Be Open To Change
The Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
Be Open To Change
The Inventive Journey
Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.
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being open to wearing many hats i mean being creative i mean not thinking of it it's a very different mindset i mean working for a larger company i mean even coming from gm i mean i talked about it i mean it honestly moved too slow for me it just i mean i loved what i mean what we're doing but it probably would have taken five years to do what we're gonna accomplish in one year and i think you have to be ready for that coming to a startup is even if you come from a big company like a fan company or even even smaller companies um just be open to change i mean chaos happens it's normal um but be pragmatic too i mean it's you don't want to have to uh i mean feel so much pain it's it's not intentional pain of being at a startup but uh but i think you also have to be comfortable with i mean things do change week by week and you have to have to kind of overcome that [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devin miller the serial entrepreneur that's grown several startups in the seven and eight figure businesses as well as a founder and ceo of miller ip law where he helps startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com and we are always here to help now today we have another great guest on the podcast um kirk marple and kirk grew up in a small town in pennsylvania did college there and then wanted to be a chef but switch to being computer science which you'll get into a little bit of how you go from one extreme to the other i worked in for a few company or companies in the dc area went to grad school in british columbia went to work with microsoft for a period of time and then wanted to be a bit closer to us to the customer so did a startup in around 2001 ups and downs um with that and then when did another company with the in 2008 they kind of restarted the original company sold that one off bootstrapped bootstrapped a different company worked for some buyers for a few years and then went back did a few other things before uh starting his more recent company that he's doing now and that's a condensing of a lot longer journey and so with that welcome on the podcast kirk yeah thank you so much appreciate being here and uh yeah it's definitely been some ups and downs so happy to happy to talk about it today absolutely so i would did a kind of a quick walk through of your journey but take us uh back a little bit in time to uh growing up in pennsylvania in the smaller town got going to college being a chef and then decided you didn't want to be a chef anymore yeah no so i grew up in a college town my dad's a college professor and so kind of always had been in that a little college town in pennsylvania in kutztown and grew up through high school and then i did did my undergrad there and really i mean started to i mean computers were i mean i'm old enough where i mean trs-80s were kind of the thing back when i was in high school and kind of getting going so really really early on there wasn't even classes for computer science back back when i started it was just kind of playing around on the side and then my dad had an apple ii in his office uh in his uh that he was using for for college and i spent a lot of extra money on calling bullet board services and things like that and got in trouble and uh calling like alaska and things like that so i learned learned the hard way about the internet or kind of the early days of uh kind of pre-internet and yeah just decided computer science was something i really enjoyed but didn't think it was gonna be my career i thought it was just kind of a hobby something to play around with and then really just realized i mean this is my passion i mean it's uh it's something i really enjoyed and i see the creative side of it and i think from a from a cooking side that was always the thing if i mean i decided okay cooking is going to be the hobby and computer science is going to be the career and you know just out of curiosity so because i mean you kind of went into this thinking you're going to be a chef so how did you kind of make that balance of okay rather than being a chef and doing that as a full-time job and doing computer science as a hobby what made you decide to flip that or flip that or flip that around yeah i mean honestly my father was uh was the one who kind of gave me a kick in the butt about nope you really need to go to a four-year school and i had already filled out my application for culinary institute of america like where bourdain went and all the um guys in new york and i mean i was probably like 14 and i went to um i should also say i went to college really early so i started college at 16 graduated 19 and so actually it was i was probably like 14 15 and and was thinking to go into culinary school and he was like nope you really needed i mean think about your career and think about doing a four-year school and so i kind of ended up flip-flopping it i mean sort of dragged screaming a little bit at first but uh it uh it ended up being the right decision so i think um i mean there's so much about entrepreneurship and i watch a lot of tv shows about i mean starting starting restaurants and things like that and i find so many parallels between starting companies and and being a kind of solo chef so it's it's i think there's a parallel universe there fair enough so so now you said okay i'm going to make the switch i'm going to go from what was going to be a chef do more now computer science i'm going to go into that direction you study that and you come out with the degree where did your journey go from there yeah so i mean after college i knew i wanted to get out of a small town and was uh i mean i'd done some internships actually back in the day you could get jobs for the government in the summer and um i did some little gs4 jobs and lived in dc for some summers and loved it and then ended up moving down there it was a great i mean dc was a great time i guess that was in the kind of late 80s early 90s and had a blast there and then started to think about grad school did a little bit of grad school at gw in uh near dc and then decided to really do it full-time and so i'd worked for i guess four or five years in there um all kinds of i mean it's it's interesting looking back i mean very kind of similar media related companies and ended up going to grad school for computer graphics and uh ubc in vancouver had a great program for that and ended up going out west so you so you did that now doesn't do graduate school for a period of time now you're coming out of graduate school so you went to work for microsoft was that yes always wanted to work for microsoft they're a powerhouse it was the first job you got kind of what you wanted to be you're kind of how did what what led you to go to microsoft is a way to start your journey out yeah i mean it's it's funny i was going for computer graphics kind of ended up that my math and physics skills probably i knew that i was kind of not going to cut it as a as a graphics researcher and sort of pivoted into the multimedia area kind of more in the video space and started to learn about distributed systems and actually ended up seeing a job opportunity at microsoft where they were just starting off with the first version of the microsoft network i mean this is really early on pre-internet and it was a perfect fit i mean i so i joined a really incredible team there that was basically building you could think of it almost like in the first pre-web browser and all of the streaming media controls basically to compete with aol back in the day and dropped into an incredible team there and uh it was it was a super fun experience and so i ended up pivoting into microsoft research for three and a half years and worked on 3d virtual worlds which was something that i mean never thought i'd get to experience but it just was a i mean super super fun experience great people there too so you see do that no that definitely makes sense you do that for six years you know you've been at microsoft for quite a period of time you know and it's a good company i'm sure with good benefits good pay and everything else so what made you decide that you wanted to go from microsoft which is a juggernaut in the software industry to something more of a startup or small business or doing your own thing kind of what was that trigger what was the motivation there yeah i mean if you think about that time it was a it was kind of a crazy time i left basically right when the 2000 crash was happening and i mean the stock market was crashing and microsoft the doj trial was happening and so it was kind of i was at a point where i i mean i think microsoft was having some struggles i was kind of trying to find my place there what do i do next there and also just really started to see the i mean the internet wave really happening and just wanted to be part of it and so i left and actually started i worked for a little company for just about six months and doing some video transcoding um work as a director of engineering but i met a guy there that ended up being my co-founder and we really the company we work for got merged with somebody else and so it was either go with them or go off on our own and so we decided to take the leap and uh basically had to it was just he and i he was the kind of hustler i was the hacker and we went for it so it's pretty i mean classic classic kind of dive in deep story now did you guys when you guys decided okay we're gonna take the leap we're gonna you know got the founder co-founder and you got the right side type of skill sets did you have a business in mind did you already have an idea of what you're going to go after or was it just hey if we think we can do something cool we'll figure that out later on or kind of how did you arrive but now that that other business has been acquired what you guys are going to do together i mean we pretty much knew what we're doing day one i mean it was it was basically about automating um video transcoding and if you think back and this is a while ago 20 years ago it's i mean youtube didn't exist yet i mean there really a lot of the stuff that we're so used to today didn't exist and the idea of automating how to get video onto the web there weren't a lot of companies doing it and so i had an idea from my experience that i could do it better and build a media management system that could i mean be something useful and we pretty much went heads down for a while and uh started building something realized i mean we kind of need to double down and build more ip ourselves which i mean back in the day was i mean something i mean as you know it's key to figure out okay what's your value in the ip range and we just started grinding and we bootstrapped the whole thing we never took any funding in and started to get a bit of momentum and this is i mean we could talk about the ups and downs in the early days but it's it's uh yeah when you're bootstrapping i mean it's every dollar is a good dollar and so we we learned it a lot i think every good dollar is a good dollar no matter where you're at i'll take any dollar i can always get but no i definitely think that makes sense so so you guys did that you said okay you know we're going to we've got our founder co-founder we've got an idea we're gonna to go for it you build the company and then i think that there was you know as you mentioned the ups and downs and one of the other things that you i think when we chatted before and correct me i'm wrong is that you know kind of around 2008 you almost did kind of a restart of the company or you kind of relaunch or that what was kind of how did that come about and what was necessitated that yeah i mean we've been going for a while and i mean we've been making i mean i guess seven-figure revenue lost some bigger revenue and and be able to survive and we were i mean had a small team and i think we we hit a point where i mean it was the classic kind of co-founder divorce scenario where it just uh it wasn't working anymore and so we i mean it was a really rough period of time where i had to decide okay do i just go get another job or do we figure out a fresh start for the business and ended up um kind of figuring out a way to move on and basically restart a company was able to bring over the ip from the other company do i mean a lot of legal fees and all that kind of stuff but it's uh it ended up being a i mean a positive and so brought over a uh uh my our vp of sales as as one of our new co-founders and yeah it took another four years but we were able to i mean really i mean blossom and make something out of it and sell it no and i think that definitely makes makes sense and you know you kind of hit that crossroads hey we can shut it down we go do something else or we've got to do a change but something has to change either way and kind of hitting that restart button on the business you know or it sounds like it was a good path forward now you guys hit the restart button and i think for another four or five years you continued on and before you sold the company offset right yeah so we i mean we started to get a good number i mean really name brand customers we had all the major broadcasters maybe we had espn we had nbcu so we were doing i mean a really i mean if you look at it that way we were doing a good job for a really tiny company um there were some really big competitors out there and that was what we hit is there was a couple sort of whales of of custom of competitors that had a lot of funding and we just couldn't compete and so we ended up either i mean do we take in funding um do we kind of sell to somebody and try to figure out what the next step is because we kind of hit a limit of what we could do in a small bootstrap company and so we ended up selling um really to especially get uh international distribution and sales um was key and then um yeah i mean it was i kind of kept the same role kind of achieved software architect role and uh kept grinding away for a number of years but it was uh i mean i can't say it was a i mean it wasn't really the outcome i expected probably wasn't as lucrative but i mean it's an exit you'll take i mean i'll take it and um and yeah i work for them for i guess about i mean three years after the after the sale so now you work for them for three years oh i guess first of all you know you selling say okay we've kind of hit our limit where we want to take this what we're able to do with it we'll sell it we'll stay on for a year period of time you always hope that that will be lucrative and make worthwhile sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't but then you hit the end of that uh three years then where did you go from there what what did you first of all what made you decide to end the or end it with you know the fire and not continuing to work there and that can be everything from hey at the end of the golden handcuffs i wanted to go do my own thing too the business wasn't going where i wanted to or wasn't as fun or any number of things or they didn't want me anymore i mean so kind of what made you decide to go from the working for the buyer to your next thing i mean it's a little bit of both i mean there was an earned out period but then also i really i mean the cloud was happening i mean as much as i started the business kind of when the internet was starting this was really the transition of the cloud and one of the reasons that i sold was i wanted to double down and essentially build a cloud video transcoding service i mean so what you see now with i mean encoding.com or bitmoving or even what elemental has with their sale to aws i mean it's that was where i wanted to take the business and it didn't end up going that way while i was still employed there so i spent about i mean a year just self-funding a new startup um building out a lot of cloud technology is just starting to get my hands around i mean what are the benefits of cloud technologies and so that was the biggest thing i mean i had an ability i still contracted for them for a little bit um so i kind of was able to kind of keep fix bugs and keep things going on the code base i'd written but uh but yeah it was i saw the cloud as the next big thing and that was what i wanted to double down on now you saw the clouds on xbixty now if i remember and you can correct me or i'm wrong for the next four or five years after you left the other company you didn't go dry to your own uh new year's startup but you worked for other people or other big companies for a period of time is that right well i'm actually i'm so for one year i was full-time self-funded so yeah so i started a little llc um hired some contractors and basically did that for a year it wasn't i mean it built a lot of really interesting stuff but the projects i was going to use it for basically it was taking on-prem software into the cloud so kind of wrapping on premise just normal package software and making it into a sas service which ironically just amazon just announced a product in this space like a couple weeks ago but it's it's something that i mean packaging up that is is still a value and it was just a lot to bite off for basically one person without a business partner and uh so i ended up just taking a job at general motors and i saw an interesting i knew i had to get a job at some point and they needed somebody with video experience and it was a really interesting way to move to austin um get some experience with uh i mean a totally different type of business i mean quote big data was the thing back then of i mean how just how data was moving around in industries and i just wanted to learn and so i kind of look at it as a sort of gap year of i i had a lot there was stuff i wanted to learn and expand my knowledge um and honestly that experience really is what ended up resulting in this company that i have today so now you did that for you know kind of your gap year and then after the gap you're kind of where did you go from there so i got recruited up to um stats in chicago a sports data analytics company and then um basically they had some transition so i ended up going back to san diego work work for a company in san diego honestly the last several companies have been just people that i've known through the years i'm saying hey we need a senior engineering exec i mean we have a new company or we have a role um can you come help us kind of go zero to one in in this new role and so that's what i've kind of done the last several jobs um ended up in uh working for a company up in the bay area um most recently they were a vc back company in the drone uh image space image analytics space and um we i mean it basically incubated a brand new product there it's really exciting um they uh i mean then covet hit i mean so we we had to go some different directions with that product but ended up kind of working out a deal where we could kind of keep the um the customer list that we kind of developed there but kind of go off my own way and build a brand new company which is is somewhat related to sort of tangential to what we were doing there and that's what's going to say so you did that for a period of time kind of worked with the other businesses you know did some consulting work you know did the work for them and then covet hit now is that when unstuck word is unstuck which is what you guys are doing now or unstruck sorry yeah i think it says stuck but unstruck where did where did that fit into everything yeah so i mean it's honestly i had written a business plan for almost the same business when i left gm and i was thinking of starting it then um didn't have access to the investment community as much not kind of being closer to the bay area and it's funny i mean i had the opportunity to kind of learn what the sort of sort of the needs and the wants are of the industry at the last couple companies and just really from better networking i mean met met the right people to do a seed round and everything kind of fit together and started i guess q4 last year um put together a seed round and basically spun out and uh and did this we started i guess february of this year officially and closed our seed round in march okay so now you've started that you've got your seed round now you know that kind of brings us a bit up to where you're at today now if you kind of take the business where it's headed what's what you're kind of projecting out where do you see things headed next or kind of what's the what's the next step for you guys the next you know six to 12 months i mean we're we're grinding right now so we're aiming at um basically we're deep into product development um we're planning to go into like a private preview basically in the july time frame um at this point and then we have a number of kind of warm business partners and customers um that uh that we're looking to roll this out with it's i mean everybody from ports to chemical companies to pulp and paper companies folks like that so it's like an industrial companies that use media in different ways i mean everything from images to videos to 3d and um but yeah it's a team of six full-timers and we've all worked together before um basically some i mean engineers sales folks designers uh that yeah i mean we're super heads down right now and the products looking great i mean we've only been basically at it for two months full time um but the thing is the the back end of the product is what i've been working on for the last five years so i had actually taken everything that in that startup that i started um five years ago night at a lot of nights and weekends and built out a lot of ip and so that's actually what we injected into this new company so the back end was mostly like 80 done already so we're really focused just on building the front end and fill it in gaps right now no i think that sounds like it'll be an exciting or exciting time and always kind of fun to see how things turn out as you guys continue to build and grow especially as you've brought on some funding see you know have the a bit of wherewithal to have a bit of room to breathe or at least focus on the focus on the business side for a bit of a period of time and it seems like funding is always one of those where you're never quite done with it yeah now as you as you uh do that that kind of brings us up to a bit where you're at today and where you're heading so with that we'll transition over to the last two questions i always ask in the end of each podcast and as a reminder for those other listeners we'll also do the bonus question after the normal episode so if you want to hear us chat a little bit about intellectual property definitely make sure sure to stay tuned but otherwise we'll jump to the first question or i'll ask at the end of each podcast which is if you're or along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what did you learn from it yeah i think i mean one that i always think back to is as a small company we were doing a deal with a very two very large companies um one kind of in the the media space one more of a technology company and we strung ourselves out too far without money coming in the door and so it was a i mean it was one of those kind of like hope is not a strategy which is kind of one of my main mantras where we hoped for too long and it they ended up killing the project that we had done probably between three and six months of work with them on our dime with no money coming in because there was this big sort of i mean pot of gold at the end of the thing that we're hoping for and i think it's just a lesson that i've thought about many times since then where you got to get some consulting money you got to get something along the way because these big companies have the money to spend and when you're small i think it's it's too easy to kind of just assume everybody's going to be nice to you and do the right thing um so i think that's that's one of the biggest things that i i think about when whenever faced with a similar situation in the future no i think that there's there's a fair point to that in the sense that you know sometimes you're like oh they'll pay me they're good for it i just want to get the work and i want to impress them and do a good job and everything else and that you know that and then you keep you you go you it's kind of death by a thousand catch you continue to move along more than you feel you otherwise probably feel comfortable with but because you kind of you know i can wait a little bit longer oh they're good four-door just do a little more work and then you look back and you're like well you're gonna pay me and then it's uh you know when there's whether or not they pay you and whether or not you can sustain it whether or not what happens if they're not happy or any number of things and so i think there's always that kind of get that initial whether it's the caller down payment or initial retainer or initial or whatever to make sure that they're committed and they're there's actually the funding there and that they're going to pay you so i think that's definitely an easy mistake that you often make as a startup but also a good one to learn just jump into the second question which is if you're now talking to somebody that's just getting to a startup or a small business what be the one piece of advice you'd give them i think it's i mean being open to wearing many hats i mean being creative i mean not thinking of it it's it's a very different mindset i mean working for a larger company i mean even coming from gm i mean i talk about it i mean it honestly moved too slow for me it just i mean i loved what i mean what we're doing but it probably would have taken five years to do what we're going to accomplish in one year and i think you have to be ready for that coming to a startup is even if you come from a big company like a fan company or even even smaller companies just be open to change i mean chaos happens it's normal um but be pragmatic too i mean it's you don't want to have to uh i mean feel so much pain it's it's not intentional pain of being at a startup but uh but i think you also have to be comfortable with i mean things do change week by week and you have to have to kind of overcome that of that concern no i think that definitely makes sense so and i think that's a great piece of advice as well so awesome well is a it is a reminder for people we'll talk about intellectual property in a minute but otherwise if people want to reach out to you they want to be a customer they want to be a client they want to be an employee they want to be an investor they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out to you connect up to you and find out more yeah i mean linkedin is uh usually did a lot but also on twitter we have uh i mean just my name kirk marple on twitter or unstruck unstruck on twitter um are probably the main places right now or our website just on start.com awesome well i definitely encourage people to reach out connect up find out more and uh and support a great business so well as we wrap up thank you again for coming on the podcast now for all of you that are listeners if you have your own journey to tell and you'd like to be a guest on the podcast feel free to go to inventiveguest.com apply to be on the show we'd love to have you two more things as a listener one make sure to click subscribe and all in your podcast players so you know when all of our awesome episodes come out to leave us a review so other people can find out about all of our awesome episodes last but not least if you ever need help with patents trademarks or anything else in your business feel free to go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with us to chat so now as we've wrapped up the normal episode where you know it's always kind of fun i get a peppery with questions you get to talk about your journey and now we get to switch gears a bit and it's yoga that gets asked a question and i get to be in the hot seat for a bit so with that i'll turn it over to you to ask your number one intellectual property question yeah no i mean i think it's it's interesting because having been through asking myself this question of i mean do we do patents i mean how important are they at a small company i think that's my big question i mean i've seen both sides of it and i mean i know there's value especially with selling your company to have a patent portfolio but i mean just say if you have any advice for when is the right time to to patent your technology and maybe are there times when patenting isn't the right thing yeah i mean i would look at it one is you know what is the plan for your business meaning hey is it one where we're not or i guess what is what is the core business is a better way to put it in the sense that hey is the technology that we're going to be building and innovating is that going to be the core of our business or is it going to be the brand we're going to build our killer brand we're going to have great customer service great branding great marketing great sales and you know that's what we're going to pride ourselves on or is it something else you know something else their business and that's kind of where i'd start because if honestly if the technology isn't going to be the core if that's really not where you're building intellectual property at least on the patent side don't maybe branding you're going to go on the trademark side but at least for patents probably doesn't make sense because you're not going to drive that value you're not going to get that return now let's say you are working on it whether it's software hardware you know or mechanical or anything in nature you say okay you know what we are is we're going to innovate we're going to put our stuff new and it's going to be different and that's where we're going to put the focus of the business then the question becomes is you know one is first of all do you have the the budget to be able to do it if you don't have the budget don't get it get your company up and going and actually get a product that you can make money off of because you can have the world's best intellectual property if the company goes under and you never make sales it's not going to survive so i would always make sure that you have that plan within there and then the question is is now what is the what is the purpose of your intellectual property and there's usually a couple that you may be looking at one is going to be hey we want to protect what we have so if somebody else comes along they rip it off they copy us they otherwise do something that we want to be able to control so that somebody doesn't take all of our hard work or time money and effort and just simply write our coattails to success and then the second one is also more of an investment side and it can be an asset as an example and you kind of mention that it's going to be one where an angel investor venture capital or somebody else is going to come along and they're going to say what assets what's proprietary about you what do you uh what do you protect how do you protect it and then is it investible and so that's one where you can say hey you know are we getting intellectual property to protect ourselves down the road are we doing it to make ourselves more you know or more attractive to investors are we you know another one is is you may say okay right now we're not looking even for investors but down the road we're looking for a merger we're looking for an acquisition we're looking for a licensing play or anything of that and again that's where i would start to parse it out because each one of those has a bit of a different strategy if you're going to do it now if you're if you need investor dollars tomorrow and all investors are saying we're not going to invest into you until you protect what's proprietary about you you have a much more sense of urgency versus if you're saying hey down the road we want to do licensing we want to set ourselves up for merger and acquisition then you may hold off for a bit get the company up and going and then focus on the intellectual property one other kind of side note the you know oftentimes that you know startups and small businesses don't aren't aware or at least people that haven't gone through the patent process as much as any time you put anything out in the public you have what's called a one-year disclosure period basically means if you offer for sale you put down the public you put on a website do a presentation put it out to people in any way you basically get a one-year time click time clock ticking that if you miss that window if you are after if you're one day after that one year you just donated whatever you put out in the public you can no longer get a patent so you have to kind of balance all of those and then you know it's always a question is it worthwhile for the investment and you know you're asking a bit of a is it probably a biased question because you're asking an intellectual property attorney should i get intellectual property but i think it's is it going to be core to your business is it worthwhile to protect and invest in if so then it's worth getting worthwhile the intellectual property and if not if you're saying something else is more part of your business then focus on that and build it around that so that there's a lot to impact unpack there those are a few of my thoughts a few of the the the thoughts that you may are looking or think consider if you're a startup or a small business looking to get a patent so with that we'll go ahead and wrap up the podcast thanks again kirk for coming on the podcast it's been a fun it's been a pleasure and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last thank you so much i really appreciate it you