Do Your Research Up Front
The Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
Do Your Research Up Front
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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do all of your research up front like you know do i mean you can't do all your research over are you always learning new things every single day but like do your homework you know don't no ideas having a vacuum you know if you have an idea make sure you look at the lay of the land look at all the that exists out there see you know make a spreadsheet even or just you know a nice we'll get out your whiteboard and look at how all the ways in which your business is is different from their businesses and then use those that difference um at the end to really like you know shine you know or design a marketing strategy around or design you know help evolve or iterate your product to maybe add more differentiators or double down on those differences [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host evan miller the serial entrepreneur that's grown several startups into seven and eight figure businesses as well as the ceo and founder of miller ip law where we help startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with us to chat now today we have another great guest on the podcast ian abbott and uh ian has kind of gone in or throughout his career life has kind of gone back and forth between business and academics um and originally starting out in high school got in or got into high school had some friends uh they wanted to start a business with it was kind of quora but before the core was a thing and grew to i think 50 000 users merged with another retailer finished high school after getting kicked out of high school i think a few times and he'll tell us a little bit about that and then went to dartmouth uh got uh some or studied physics as well as math um did a startup with some uh friends for a payment platform with marijuana which was an interesting one until the doj told them it probably wasn't a good idea i went back to school worked on some various startups including i think kettlebell kettlebell business coffee business and other ones um as well as puttering through a few different jobs before kind of diving into what he's doing now today with arc and he'll provide a bit more detail on that as well so with that much as uh introduction welcome on the podcast ian hey how are you man oh i'm doing great and excited to have you on so i just gave kind of the quick uh quick run through to a much longer journey so take us a little bit back in time back to high school and kind of how things all started for you okay yeah well i mean i wasn't back in high school i wasn't that into academics i always wanted to you know start a business um you know i you know so i did various you know things and you know in early high school various tried tried various things um you know some business down in colorado um you know mainly very very small scale stuff um tried to work with my dad who you know is uh working like the tap system uh trying to develop some like a shoot off of that um and then kind of you know uh kind of found my way to like a more tech side of things i took more of an interest in computers um uh you know i ended up developing like a small software company that was called a habit um you know i was very young at the time was like started when i was like 15. um yeah like you said we ended up growing it's like a very small user base um and then it was a more fashion i guess the discussions ended up uh that ended up happening on the platform were kind of fashion forward just for whatever reason it wasn't intended just kind of happened that way um so there was a retailer in texas on this guy launching something called the addition group or edition collective that had uh retail stores um that had some sales online and wanted to build out like a blog blog component so essentially he liked our community and wanted to kind of build off it and we merged with him and then he ended up selling uh the company uh down the road a few years to a retailer called q retailers and that was that story um and you know that was fun uh i know that wasn't like you know like you know the retirement plan relation i still didn't go to college uh you know so i went to college um for like a little bit just before that so i mean because that's i i would say that's a pretty good accomplishment anything that has a user base 50 thousand users is nothing anything to sneeze at i think it's cool that you guys are able to build that especially in high school so just diving into that a bit how did you guys come up with the idea how did you grow the user base and then what made you decide to merge um well well okay yeah so first uh so we sort of like to backtrack a little bit um you know i we came up with an idea for more of like you know uh general like more util or sorry less general more specific utility-based social networks so that's what we were kind of like focused on looking at and then we didn't really um it was kind of right pre-chora or right around core we didn't really heard of it yet or it was like right around the same time um and so we kind of is that was that same idea um you know uh so it was like you know the idea was habity and it was for like a q a kind of social network um with maybe like a little bit more heavy on the social component than they were on the topic component um we were more like a 50 50 weight um and that was kind of you know that that's mainly the only differentiator um and then uh yeah so then we we kind of you know from an interest in social networks to more like utility-based social networks you know the idea kind of emerged from that um it was mainly me in the beginning um and then i actually ended up working with some like well i got a space in like a wework labs downtown um i actually like got the office next to that guy who did fire festival billy mcfarland he had some company you know i don't know if you've heard of that whole thing which is hilarious where they threw this at concert you know and ended up in tents and stuff it's a whole different story but anyway uh so i had a space and we worked there and ended up meeting like a lot of different people there who were a lot older um who ended up helping with the business um you know including like uh later on our kind of co-ceo we had this guy named brendan mangus who's a great guy um and yeah i mean the the business kind of and then it grew to a couple more people um we had a cto who was remote named alex and then i you know my friends like you know also like niall came and helped out work there for a bit um but yeah that was mainly kind of a solo journey at the beginning um in my first kind of foray into entrepreneurship um and you know uh basically as as we ended up getting traction the team scaled to like you know a solid like four people five people and then um we ended up i was actually down at a meeting for texas to do fundraising for it um to try to take it to kind of the next level um and then in that meeting i ended up meeting with this guy who or an investor wanted me to introduce to a friend who was an entrepreneur who was going to give advice and that was the fashion guy and he ended up taking an interest in the business and maybe merging them for um for like you know his uh for his platform and at that time like you know the business kind of like you know we had strong growth at the beginning it was kind of tapering off we realized cora was growing really really fast you know there's a bunch of other factors like you know pressure go to college and things like that so essentially when matt like made his offers like okay that just sounded uh good to me essentially at the time um you know hey any any business you can start in high school and get any sort of an offer or merger or anything of that and i would certainly can't put that in the win column so that's pretty cool so so now you get done with high school you know you do that it kind of is a a a fun business that you do with some of your friends build it up get the user base sell it off um when you go to college and you know you studied uh you know physics and i think it was uh math and physics and then um coming out or coming out of college how did that kind of what did you do after college or was it was a payments platform for marijuana during college or after college i can't remember when you met which way you mentioned yeah that was during college so yeah i was there for college for essentially my freshman year and the first bit of my sophomore year and then i left to go you know with my friend victor stewart uh we left to go start that uh that that platform which we're calling spark and lightning um and so yeah i did that after maybe my first term my first sophomore term there so now walk us through because i think that was you know you say no it'd be you know you found out about a a payment issue or you know how to marijuana industry especially where it wasn't legal and the time and still isn't there and at least on the federation yeah not settling yeah not federally legal yeah that was just there was a difficulty on the payments platform to be able to manage money so how did you guys get into that and then how did you get the doj involved where they said maybe not a good idea yeah that was much later yeah so at the beginning i mean we just like used marijuana recreationally and we were a fan of it's like a creative powers and you know essentially just like you know thought the space was proliferating it was when colorado just became legal um my family lives like out in colorado so we thought maybe we could go out there and stay with them for a bit and try to launch the business um and you know essentially the idea is we were looking to get into marijuana but we were looking not to get into it in terms of like um you know seed to sale or any kind of development of the product really we had no expertise in that we weren't botanists or anything like that so we didn't really know anything about that kind of the business nor did we want to store a storefront they're very hard to get the licenses at the time and a lot of politics involved we thought that would be risky as well you know we were just looking for opportunities in the space and studying the space for a while you know and getting you know building something that's kind of like at the infrastructure level made sense to us and was safe with something like a safe bet so something that could have like good long-term viability um you know and one of the major problems in that space you know was this whole banking problem um you know and then we also software was a little bit of our backgrounds as well as physics and math is more a quantitative side like system side of things so that's where just we were kind of thinking is what kind of systems could we maybe build for support for infrastructure for the industry and then so that was just like kind of the mindset and then we um you know essentially found this banking issue um and it essentially came down to the money can't leave the states it can't touch fed wire you know anything supported by it or swift right a regular like go over there for normal ach things and the underwriting banks the transactions couldn't be like large banks they would have to be kind of inside the state and housed you know kind of that it wouldn't have to leave could the network you know transactions couldn't leave the state essentially so um so essentially yeah we were trying to find a solution you know that maybe we could figure out um you know and what we kind of came up with was like okay why don't we do some kind of wallet to wallet transfer you know and kind of have like an e-wallet that would then have like a feature where you would be loaded when you swiped essentially so you wouldn't have to pre-load it or anything um and then there would be a wallet to wallet transfer be a closed distance between the phone the mobile application and the pos so then we would sell kind of the system like an app to the consumer or the e-wallet to the consumer that then you'd use to buy marijuana with your phone from and then we sold like a pos to the dispensaries essentially that would then you know you know they would receive the payment and be able to clear out or check out the customer um and then it went over like uh you know um you know a private cellular network essentially was the solution um you know we had a legal opinion written up on it uh to review everything you know everything like looked good we found some guy who thought well not excuse like found a guy to say it's legal but it was like you know we got someone to sign off on it say it was legal um so we were confident um and then we were going to go launch the platform we were raising money there was a firm news raising money that actually successfully raised money now but at the time it happens in new york called tuatara we were going to do a deal with them um and then essentially um you know what happened was we wanted one extra step of verification we didn't really want to go to jail uh so we like you know figure you know it may not be worth going as a startup you go to jail so yeah yeah probably move first and ask questions later we thought it when you're this close to the line legally it was best to not maybe take the safer route um so it's like we wrote to the doj asking their opinion on our solution and they were essentially like you know absolutely not if you pursue this like we're gonna like no just don't so then we had to kind of take that piece of information and decide like did we want to move forward with the concept um at the end of the day we didn't um but was very interesting about that whole uh journey was that you know the underwriting bank that we brought the deal to to do the underwriting for the e-wallet was actually it ended up not being a cooperative but kind of an international bank that had kind of some sort of presence electronic in colorado physically it's called wirecard um and yeah it was this german company and now what's hilarious is the ceo ended up having all these problems internationally for processing marijuana transactions and now he's like some sort of fugitive but it's hilarious because i'm not certain if they if we were the ones who told them about the industry because when we called them we were when we were working with them or trying to do our infrastructure with them they had no idea or asking many questions about the industry it was very funny if the two were connected or he decided to move forward with the concept or his version of it when we didn't but it was like you know kind of i think we ultimately dodged a bullet with that one because it sounds like we could have gotten into some trouble you may have gone down the same road that road that got the other guy yeah so it was a blessing it was a blessing that you were uh yeah that you got stopped by the doj before you went too far down so so now you do that and so you know so you do that and that is you know kind of another interesting part of your journey as you're continuing along you know then you know after you do that for a period of time i think you um finished up the degree or then you went or did you go back to school i had it or was it no i never went back to school yeah no i never went back to school i just been doing odds and ends like you know it took more of an interest in like academic work um you know did some like much smaller scale startups like a coffee company that was like the nootropics company was like called two to one um you know you know 200 milligrams of theanine 100 milligrams of caffeine cold brew in like a bioplastic bag that was direct to consumer um and then like you know my friend started that company kettlebell kitchen um and then it you know a little bit later on um you know it went sort of uh it went into bankruptcy eventually the debt called on it there was a variety of reasons bad timing could raise the money but it was really strong business you know really strong um you know you know really good ltv cac like good good metrics also strong consumer sentiment a good brand like big red box um you know so essentially we went to a bankruptcy court and we submitted a bid to buy that all the intellectual property and the uh trademarks and uh the custom lists and social media accounts you know get that all from bankruptcy and i guess you know we ended up winning the bid for like 10 grand i mean it was formerly a 100 million dollar company um we were gonna you know the plan is we're relaunching this happened maybe like a year ago um so now we're relaunching the business or he's relaunched the business he's running that that business as a um uh with a distributed manufacturing plan at the back end um instead so a lot of you know think like territory foods back end you know now kettlebell kitchen with a brand front end um so anyway so that was so i'm kind of jumping a little bit but that was the most recent thing in terms of business you know that i've done and then the coffee company as well um you know uh yeah before that in the interim since uh since like sparta the fall of i guess spark and lightning um i just you know mainly doing a lot of academic work and working on some papers with you know some friends of mine or physicists and you know at nyu and um current and um you know um uh at suny that's where i forgot the name of that and my friend who's like a topologist and essentially just been you know studying thinking you know working on new ideas um and you know that's kind of during this you know kind of quiet period is when i thought of the the business you know i'm working on now and that you're helping me with the with my intellectual property yeah yeah so and in his full disclosure for listeners uh i met ian uh he we're working on on the idea for intellectual property to protect it and uh so with that make sure not to steal his ideas we talk about it a little bit yeah yeah yeah but you know one of the things that i thought was interesting so maybe just a clue in the audience a bit so bringing that up to kind of where you're at today and you know as we chat to your journey now you're at arc right which arc is kind of uh a bit of a i would say a futurist type of an idea where you're now going to be able to be able to move housing or you know easily move housing between locations via you know almost kind of a storage cane or a container or compact type of a housing arrangement but how did you kind of get into that idea how is it going kind of where's it at and kind of uh give it a be a bit of an introduction to the to the audience with uh all of where you're at today yeah sure man so the yeah arc is essentially like um what i'm looking to do is build kind of a device or a machine as an urban plan so you know most devices are like the size of the iphone or like the computer this would be the same exact thing just really big um you know just uh you know some kind of systems and something that's more you know right now all the urban plans you can think of kind of like flat you know kind of 3d static canvases then you make things on top of and all the different components are completely disconnected from one another like the roads the transit components you know the utilities and also the structures the permanent structures there um you know arc is kind of as we'll get more into would be more of a um like a fungible concept where a large percentage of the urban plan would be movable and then you'd have a smaller percent which would be like a skeleton that's permanent um but basically i've always been really into architecture i've always been really into engineering you know i'm not an engineer not an architect just so i always really loved these things and you know i've always you know even though i love software and love you know kind of formal systems and love abstract things in theory you know i've always wanted to do something like really cool like you know build like a physical product in the physical world or like a physical system um you know and that's essentially where i am today so during this period you know contemplation i sort of thought a lot about how my different interests or my strengths could really come together a lot of the you know through my life experiences you know a lot of the information i've gathered how could it be combined in a way you know that maybe is a new a new concept a new solution in the marketplace that doesn't exist you know what could be something you know again like my mind you know goes towards systems goes towards infrastructure i want to go as like low level as possible you know and like the human stack of things you know so i was just thinking of you know what you know you know in a physical world and i was kind of scale agnostic you know so like you know it could be the size of a pencil or could be you know the size of an urban plan or something you know so then you know i you know so from there what developed is you know i really found transit oriented development and i found like mobile the mobile architecture movement um and i really liked both of those movements um and i didn't quite understand why like you know with all the containerization that's happening which is also another move in architecture um like we know people building things like container homes or people even building container farms product you know production facilities that are containerized you know everything mapped to the container you know and so i didn't quite understand why you know that perspective wasn't combined a little bit with mobile architecture and maybe some kind of uh transportation component um because if you know like the function of containerization in the first place is you know you know it improved port logistics and you know reduced cost for shipping and really enabled you know globalization in a big way so like you know the current movement and architecture with containerization didn't it you're containerizing just for a design reason you're not containerizing for a transportation reason which is the point of containerization so basically it's like you know you know i thought that was like a hole you know yeah so so if i were to almost maybe summarize that or encapsulate that the idea is basically you almost take what would be a similar con or similar size to what would be a storage container you know what you'd be you see on a train or via cargo ship you then use that as a a you know a done-up you you make that into a home a nice a living facility and then you'd basically be able to move those around the country or you know via a storage or you know a different location mechanisms and transportation you'll be able to move so if you were you know retired and you wanted to go from a cold place to you know your snowboard or snowbird you want to go to a warm place you could just simply have your home it would you'd put or submit it they would move your house from utah and salt lake city which is cold to arizona which is warm and you can move back and forth or if you're a college student and you wanted to go to a different university you just have them simply transport your home you could stay in it they'll transport you from one location to another and you wouldn't have to pick up all your stuff and move is that about right exactly correct yeah so that's that's like kind of the essential the idea of arc would be sort of a large scale like distributed system or device that is a platform to facilitate this movement so think you can even think about it as like a network of high-based storage systems and then what you storage retrieval systems and transfer system i guess between so it's like what it is really is you know a you know these vertical frames because we're kind of fighting urban sprawl more with the design you know we don't want to have all the containers spread out everywhere like an rv park you know we want to have it more contained um have a smaller footprint um and a bunch of other efficiencies as well um and then so what it is is basically the idea of arc is these frames that then with a gantry elevator in the center that the front then the containerized units then slide onto or slide under um via like a track mover and then essentially the gantry elevator comes down internal to the frame and picks it up and then plugs your containerized residence into a dock which contains a solarium for a little bit more width and then a balcony essentially and so then yeah and then the container would then come back down be plugged into a well car with a track mover below it and then that would come and cycle through the site if we wanted to go to a different frame within the same site or location or would go down to a siding built along a railway where another gantry would lift it and move it on to a well car different kind of well car that would then be used to transfer it to another site via like our partner rail service um so essentially you had to circle back and explain the idea a little bit you know the essential point of arc would be to build these frames along the rail america's rail system which is huge um you know we have 140 000 miles of it um there's a lot of you know a track that's being abandoned every year as these up as the big companies kind of consolidate their operations to mainly just class one style stuff where they're moving really large volumes of freight so there's a lot of opportunity to take over abandoned track or build track extensions to work with these uh you know they're the largest land holders in the united states these you know five companies bnsf union pacific and such um so you know they have internal real estate development teams and economic development teams where people are usually building you know sightings for let's say like a you know a mining operation to connect to a mine or some kind of refinement facility or grain or storage or transfer or things like this you know so we would be looking to buy land or work with these companies in kind of more remote beautiful areas where maybe there's less rail traffic you know where then we could be at first like a manifest customer so you know we'd do manifest service diving in just a little bit just because without getting too much of the weeds and definitely we'll give you an opportunity to share if people are interested if they want to reach out they want to find out more absolutely encourage everybody do so but i think that kind of you know as we wrap towards in the podcast and there's always more things we want to talk about than time to talk about them you know that gives everybody a bit of an introduction i definitely encourage everybody to reach out and find out more so kind of with that as we do have to wrap up and we also just remind everybody we have a bonus question we'll talk just a little bit about intellectual property after the normal episode but before that we'll jump to the the last two questions i always ask at the end of each podcast so the first question i always ask is so you know we just chatted all the way through your journey including kind of what you guys are up to or where you're at today and kind of where or where things are headed but along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what did you learn from it um so the worst decision i ever made was probably um let me think about that was probably to oh i got to give this a minute sorry um or what one of the decisions if you could go back that you would change or do it differently i think you know maybe um not focusing on our social network company when we were 15 as much as i should have been maybe turning more towards like trying to get into an ivy league school are you following a more traditional route i mean definitely happy you know since core was competitive maybe i think i kind of bowed out too early and could have could have tried to run that business a little harder and pressed it to be a little bigger iterated faster and you know maybe pivoted and done something with it um yeah that definitely you know sticks with me um you know the other one is maybe not asking the doj for permission you know maybe if we worked with a cooperative or afraid to get something out or just move forward with a slightly modified solution giving that a little extra thought you know maybe we could have done something there um yeah essentially that's those two and and or you may have been in jail had you not asked the doj so right one of those that we don't know what happened it would be interesting if we could have gone back and uh played it out how it would have ended up taking place so definitely but i think that that's a you know an issue where every startup every uh inventor every entrepreneur kind of hits that hey is this a good idea should i keep pushing on it is it one worse i should let it go or pivot or go in a different direction it's always one where you know it's much easier to hindsight 2020 to say oh i wish i would have gone different direction but at the time you'd make the best you know best decision you can with the you know with the information you have on hand so i definitely think that's something to learn from so second question i'll ask which is now if you're talking to somebody that's just getting into a startup or a small business what be the one piece of advice you give them um do all of your research up front like you know do i mean you can't do all your research over you're always learning new things every single day but like do your homework you know don't no ideas having a vacuum you know if you have an idea make sure you look at the lay of the land look at all the competition that exists out there see you know make a spreadsheet even or just you know a nice we'll get out your whiteboard and look at how all the ways in which your business is is different from their businesses and then use those that difference um at the end to really like you know shine you know or design a marketing strategy around or design you know help evolve or iterate your product to maybe add more differentiators or double down on those differences no and i like that because i think you know sometimes especially as an entrepreneur you tend to want to dive in you want to get going it's a you know it's almost a new shiny object you're excited about it there you can see a lot of opportunity and yet sometimes because you get so excited about it you talk yourself into the idea you never actually do that kind of that due diligence you never check and see you know have you done your homework have you ever figured out is it a viable option is it something people want to pay for are there competitors what can you charge for this you know what is it going to take to start it up and doing it and you know and how are you going to make it how you're going to or follow through with it all those things are things that you should be considering as you get going and doesn't mean you can get or keep the idea going but do that homework as you're getting going so that you can know that what that roadmap is what that strategy is and before you dive in and get too far into it so i think that's a great piece of advice well before we dive into the bonus question that people are just listening to normal episode and aren't intellectual property which i totally understand but if they want to reach out to they want to find out more about you know your business about what you guys are doing with arc they want to be a customer or a client a investor they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out and find out more i just email my personal email iha 94 at icloud.com and i'll answer any and all questions all right well i definitely encourage everybody to reach out and find out more and get ours or get connected well as we wrap up with the normal part of the episode thank you again for coming on it's been a fun it's been a pleasure 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 just go to inventiveguest.com and apply to be on the show we'd love to hear your journey two more things as a listener one uh make sure to click subscribe in your podcast players so you know when all of our awesome episodes come out and two leave us a review so everybody else can find out about all of our awesome episodes last but not least if you ever need help with patents trademarks or anything else feel free to reach out to us just go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with us to chat so now as we've wrapped up with the normal portion of the episode we always have the bonus uh we have the bonus portion uh where we get to talk about one of my favorite projects or our topics which is intellectual property so that i'll uh fl or switch gears and we'll turn it over to you to ask your number one intellectual property question yeah uh how often do you guys run into issues with uh the greater international patent uh you know kind of market then you know you know for companies that want to be like not just the united states but for all over i know that's a different search process it's more expensive obviously it's more in-depth a lot more data to sift through um how often or what percent of time do you end up you know you file something in the u.s and then a company wants to go international do those companies end up wanting running into trouble you know or is that you know less frequent than um like you know than you'd expect essentially yeah i mean it's one it's kind of the old attorney's answer of you know every time you ask an attorney for an answer they always say it depends but it is one that it depends we'll give you a little bit of an insight you know every company is a bit different in the sense that some come some companies you know depending on their industry depending on what they're doing and everything else they are um their market is really going to be in one given country or you know so give you an example having have a client that's in the medical device industry and they look at it and say okay by far you know hands down the mo the most of our money that's been spent in the medical industry is done in the us that's where where the most of the money is where all the research and development is where a lot of money is spent on healthcare industry in general and so they're saying okay our really our target market is going to be in the u.s that's where most of our clients are that's where you can make the biggest splash and the best return and so they focus their intellectual property portfolio on the us on the other hand we have another client and you know that's in a different industry and theirs is much more of a split they say hey you know about 50 percent of our markets going to be in the us 50 is going to be in europe we need to have coverage on both and so then they end up going down that path because that's where they're going to be so really when you're looking at you know how are you go how to tackle international markets and whether or not it's important whether or not you have issues i look in and see where is your marketplace going to be where are you going to make an entrance where are you going to try and sell and then based on that you choose where your biggest part or portions of the market is where the highest likelihood is of your clientele to be and that's where you focus on your intellectual property so for some people is one country is one location for some it splits into multiple and it's really more of a matter of what is a business where your clients are and what is where do you want to have the the greatest amount of protection cool thanks man appreciate it so with that we'll go ahead and wrap up the podcast and great question and if you or anybody in the audience ever has any other questions always feel free to go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with us to chat i'll be happy to answer any questions you might have and with that we'll go ahead and wrap up the podcast it's been it's fun it's been a pleasure in and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last thank you man appreciate it that's fun [Music] chatting