Make Sure You Love What You Do
Devin MillerThe Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
Make Sure You Love What You Do
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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make sure you love it even when you hate it um you know and i think the the thing that i often say about company i think it's pretty much the hardest thing that any person can do right uh i mean you said you know you don't even know if one in a million people has an easy time of it you know i think you're completely right right every single decision is so difficult right and yeah and it's going to be incredibly difficult and i think that the people that i see that aren't successful are people that just think that you know it's going to be an easy path to be a millionaire right it is not that there are much easier paths to be a millionaire right if you've got some patience right um it's you know if you want something that is going to let you make a mark on the world right and something that is going to respond and give you back what you put into it right that's that's what a startup is right but it is it is brutal and and you know make no mistake you know however hard you is however hard you think it is it's going to be [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devin miller the serial entrepreneur that's grown several startups into seven and eight figure businesses as well as the founder and ceo of miller ip law where he helped start up some small businesses with their patents and trademarks if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com and grab some time with us to chat now today we have another great guest on the podcast slater victor off and is a quick introduction to slater so he grew up in in la at a and i went to school at a program at a smaller program and for high school i think he was only 42 kids in his graduating class uh was on the academic team and i would in his words you know was the only person that i'm ever aware of that had issues with failing classes while on teas would be able to make the standard to be on the teams so that's a fun fun path and then had the view that you can be learning or you can be going to class we can't do both until he um ran into someone else that gave him a bit of a different direction or different perspective uh found that he loved school and found a school that he loved that kind of lined up with allowing him to do both learning and being in class and doing those about both times um he went through all of his or all of his applications from any other colleges got rejected by that school got wait listed took a gap year came back and went to school there started uh doing a software business while in school um raising seed round for the business dropped out and been pursuing the startup ever since so with that much his introduction and hopefully mostly accurate welcome on the podcast slater no thank you so much for having me that was uh yeah that was that was absolutely perfect that was uh a lot from memory all right well with that much i condensed a much longer journey into the 30-second version but let's unpack it a bit so tell us a little bit about growing up in la going to high school and where your journey started from there yeah absolutely so you know like you said i think one of the things that was strange is that even though i was going to public school the whole time i was in this very small sort of magnet program you know my high school class did have 42 students in it one of the other things that's kind of funny is uh my school was all the way across the city you know and this is something that i think uh certainly folks on the east coast don't quite understand is just the the scale of sprawl in la right so i was probably 25 miles from where i lived to where my school was uh and i had to figure out how to basically get from point a to point b because the school buses didn't come anywhere near my house uh and so actually sort of all through high school i was waking up at 4 30 in the morning uh getting on i was uh you know three buses and you know like a bike ride uh to get you know all the way to school um so you know it was it was like very interesting i think high school was a it was a great time you know i think i made some really really excellent friends you know there was always that that you know one one teacher that made uh made everything uh fun and worthwhile you know now one question that i'll have to hit on just because i you know he doesn't come up very much as you're you're on a whole but your hobby or you know whatever you want to call it and the things you did after school or uh for free time was academic team yeah you're having the issue of qualifying to be on the academic teams due to your academic standing so how did that work out yeah you know so i think it was really interesting it was sort of like what you said right where i felt like i could either learn or go to school so the teams i was on uh just you know in case in case folks are familiar with them i was on science bowl which is you know a jeopardy style competition i was on ocean's bowl which is an ocean sciences centric competition science olympiad which is you know test taking and sort of building physical projects i did a whole bunch of you know other math and science competitions you know as a finalist and you know by olympiad you know the list goes on and on and on um and the thing that was you know very strange for me you know i think my if my college counselor just thought i was very stubborn and i think that's that's probably a lot of it frankly it's just that i really knew what i cared about and what i wanted to be learning um and one thing that was really tough for me is that in in my school system even though it was great you know i think i got to be in touch with you know really really excellent teachers but i was only allowed uh in my whole four years of high school i was only given two electives right uh and that's actually you know very standard for l.a and i think that's that's kind of a tragedy right and that's a lot of what led to this really tough situation and you know frankly you know i had a couple of teachers that just by bad luck uh happened to be bullies right and that that kind of you know set set the relationship up to be difficult in the early days no that makes sense and i think that i don't know that i quite take it to the extreme that you might have but there is sometimes a difference between learning in in reality versus what you're doing in classrooms and you know that's why i would you know so i went i probably went to the opposite end so i got four degrees and i went to way too much schooling but you know even when i did like for example the nba i would always joke with my wife about half of it was fluffy and half of it was worthwhile and that's probably about right for most of my schooling is about half of that i found like okay i can see where this is applicable where this was grounded reality and the other half went to saying well this is classic feels like it's filler i think that's exactly right and i think my my real problem is just that you know my my level of tolerance for busy work was pretty much zero and that's exactly right you know if maybe half of it was busy work and half was really interesting i would do half and that's an f right and a half is still an f right yeah exactly so it was you know it was really interesting because you know all my test scores you know were very very high but it would usually be like you know i was missing all of the homework which was you know 30 percent of the grade just you know with all the stuff i was doing i didn't really have time to do it frankly uh i actually did i did a whole course uh i did ap bio without the textbook uh because it was too heavy and i didn't want to keep bringing it back and forth fair enough so yeah that will keep on with your story so i assume that regardless of the like you finally did graduate you were looking to go to colleges and you're trying to figure out basically the same issue of you can learn you can go to class we can't be bold now tell us a little bit about how you found the college that you decided that met that in the middle somewhere or how you kind of how your journey went there yeah no it was kind of it was i'd say it was like a by accident you know as all great stories uh are you know i i cause this is not what i assumed was going to happen in school you know everyone knows the trope of the kid that you know never goes to class and then does well on the tests so actually what i was looking for in school was a school where that was okay and appropriate right so it's like hey i like that's fine you know but i've already decided you know i'm gonna like you know take as many classes as i can never show up take all the tests right and i'll get a degree that way or something like that um and a lot of schools actually are totally fine with that right you know a lot of universities you know outside of you know sort of your first year where you do have to show up to class or are fine with you operating like that uh and you know when i kind of asked that question you know at you know columbia or you know mit or a lot of those schools they're like oh yeah you know we you know tons of kids do that um when i showed up at olin though it was totally different right i asked like oh you know do they really care if i show up to class or do homework and the kids would look at me with this with this weird face like why wouldn't you want to go to class i was like what do you mean why wouldn't i want to go to class and it was so one of the things that was really cool about ola is they did a two-phase uh application so actually i applied not because i thought it was interesting uh at all um i applied because i had a free ride a full ride scholarship um you know they were one of those like weird only engineering like tiny schools just started up it was experimental so i'm like this is cool this is kind of interesting but i didn't take it that seriously when i applied um but then i should but then if you pass on the academic merits then they bring you to candidates weekend where something like three times the number of students they'll eventually uh like accept come to the school for a weekend to meet students and hang out with people and get a sense of what the place is like and one of the coolest things they do is they give you this design challenge that is basically just um it's it's a completely impossible design challenge so for us what what they had you do was uh there were two teams you were separated on two different floors you couldn't talk to each other and you had to make two different like articulating devices that would like accept water and pass water to the other one and you know like this crazy kind of device and you had to make the whole thing out of you know like a brick of styrofoam and you know 10 inches of duct tape something like that it was completely impossible no one even kind of succeeded but it was so much fun to be working with someone else on sort of this impossibly difficult problem and i think it really turned me on to that reality of you can learn so much by trying to do something even if you don't ultimately succeed in executing it and uh it really really changed changed my mind about education no and i think that there there's a lot of merit to it i mean now i'm going to go back and infuse so i'm in agreement with a lot of it now i still think your college education if nothing else i don't think it should just be nothing else having that degree can oftentimes open up there are ways that you can go about getting a job that a lot of times based on how society is set up you need the degree in order to land the job oftentimes not always and i think there's always exceptions the rule but i think that a lot of times education should be different it should be geared more towards getting experience actually getting real world application i think there should be times where you can go out and actually do or work in the area or the field that you want to work in as part of the education you should have people that are out in the field so i think there's a lot of things that could be different um but you know we're while we'd like it to be different i don't know that we're we mean you are going to be able to make enough of that change to have that impact at least not yet that's true but you know i think one one thing that i think is interesting is you know people look at me you know dropping out from school and they're like oh you see you know college education is not useful i say no no you totally don't understand why i dropped out i actually think it's much more the reverse it's just that i happened to get so much value out of this school in three years right that it was enough for me to go and take the next step right and that that's amazing like to me that's you know the best possible commendation i can give to the schools like they gave me everything i needed in three years um most schools can't even give you everything you needed for right uh so i think you know it's it's a it's a big merit of that style of education is it just like worked really well for me no and i think that's great now one thing i have to just jump back with a little bit in time is so you found this school it was a different experience you know it sounded like it would match up much more with what you were looking for and kind of or meet your learning style so to speak and you get and so you pull all your college applications and say okay i don't want to go to any school this is a school for me and then you get rejected and then wait listed and then you had to wait for a year so is that a bit of a nervous seat that okay i finally found the school that works for me and they don't want me oh it was it was awful honestly it was really really tough and you know i i understand in hindsight you know exactly what happened you know and i kind of uh it's funny actually in the interview i was in i i didn't come across well because i really you know i was it was relatively early in the weekend and i was still in that mentality of you know i'm not going to show up to class right i'm just going to show up at the test and that's how i'm going to do this school i didn't get it yet um it was actually funny one of the interviewers that initially rejected me i ended up tutoring his daughter some years later um so you know things things really do do change over time um but one thing that was i mean frankly at the time it just felt awful right you know i i wasn't going to anywhere all of my friends were you know going off to school and i thought that was it you know i was looking at schools with late decisions i was applying to places overseas i'm like oh you know like that's that's over you know i'm gonna kind of give up and then my uh actually it was my stepmother she you know really pushed me she's like you know you really like this place this place for you just just give it another whack you know just just kind of like talk to admissions just ask them you know like beg them see if there's anything that they can do um and i did you know eventually i'm like you know what whatever like uh nothing could possibly go wrong right and things could only go well and eventually said okay yeah we'll we'll let you on the wait list still didn't feel good because i think it's something certainly in the u.s right taking a gap year is not like a positive thing it's like oh you had to take a gap year and i i certainly felt awful at the time i would say in hindsight it was probably one of the best things that i ever did right it was really really important for a lot of for a lot of reasons right and i think that where i am now a lot of people sort of look at me they're like wow you know i wish that i could have a year just to you know like have off and actually have that time because you really don't have opportunities to do that throughout life uh and you know i i lived in nepal for three months you know i did research at ucla and i did you know tutoring in the area and i you know went back i studied martial arts in china for a couple months so you know i did i made use of the time now and i'll give my biased opinion which is probably the reason i think that people have a i think gap years can be good and i think they can be terrible in the sense that if you use a time wisely that it's basically i think what a lot of people figure is is hey this is a year that you go play you don't make any money you live off your parents and it's just a way that you can continue to play rather than grow up which is if it's in that camp then i tend to say okay gap years probably aren't the most beneficial thing if on the other hand you say no you know i'll figure out a way to work or go get some work experience or figure out hey i'm not ready to you know do something but i'm gonna still be productive i'll still you know i'm not going to live off my parents or you know kind of live in you know the typical basement type of thing then i think it's worthwhile and it can be very beneficial and give a lot of good experiences so i think that's where people usually think of the former if you're doing the latter then i think it's a lot more dependable so now i'll go ahead yeah no no i was just gonna say i think it's super super fair and that's why i use the word opportunity right is because like the idea for me that i think you're right i think people do do this but like sitting in a basement for a year like i would go nuts right like that that sounds like the worst thing that i could possibly possibly do with that time right that would feel like such an incredible waste of you know again what what in hindsight was an amazing opportunity absolutely no i'm right there so so now so you take the gap year you go to school as you already mentioned now which we're fast sorting back to where we're at three years was enough and you were going just now when you hit those three years was it intending to finish the degree and you had a great idea and an opportunity that kind of started as a side hustle or kind of where did that transition make where you're going to school and you started the business yeah so um the way i would say is you know it was absolutely never our plan to drop out of school right i would say we waited for as long as possible and i you know it felt silly in hindsight because people were telling us all the time you know as indico was doing well and we were going to school because there was you know real overlap they're like oh you guys know you're not going to finish school right i'm like nope we're definitely going to finish school i have to finish school it's going to happen um and so what happened was that in our sophomore year me and alec radford who ended up being my co-founder we started doing these competitions um have you ever heard of kaggle i have not but i i'm excited to hear about it yeah it's this awesome sort of crowdsourced data science competitions you know basically companies would come they'd upload data sets for you know predict if someone's going to be admitted to the hospital in the next two weeks right uh predict the weather right like all sorts of stuff all over the place and basically whoever gets the best accuracy whoever builds the best algorithm wins the cash prize um but what was really cool about it is that it wasn't just randos because these cash prizes were significant right i mean these were hundreds of thousands you know millions of dollars in some cases right uh so you had taught phd students from around the country and what it really gave us was a place to test our medal in kind of an objective way right uh so me and alec we started doing these tactical competitions together um and you know a lot of things happened on sort of the more techie side but shortly we started doing quite well right we started realizing hey you know after you know kind of a year of uh working on this maybe we're not just uh random kids right maybe we're actually pretty good at this um and then and then there was a bet you know some folks reached out they're like hey you've been doing some great work we'd love to do some work with you and i just said hey if we can make a thousand dollars in the next two weeks uh then we have to make a company and that was the bet and alex like all right you know sure that that seems fair to me it's like you you figure it out you get the contracts like i'll do the work and we and and we did you know we more than doubled that target and then we we had to start a company and then for all of junior year we went to school and did the company um to varying degrees of success you know towards the end of that the schoolwork definitely started to suffer a bit um which you know it happens but it was for for an all right reason and then out in our junior summer we got admitted to tech stars boston and then we raised uh and then and then we're like all right you know we'll we'll take a year off uh and then we raise the three million dollar seed round and then we're like all right well i guess we're not going back to school now no i i think that you know that seems like that's a lot of times the course that you titan to do is okay hey this starts out as a side hustle then the side hustle starts to actually make some money then it makes enough money they're saying okay you kind of hit the crossbar roads to where if you're taking someone's money you actually promise you'll deliver then you have to put in a full-time effort and it gets to be too onerous to try and both do school full-time and do a full-time job and you're faced with that decision and you know sometimes it's the right decision and other times you're saying okay that was fun now i'll go finish my degree and so it sounds like it worked out well for you on that end uh it was a good decision decided it was you know got the education i need got the springboard for where i was going to you're going to start your business and so it worked out and it was a good path so now i'll kind of do the follow-up question which is so you make the decision okay we you know started out we made some money the bet went through we got the seed round and decided cake dropping out of school gonna pursue this full-time gonna take that seed money and build a business has it gone well has it been a good decision and it's taken off like a rocket ship has it been bumpy or how's that gone do you wish you'd stayed in school or kind of what's the end of that story or the i mean that story no it's a great question and i will say it's sort of like yes to everything right but no i'm saying where i stand today it was a great decision i'm extremely happy that i did it right and and you know obviously indico has been very very successful as a result you know we've raised 35 million dollars we've got 70 employees right we've got fortune 500 customers and we're you know we're really making an impact which which is awesome it's insane honestly to see it like having gone from from a literal dorm room start up to this point so that's incredible i wouldn't trade it for the world um it has been incredibly bumpy right i mean you know especially as a first-time entrepreneur right i mean this stuff is incredibly hard there's just so much i think maybe there's the one in a million that has a smooth time of it but that might be even generous but if that person exists if that has ever happened right but no i mean it was it was brutally difficult right and i don't think people really prepare you for that um and it's this interesting thing where i think um in some ways right a 70 person company is very very different from a two-person startup but in some ways it's very much the same right it's still the hustle is so key right you know i'm still like i still cold-call people right i don't do it with you know all of my time anymore it's not like the best use but like the hustle is always so so important right um and you know it's like as your company gets bigger your problems also get bigger right so even it's uh yeah i don't know it's been interesting it's been a wild ride for sure oh and if you know i think that the difference it's always interesting if you start your own company versus you know you come in later and you're the ceo or you take over there's a big difference and i think that the level of hustle is always bigger better with the founder in the sense that you were the dorm room you were starting it out and there's still the flashback it's still that fear that no matter how well you're doing now that it's still all going to fall apart and it's still it's not going to be successful and it's hard to replace that and infuse that to somebody that's come along later that seen the success seeing the money coming in seeing the revenue and they're saying oh well of course this is a stable company so i definitely think there's a lot a lot there i'm really glad to say that our ceo you know he's been a founder before right like actually all of our senior leaders right like they've been in that kind of founder role before i mean now that's maybe starting to change now that we're getting a bit bigger but it's just so important right like you you need the guy who knows what it's like to run to the airport because he scheduled his meetings back to back right like you just need that in the early days right i think there's definitely a lot of truth to that so yeah well now as we've kind of caught up to a little bit of you know what your journey is where you're at today and a little bit of where you're going great time to jump to the two questions i always ask at the end of each episode so we'll jump to those now first question i'll ask is along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what did you learn from it so the worst business decision i made and i don't want to like give specific names out here but basically there was an advisor in the very early days that was you know extremely senior had a really really high pedigree and we basically just you know brought them into the company and you know gave them a whole bunch of uh you know money and equity and stuff and just did everything that they said um and it was an awful decision and i think that was i and i think that was sort of the singular worst and kind of biggest issue with uh sort of our first couple of years as a company frankly right and i think that you know and then the moral is not like don't take advice from people right advice is really important right and you need to understand you know from people who have gone there before but i think what we didn't understand is that if there were a repeatable way to make a business there'd be no point in entrepreneurship right like no one knows how to make your business right if they knew how to make your business they would be making your business right and that that's something that we really lost sight of right is that you know they are just sources of advice we still know best at the end of the day and i think that that was the biggest mistake frankly i lost sight of that stop trusting my gun no and i think there's a lot of truth i mean a lot of times and i without getting into your specific research or situations you'll you'll start out as a business you'll be you and you know maybe a co-founder or an employer too but really small in the dorm room so to speak or in the garage or wherever it might be and you start to grow it and you don't know any better so you just you know kind of whatever sticks you start to build it you start to grow it but you know you get to get traction and then you get to a point where you start to bring out investors or other things and you feel like well we need an established ceo and we need someone that does that and i think to your point people often kind of feel like okay we need someone else that knows what they're doing and most of the time nobody knows what now there are good practices but it's not like no but you know there are good practices that you should be implementing you know looking at profit margins doing financial statements looking at you know having a attractor you know a path forward and what's the next generation of products and those types that's always good but on the other hand just because somebody else you know you're told that somebody else can do better a lot of times you can do it just as good so i think that there's a lot of times that feeling like you need to have someone else come in to do it when really you're going to do the best job a lot of the time so i think that that's definitely a great takeaway and definitely make sense second question which is you're talking to somebody that's just getting into a startup or small business would be the one piece of advice you give them make sure you love it even when you hate it um you know and i think the the thing that i often say about strange company i think it's pretty much the hardest thing that any person can do right uh i mean you said you know you don't even know if one in a million people has an easy time of it you know i think you're completely right right every single decision is so difficult right and yeah and it's going to be incredibly difficult and i think that the people that i see that aren't successful are people that just think that you know it's going to be an easy path to be a millionaire right it is not that there are much easier paths to be a millionaire right if you've got some patience right um it's you know if you want something that is going to let you make a mark on the world right and something that is going to respond and give you back what you put into it right that's that's what a startup is right but it is it is brutal and and you know make make no mistake you know however hard you is however hard you think it is it's going to be harder i think so and i think that that's one where you know it gets a bit glamorized you watch the movie watch the tv show you read the book or anything else and you always kind of hear just the end point of his successful and you never really hear the whole journey of hey there were times where we didn't know how we're going to make payroll or guess what i was the one emptying the garbages and doing hiring firing the next day and then i had to do marketing and sales and then i had to do product development and i didn't know this was going to work and you kind of miss a lot of that and i think people just kind of hear that hey they're an overnight success when it's really an overnight success 10 years in the making and even at that you don't hear half the time that majority of the businesses never make it and a lot of them you just you don't hear about all the failures you only hear about the successes so definitely agree on all friends uipath is a great example just because now they're you know the the hot ipo and they've been doing so well right but they they just kind of puttered along for for six years or something before they figured it out and then you know they were they were off to the races but it's exactly that it's this is this overnight success that took a decade right absolutely so we also wrap up but people want to find out more 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 and your all of the above what's the best way to reach out to you contact you find out more absolutely indicodata.ai for all things indico you can see me at slater.website uh you know ask me a question on quora follow me on twitter all right well i definitely encourage everybody to reach out in any or any or all the ways that were mentioned or mentioned and definitely a great resource to have so well thank you again slater for coming on the podcast 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 we'd love to share your journey just go to inventiveguest.com also as a listener make sure to click subscribe click like click share because we want to make sure to share the journeys as much as possible last but not least if you ever need help with the patents or trademarks or anything else with your business just go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with us to chat we're always happy to help thank you again slater and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last thank you so much [Music] you