What was your first job?
My first job was keeping score for little league basketball games when I was 11 or 12 years old. I was paid $3 an hour, plus I was allowed one candy bar or Coke per game worked. I don’t think they realized the candy-eating potential of a kid growing up in a family of 10 where sweets were highly regulated! It’s amazing I didn’t end up with Type II diabetes by the end of that first season!
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given as an entrepreneur?
I’ve been told many times that fundraising will take longer than you think, and to start cultivating those relationships with investors before you’re ready to raise funds. This has certainly proven to ring true and something I should’ve started earlier than I did! I’ve also read three books recommended by several individuals, all of which have been game-changers for running a startup company: “The Lean Startup” by Eric Reis, “Slicing Pie” by Mike Moyer, and “Venture Deals” by Feld and Mendelson. They do a great job of describing how to prioritize your efforts to iterate quickly using the Minimum Viable Product concept, how to split equity fairly among co-founders, and how to interpret & negotiate term sheets, respectively.
Where do you come up with the inspiration for your ideas?
I read about a wide variety of topics – everything from current events to medicine to science to religion to self-help books. Often, the solution for one problem is already being applied to another problem somewhere else, perhaps in another industry. As a systems engineer, I try to find solutions to all of the pain points for all of our stakeholders, rather than just focusing on the end user. It’s often been beneficial to spend significant time understanding the problem domain before jumping into designing in the solution domain.
Do you have a routine before your pitch to investors?
Most pitch events are timed, with your allotted time often varying significantly from one pitch to the next. I always practice my pitch several times aloud with a stopwatch before presenting. Nobody wants to be that guy who gets cut off mid-sentence just before delivering the big finale because your pitch was too lengthy. Practice is also the best antidote to nervousness. I also use LinkedIn and my network to find out as much information as possible about the potential attendees. If I find a common thread, such as if an investor is a pilot as my co-founder, Dr. Rick Pendergraft and I both are, I try to work that information into the pitch or in one-on-one discussions with that individual. I also try to find out ahead of time if there are certain questions that are commonly asked during the Q&A portion within each angel group, and be sure to prepare a bullet-proof response to those questions in advance.
What is the biggest mistake that you have ever made as an entrepreneur?
I spent entirely too much time developing our first prototype dialysis machine, making sure the exterior was sleek, selecting the perfect components, etc., only to find out once I built it that there was no way it was going to deliver the usability we needed. This required a completely different concept than the first one. Once I read “The Lean Startup”, I realized we could’ve developed a Minimum Viable Product in a fraction of that time in order to discover the key flaw that would’ve shown us that our first concept wasn’t going to work. There have been other mistakes made where we should have outsourced certain design and manufacturing activities rather than trying to do everything ourselves. In the long run, that would’ve saved us valuable time and runway. I’ve heard it said that running a startup is like jumping off a cliff and building the airplane on the way down – so true! As long as we continue correcting our mistakes and learning from our advisors, we’ll be in great shape to deliver affordable home dialysis therapy to patients across the globe and provide a great return to our investors.