Don't Pass Up The Chance

Don't Pass Up The Chance

Karthik Rau

Devin Miller

The Inventive Journey

Podcast for Entrepreneurs

8/5/2020

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Don't Pass Up The Chance

 “I think you should just do it. There are people that I'm sure have, especially here in Silicon Valley, have the ambitions for something. You are sort of a very friendly environment it’s an environment that is very forgiving. You make a mistake and you always have the opportunity to go back and do something else. So yea don't pass up the chance if you have a good idea that is worth pursuing, you should take advantage and, I wish everyone the best.”


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.

ai generated transcription

i think you should just do it i mean there are uh people that i'm sure have especially here in silicon valley have the ambition to start something on your own you're sort of in a very friendly environment it's an environment that's very forgiving if you make a mistake you always have the opportunity to go back and do something else so yeah don't don't pass up a chance if you have a good idea that's worth pursuing i think you should take the plunge and wish everyone the best [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devon miller and uh i am the serial entrepreneur that's also the uh founder and uh ceo of miller ip law where we help startups and small businesses with their pads and trademarks and today we're going to go through another uh great uh journey of uh and i'm probably gonna slaughter your day but i'll try my best is it horrific or critic maybe caustic there we go i'll probably still slaughter but anyway so yeah he has a he has a fun journey he spent quite a long time in the semiconductor industry um works for amtel for a bit then went on to another startup that was uh i think it's flicker or something near that and then from there he's now kind of moved on to uh smart edge i think is where they are doing kind of uh and then they and all sorts of bootstrap startups and that the current one is more of a uh smart sensor what i would call or where you have a sensor technology where a lot of the processing is actually done at the sensor level instead of on the back end so um i'm sure i slaughtered that introduction and didn't do a near amount of justice but i did my best so welcome to the podcast thanks dude thanks for having me on it's good to be here hope you're doing okay and being safe yeah doing good being safe and life is good so appreciate you coming on so i did i didn't do the the introduction near the amount of justice that you did but maybe if you can take us through a bit of your journey we can uh start there sure sure uh yeah i'm karthik karthik rao by the way uh founder of uh flick uh smartage by the way devon is is a product line within okay that's right we're launching the the sensor product as a separate brand um in any case my my background as you mentioned is in semiconductors so i started off my journey in the telco industry so i built some chips for optical networks and network processors in the beginning and then uh worked a couple of other gigs and then ended up at intel uh with a a gig for a company that we were incubating within intel so we spun that out in 2006 which is sort of my first brush with uh with being a part of the core team of a startup so no i'm already diving in you didn't even get very far in your summary so you moved over to intel and was the idea that you know intel hired you on and you wanted to work on a company and they happened to spin it out was he in i guess back was the intent that you wanted to be part of a startup and intel happened to spun it out or you just get put on the project and then it got spun out and you kind of had biggest startup thrust upon you no no the idea was to work in a smaller group inside intel so it wasn't intended to be part of the core business so intel capital incubated businesses at that stage within intel so this is one of the businesses they were actually doing something cool which was doing uh they were trying to figure out a way to use wi-fi for sensor networks so uh it was a good project to work on so i knew what what i was getting into it was a startup or building a startup within a large company uh which is quite interesting at that time so i i sort of knew that the spin out sort of happened organically right intel was in the process of jettisoning some of the businesses that were not code to them so a year or so before that they sold some assets uh and and so we were in that uh sort of zone where uh we're not quite code yet and we weren't big enough yet so just made sense for them to let us go um so it worked out nicely for us they invested in the company and they helped us bring in some some additional investors we raised a fairly decent series a and then we spun out in 2006. so uh it was a really good experience as i said first first experience for me as being part of a core team of a startup which is a good learning experience so i did that for about a year and then atmel my previous employer before i started the startup they recruited me to build their business in india that was pretty interesting as well another sort of uh semi or pseudo startup you can say building a business within atmel but essentially without a lot of the risk that goes with building started so it was so you almost you kind of got the best of both worlds in the sense that you had the backing or the the support of large companies whether it's in intel or at or atmel and yet at the same time you got to be the best of both worlds if you get to work with the cool technology and be part of the startup so i think everybody needs that gig where you have the support of a big company with lots of money and yeah you got to be part of the startup and do all the fun stuff so that's cool i know it's too good to pass up so it was it was great and in my sort of in that stage of my career i was already doing some general management stuff and technical management for a while so it was really a right time and my growth to to get that sort of an opportunity so i really enjoyed that we built the company basically from zero to about 120 employees in three years and then moved to the bay area in 2010 to lead a microcontroller group so back into our indian business after doing some general management work for a while um so there when i was at uh san jose uh uh atmel office we were building a lot of low power processors so that was again my first introduction to iot projects for those that um know iot is internet of things or make actually interconnect everything just for those that are less are uh familiar with the acronyms go ahead yeah um so we're working with sensors and low power processors so that was really interesting built that business uh for for about four or five years and then in 2015 uh found an opportunity that again was too good to pass up so i left and started flick so that's uh that's basically where uh where we are today um the company is about five years old uh spent the first two years or so just building the ipv oh i am gonna i am gonna jump in and i keep interrupting you so apologize but see you're at amtel and uh you decided so it kind of sounds like you'd almost jump between big business and then you know startup and almost big business and startup and at least now you went to flick and you kind of left the the big company backing your startup and decided to go on your own way and start your own startup is that right exactly that's right that's great so what made you what made you decide to finally fully jump ship or go and do something fully out on your own as opposed to working within the big companies and then spinning off startups and doing that what made you kind of make that switch or make that jump i i think it was the idea initially it basically was a systems idea it wasn't really a semiconductor idea so i didn't think that there would be appetite within my previous company to actually do a project like that so it was a pure semiconductor company wasn't the right they weren't in the right area uh so did you ever go pitch them or see if they're interested in the idea or you said hey this is an idea i just want to pursue it on my own or how to and i guess i'll let you answer that question i have one more follow-up question but how did you kind of or you know did you pitch them they were interested you said i want to do it on my own or how did that work out i was as part of the management team there so i sort of knew what would uh sort of interest them right if i had a semiconductor idea i would certainly have gone to them but this was more of a systems idea and we were working purely in the industrial iot space so the intention was to do that so it was quite clear to me at least that this had to be either done on my own or i had to go out some you know to some other company to do this and this sort of itch to to start something was was always there and i was just waiting for the right opportunity to do it this just seemed like it was a big enough market to go after so and i'll ask plenty of questions but one more question so how did you kind of come up with the idea or you know how did you originally say hey here's my next stage or here's what i want to do how did that kind of genesis happen yeah it's a bit of a technical answer but basically the prevailing architecture at the time was big database right so everything was in the cloud and we have all of our stuff in the cloud uh which for most people they have no idea what the cloud means they just know that the data goes somewhere it gets stored somewhere and it magically gets there if it gets figured out and sent back to them that's right so it's just some off-site storage right where all the data resides and the initial industrial iot products were all cloud-based so you have this big artificial intelligence tool sitting somewhere in the cloud ingesting all of this data from from the sensors and we at atmel were on the sensor side so we were designing these devices pushing data into the cloud and building the monitoring systems so the idea really was to take a subset of that intelligence and push it into the into these small devices so it's called edge computing but basically it was sort of picking up pace around that time in the 2015-16 time frame i'm going to try and break that down for people that are less technical and we'll see if i do how good of a job i do so sensors you can have whether you have ones on the watch you know like let's say an apple watch and you have a sensor on the bottom that can measure your ekg or you can measure your heart rate or whatever or you have internet of things that may measure everything from temperature it may measure pollen in the air it may measure any number of things we have all these little sensors on all those different devices that can do something right the general architecture is okay we have these sensors we'll take the debt we'll make the sensor stupid right in the sense it'll just take the measurement it won't do much more of it and then it'll send it off into space somewhere and they'll do all the process use that data all the measurement data and make some sort of an analysis and you're saying why do we have to send it off into the cloud why do we have to send it off somewhere else why can't we bring the intelligence back to the sensor and make that smarter so that the the sensor can actually do a lot of the processing there as opposed to having to send it off somewhere else is that about right that's that's perfect yeah i couldn't have said it any better so that was the core idea i mean why why send all of this data right our sensor for instance it generates about three gigabytes a day imagine if you have thousands of these in in the city you don't want terabytes of data going on your 4g 5g network and clogging up the uh the bandwidth so as much as possible the most efficient way of doing this is to try and give these sensors the ability to process things on their own and this is not a new concept right i mean 30 40 years ago you had mainframe computers right there they were what what big data computing is today and you have pcs that sort of evolved from that and why would you want a central pc to handle all of your data you have these small personal computers at home that can actually do your local computing and you only use the storage when you need to so it's the same concept it was picking up in iot and we thought it was a really interesting development for us and we knew from a uh from a sensor point of view what we could do and couldn't so that was really important for us to be able to combine embedded uh systems knowledge with software and the the area that we went after was the remote monitoring so so far to take that and so now you see you've come up with your brilliant idea of how to change the world right or at least make it better but you have the idea you're working you know working in a big company you decide i'm going to spin out on my own and you know walk me through a little bit so how did that go so you had the idea and you did it go successful and you just all all roses from there or how did the spin out go when you finally decided i'm going to do something without the backing of a big business full startup full you know going all that direction how did that go for you i was pretty convinced as i said that the idea would work uh it was a question of then proving whether the thesis was actually correct right so we had to come up with some sort of an application i was the only one at the time so the solo founder there were a few people that knew about what i was doing but essentially it was i was out on my own for the first year and a half or so so i built the initial prototypes on my own we need a way to actually test it so uh so we actually tested our initial vibration and motion control algorithms on a tennis racket in the cricket bat just wanted to see if uh if that would work um there were some sort of mixed results but essentially we thought we had a decent uh starting point at least for doing vibration analytics on on industrial equipment so the sports thing had a limited market so we sort of left that pretty quickly and moved on to industrial so on the industrial side again i spent till about the 2017 time frame just coming up with the with the prototype we got some initial traction in the oil and gas space so we did some pilots in the energy market then 2018 is really when we started to take off it started scaling quite nicely we won a few startup competitions there was one uh by vodafone which really uh gave us a really nice i'm i i know i keep interrupting it makes it hard to keep it but i'm gonna jump in so you did the 2015 you spun out on your own you for about the first year and a half it was just you building the prototypes working in the basement of your garage or wherever it may be you know or the workbench or that but doing it on your own and then and then kind of after that year and a half did it start do you start to bring people on did you start you know how did you if you because i think when we talked about before correct me if i'm wrong you're in about three years of r d right and so it took a look a good you know and that's not unheard of by any means if you're doing some technology and some sensors but it's a good period of time but it sounds like about halfway through that r d is when you started to bring people onto one it didn't have a product and he didn't have you know cash flow so to speak how did you convince people to bring on how did you fund it and how did you kind of get to ramp that up over the the three-year r d course yeah we were a bootstrap company i mean we uh i essentially funded the development uh for for a number of uh months and years and once we got it to a point where it was functioning we had something to show a customer or a prospective employees then we went and started finding people that were like-minded that wanted to work for this company uh worked essentially for equity to begin with so we found a few people that sort of had the same idea that edge computing could work and we could do something really special here on bringing intelligence to the sensor so uh yeah i found found some good people initially that helped us out so they were initially contractors they did some work for us we brought some people on in india had connections there back to going back to my days at atmo india so it was nice to have a network in india to lean on so from a startup point of view the burn rate was was manageable so i was able to fund it for a few more months and in 2018 a couple of people that i knew from my admiral days decided to put some money in and we sort of scaled the growth at that point and then back to the 2018 story i was telling we started getting some traction from a couple of startup competitions and uh and we won one of few events got a grant from the australian government to build something uh so different sources you know just that that kept us going finally started bringing in revenues the q4 of uh 2018 so about a year and a half ago and we did well so you take almost three years before you really i mean you did do some and by no means putting down you got some grands you did some competitions but you were bootstrapping it for almost three years did you ever kind of during that period of you know three years in one sense it can go by quickly now the other says when you're you know you know it's kind of the old saying you know the days go by slow the months go by quicker the years go by quick right and so did you ever get in the point where hey i'm now three years into this i'm bootstrapping it we you know we think it's a cool idea do you ever have those days where you're saying hey did i make the right decision or did i you know make the wrong decision or did i put all this time money and effort and i want you don't know if it's going to work out did you ever have those kind of worries or was it always just i know this is going to work and i'm always going to take it forward and it's going to be successful yeah i'm pretty optimistic in general i mean i always knew that we would get this to work it's a question of just staying in the game right they were different points during the journey the five-year journey where things obviously didn't go as planned and you have your ups and downs as a founder but you just got to push through it and the idea is still valid you can see that this is picking a pace in the industry we have a lot of companies focusing on edge computing these days so we are in the right space and we always had a conviction that it was the right thing to do so we just kept going you know and uh things are slowly picking up pace which is nice the company is poised to scale nicely so i think we made the right call and hung in there so i'm not going to get you let you get with it quite as easy so you said you had your ups and downs so what were some of the ups and downs over five years because i know you always hear you know and i'm reading a really great book right now and it's uh kind of the the found up for the story of amazon and you know how they got founded and everything and you know you look at amazon today and they're ginormous you can buy anything on amazon everybody knows them and you know that wasn't the case back and you know he had i was reading in you know bezos and founder of amazon and he would go around and as he was asking for people for money and that and you know he originally started with his parents and asked for friends and family and kind of got started out and bootstrapped it he'd always tell all of his investors hey there's a 70 chance this is going to fail and so you know obviously amazon had all worked out or it has worked out so well so far but you know even over that and you always hear that you know too often you think of the highlights you know kind of that overnight success 10 years in the making sort of a thing you're in your case a few three years in the making but what were some of those kind of ups and downs or things you had to deal with i think working with industrial companies you just have to have a lot of patience that's that's the main issue you have traditional industries that are used to working at a certain pace and we are here in silicon valley trying to get things done as quickly as possible so those two things don't always mix well so when you're working with an oil and gas company that has a procurement process that takes three months right that's just fill you filling out forms to even get in the door so those are the types of hurdles that you face when you're working with large industries um so those are the typical challenges so on on the positive side i mean you get a little bit of traction with one and you have a case study that you can go show other customers so once it gets going there's a lot of momentum that can build up quickly i think the challenge really is getting into an industry and establishing yourself as a small company i think that's the most challenging part so you're almost saying you know the best thing you can do is find that one i guess anchor customer or anchor client or someone that can help you to prove out your technology or your product and that and then it makes it easier to then for the next customer to point back and say hey we've done it once we can do it again they found that they're and they're happy and those type of things is that fair fair summary yeah yeah exactly i think finding that first case study is extremely important and this is especially true for these b2b type of companies like enterprise companies and once you've proven that you can monitor a pump i mean a pump is a pump right you can use that in an oil and gas application or mining or anything else really and and that's really valuable so getting that first customer takes you know up to a year year and a half in some cases once you break through and have that case study then it becomes a lot easier oh cool so no that makes great sense so then if i just so now you so you finally made it through the r d stage five years in you got your startup up and going or i don't know i don't know when i never quite know when it go moves from startup to small business a medium-sized business always kind of blurs together and it always feels like you're forever still in the startup mode even if you're years in because you always you're wanting to make sure it's successful you got things past the r d stage got things going where's the next six months or a year take you so i think we're ready to scale now so we're starting to build uh different types of ecosystems around our product so in one sense we're a sensing monitoring company but we need some sort of partnership with a wireless company for instance to actually send the data between uh or from our sensor to the cloud so we're establishing partnerships in that area we're trying to bring in additional channel partners so we're trying to see if we can work with a domain expert and say maritime for instance right and try to bundle our our monitoring service with their consulting service so we're trying different business models to try and scale the business so that's basically where we are today we've got a pretty decent product market fit i think so there are a certain class of customers and applications that seem to uh understand what we do well and for that particular niche i think we're a really good product and we're pretty unique in the market so it's a question of us trying to scale the business now so that's the goal for the rest of the year and next year all right so you're saying hey we've we've proven out the product we started to land our customers and now we've gotta we've gotta scale it and and take it to the next level so okay cool absolutely so as we reach it towards kind of the end of the podcast i'm going to jump to maybe the last couple questions i always ask at the end of the podcast so i'll ask them to now so the first question i always ask is what's the worst business decision you ever made it's only a half an hour podcast right so we could be here for a while uh made it made tons of mistakes in the in the last four or five years but i think the one that uh that sort of has the potential to impact your business uh the most is any sort of hiring decision so i think you just have to be really careful about who you bring on especially in the early stages of the business so that's probably the the best advice try and work with people that maybe you've known for a while that you can implicitly trust and uh and grow the business together so you as a founder can focus on the the strategy and and the targets for the business um so that i think is is probably the best advice i can give any aspiring founder just bring in the right people so but then the mistake would you got to go back to the mistake so the mistake is is that you hired the wrong people at some point you hired people that you didn't there weren't for the right position is that am i reading into that right yeah yeah that's right i mean all of the above right so you bring in people uh knowing what they've done in the past and it doesn't always translate to a startup right so that's one kind of uh an error that that i've made in the past the other is sort of putting people in in wrong roles there may be people that are a bit more suitable for customer facing roles as opposed to internal development type of roles so you just have to be a little bit uh careful and cautious about where you uh you you put people in and what are they what type of people and what their long-term ambitions are when you bring somebody on board um so that that's um that's something that that type of learning actually started a number of years ago so hopefully i've learned from some of the mistakes i've made on on intel's or atmel's game going back 10 years but i think that's that's one that sort of sticks with you for a while i think so you know going back no and i'm in complete agreement i always look at you know it's a even when it with your within a company and you're helping making higher decisions and everything else you always it's a much different seat to sit in when you're fully on your own making the decisions and you have to deal with the rep repercussions right and so you know one of the things that it was at least for me with hiring that it took me a while to figure out was that you always you know as a startup as an entrepreneur as someone that's driven and wants to get things done you just kind of automatically assume that everybody else is that way right that everybody else will work hard they'll stay the late nights they'll do the they'll do whatever it takes to get make things successful and that's not always the case across the board right some people are wired that way and others are saying hey i'm here for nine to five and i'll get the job done but as soon as that clock strikes i'm out some people will say i don't want to be an entrepreneur i just want to do my work keep my head down and so i think to your point that you know making the let's get the people in the right roles making the right decisions is a valid point and a good lesson to learn so that almost dovetails into my second question i always ask and you kind of already answered it but i'll i'll get a different answer or we'll get the next point which is so if you're getting someone that's wanting to get into a startup wanting to get into a smart small business or just getting started what would be the one piece of advice you'd give them or if it's already given in on hiring what would be the next piece of advice you give them no i think you should just do it i mean there are people that i'm sure have especially here in silicon valley have the ambition to start something on your own you're sort of in a very friendly environment it's an environment that's very forgiving if you make a mistake you always have the opportunity to go back and do something else so uh yeah don't don't pass up a chance if you have a good idea that's worth pursuing i think you should take the plunge and uh and i wish everyone the best perfect well yeah that's that's great advice i think that's certainly something people should keep in mind as they're wanting to get going in a startup so as we reach the end so people want to reach out to you they want to connect whether they want to use your product they want to invest in your company they want to partner up or do anything in the like what's the best way to reach out or get connected with you yeah if you want information about the company i think the website's pretty current so flick.com flicq.com and uh just send me a note uh there's an email uh button there right at the bottom so just send me a note and happy to chat i'm also active on linkedin so you can find me on linkedin uh just search for flick and uh just connect with me i'm happy to um happy to chat happy to connect and and uh look forward to connecting with people soon perfect well i appreciate that and we'll direct everybody to go to flick check everything out and get uh learn a little bit more about everything i appreciate you coming on the podcast it's been fun to talk about your journey about how things have gone for you where you're headed and uh wish you all the best of luck on your journey um for those of you that are looking to or would like to tell your journey like to come on the podcast you can certainly go to inventivejourney.com and apply to be a guest on the podcast and for those of you that are needing help with patents or trademarks or any intellectual property feel free to reach out to myself at miller ip law and we're here to help and to make sure that you're taken care of and don't first forget to subscribe to uh catch uh this episode of the podcast as well as many others and you can catch us on whichever platform works for you and make sure to subscribe thank you again for coming on it's been a great time it's been fun to talk about your journey and wish you all the best and your as your journey continues thanks devin stay safe okay thanks for having me English (auto-generated)

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