How To Make An Impact
Devin MillerThe Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
How To Make An Impact
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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well i think first of all you know we have to always see what is the market right because you're trying to solve the problem so you have to make sure that that's a problem and then now you figure out okay do i have a solution can i come up with a solution but more than anything and uh you know i've learned this through experience you have to see you know what do the customers want because who's going to buy this product at the end of the day the customers right and so you have to understand what do they need if you're going to make something that they don't require that doesn't make sense so i would say first first thing is to speak with customers to find out what are their requirements what do they need if we make this what will you do if we make that what do you think [Music] everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive expert i'm your host evan miller the serial entrepreneur that's grown several startups in the seven and eight figure businesses as well as the founder and ceo of miller ip law 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 uh guest on the on the podcast mariam is as close as i'm going to get to getting it right very good but mariam is uh is a scientist she's working on a product that's hopefully going to help to have an impact on the world for the good and to help to um deal with the problems of plastics and today we're going to talk a lot on the as far as areas of expertise with with regards to one how do you make an impact and how do you develop a product how do you convince people your product will make an impact and it's worth investing in but also too it's how do you work with scientists and how do you work with a scientific product and how do you come here you know earn your unofficial master's or phd in a in a field that you may not be familiar with with the get-go but have to have a good enough understanding in order to run things so it'll be a great discussion and uh definitely excited to uh to go through and and chat about it so with that much is introduction welcome on the podcast brian thank you very much devon always nice to meet you and enjoy your sessions and i've heard several of your other podcasts and so it's always a an exciting guest well i'm excited to have you on and we had you on the inventive journey which is a another a fun episode so people can always go check out that podcast on that episode but uh for today for those of you that maybe haven't or those listeners that haven't been uh introduced or having to you know become become familiar with it yet i'm giving maybe just kind of a one to two minute uh quick background on yourself a little bit about what you're doing and what you're working on and why why you become an expert on this area sure uh well i've been in startups pretty much besides working for two non-profits so i'm a total entrepreneur person i enjoy that i love the energy the passion uh trying to find something that you believe in it's a lot of hard work and i decided that like after i tried a few different things that i wanted to be in the renewable space so i've been in the renewable space for just over 10 years now i started out with the solar energy startup and then after that dabbled a bit in wind and hybrid systems and now for the past just over two years have been focused on the plastic pollution problem and so this comes under climate tech which is also still under renewables clean tech climate tech they all kind of under one umbrella and this is our focus right now to see what we can do to solve the plastic pollution problem with plant-based or bio-based products now one and no that was a great introduction definitely uh helpful thank you now one now just kind of diving into the area of expertise and kind of follows right along with that so you know it's it's definitely when you're getting to the plastics you're getting into you know it's certainly a scientific problem and also a product that you're looking to bring out so as you were getting into this originally you know were you an expert already on it was it something you already knew a lot about and it was just kind of natural iteration or something where you had to learn a lot and come up to speed and kind of how do people or you know if they're wanting to get into those type of products how do you how do you go about tackling it yeah well having been in the renewable space i already had a little bit of a know-how as in what's going on where are we at plastic you know is polluting the oceans the land it's impacting us but uh yeah of course i wasn't technical i do not have a scientific background i have worked in semiconductors for seven years but that's completely different and i i had to learn really fast because i built a team and my team of scientists who are on this with me they have you know phd degrees in polymers and biocomposites etc so you know they are the guys who know all the the chemistry behind things and in order for me to understand them and to work with them and for us to work together and see how are we gonna build this company and what are we gonna do to put this uh these products out there in the market uh i had to be technical to an extent and so especially one of the scientists on our team has been extremely helpful in uh educating me and pointing me in uh in directions where i could find links to read up and learn but also you know over time once once you start working with uh with the team and once you start not just that but working with the customers and seeing what are the customer requirements what do they need how do they need it uh you also start collecting information and suddenly you become a let's just say semi expert lack of a better term in the space now one question that would uh kind of come up that i'm sure that because that that i think that feeling and that need is going to be coming up in a lot of different areas in other words let's say you wanted to make you know as you did a scientific product something that was you know going to affect the earth for a positive and you weren't an expert or you weren't a scientist then you're gonna have to come speed same thing if you're wanting to go into software development or have an app or a software application made and you're not a programmer or you know you want to go start a restaurant and you have no idea how to do a restaurant and you know almost every area unless you have a very uh steep background or done this before you're going to have to become an expert in those areas that you're wanting to tackle on or take on as a new project so as you were kind of figuring that out you know how did you go about kind of becoming you know i'd say at least a pseudo expert or enough of an expert that you can understand what's going on you can make sure that it really get being done right and that things are moving along because you know the fear is is that you go and hire whether it's a scientist or the software program or whoever might be a good person and you know get well experienced and then you don't know if they're doing a good job you don't know if you're paying them you know what they should you don't or have that understanding so how did you go about kind of tackling becoming an expert in that area so that you can get comfortable with those that you're working for and hiring and that the project was being done right yeah yeah well first of all being in a startup and being a founder being a ceo whatever have you has all its challenges so you're dealing with that so you're dealing with setting it up you're dealing with uh operations people sales people marketing customers etc but if you do not understand the basics of what it is that you're making it becomes you know even more challenging and then i didn't want to stand in front of customers and not know what i'm talking about and also when we're looking for customers right i have to know what kind of customers are we looking for who's going to use this product and what i did actually interestingly i went to a used bookstore here in california and i went to the science section and they had a whole bunch of chemistry textbooks and i just spent hours reading and then i finally bought three books uh chemistry textbooks different kinds very high level but at the same time it had a lot of chemistry 101 and interestingly these textbooks because they're newer then you know when i went back you know to college and study chemistry physics biology etc uh these textbooks had entire chapters on carbon and on plastic and also environment and plastic pollution and so i said oh this is great and i read and i read and you know it gave me a better understanding but besides that also i joined some organizations so that i could learn more i attended a lot of webinars and you know we were going through this whole covet time in the past uh over a year and a half and so what was there to do but to sit at home and i watched lots of uh webinars uh participated asked questions in fact even you know was a speaker and i felt like networking with people and then i got on linkedin and i connected with like hundreds of people anyone who wrote anything about plastic plastic pollution climate the situation that we're in as well as the kind of products that would uh be an alternative to this situation that we're in to replace petroleum-based plastic i connected with learned more farm found out about their projects and i interviewed a few dozen scientists and yeah we have a few on our team right now but i interviewed dozens we have several people who in fact you know want to join us and uh just yesterday i got another message and a call about it so you know now we are on track to uh better understand what it is that our customers need and the planet needs cool so no so if i were to kind of maybe summarize that just a bit is one you know you went out and it's many avenues you could find information you said hey i'm at least going to get a reasonable or higher level of understanding on the science read some of the papers connect you know do some research on the people that know more than i do on this topic become familiar with them follow them and otherwise gain that knowledge it's really just a matter of you know studying out the speaker putting in the hours and the time and effort to study and you know you may not go get the official phd but you should you get that familiarity that's where you can say hey this you know this makes sense or you know if not then you at least have the foundation for now the scientists can explain it to you and you can get you can understand what they're explaining to you at least on a higher level so hey that definitely makes sense so now shifting gears just a little bit so you know you come up you say okay gonna go and get some of that knowledge gonna figure out you know what the science is gonna read the books read the papers and get a better understanding get connected with those and maybe bring some people on board you know one of the other things that we've talked with a bit was convincing people that you can make an impact or your product will make an impact and why it's worthwhile to invest in that because a lot of times when you get into those impactful products or cert you know products and whatnot it can make an impact it's worthwhile to invest in but one there's either been a lot of failed projects and or they're more expensive than the lesson you know environmentally friendly impact or full product so you know how do you go about convincing people to work on or or invest in your in or your your product as it there to make an impact one thing is interesting we are getting a lot of requests reason being more and more you see in the news people talking about the climate so in a way that in a way uh i suppose we don't even need to do that much marketing of course we we are doing marketing we're very active on social media media we have a huge following on you know all our accounts and all that but uh more than anything uh people are coming to us and they are saying hey so you here saw this post read on the website did a google search because the need is you know so clear right now whether the ipcc you know of the united nations released that report saying we are in a drastic situation we need to do something about the climate or whether you know it was the cop26 event that took place recently people are basically waking up and this has been going on for decades but you know let's just say now i think more so the younger people are waking up and saying hey this has got to stop we have to do something now they make that realization so are they ready just knocking down your door willing to give you money and invest in your product and do whatever they need to or is there still any kind of convincing that needs to go on in other words there's a lot of ways that you can tackle different climate issues some of them it feels like have been you know bait and switch to where people make a lot of promises and never deliver and so it's been kind of a hit or miss kind of an industry so people realize the need and is there any gap that you have to overcome in convincing them that you're feeling that need yeah well we've got different things going on over here one is on one side we have customers and we have letters of intent we have letters of intent from companies from europe to the us to canada and south asia so we have distributors who have signed up all the way from south africa to india etc so on one side we have those uh parties who want to partner with us who want to buy from us and sell for us and on the other side we have the potential investors so we have a lead investor right now and we are waiting for a co-investor to sign on the dotted line and then we should be good to go we're hoping to wrap things up this uh december which is already here and we'd like to do this by you know before 2022 hits so on the investor side of things we have not to be honest have not spoken with a lot of investors but the few that we did connect with they believed in what we're doing uh we spoke with one angel network and you know they were not ready for us and they had some other questions but that's okay that's a different thing and now we are talking to others who totally see uh the value in this and they share our mission the mission the vision you know that we need to do something so basically what we're doing is we are making products and these products are an alternative to petroleum-based plastic these products can be used in injection molding machines 3d printers in the packaging industry in the automotive pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry so we have different products that go in different spaces and right now we are very focused on customers and the fact that we have these large letters of intent uh in the millions and millions of dollars that they require this product from us is extremely exciting so the investors see that they understand that and they have been excited about that too that there is huge potential here oh and i think that that makes sense since in other words you picked a and it one that is a problem that people readily recognize it's one that others are already working to solve and then you're providing you know a good solution that's well explained and you're providing that information to people such that they understand that it can be impactful and how will be impactful and how it works and then it makes it a much easier ability to convince them that that you're you're providing that solution that people need so now one last year one kind of circling back and one of the other things we talked about was a little bit on and you'd hit on it was you know communicating a technical issue to customers and so you know it seems like a lot of times for different businesses and a lot you know depending on the technical issue there's kind of one you know one of three options that you can do and i i have my preference on which option probably makes the most sense but if you're having to explain technical issues to a customer you can have one of your scientists or one of the other people on your team to explain it you can try and pretend like you make it up or otherwise pretend like you understand it and give them very high level answers and then you get stuck as soon as they ask you a question or you can you know come up to speed learn it well enough yourself and be able to explain it but it also takes time and effort to come up to speed so as you were as you've been looking to communicate with customers on the technical issues kind of what approaches you have you taken and what is what would you recommend yeah well i'm a very straightforward person and i don't like to talk about things i don't know anything about i don't like to look like you know oh i know things when i don't and so i'm very clear if i don't know it i say i don't know and if i know it or if i could find out where the information is then i say you know i will check on that and get back to you uh but for the most part yeah i'm happy to have a scientist on the call with us uh you know we have four key scientists on our team and we have like about four or five others who are like ready to jump on a call anytime as consultants as advisors so yeah i could have scientists on the call have scientists on the email thread cc'd and therefore we can address the issue if there's something that i can tackle and many of the customers depending on what their requirements are some of them very basic some of them they start to get a little technical technical because uh for example one of our products are there in pellet form these pellets have to fit in their 3d printers have to fit in their injection molding machines and so they have to make sure that it's not going to mess up their system what are the specifications how is it going to behave what are the mechanical properties etc so for all these things my scientists have created data sheets so we have the data sheets we have the specifications uh one of the scientists on our team just for one of the products gave me like a 50 page report it had images in it it had technical data in it every single thing you know that she worked on and what she did and how she did and it was just fantastic you know just that for me was a a awakening experience to learn so yeah i mean even when i was in the semiconductor industry when i first started out i used to spend a lot of time in the lab with the scientists with the engineers and working with them seeing what they're doing how they're doing it seeing how things are processed then i used to learn and when i attended meetings as a salesperson always it would be myself and then like a master's degree level or phd level uh engineer in the meeting to answer any technical questions but slowly over time as i understood things better most often i did not need the engineer with me at those meetings when i met with ceos of startups and ceos ctos mostly no and if i were to kind of parse x i think there's a lot of good advice in there a lot of good or guidance is one is you should put in the work to understand it as best as you can as reasonably as you can from the get-go in other words you should you know as the owner of the business or the person that's running it or you know the founder one you need to be able to understand so you make sure you're running it well but also too so you can talk intelligently with other people now you're not going to be an expert you're not going to become an expert on all their to the same level maybe as all the scientists and all the people you've hired that's why you're hiring them but you can one is you can work with them ask them questions understand it come to speed two if you get asked a question that you don't know when you're in a meeting say hey i don't know but we have these people that i'm sure will know let me circle back with you and get you that answer but three is also i think is uh come prepared with data sheets with information so that they have a lot to take away so even if you don't have all the answers which you get enough meetings you'll get a bill for a lot of the answers but every so often you'll get caught off guard or you'll have something that you haven't thought of or that don't have the answer right off hand then you can say but here's all the other information here's some things to get started to review over as we get that as we get that additional information for you and it gives people a lot higher degree of confidence so i think that there's a lot of great takeaways in there well as we start to wrap up the episode there's a lot more things i'm sure we can hit on but as we start to wrap up you know we've talked a lot about you know everything from you know how to make an impact how do you identify what you're going to make an impact with how to work with scientific products how to work with scientists how to become a you know a pseudo phd or to earn your you know unofficial phd how to you know convince people that your product will raise a solution we've also talked about you know how you're going to present it to people and ask answer customer questions or potential investor questions with all that there's a lot of things that people could start on a lot of things that they could get going on today especially if they wanted to get working on an impactful or scientific product now with all of that you know can't get going on everything today can't get started on everything all at once so if you're to say you know one thing that if people that are interested or wanting to get going in a product you know in this field what would be that one thing that they should take away or one thing they should get started with okay well i think first of all you know we have to always see what is the market right because you're trying to solve the problem so you have to make sure that that's a problem and then now you figure out okay do i have a solution can i come up with a solution but more than anything and you know i've learned this through experience you have to see you know what do the customers want because who's going to buy this product at the end of the day the customers right and so you have to understand what do they need if you're going to make something that they don't require that doesn't make sense so i would say first first thing is to speak with customers to find out what are their requirements what do they need if we make this what will you do if we make that what do you think and in our particular case we've made a lot of prototypes and in fact now we have customer orders and several pounds of this and several pounds uh you know of that and uh units of this and that for them so that they can test these so that they can evaluate them and then we get the big orders so that's that's the way we tackled it but it is uh depending on the product there can sometimes be a lot of back and forth uh between us and the customers so that's why it was very important to find out what they want so that we can then uh adjust ourselves and adapt accordingly no i think that definitely uh makes a lot of sense i think that that's you know almost a universal uh good takeaway is especially especially in this industry is go talk with the customer see if you're actually solving the problem that they want to have solved with they're willing to pay for that will make an impact that you'll actually be able to make progress and too often you say hey i have a great solution i just want to make a go solve this problem and i think i'm going to do it without ever talking with the customers and then you kind of come to find out you make a disconnect your people aren't going to invest in it they're not going to pay for it and even while you think it's a great solution it's never going to see the light of day so i think that starting at that point is a definitely a great takeaway well if people want to reach out they want to be a customer they want to be a client they want to be an employee they want to be an investor they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out to you contact you find out more yeah definitely we have a website sonalibioplastics.com and it's uh you can send an email through there you can find us on linkedin we are on facebook we are on twitter uh you can find me i am very approachable i always like to network always open to new connections and seeing how we can help each other and even if you know a can't help b well b no c knows d and that that's how networking works uh so i'm on linkedin also uh so i can be approached that way we are definitely going to be hiring in fact we need to start talking about what we're going to do because based on our financial plan we need close to 200 people uh to get this uh manufacturing off the ground and so i think we're gonna start talking about that uh pretty soon let's let christmas get over let's get into 2022 and after we all have a nice little uh vacation uh then we will get to that but always approachable uh any time well awesome well i definitely encourage uh people to connect any or all of the above or any or all the above ways and uh certainly worthwhile to make those connections and to network and to utilize the expertise so well thank you again uh miriam for coming on the podcast it's been a fun it's been a pleasure and uh thank you for the listeners and just a quick reminder to make sure to subscribe make sure to share make sure that you leave us a review because we want to make sure everybody else learns from all the experts as well and then has access to this expertise um also if you ever need help with our expertise which is patents trademarks and copyrights feel free to go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with us to chat and we're always here to help thank you again maryam for coming on the podcast and wish the next league of your journey even better than the last thank you very much devon appreciate your support and we'll keep looking forward to your podcasts and listening to all your interesting guests thank you [Music]