The Inventive Journey
What This Episode Talks About:
How To Manage Business & Self
"Keep talking to people that you don't know that you should know. What I mean by this is that often these technology companies are founded by technologist and they think they know all the answers. But they have to go talk to the economic buyer and they have to understand what the economic buyer is really thinking. So my advice is never stop reaching out to talk to people."
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What Is 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
is keep talking to people that you don't know that you should know and what i mean by this is um you know often as these companies the technology companies are founded by technologists and they think know all the answers but they have to go talk to the economic buyer they have to understand what the economic buyer is really thinking and so my advice is never stop reaching out to talk to people [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devin miller serial entrepreneur has grown several startups and the seven and eight figure businesses as well as the founder and ceo of miller ip lab where held startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with us to chat we're always here to help now today we have another great guest on the podcast uh robert levine and uh robert grew up on long island and after high school went to college for a couple years um went out uh to work in california's mathematician with a defense contractor for a period of time um during that time was taking a break from college for about three years and then went back to college or new york for college after that um then went uh to work for a bank for a period of time um i think if i got it correct he asked his boss for about three million dollars to do a startup bossa her boss said yes uh business uh was a bit too early on and so they ended up selling off the business but after that i didn't want to go back to corporate america uh joined a friend's startup uh as a c-level individual uh pivoted the business to a services-based uh company uh the business partner wanted to go back to india didn't have the money to buy it so ended up selling out the business decide to go to california and do an invite or be an advisor to help other startups and small businesses um that business was self-funded worked part-time as well during that time and now is continuing to pursue a business in cyber security with it as a startup and having that idea so with that much hopefully is uh mostly accurate welcome on the podcast robert hey welcome thanks thanks for having me absolutely so i just gave the 30-second version of a much longer journey so take us back a bit in time to when things got kicked off in high school in long island oh my god uh yeah i grew up on long island i went to high school out in uh suffolk county and uh you know after after high school went to school i decided to become a chemistry major that wasn't really uh what i ended up doing but uh after about two years went to the west coast my parents got divorced and one lived on the east coast west coast and uh i did a stint at uh linton guidance and control working for a mathematician um doing uh numerical analysis of all the crazy things uh writing fortran and uh it was kind of an interesting uh experience because what we were trying to do is control um uh our ailerons on uh on missiles and uh one question on that cause i think if i remember right in our conversation you'd start in college for a year or two before you went out to do that and working as with the mathematician so what made you decide to you know take a break from college go be a work the mathematician you know kind of what caused that transition you know i think it was happenstance and luck um uh one as i when i was in college um doing this chemistry stuff i was really much more interested in the computer science side of that whole story and uh did a summer stint and out in california working for guns control and uh got really attracted to that and realized i actually don't know what i want to do for a major so i figured let me go work for a couple of years and then go back and so i ultimately did went back to school at nyu um back in new york and then i um at that time i was working at uh you know a bank uh downtown new york running you know right at that juncture between applications and infrastructure writing this thing called middleware which was new and uh you know i ultimately became a managing director there before you know it i was running uh 300 people i was involved in all of our acquisitions of technology and i was seeing what you know we would coin now today the new new thing and in that timeline i got very attracted to security and just started to seeing a lot more things in and around security um i ran on internet infrastructure which was nascent in those days um and uh ran corporate email of old crazy things that got thrown on my desk and and i ran a security infrastructure as well as a whole bunch of middleware and um along the way i realized that this security stuff is really growing bigger and bigger now one quick there's a quick question because so if i back up just a little bit new york you went back to college got the degree and i think and maybe this is where you're at but i think we talked about you wouldn't work for a bank for a period of time and that was after coming out of college is that the first step after bringing in during and after okay so during and after and the one thing that hit there that you know that sounded interesting is you're working at the bank and you're doing these things and then you're you have an idea or you want to do a startup and so you go ask your boss for a few million dollars and yeah i'll explain that whole story yeah i need to i need to explain that story you know when you're when you when you decide to go back and and take a degree after having spent some time you're really going back with a much better view of what you want to do and so i actually went to nyu in the gallon division and it was designed your own major and i took graduate courses from my undergrad and one of them was actually i wanted to learn about um queuing theory because i was doing a lot of work in networks and and uh you know knock on the door of the graduate teacher and the teacher says well well why should i let you in my class and you're like well this is what i want to learn he goes what are you doing and i said well i was doing this and that and the network stuff and goes oh great you're going to teach this part of the class and i'll teach you what you want to know and so that was my experience in the college thing because i was working um as well at that time and what happened was in the late 90s [Music] the company i was working for had a corporate venturing function running inside of itself and that corporate venturing function actually allowed um leadership to spin technology out and create basically what was a cost center and created to become a profit center so that whole function um was really very interesting to me and at the time i got connected to that team here i was a technologist running in technology and i got connected to this banking and really corporate venturing team and i'd never heard of that before and these guys were investing um in all sorts of stuff one of them was a security company actually two of them were security companies and i got connected to that because my department at the time was directly working with that field and they reached internally within the corporation to find people that would know something about or could use their technology that they were also sponsoring and that company was called um circo and you know somewhere along the line i realized this is really interesting so it wasn't my direct boss it was actually um this thing was hanging off the vice chairman of the bank it was called um bt ventures and i basically went to the head of that venture group and i said i have a department that i'd like to spin out and went through that process got three million dollars and we spun the company out called trans indigo um that's how it happened it was part of the culture the culture was very entrepreneurial in in there um so hey that sounds like a good way to launch a startup and to get your uh your first investor so to speak and to be able to do that now as you go out and do that and i think as we talked before while it was you know an interesting or promising you know idea startup he indicated it's probably a bit too early or wasn't or things were quite in place to do that so he ended up having to sell off the business is that right yeah so the um it was a technology called fine grain entitlements which basically is you know helping applications define externalize these authorization rules around you know what thing can talk to what thing and what asset can talk to what asset and these types of things and it was just way too early in the market and i realized that what we were working on internally um at was way different than what most organizations were able to even understand or contemplate and so ultimately that lesson from that experience was uh market timing the second lesson that i learned from that experience was also team um uh you know your core team members and and that strategic fit between each of the core team members some folks were really great at the world of startups um and could blue leave that corporate world and just really excelled in it and some really got stuck they just were not in the right place their heads were not in the right place so you know but the big message there was market uh market timing uh you know there are companies now probably 15 years later that are doing pretty well in authorization services um so we sold that to rsa did not make money um but uh the ceo of rsa at the time put his arm around me and said you know the next time you make money um and you know i at that point i had did not go with the sale of that company i had left and helped advise the sale of that um and i was already thinking about hey what do i want to do next and that's when i went into the next story which was uh this consulting company which is six people where they were building a product actually at the time and like the first one this time i identified that market product fit and timing were wrong um and and i didn't identify it when i jumped in i identified it after 9 11. and what happened was we were building a product that today the market would know as um saml a security assertion markup language which allows companies when you log on to one machine or let's say you log on to you know company x and you're allowed to log on using your facebook id that technology is ultimately was founded many many many years ago in and around the the primordial uh dna of what we were creating there and um ultimately what we decided to do with the second company that was called senna was we basically took some advice from folks and decided that we in the post 911 world this product was not going to sell and we became a consulting firm in a nascent space that we thought would sell which was called identity and access management and we grew that company i was employed number six but jumped in as the president and ceo um and uh we grew that company to 300 people uh with operations in the u.s uk and australia um and the second lesson comes which was you know my business partner raises his hand and says i really want to move back to india and we have to sell the company and you know the lesson there i should have done is i should have mortgaged my entire house and just bought them out because we were on a gold mine but it was also a strange time it was um you know the market wasn't doing well this is around um 2009 2010. market wasn't doing well um and uh it was risky really way too risky and at the time i just didn't have the capital to actually buy it i should have mortgaged everything and then probably then took a note um to buy them out so we sold the business and and then we really grew it i mean i really really was able to grow it um and uh we made our earn out and that was fun um but at the end i realized that if i held on to that much longer i gosh i you know would have set ourselves up for a whole different story um the when you sell your business to somebody else their objectives are different than yours and you have to recognize that's no longer your baby and uh that you know the cash flow you're generating can't be used for your next innovation the cash flow you're generating is whatever the corporation that you sold it to objective is and that is actually probably the second lesson i should have bet more on myself um there and i would have made a lot more money but b i think the business would be in a completely different place now that ultimately was sold again it's now part of kpmg right out of curiosity because i mean in in retrospect in hindsight it's always 2020. i mean it's hard when you have a business you know to say oh yeah just go mortgage your home leverage yourself put your up to your eyeballs because in the end you know it's going to work out and it's going to be a great opportunity but at the time you're saying hey it's an uncertain time market's not doing well and i'm not sure if the business will go and those type of things so if you're to look back what would have been some of the indicators or reasons why you know you you would have other if you'd if you could look back and now be the monday morning quarterback type of a thing what would have been the indicators is hey i should have or held on or i should have found a way to buy out the partner you know at the time when we were making that decision there were three members of the board i didn't have majority of that board and you know when we were making that decision it was um one that even then i knew uh that you know this is the wrong time this is just the wrong time and you know the firm that we we sold it to you know i i made great friends learned a lot um but you know i probably could have learned those same lessons directly myself and more than that the freedom to invest the cash flow would have been a much different accelerant to the business than ultimately it ended up being and at the time what would be the indicators i won my gut two i actually had a good sixth sense of that marketplace and and really we're talking to the top companies and you know the top major banks in the country that were our clients and nobody was giving us an indicator even though it was a little scary um that you know this this is no longer going to become a priority um it was actually the opposite i was getting the indicators that this was becoming a priority and in the end i had one quarter where i had negative cash flow through that recession and uh you know that of course was after the business was sold but one quarter was our negative cash flow story and um you know no and i think that you know is it and there's one where it's hard sometimes you're saying well it's my gut you know the right thing to follow and sometimes it absolutely is and other times it leads you astray but it's one of those where you know it is always hard because hindsight's always 20 20 and sometimes it's also the experience it comes along that you just don't know until you're further down the road that you should have done something else and if you had the decision to make over over again you might do it differently but um you know it's one of those where you never know it's hard to know at the time so nonetheless so you sold off the business you know you you worked with them for a period of time stock grow and then i think after a while you decided to move to san diego and start doing advisory help for startups correct so one more comment on that previous one i now know something if my gut says it and i truly believe bet on myself that's absolutely um you know the lesson out of that out of that last you know experience um so i moved to san diego and i decided i was gonna do some part-time and you know don't cry for me i did okay um and uh i uh decided i was going to do some part-time advisory um and did that with um a company that was involved in uh mobile authentication and then we ultimately a leadership team there which i was part of um i was initially going to do it part-time and i wound up being the ceo full-time um and ultimately we made some pivot decisions which were cut cut the team down size-wise cut the burn um the team also we made a decision to pivot which is actually things that you do in a startup when your market primary market is starting to twist and you're seeing other things happen you have to make the decision quickly and rapidly within a startup to pivot now this is a scary thing because you know startups have limited capital have limited ability to to turn corners multiple directions multiple times and you have to bring your entire team as well as your investors along with that ride when you make that pivot so we pivoted that business into mobile authentication with identity verification so the ability to actually look at your license take a picture license compare it against a selfie with liveness detection and then basically then authenticate you using your mobile as being part of the mobile authenticator as part of the you know you know something you have and we also made a decision there to go vertical into some very specific marketplaces to uh pick on a jeffrey moore statement pick in a market no bigger than yourself and dominate right and then but make sure that market's growing so that business we tied together with um the change that was happening with the banking software banking software was going from uh a combination of you know roll your own um and or these really big very slow outsourced providers to nimble software companies that became the build software packages that became also hosted providers and we went right into that if you will that vortex um and that that that sucked us into um a whole bunch of business opportunity and uh so the combined issue of mobile authentication combined issue with how we choose to chose to do that in the marketplace using both on-prem and some cloud components fit the marketplace and that business is now doing fairly well you know it took a few years and it was a rocky story as most things can can be and i'm really really excited about uh what's happening there and i maintain a great friendship uh with the entire team actually but along the way i kept on having these ideas that would come up and that became the genesis to trust for which became the going back to my earlier statement of if you really believe bettering yourself so that's why i left unique now we're the mobile authenticator company put words in your mouth it sounds like you know the it wasn't that that business wasn't doing well or there was an opportunity there but there was just a idea or a you know something you wanted to pursue and that you've learned your lesson over the previous you know experiences that you were you know you had a gut feeling you wanted to bet on yourself and so you decided hey now is the time i'm going to spin out and i'm going to do that for a period of time is that about right exactly in fact to wind down out of the previous business it took almost six months um you know i gave enough notice um it allowed me to have and negotiated the the issue allow me to do both my new company while helping the old because i didn't want to leave in an alert and so that took a little bit of negotiation but uh yeah it really became i saw the market i saw it was happening i kept on seeing the problem and i saw solutions being made against the problem that didn't actually match with conversations that i would have not only with friends but with prospects and i said huh that's a really interesting problem and uh you know basically the the genesis of this was when you know folks are moving their uh their entire portfolios of you know assets meaning uh you know technology assets into the cloud um and of course people are doing net new assets in the cloud as well but when you do that lift and shift and or create net new the skill sets that are required to actually mitigate the risks that were and they're different than what was in the traditional data center than what they're in the cloud and the skill sets required are just like massively different and and huge leaps that you have to do and i realized huh this problem's not going away it's getting worse and i it was time to create a new company um and focus on this problem in a way that that met with what i heard don't require any code changes make it an easy plug-in allow it to be incrementally driven app by app by app rather than having the whole freaking farm on it and enclosed material gaps that auditors and regulators are just pounding on customers for and i realized we could solve that problem and so created this company called trust4 i funded it and i continue to fund it actually it's self-funded right now um and uh we're going to be in the process of raising capital in fact we kicked off that process in january um and uh in the process of raising capital to take us all the way through the go to product phase and then into the uh the marketplace an exciting uh journey you bet on yourself and now you get to see whether the bet will pay off and fingers crossed that hopefully will so that's that's certainly exciting so yeah that was a as we kind of catch to the you know where you're at where you know what your journey was up until the present day always always great to at the end of each or as we discuss the end of each journey or the end or the or to the present um to have two questions always ask the end of each journey so the first question i always ask is along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made what did you learn from it i think the worst business decision i made i've already articulated i didn't bet hard enough on myself and i i knew my gut was saying do that um and uh you know figure out a way to to make you know mortgage your future and and do that that'd probably be my worst business decision um probably be my worst yeah and i think that that one that was a hard one because you know sometimes if you like the confidence or you have the confidence but it's still hard because money real money is on the line your livelihood may be on the line time may be on the line um you know whether or not it's worthwhile to pursue is it's only the balance and yet you know a lot of time to look back and say oh i should have bet on myself because that's the lesson you learned and sometimes you just have to make that less learn that lesson the hard way and it makes it easier to make the next time when the opportunity comes to bet on yourself which is where you got to second question i always ask is log or if you're talking to somebody that's just getting into a startup or a small business would be the one piece of advice you give them you know i in my world of technology probably the most important thing you need to do is to keep talking to people that you don't know that you should know and what i mean by this is you know often as these companies the technology companies are founded by technologists and they think they know all the answers but they have to go talk to the economic buyer they have to understand what the economic buyer is really thinking and so my advice is never stop reaching out to talk to people you'd be amazed how many people will talk to you when you just have a nascent idea because they want to help most people are generous and they just want to help so you can reach out to folks who you wouldn't think would want to talk to you because you got nothing other than you know a crazy idea and they'll actually help you um that would be my my biggest recommendation oh i think that's definitely great and i think that a lot of times people feel like they have to do it on their own or they don't want to be burning to others or they don't want to you know their people aren't going to be willing to help and yet i'd agree with you most time on the flip side people are happy to help more than willing to jump in and answer questions and help you along their way because they've been there and they understand what you're going through so i think you know asking for that help and strategy not overburdening people not to you know just considers consist or persistently pestering someone but to ask for those when you need help and are looking for whether it's a sounding board or someone to provide a bit of guidance is definitely a great takeaway absolutely as we wrap up if people want to reach out to you 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 or find out more uh they can hit me on my uh email or they can hit our website trust4.com and just hit the info or email us robert.levine at trust4.com t-r-u-s-t-f-o-u-r.com all right perfect well i definitely encourage people to reach out to you connect and uh their support support you along and journey and however they can um and with that we'll go ahead and wrap up the podcast and it's been uh appreciate you coming on the podcast now for all of you that are listeners you have your own journey to tell and you'd like to be a guest on the podcast we'd love to have you so just go to inventiveguest.com and apply to be on the show a couple more things as listeners make sure to click subscribe share leave a review for the podcast because we want to make sure that everyone finds out about all these awesome episodes last but not least do you ever need help with your patents your trademarks or anything else with your small business or startup just go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with us to chat and we're always here to help thank you again robert for coming on the podcast and wish the next lady of your journey even better than the last all right thanks for having me
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