Surround Yourself With Good People
The Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
Surround Yourself With Good People
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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how to surround yourself with people that believe in you so in that same example that i mentioned that was my biggest mistake and biggest learning um my wife was absolutely amazing um she was a rock and she was picking me up off the ground when i was in the corner crying and rocking back and forth you know when that project was going south and she was like noah you got to keep going you know this is just a part of the journey we're going to get we're going to get through it it's going to be it's going to be fine so she really picked me up and you have to surround yourself with people that are going to tell you that because there's going to be days where it just sucks you know it's just it's not a good day there's gonna be days where it's like this is the greatest job in the world i love it right um but you know some days you're like oh gosh this is nothing's going going my way and you got to be able to get through those and i think a huge re a huge um a huge reason why i was able to get through those days were my wife and then the encouraging people [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 in the seven and eight figure businesses as well as a ceo and founder of miller ip law where we help startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com and we're always here to help now today we have another great guest on the podcast noah uh labhurt or laphart you got it and uh this is a quick introduction to noah so uh noah went to school at texas a m i started out computer programming i think switched over to math and computer science because he found that that was a bit more in line with what he wanted to do and graduated and started consulting on.net for a net development company also i think when played in a rock band for a period of time which i don't know how that fits that now with everything but sounds like a good time um and then change jobs so he could also do the ban uh went and did a mobile uh development agency on his own for a while and then a minute of that middle of that has also done his own business so with that much is a quick introduction welcome on the podcast noah thanks for having me devon excited to be here so i gave kind of the the brief or quick introduction to a bit of your journey but why don't you take us back in time a bit to go into texas a m and kind of how your journey started from there yeah sure well again thanks for having me you know at a m i i started out in the computer world started out in computer engineering because i was excited about computers i didn't get my first computer until i was in high school i was probably a senior in high school and you know as back in the day as a dial up and and floppies and all that stuff but i was excited about it i was like this is going to be cool i want to go do something in that got to school and realized that i didn't know how to study and i got weeded out pretty quickly from the computer engineering program interestingly enough though i switched to mathematics which is is similarly hard but but math was a math i just got i just i feel comfortable in the mathematics world so switched into applied mathematics with a computer science minor so did some programming with a mathematical foundation um as i got to the end of my degree i i thought okay i don't think i want to be a mathematician anymore i don't want to be a professor i don't want to do that anymore i want to code and so i decided to tack on another year and and ended up graduating with two bachelors one applied mathematics and one with in computer science and uh and then started started coding uh out of texas a m um for a company called software architects and doing dot-net development so that was the that was the college years so now so you're coming out of college and said okay i'm gonna do kind of the do or focus on computer programming got into dot net development and uh started out for doing that for a while now remind me because i i didn't i can't necessarily fit all the pieces together how did the rock band play into that or how did you get going with that and because that seems like a bit different than uh doing computer programming so how did that fit into everything sure sure so did.net development for software architects for a year started playing in my rock band all my band mates lived in south of fort worth in texas and um i missed it and i know i'm jumping in right away so how did you get started with the rock band it was just you had friends that were in it or what what made you decide and was it during college or did you start after while you're working or how did you do that so so backtrack a little bit i played guitar since i was in high school played an abandoned high school and i played guitar throughout college but didn't meet my band mates until um until i was uh switching well right before i switched jobs um and i met them through church actually uh so so met them we were playing in a prison worship band for church and then we started our own thing outside of that okay so it makes sense so now picking up with these stories so you're kind of working in the dot net developer it was kind of wasn't allowing you to do the ban so you decided to switch locations so it would be more conducive to playing in the band while you worked is that right that's right yeah i was driving 45 minutes south of town and i was like this just isn't going to work and and my job that i was in just it was sort of i was having to go to different client places in dfw so i ended up switching jobs to go work at alcon laboratories uh and play in the rock band so basically worked at alcon and then uh toured on the weekends we'll say and um and played in the rock band um worked at alcon laboratories for eight years uh worked in a bunch of different areas around the document management um which is like scanning and imaging ocr uh and then worked in sales commissions which is totally other side of the world um at alcon but calculating commissions for sales forces and then i worked in manufacturing um for four years i ran an it group that supported both manufacturing plants in fort worth um so did that uh did the band through most of the first four years i would say um and then the band broke up and you know as all good bands eventually do most of the time yeah that's right um so that happened um and very fortunately for for me at that same time i met my wife and um and we got married and uh we're married to this day and have three three little kids um and then uh so towards the end of the eight years in corporate world and at alcon i started to get the itch right the you know the entrepreneurial itch you know i was very well taken care of at alcon in the corporate world and worked with some great people learned some great things really had some amazing opportunities but i couldn't see the fruits of my labor like it didn't matter how hard i worked i just couldn't see anything but the needle kind of barely flickering um you know it makes sense i was an i.t you know alcon's products are eye care you know eye care products surgical products pharmaceutical products for the eyes and you know it is kind of a necessary evil um so i wasn't really a strategic partner if that makes sense no definitely makes sense yeah so so ended up deciding to uh well i started to do development on um started to do development on my own on the side uh mobile app development with a buddy of mine uh chris graby and we were just tinkering around with apps just kind of kind of you know having fun doing our own little projects and um and then i got hooked i was like i want to do mobile development and i want to do my own agency it's like this is going to be the thing so with the huge huge support of my wife jumped out from the corporate world and um started my own mobile development agency and that was in 20 2015. now one question because you said that you know the job you were working at they treated you well it's a good job you enjoyed it so what was that was there kind of a tipping point or a trigger or anything of that nature to say okay yes i could keep going where i'm at and i do fine but i really want to do my own thing was just simply just hey this is fun i love it and i want to do more of it or hey i see a better opportunity here i can capture my own ship or kind of what was that catalyst that got you into doing your own thing yeah i mean it was kind of a combination of a lot of those things it was it was the combination of not seeing the fruits of my labor of you know working really hard and not seeing seeing myself make a difference um and then and then kind of wanting to be the captain my own ship definitely that entrepreneurship is in my my family's blood i have lots of entrepreneur uncles and cousins and family and things like that so it's kind of a lab part thing we'll say um and so i just i had the itch and uh and had to jump out and do it so now so now you make the the leap and that and one you know one of the hard things or potentially hard things is especially in the services industry and there's hard things in every industry we get into the services industry we're doing you know development that is to try and build the clientele build people that will pay you and that you'll hire you on and that you know you get your name out there and get a reputation all of the above so as you're jumping out did you have anything lined up did you have some potential clients or people who thought you'd approach or just saying hey i'm going to hang my own shingle and i'm going to hit the air and i'll hit the pavement and start finding them or kind of how did you get that started once you decided to leap out there sure that's it's a great question honestly it was a pivotal moment in my my entrepreneurial journey and a and my professional journaling journey period um so i did jump out with a project i jumped out with a project that was you know enough to kind of sustain for a little while um but but to be honest i massively screwed that project up and and ended up having to return all of the money that was paid uh to me out of my savings account into uh into my client's account um so it did not it did not go well um and and i basically bit off way more than i could chew tried to start a big agency and big was relative it was you know big big was more than me right uh so an agency tried to start a an agency and bite off more than i could you know i'd i've been kind of sitting in the corporate world where i had the infrastructure around me and i was i was you know sort of taking it for granted and um tried to jump out and do that thing the project went really bad um but uh it really made me take a hard look at how i was doing things and and i started to think okay rather than trying to mastermind this agency you know thing i'm just gonna start out with agency just being me i know how to code i know how to write write software i'm gonna start out just doing it me and so so i did i i brought on some projects uh did some work had some successes brought on more work got overloaded it brought on people so essentially grew with my with my growth and that that made me more successful throughout the the rest of the time so you know and i think that that you know it's always hard i always found at least especially with software and there are other ones but it's always so hard to scope in the sense that you know you go and you think okay we've got a scope i can do it this many hours you can calculate it and then inevitably the project changes or people want to go different direction or add the additional feature and so it's always hard and then you know so biting off a bit more than you can chew definitely makes sense in the sense that it's hard to one to scope that especially if it's your first project your first client and trying to figure that out is oftentimes one where you eat a lot of the cost because you don't know what you don't know until you actually do it on your own and what i also found interesting excuse me is that even you know even if you've worked under somebody else and you've done a lot of projects and done a little work on them it's a completely different ballpark when you're doing it on your own you're making those decisions you're the boss so to speak it's not you know it has a much different uh look and feel to it so so now you start to build that agency and i i think you when we talked about before that agency is still going and it's still alive is that right it's no it's not i actually shut it down at the beginning of last year but it went on for a while at co-existing while i was doing variable 2. oh got it so so now is it so now you do the agency for a period of time it shuts down as you're doing some other things so how did where did you transition next did you say hey i'm shutting this down but i'm still gonna you know still got the entrepreneur bug and i still wanna do my own thing or to say hello i've had it i'm gonna go back to corporate or kind of what was that next phase is that shut down and you were continuing on sure sure that's a great question so so i did the mobile development agency for a couple years basically built startup platforms for people um and and i got a different itch i got the startup edge right i wanted to to do my own startup but didn't have any ideas i nowadays i'm more of a more of an idea guy i kind of can can think about stuff that can be built looking at problems back then i was like i'm the executor i don't have any ideas i need an idea guy right um and so but i could shoot holes and start up ideas all day i was like okay i'll build that for you but i don't really i wouldn't put my money in that um fast forward to you know a year and a half or so i started talking to my um to my friend uh rylan barnes who is a successful tech entrepreneur he's my college roommate um and i said hey i'm i'm the you know i'm got this startup itch i want to do it you know when i want to do my own startup i don't have any ideas let me know if you know anybody that's looking for a technical co-founder and he said you need to talk to mike and so mike is a mutual friend who is my partner at variable now um given my time in manufacturing mike pitched me the idea for variable which is an on-demand marketplace for manufacturing labor and uh i couldn't shoot holes in it i was like this is gonna work this is the one that i want to commit to so that was in 2016 we formed the company we launched our pilot in 2017 february and we have been growing ever since i did try to run touch tap alongside of it for a couple years um and that ended up being way more trouble than it was worth so so now you kind of you know tried to run that for a couple years side by side and it's hard you know and i've done i've done both i've done things where i exclusively focus on things sometimes i'll i'm running more business you know multiple businesses and it's always hard to find that balance but as you're now doing that and you're transitioning full time you're doing that with your you know with the co-founder how have things gone and you know now you've launched i think you said launch around 2017 or so and you've been doing that for the last four years has it been a hockey stick straight up and it was successful from day one was it up and down all around kind of how did that how did that launch go with the this round of kind of jumping into that startup and um taking that plunge absolutely so it we haven't um we have grown every month since we started um you know those first first few months of the pilot were really more kind of proving the concept we did a few throughout the last four years we've done a few seed rounds to kind of boost us up and and grow the team to where we could grow but we've grown every year um every month and every year which has been really cool to see and kind of just proves that our the the industry needs our our model um so it's been it's been a lot different than jumping out and doing my own agency with projects going bad you know during that agency timeframe i tried a few other things a social media agency i tried a few other software ideas and just didn't stick right we're discouraging but just didn't stick learned a ton of different things from each one of those things and applied it all to variable when when we started and uh and yeah it's been off to the races we're in in 10 states now we're trying to grow the midwest a heavy industrial area um and and we're in nearly uh 20 markets or so well that that is awesome sounds like a lot of great growth and that's uh definitely always fun when you know when you sip out on your own take the entrepreneurial leap do the startup to have that success is always a great uh direction to be headed in so now and he kind of touched on it a bit as well it sounds like you know you're continuing to grow have opportunities to pursue in the future and to expand and even take advantage of that as well so kind of now with that as we you know i always have two questions i asked at the end of each podcast so we're going to we'll transition those now so the first question is is along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what did you learn from it sure i i definitely think um the worst one is the one that i learned the most from is when i was describing that project i took off you know a bit off way more than i could chew and um you know that that project went south really quickly you know my my family was impacted obviously way to give all the money back for the project um excuse me but but what i what i did learn from that was to start small and to build on top of wins uh and that's been something that i have i have carried with me to this day use it every day in variables is is you know how are we maintaining those wins from the beginning and growing on top of them rather than then trying to just tackle the whole thing and eat the whole elephant right in one bite so that's been that's been the biggest learning opportunity for me no and that uh you know and i think that sometimes you look back and aw man how did i make those mistakes or wish i hadn't and you know but it is that at least that learning that you say okay now when i go do the next one i'm gonna be that much smarter as to how to make sure that i don't go over budget and that i don't promise more than i can deliver it's kind of the old you know cliche saying but it always is it still holds two you always wanna you know under promise and over deliver but it's not always easy to know how much to promise or what is under promising and what is over delivering and how to make that balance and so i think that that's definitely a lesson to learn so now we'll jump to the second question i always ask which is if you're now uh talking to someone that's just getting into a startup or a small business what'd be the one piece of advice you give them yeah you know i think it's it's all about the the people that you surround surround yourself with you got to surround yourself with people that believe in you so in that same example that i mentioned that was my biggest mistake and biggest learning um my wife was absolutely amazing um she was a rock and she was picking me up off the ground when i was in the corner crying and rocking back and forth you know when that project was going south and she was like noah you gotta keep going you know this is just a part of the journey we're gonna get we're gonna get through it it's gonna be it's gonna be fine um so she really picked me up and you have to surround yourself with people that are going to tell you that because there's going to be days where it just sucks you know it's just it's not a good day there should be days where it's like this is the greatest job in the world i love it right um but you know some days you're like oh gosh this is nothing's going going my way and you got to be able to get through those and i think a huge re a huge um a huge reason why i was able to get through those days were my wife and then the encouraging people that were surrounding me no and i think that that is that's a great piece of advice is i mean i always i always joke you know entrepreneurship one week you feel like your success and the next week you feel like you're a failure and that's just a part of the journey that everybody goes to and there's a lot of truth to that and it's so much easier whether it's you know a spouse a business partner a friend somebody that's been through before whoever it is to surround yourself with those people that can boo or you know uh help you know lift you up help you to or deal with those if nothing else listen there'll be a listening error or something you can complain to bounce ideas off with all those definitely makes the journey significantly easier so i think that that that's a great piece of advice so um well as as we wrap up and just as a reminder to the listeners we do have the bonus question on this episode where we're going to talk uh about a little bit about intellectual property and noaa's top intellectual property questions so stay tuned for that at the end of the podcast but for all of you that are don't want to stay tuned definitely understand and so as we wrap up if people want to reach out to they want to find out more they want to be a customer or client they want to bounce an idea off of you they want to try and hire you to do some coding for them they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out and find out more sure so i'm i'm on linkedin so you can find me on linkedin my linkedin profile or you can learn more about variable at variableops.com i'm also a podcast host you can you can hear some of my podcast stuff at codestory.com and then if you just learn about me my personal website noaalabart.com awesome why definitely plenty of ways to connect find out more and definitely encourage everybody to go and check everything out well as we wrap up before the bonus question thank you again no for coming on it's been fun and a pleasure now for all of you also or the listeners if you have your own journey to tell and you want to come apply to be on the podcast to share your journey just go to inventiveguest.com and we always love to share your journey a couple more things as listeners one make sure to click subscribe and your podcast players so you know when all these awesome episodes come out and to leave us a review so other new people can find out about the podcast as well last but not least if you ever need help with patents trademarks or anything else just go to strategymeeting.com and we're always here to help so with that now we have the chat or you have a chance to flip the tables a bit i always get a sit in the driver's seat ask the questions and uh you know throw the hard balls that you have to react to but now it's your turn to flip the tables a bit or shift gears and ask your number one or your top intellectual property question so with that i turn it over to ask your question sure sure i definitely appreciate that so my question is around kind of maybe the boundaries of what is patentable and you know and what is what is not and i'm in software right so i write software and um you know i tend to look at a lot of the things that we build um as not being patentable because you know it's it's software like someone else could build the exact same thing or or someone else could be using the exact same framework or maybe we use the library so you know it's really not 100 our solution so i guess my question is how do you know where those boundaries are where you can say okay we can patent those or what's a good rule of thumb to know when you can patent something or versus not yeah and that's a fair question i'll give kind of the general standards for all you know for all patentability but then one of the questions that software is a bit of its own animal as well or has a couple additional nuances so generally there's three standards for patentability when you're looking at is is something patentable one is called novelty is anybody else previously invented this if somebody else has previously invented it you can't get a patent on something that somebody else has invented so that's an easy one second one is obviousness and obviousness kind of has a couple different meanings to it one is hey what we're doing is we'll you know what we're yeah not one person's invented this but we're just taking a co a combination of a couple things are out there we're putting them together in an obvious way we're not really adding anything you know we're just kind of putting a couple things together that one's one definition of obvious the other one is kind of hey what okay it's not out there exactly but we're just making an obvious tweak of something that's already out there in a sense you always use uh you know let's say all cars out there are black to go back to henry ford you can have any car you want as long as it's black and you know let's say all the cars out there were black he said well i'm going to paint it purple i was the first one to come up with purple you know sell a purple car well technically i came up with something novel because nobody else had done a purple car before but it's an obvious variation because people say hey but yeah you painted walls of you know other colors it's not unheard of to paint something a different color when paint's already out there so it's not it's it wouldn't be it'd be an obvious variation so those are a couple kind of things if you look at novelty as anybody else invented it in obviousness those are a couple that you start out with now software always gets a bit into a bit of a different realm in the sense that there there's an additional kind of criteria requirement that gets into what's called abstraction and so most of time software certainly starting out is patentable we i've done it for a lot of our clients i've worked for some of the biggest clients with intel and red hat and amazon.com that also all have done software patents but there is a bit of nuance because you have another criteria it's called abstraction and it's basically in kind of simple terms it's well if you were to take you know you can't patent something that people have previously done with pen and paper or in their head and all you're doing is sticking it on a device you're taking on a processor and so while you're saying hey i two plus two equals four everybody's done it by pen and paper now i'll have a computer do two plus two equals four well that's not really anything it's still you know it's it's it's abstract you're not you're just doing something that they've already done on pen and paper and so you have to take when you get into software sites particularly you have to look and say okay as an example what inputs am i having what analytics what are we doing with how are we gathering those inputs first of all is it with sensors is it with user input graphical user interface do we do anything to get specific to you those inputs are we doing it for multiple devices are we having to aggregate it together are we having to filter it or anything else and then what do we do with those inputs are we making doing data analytics are we doing ai or machine learning are we doing you know different weightings or how we using that input and then what are we doing as an output how are we actually in putting here you know providing it as a notification to a user is it an end result is it you know does it do something is it a game or whatever it is and then you can start to say okay now we're not just doing something that's abstract that people have done on pen and paper in their head we've actually got all these additional stuff and they can be also hey we're stitching a lot of systems together so sometimes as you type they're kind of mentioned you're saying hey there's libraries out there that's what others have done but we're adding in these things that make it all work together or make it work differently so we have here's a library here here's some open source here but you know what we're doing is stitching it all together such that a system as a whole is cohesive and we have it's different culture takes a lot of time and effort to make that system work seamlessly and work all together so those are kind of when you start to get into patentability the other last kind of part in common is you know patent pair software is always one that there's a bit more of a pendulum that swings back and forth you'd have gone back 10 years ago it was fairly easy to get a software patent five years ago pendulum kind of swung the other way and it was very difficult to get a software patent now we're kind of somewhere in the middle to where it's not as easy as it was originally it's not as difficult as it was five years ago and so it takes some navigating and take some understanding especially on that last criteria of abstraction what that means but it allows you to still navigate it so with that we'll wrap up the the podcast and appreciate the question always fun to chat a little bit about intellectual property appreciate you again noah coming on the podcast it's been fun and a pleasure and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last thanks devin appreciate it was fun