Prototype quickly
- Initially, I had no idea whether to focus on validating the idea or the business model. Ken helped me identify how we could validate the solution as quickly as possible – by building something quick and dirty and letting the customer provide feedback.
- Business models
- I was not sure where to start. Ken gave me several ideas. For example, a combination of selling hardware and providing a service through a subscription. Investors love this!
- Ken was able to provide the pros and cons of alternative sources of revenue, such as royalties, selling data, and joint ventures.
- Intellectual Property (IP) Strategy
- An interesting IP Strategy, which is one of Stauffer’s creations, is a process patent: patent the process of the chip, getting data to the database, and providing access to the screen.
- Internet Protocols can be violated very easily, so be careful what you protect because you will need deep pockets to stop a potential violation.
In summary, I now know to validate the proof of concept and formulate a strategy. This knowledge contributed to Philia Lab’s partnership with an accelerator program, which was a turning point for the company.
- Why should other Start-ups apply for the Founder Office Hours Program?
This program provides the opportunity to learn from people who have experience.
Every conversation helps.
Let me emphasize this: Every conversation helps!
Despite having two very good advisors in my startup, Ken functioned as a great sounding board in terms of strategy and technical development plans.
What did I enjoy most about the mentor/mentee relationship?
Ken is a very patient person. I felt like I was in this safe space where I could express my concerns without worrying about what he would think.
Beyond that, my mentor was extremely encouraging. Despite whatever challenges the company dealt with, it made my day to hear him say that I came a long way from the previous session. Remarks like that are so important in helping budding entrepreneurs grow.
In summary, Stauffer was instrumental in shaping and expanding my way of thinking. Most importantly, I learned the following.
- How to validate proof of concept in the most efficient way possible.
- The types of business models companies should consider that result in making money.
I remain in contact with my mentor, and continue to seek advice on my investor pitch, and more!
Many thanks go to Lauren J Beighley for facilitating our discussions and to Thomas Monaco for running the show!