The Inventive Journey
Podcast for Entrepreneurs
Establish boundaries around your time, And make sure you schedule your self-care time first. We can fill our calendars up with work. Not a problem, it's easily done. But when we try to squeeze in self-care its harder to find time. You put that on your calendar first and don't move it. Don't worry, the work is going to find the open slots, it won't be a problem. Schedule your self-care first and color code it too. This is what I do with my calendar, I use my favorite color to demonstrate self-care and things that are beneficial to me.
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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the the most important thing i think is to is to figure out i mean a plan i think a plan is is super important you know develop a plan uh and a strategy that you know that you so you can really understand your product your service where it fits in the market uh you know you do some business modeling and some financial modeling you figure out where your breakeven point is and um and then do some market and some development and marketing strategy and then and then in general just really stick with it and be consistent [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 businesses um to seven eight-figure companies as well as the founder and ceo of miller ip law where we help startups and small businesses with patents and trademarks and today we have another great guest on the podcast andrew lees and uh andrew uh he uh he grew up when he was young and always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur i think he mentioned that he had a when we talked before had an engineer grandpa showed him that what it was to be an inventor he didn't necessarily know that he wanted to be an entrepreneur at that time but knew that it was cool to being an entrepreneur an inventor and had some of that guidance in his life went into aerospace in college and uh went into that did business in a bit found quickly that he didn't love big business and so i figured then he decided to figure out a different path and had lots of ideas everything i think you mentioned from a rapid beer cooler to a quick release for a surfboard and i'm sure you'll get into some of your great ideas but then settled on what you guys are at today with grass racks and kind of what you're doing so but that much is an intro and i'm sure i skipped over all the best parts but uh welcome on to the podcast andrew thanks devon yeah i really appreciate it it's great to be here so i gave kind of a quick and brief intro over a much longer journey but let's dive into it a little bit so maybe uh share kind of uh where your journey started and let's hear have a good conversation yeah definitely um yeah i mean you hit on some great points um some of the highlights and uh yeah i started my entrepreneurial journey as a kid um i like you talked about i had i always had an inventive spirit always um i loved taking things apart uh putting them back together figuring out how they worked so um i had that i had i was really kind of mechanically inclined i love to to build things and and you know figure out how they work and how i could maybe improve upon them you know how i could i was always always looking at something and thinking that's cool but how can we make it cooler you know how can we make it better and um more functional so um i always had that i had a bunch of ideas as a kid uh like um like i had an invention that helped you and a lot of them had to do with you know the my daily life like what um what i was struggling with like cleaning the kitchen table after dinner i had a little little thing that would help like just sort of sweep crumbs into wherever you know it really just moved them around it really didn't but it wasn't a little kid you like i created the world's best invention ever it's going to be life-changing yeah yeah exactly and i didn't figure it out but i definitely wanted to to make something that helped me make my bed i think that's every that's got to be every kid's dream at some point is to you know to invent something that will help them just make their bed so i would say that's as much as an adult as a ch as a kid yeah their adults have just the harder time i was i was in college i don't think my roommates half the time ever made their bed so it's a it would be a great invention if you come up with the come up with that yeah yeah that's true definitely have to consult with kids on that one because they really know the struggle just just as much as everybody else for sure um yeah so i started with that started that having that um mechanical you know inclination and but i also at the same time i also knew i also had an idea that i wanted to be an entrepreneur i just didn't understood what i just didn't understand what that meant at the time um and i didn't i just you know assumed like entrepreneurship was you know you were inventing things you were inventing a product or you know something like a widget you know or a toy or you know something that that people could use but i didn't really understand that um entrepreneurship is more than that there's a lot more there's a lot more to it there's a lot more to business and there's a lot more opportunities than just you know coming up with a physical product um but but i mean i i always i always had i oh that was always where i wanted to i think carve out my place in entrepreneurship is with product development so um yeah so i uh you know wanted to always wanted to sell something too i wanted to that was part of it i think three the three things for me that really finally all clicked maybe after college really is that i liked physical products and figuring out how they worked and how i could improve upon them so that was the mechanical part and i always wanted to make money i always wanted to um to be financially independent and so so that was a big part for me and plus and uh and then the third thing was really that i i always thought it was would be so cool to have something out there in the world like a physical tangible product that people could use and you know like it helped them in some way in their everyday life and you know and just a complete stranger like having complete strangers buy your product and like it is just was the coolest thing to me and it still is um it's still super interesting that's kind of where you got today but i want to jump back just one question kind of come up as you talked about your journey so yeah had kind of that inclination you went into aerospace was that because was that kind of because you'd like to take things apart and you thought it was cool or what what took you to aerospace because it seems like you know you could have gone anywhere from engineering you know electrical engineering mechanical engineering software you could have gone physics and so what was it what was it about aerospace and then you know then i have one follow-up question well let me answer that one first yeah yeah definitely so um aerospace i i i mean so i think i got it this is going to sound super cheesy but i love top gun as as a cat i mean i still that's my favorite movie of all time and then we're supposed to be very sick yeah i'm so mad that they can't just release it on demand just like you know just like other people you know do now you know where i just want to stream it in my in my home even if there's no kovid like i don't need to go to the theaters to watch top gun i'm you know so all right i wouldn't have too much salt in that wound but so you love that yeah so i love top gun and i really i wanted to be involved so this is another thing as a kid um i wanted to be involved some i thought maybe i wanted to be involved with airplanes or spacecraft at some point in my life but i didn't know exactly how you know and i sort of put that on the back burner until i got to college and realized oh hey there's um i went to lehigh university for mechanical engineering and they offered a the year that i graduated um they started off or my year was the first year that they offered a minor in aerospace engineering so my roommate at the time was also he was also a mechanical engineer and we both decided that we would put ourselves through with aerospace minor not realizing that that was just going to make our junior and senior year like a living hell where other people were sort of ramping down we were just you know we were just going up we other people have even in engineering have plenty of time and we we didn't at all um so yeah it was it was like you know that that love for um for stuff like top gun and having an interest in space and um and you know space exploration and and just thinking that spacecraft in general are so freaking cool which i still do i just wanted to be involved and i knew that i didn't necessarily want to be a pilot you know i figured like flying fighter jets or something meant military um like you know navy or air force or something really wasn't interested in that um respect the heck out of people who are but so i figured hey next best thing might be to just design them work you know and work on them so so that's kind of where that that came in and i mean i still have a love for that kind of thing um and at some point maybe i'll in my life maybe i'll dig back into it in some way but um i mean it's just it's just really cool now now we're seeing uh companies like spacex elon musk doing some just insane things in that field and at one point that's kind of what i thought i wanted to do so but then as you as we talked about you so then you regret that was kind of led you up to going into aerospace went into that and you graduated went and worked for a big business and you it sounds like kind of quickly found out you didn't love working for big business or that wasn't where you saw the life's journey taking you exactly yeah i worked right out of college i worked for a company that designed and built power plants um there were about 20 000 people in the company when i started uh when i left there they merged with another another business and there were about 40 000 uh people in the company at that point but either way it was i worked in princeton new jersey um that office had 900 that office alone had 900 people in it and it was just like it was too weird to me to ride the elevator every day and almost every day for over a year i didn't i very rarely knew the people in the elevator with me you know there were so many people at the company and i'm sure there's there's some people listening like 900 not even a lot there's you know 10 000 in my office or something well not anymore but um you know it just i just didn't love how impersonal it was and you could get lost uh and i didn't want to get lost i think some people maybe they do want to get lost maybe they do kind of want to just you know fade in behind the water cooler and just not be noticed and just sort of ride it out until retirement but that was that was definitely not me and um the work i did i was doing at that time i was doing a pipe stress analysis you know for that business to analyze piping systems and power plants make sure figure out where and when they were going to fail and then design support structures for them and it just it was it's something i knew that i didn't want to do forever that wasn't going to be your life's passion right yeah yeah exactly so i knew i had to get out and do something different so you you have that realization i've got to get out this is not going to be my life's passion it's not where i want to be for the rest of my career and so did you did you quit that day and started inventing or did you do the things on the side and you built up a side hustle that you jumped over to or how did you make that transition once you kind of realized this isn't going to be the passion that i want to focus on for the rest of my career yeah well i had i had always been um even like through the end of college and and after i had consistently been working on a couple other projects so um i even thought right after college i had a couple months off before i started working for this company and and i thought i had a product that i was designing and i was going back and forth to lehigh actually because they had a prototyping machine a real old 3d printer that that i was that they let me use and so i was using that to make prototypes i'm like man if i get this thing figured out and um and this takes off you know in a couple months i don't i don't even have to go work for this company at all so i that was you know i didn't know what i didn't know and i didn't realize that you know that that even if i had figured figured out my product a hundred percent there was so much more so much more to it i was so a little bit more the business than just the pro not that the product is not all important but you have buildings getting or manufacturing marketing sales all of the above and so yeah i think that that's it's a great first step but it's far from the last step right exactly yep i i was a little little naive at the time and uh but i had so yeah to answer your question i had been working on products and you know while i was working there so i would uh go back from work and i would um i actually i got a um a cad license a solidworks cad license through my one of my professors at lehigh got a student version and i just paid him a couple hundred bucks for that or whatever it was it was really cheap and then i just was working on cad all you know all night after i got back from work so i was at least that product never never went anywhere but i was at least kind of honing my cad skills and learning about that which would take me into the next phase where i started actually doing product development for for another company okay so now you so you switched you went from the big company you wouldn't did product development for the other companies so now where does that lead you to where you're at today with the i think it was you know you have your your own company or an entrepreneur and you run that how did you make that transition or you know how did that all play out yeah so i started you know i realized that product development was really where i wanted to be i wanted to work for a small business um i i and then i at the same time i kind of knew that eventually i wanted to start my own business of some kind but i you know i wanted to at least get out of of uh doing pipe stress analysis in new jersey so um so i i jumped ship there and i started working for a product development company outside of philadelphia um and and not too long after i started that i really wanted to develop my own product you know i i mean well i really wanted to like pick something you know and really figure out something that had good uh good marketability and and really dive into it and learn not just about the product development part of it but actually i wanted to figure out how to market and sell that product and like you know learn everything in the whole process so maybe not even a year into that product development consulting that i was doing for that for the small company in philadelphia is when i started grassrox i i just just kind of dawned on me i was still working on these other projects that kind of i could tell weren't going to go anywhere for me and i had all these boards surfboards snowboards um bikes skateboards that were hanging around my apartment kind of strewn all over the place and i'm like man i got to get them up on the wall um and so i checked and the the options out there were just really junky metal plastic foam covered racks that you know you you wouldn't even be that excited to put them in your garage let alone in like a living space so i thought all right well i mean i design products for people for a living i should be able to do this yeah yeah yeah um yeah so i started designing and actually the first thing i did which is funny since i did cad work and product development first thing i did was i i did i did create a real simple design but then before making like a real proper prototype i got a jigsaw on a piece of wood and i just cut out a shape and hung it you know slapped it on the wall and it it hung a surfboard and like that was it so then i knew okay you know this is something and i had i had developed a um imagine which because one of the things i want to do is not just create a nice functional rack i also wanted to re-imagine the way that things could be hung up on the wall especially racks and shelving so i i designed this uh mounting bar system which it's kind of like when you're hanging cabinetry there's like a little metal z-shaped bar that goes behind the cabinet and then a mating piece that goes on the cabinet and the cabinet just hooks on to that piece so it's it's like it came out of the that you know i knew that there had to be some easier way to hang stuff and so i just um i started working on and developed that mounting bar system so instead of trying to hang one cradle and then go up and hang the other one and and like try and level it and eye it up and get it all all straight you just hang this it's really easy to hang this mounting bar and once you get the mounts and it's really light you put the mounting bar up then you hook on the cradles onto that and it's they can be moved around it's kind of modular so you can make sure that you know you're not going to bump the cradles into into trucks or into bindings or stuff like that so um so that's that was the real like development part of it part of that project so now you do that and you finally say okay i've gone through this journey i got my product i figured it out it looks cool and it does i've you know not don't own one yet but i've certainly gone to the website looked at it and they look really cool i can see you know hey this is much more of a you know almost an artistic or centerpiece in a sense that hey this would be cool it looks nice you can put it in whether it's everything from a garage to a bedroom to a living room to an office or whatever and you know it certainly makes it look nice you come up with this you you create it then how was you know how is it now shifting into doing building a business around it did you quit your job you got that did this full-time did you start it or continue it as a side hustle start to build it and transition to making it to was profitable enough or how did you do that yeah great question so i started as a side hustle um i was 100 percent on the side of what i was doing have i still had my nine to five and i started i started grassrox i actually i got a strategic business partner in well i thought it was strategic at the time to be honest it was it was more just financial less strategic um therefore they're strategic yeah yeah that's that's still part of the strategy right um so yeah i got a business partner he actually owned the business owned the building that the product development company was in so there were a few different small companies in this building um his was the main company and so you know i was talking to him one day and told him about the idea and he said that's cool you know that that might be something that we could do so um so we started that uh together and then shortly after i got my now business partner uh evan involved with it and it's so now it's just evan and i um he was more on the marketing side and i was more on the engineering side so it was kind of a good fit um and and we we've just been kind of we started grinding away at it we had some uh with some space that we could work out of and we were getting we were just kind of trying to bootstrap the whole thing really and uh you know we had some money from this first partner that we could use which which definitely helped especially in the beginning and he also uh gave us some space we could work out of so that was that was also really helpful and then yeah we just started um you know finding manufacturers figuring out who could make the product for us and and we at that time we were doing kind of a combination of getting a somebody who had a cnc router to cut the parts you know because we wanted really really you know beautiful repeatable product um and so we sourced that and then we we would evan and i would do all the sanding and the finishing and all that stuff and then packing up all the product and shipping them out but what we realized is that our sales were kind of flatlining because we didn't have enough to we were spending all this time dealing with the product we didn't have enough time to run the business and do business development so it was just kind of really wearing us thin so we started figuring out how we could how we could um get partners strategic partners in manufacturing who could help us to help us with the manufacturing to give us more time to do business development so yeah we've uh since since then we've been doing that and um you know working on this is it's not we have other things we each have other things going on but we're just building this you know continuing to grow it is kind of as fast as we can and then at some point we might make it full time but honestly i think it'll end up just always being a part-time thing like i think we'll always have something else going on no matter how big it gets so and it's just kind of fun with a product you can kind of the more you can automate in the process the more you can free up your own time to either do business development and grow the company faster or do anything else you know work on another business go play golf go surf whatever it is you know so you gotta use all the errors you're hanging up you can't just let er keep them there for decoration right exactly yeah yeah and we haven't had too much time to to use those boards recently we've been working so hard at it so it's it's time to free up our time a little bit and go have fun well that's awesome so that's a fun journey so as we start to get towards the end of the podcast i always have two questions and so maybe we'll jump to those now so the first question is within within your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made um that is a great question um i think the worst business decision i ever made was well it turned out okay so i'll say that um but the worst decision i ever made really was when i got my first when i started working with my first business partner with grassrocks you know i had mentioned that i was kind of joking that it was a strategic partnership but it really wasn't i mean um he had money that was cool but we didn't have a plan i was kind of i really wanted to put something together to to actually consult with somebody to help us put together a business plan or some kind of a strategy you know so that we could really we could really learn more about our competition learn more about where our product fit in the market and then figure out what our marketing and sales plan was going to be and how much money we were going to need to run the business over a several year period at least until it really started taking off on its own um and he just didn't want to do that and i'm like okay i you're you know you're the guy i kind of need you right now so i'll cut you know i i want to press this but i can only press so you know so much um and then and so what what happened was he definitely helped us it turned out okay because he helped us get through the beginning and give us enough capital to really kind of kind of get things going but really when we uh we parted ways with him just because we weren't seeing eye to eye he was getting frustrated that things weren't happening fast enough and we were getting frustrated that he wasn't he wasn't really he wasn't helping with business um and he wasn't in investing any more into it even though we were still we still desperately needed startup capital to get going um so luckily we just sort of we were hitting the runway trying to take off for a while and luckily right when that when we split ways we we luckily were able to kind of take off and be self-sufficient um but it just we got lucky with timing with that so i think that the mistake was not putting a really solid plan together from the beginning and and not really um you know you don't always you don't always get the perfect business partner but uh if you can find somebody who not only if you need money uh you usually need more than money right so like some some help some guidance um if you can find somebody who has not just money but they have experience and they have experience with the kind of business that you're trying to run like this guy is great at business to business type companies but b2c business a consumer just didn't know what he was doing and if he ever listens to this i'm not this is like not a we're friends we're friends still we're all you know we're all cool we're all friends so it's all good um so you know i'm not trying to knock him but he just really didn't know anything about our product at all he didn't know anything about our niche and he and he really even more importantly he really didn't know anything about how business to consumer companies are run and really how you how you do that because it's a whole different thing business consumer versus business to business that marketing is much different so there's things you can do b2b that you just can't do as easily b2c so i would say that was my biggest mistake and and my advice to people would be to to make sure that you're partnering with somebody who can who can not just help you with money but also who can you know really at least be a mentor at least give you some guidance and help accelerate your process yeah and i like that because i think that when you go to you know money is always important to business but the frustration always comes is after you get the money you still need help with other things you still need you know someone to pull on and investors oftentimes aren't going to say hey i'm not going to come in and run your business for you i'm going to invest in you but whether it's hey i can provide mentorship guidance i can open the doors to you know customers or clients or people or make connections or contacts all of those are going to be the things that when you talk almost about a strategic investor it's got to be hey in addition to just the money what else you know what is how is this going to be mutually beneficial such that it will help the business otherwise when the money runs out or when you know when the business starts to take off that be it can create a bit of i think tension in the relationship yeah yeah exactly and if you don't know how much money is required to get a business started and you're just sort of um yeah on the one what's that yeah you're just yeah you're just guessing and then and you know and money can run out faster than you think and businesses can take longer i mean i would always assume that that it's going to take a business is going to take longer than you think to get it off the ground so if you think if you're planning for like a year plan for longer uh you know i mean playing for at least 18 months 24 months i mean things happen along the way and and if you have partners who understand the process if you have um you know if you have investors who understand like hey yeah this is this is how it goes we're not going to get frustrated until you hit like the five-year mark and you're really still slump you know you really still haven't broken even or we're not seeing any signs of progressing so yeah just work with people who understand it no i i think that that's that's a great mistake to make and one that often happens but one it's a good one to learn from so okay so as we now jump to the the second uh second question i always ask you so now if you're talking to someone that's just getting into startups just getting into small businesses what would be the one piece of advice you'd give them oh man there's there's so much but the the most important thing i think is to [Music] is to figure out i mean a plan i think a plan is is super important you know develop a plan and a strategy that you know that you so you can really understand your product your service where it fits in the market uh you know you do some business modeling and some financial modeling you figure out where your breakeven point is and and then do some market and some development and marketing strategy and then and then in general just really stick with it and be consistent you know once once you develop that plan and you figure out what the mechanisms are to grow your business be be kind of be relentless be consistent with it you know if you if you say if you realize all right content generation i need to i need to be on youtube i need to it's going to be most cost effective for me to generate to create youtube videos get them out there you know create helpful content that will then attract people back to my business and that will help me generate sales cool you know do that as much as you can if it's once a month great once a week you know whatever it is but but be consistent with that and and uh and keep going for sure i think that's some i have some great advice to everybody that's looking to get their business or their side hustle going so well as we wrap up if people want to reach out they want to buy your uh gra or grass racks they want to learn more about the product they want to otherwise learn more about you or otherwise make connections anything or all of the above what's the best way to connect with you uh so you can check out our products at grassrocks.com and then if you're interested in taking a look what i with what i'm doing uh on the product development side my website is stoke ventures.com or i also have stokestrategies.com that's more of like the strategy part of my business awesome well i definitely encourage people to reach out buy your product if they have a surfboard or they have a snowboard or any any other board that would work well with it and also check out all of your product development and strategy and whatnot services that you offer so well thank you andrew for coming on the podcast it's been fun to hear a bit about your journey how you've gone from aerospace now to your own thing and i think i'm excited to see how things continue to go for you for those of you that are looking to have your own journey to tell and love to be a guest on the podcast feel free to reach out to us at inventivejourneyguest.com and love to have you on if you're a listener make sure to click subscribe so you get notifications on all the new episodes as they go out and lastly if you ever need any help with pads or trademarks feel free to reach out to us at miller ip law always help are always here to help start us in small businesses thank you again andrew it's been a pleasure and thanks devin and wish you the next lay of your journey even better than the last thanks you too man yeah it's been great to be on the show and uh let's definitely stay in touch and um you know love to see what you come up with over the next few years awesome we'll do you English (auto-generated) All Recently uploaded 20