Take On The Headwinds

Take On The Headwinds

Teri Chou
Devin Miller
The Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
2/24/2021

Take On The Headwinds

I would recommend reading the book "Good To Great" by Jim Collins. I found that really helpful. I was lucky enough to have a Ph.D. advisor that had me read it in grad school which was great. I did not know I would be in a leadership position at the time so I think my thoughts were formed really pure before I had any sense of entitlement. So now that I am in it I can compare myself to my thoughts of myself back then. When there are pain points executives especially me endure the most of it. Take on the headwinds so that people working for you feel less of them.

 


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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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i would recommend uh reading the book um good to great by jim collins i found that really helpful i was lucky enough to have a phd advisor that had me read it in grad school which was great because i didn't i didn't know i'd ever been a leadership position at the time so i think my thoughts were formed really pure before i had any like didn't have any sense of entitlement you know which is fantastic so now that i'm in it i can make i can compare myself to my thoughts of myself back then and make sure you know i am you know when there's pain points exactly all the executives but especially me you know endure the most of it you know take on the headwinds so the people working for you the less of them right [Music] 

hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devin miller the serial entrepreneur has grown several businesses in the seven and eight figure companies as well as a founder and ceo of miller ip law where we help startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks and 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 and terry and is it show her child cho uh 

you got it 

joe yeah all right close to the closest i'm gonna get and i i wanted to put in i so this is a complete assignment they'll get into introduction so i lived in taiwan for a couple years and so that spelling is it looks oriental to me so that's why what comes to my mind when i want to pronounce it so yes i'm not who people expect when i present at conferences they're like you know i don't match 

so now that was a quick introduction to terry um so she didn't uh start off as a founder of a company but worked uh for a predecessor of a company um to do or to watch that for a period of time what worked for the predecessor founder of the company got i think it was a medical condition split off some or one of the portions of the company and i think you got are asked to kind of head up that company or kind of take it over so you kind of kept in touch with the founder things kind of shifted around batons got past things you know things adjusted as a company wanting to shut down having some splits and then overnight you had to learn finance and tech support and business development and everything else um you got some grants with it i think that also kept it alive didn't shut down the division um and then you brings that a bit up a bit to where up to where you're at today so is that a what that is right you accurately captured that roller coaster all right that much is introduction that's very complicated that's right every journey is i guess that's right so now so i gave this that 30 second high level brief overview but now let's take the listeners just uh back in time tell us a little bit about the beginning how things got started and let's have a good conversation from there 

thank you absolutely so i did bring a few show and tell items too all right so yeah so um yeah the journey really does start with me being a customer of the product stepwatch um i started using it in my postdoc and that's how i got connected with kim coleman who you know at the time was the founder and president of sima who had the technology and um and her husband uh david boone is the inventor of that the algorithm you know the step watch itself and they hired me back in 2008 as our first research scientist and back then they had other things going on so they also are created really novel you know prosthetics um and orthotics for people who are missing limbs or are post-stroke and need assistance and um in the later years you know decided to split off activity monitoring um to just focus on it in a separate company so orthocare innovations which it became um was focusing on prost you know prosthetic and and then step watch split away um that is around the time uh kim i had to go on long-term disability and i kind of brought a picture though of us so this is us back at orthocare back in 2009 you can't really see it because of the glare that's me and that's kim and uh yeah she had um a rare disease ended up that she didn't know about and that was very very tough um so when they decided to do the split off um i was still you know just a research scientist and uh you know i was not going to be you know an executive or a founder of modis health i was to be uh the director of clinical research so even though i was just at a director level um you know we had a really great conversation back in uh 2013 just before the company formed and she knew me really really well and i did feel that she was entrusting me to carry forward her her early vision which was to get stepwatch into clinical care stepwatch has been primarily a research tool and it's still uh the model she had and used to have it here i mean so it's very old tech you know it's from the late 90s it has a docking station i this is still being used in a lot of labs around the world um and uh and largely because of kim and uh you know so i i did what i could you know so i i was kind of in a only my research corner so i'm was a little limited in how i could help and direct the company but i really i worked very hard and um earned a few grants for the company but ultimately uh the company uh you know we did not achieve our goals um from 2000 early 2000 2014 was when we hired the next there were more people besides me and the founder doug and um through uh spring of 2006 uh 2016 the board voted to shut down the company um and so that's normally the end of someone's story is when it gets to that point 

let me ask one question before we decide to shut it down because you got kind of we're data analysts and you got kind of thrust into the role of taking over this division that he got branched off is that right and so you know how oh go ahead 

oh well i would say i was never in charge back then i'll be clear about that but i felt she i was the one i know i i was the expert in step watch because it was my job as a research scientist to be the scientist for stepwatch um and she entrusted me to you know to do my best you know to protect her vision but i'm was somewhat limited in in how you can do that when you're not an executive right so i didn't had very limited leadership power but i um you know but i could do my best in the you know with the tools i was given i didn't get to become a leader until um much later so yeah so when the board voted to shut down the company um we were out of money um and uh in order to stay and continue fighting for it you know i had to take a a 40 pay cut because there's just not enough money to pay uh my full even director of clinical research salary my benefits needed to be cut and the only reason i could even be paid 60 of my salary is because i had a department of defense grant that paid 40 percent of it so really this technology at this point could only afford to pay 20 of my salary and that was it and no other employees so um but the role was that they were going to fold stepwatch back into orthocare innovations it wasn't going supposed to survive at this point on its own so mungus was winding down and i learned later the deadline to have the doors completely shut was the end of 2016. yeah so uh so i had a very finite amount of time to change their minds and i um you get good luck and bad luck in startups and i finally got a bit of good luck in that nih grant that i had written with marilyn moye at harvard medical school ended up getting funded in october 2016. and that grant was pivotal because it provided money to modis health to create the next generation product 

so let me ask one so just one question to jump in so at the time when you know you didn't have a very long runway you only had a fairly short period of time to kind of take over for lacquer and you know and turn things around or figure out how to make money and how to keep things alive did you know at the time that you only had that short runway and did you you know was that added pressure or benefit or is it stressful or kind of how did you deal with it

yeah i would say i mean i think that the pressure was beneficial in the sense that um you know there was a huge amount in decline right and so there was no i had to learn things quickly right um so from day one from june 2016 um i was entrusted the wrong to run the day-to-day of modis so that didn't mean so ah you know i've never looked at a bank statement for business before like there was so much to learn and uh that um i think the pressure was good because i knew if i didn't perform we would not be able to pay bills and we still had huge bills in terms of liability insurance because we still have a medical device that we sell there's a quality um program you have to have follow certain quality procedures on your medical device there's just so many things that still were in play when you don't shut down so i think the pressure was um i don't know it was the hardest period in my life and i wouldn't want to do it again but um i think it was unnecessary um because it was the reality right the reality was uh if you didn't bring in funding you know if i wanted to hire someone to help me do something i had to figure out how to pay for it and so and i think i think it was just real you know you just needed things to be real and not pretend that it was uh peachier than it was no and i said i think that that's a good outlook in the sense that i think that you know sometimes if you know hey i only have this much about time i've either got to make a go of it or it's not going to last and i've got to learn all these things like that for blackboard added pressure at least add a realization of what the status is can be a motivator and it can you know get you or push you sometimes to where sometimes if you have a business or company that you know has a bit of cushion it has a bit of runway you don't feel that pressure you can sometimes take your time and you don't move it move it the pace that you could in order really makes it successful 

so it sounds like you know that was a good outlook on yours is hey i've got this much if i'm going to make it go i've got to be able to generate it if i want to bring on more people or grow it or anything else we've got to make that make this work so i think that that certainly makes sense 

oh yeah oh yeah and and for me i think it was um i think i was willing to put up with more pain than most because it was a huge opportunity for me um it wasn't like i've always been a you know a ceo of a startup right so it wasn't like i could walk away and become you know be a leader somewhere else like no this was kind of like the make it or break it moment where i could um see if my ideas work and and learn a lot so no matter what happened i knew i was going to learn a great deal because who i i don't i didn't know of any other situations in which you know a director of clinical research all of a sudden gets that opportunity to learn those skills right so it was um so that was also a big motivator no matter what happened i knew that i was going to learn a great deal that would benefit me so that that was good too yeah oh 

so that that makes complete sense so now so you're you taken over you have your runway for a bit of time you've got part of your salary covered you're trying to figure it out so kind of where did you take it from there kind of with that realization where you're at how did you kind of navigate or how did things go 

wow well even with um the grant like there was that we're still we're still very fragile right so that allowed us to create our prototype of our next product this is this one so this was our previous product our new product with bluetooth um it allowed us to create this prototype but it wasn't enough money to bring it to market and it wasn't um and i'm still was not paid a full salary so i'm still at sixty percent of my salary only employee but i now have funds to pay for consultants to do engineering work so now i can i can move the needle for modis in terms of getting closer to having a product people want to buy so um so that was great but we're still not out of the woods the next big breakthrough was that with the prototype we created i was able to use that to convince a pharmaceutical company to give this our first clinical trial contract which is huge because up until this point modus health has not broken into the clinical trial market and it was just based on the prototype from the grant so it's kind of leveraging everything you got you know to kind of push it forward and that was huge because i was very honest and transparent about the company with them they knew i was only employee they knew about the financial you know struggles but what we were working to do and um despite all that um you know they chose us because we are the best of the world at measuring mobility and we had proven that we could create um a mobile a mobile app with cloud system for their program because they wanted a custom product and it was just about the capability that we had the connections to the right engineers and both app development and cloud development to do it and uh they did say without that there's no way they could have trusted us there would have been too much of a um uh that would have been way too nervous you know because it was already a big leap of faith for them to choose us given how little we were and uh that was the big one and when that um happened um i was hoping uh our current uh board would reinvest but they didn't but david boone the inventor of step watch really came through for me and he had a colleague and friend who was an angel investor and his name was kirk alexander and in december 2017 he provided an angel investment that initial investment was um 350 000 so not a lot but that was enough to then leverage all we had done so i could then take the money from the pfizer contract to create this custom product combined with the money he provided i could then make it a generic product that we could get we could sell to other pharmaceutical companies and that was the and then then our revenue started um multiplying you know like we five decks at that year you know like because then we got three bear contracts with that and now we had other contracts with other pharmaceutical companies um from that base and so it was uh without that i would not have stayed because even with the grant even with um the pfizer contract we had to have outside funding to leverage all we had done to um increase revenue so we could become cash flow positive and uh really excited to say 2020 was our first cash flow positive year so we are now at that point where we can support ourselves which is a huge place to be from the board thinking we had no shot at it so very exciting so now so now you you finally or you know reach cash flow positive which 

hey that's a great place to be and it's certainly you know a good milestone to hit as you're now looking forward to kind of 20 20 you know 2021 going forward kind of the next six to 12 months what does that look like for you or kind of where where do you see things heading 

absolutely so my mantra through it all has always been to get stepwatch into routine clinical care worldwide i i think i said that the first time i met you know the the original investors at schooner capital it was in my presentation it's like the thing i've said over and over again even when i was only employee and um and i genuinely believe in that um and that's where we're going and in fact we have um two hospital contracts already to use our product with our new clinical care software we are being tested at prince of wales hospital in sydney australia and we have um we're in contracting with the u.s space hospital so we're already kind of tackling the world in that respect and um you know i'm incredibly excited for that so that that's been my biggest motivation from the beginning and now it is um you know continually you know listening and improving the product and catering to catering them to these different markets they all require very different software and figuring out how to be the most helpful in leveraging you know again what we're best at the world at doing and that's mobility measuring mobility so yeah so i'm pretty excited so we actually have a huge um growth potential ahead of us you know this is just the beginning but i love that it seems to be the struggle is a little less every quarter but not any less exciting it's just now it's more about how do we love continue leveraging and growing and fulfilling our customers needs and getting new customers as opposed to sweating will we get paid this month you know so that part that change and um where you put your energy is fantastic 

no and i think that it sounds like you know a lot of a lot of exciting er you know good experiences in the past and a lot of exciting things ahead well as we you know so now as we walk through your journey as we start to wrap towards the end of the podcast i always have two two questions i asked so we'll jump to those now which is so along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what did you learn from it sure 

i think the worst decision i made was um i think back in october 2016 when i knew that okay we're not closing the doors of modus you know we're leaving them open to experiment i i wish i had looked up from the work that i had right in front of me that i had to get done right then and looked at what am i going to need in the future to be successful and had i done that i would have asked okay where are all the company contracts you know where are um where all the pitch decks you know where all of the um uh cash flow models you know that that i knew the executive team had had before me um i didn't ask for those things until i became ceo a year and a half later um once you know we knew first once we took additional funding in and finding those materials was really really challenging at that time because after a year and a half you know i didn't realize the handoff is very different when you're handing off to wind down a company versus handing off to keep a company going and um i didn't know that you know i think i wish i had um looked up from what i needed to accomplish imminently as to if i what could i do now to make my job easier in the future that part is kind of unique probably to to not to us necessarily but not many companies or startups will be in that situation but i think the broader point is um always kind of think ahead a bit so the way i'm trying to apply what i learned is right now i'm looking ahead and i'm saying okay if my dreams come true and we get a really large contract um what do i do if i don't have enough cash in the bank to build enough product to support that contract in a timely manner how can i how can i work on solving that right now so if that happens or when that happens in the future i'm prepared you know i don't have to um you know so it's always occasionally need to look up and think about what can i do today so in the future when something i want happens i'm ready for it so no i think that's both a a lesson to learn or a mistake to be made as well as a good lesson to learn from it so that's certainly i think insightful so now as we jump to the second question which is if you're you know talking to someone that's just getting to a startup just getting into a small business what would be the one piece of advice you'd give them sure so um i would recommend uh reading the book um good to great uh by jim collins i found that really helpful i was lucky enough to have a phd advisor that had me read it in grad school which was great because i didn't i didn't know i'd ever been a leadership position at the time so i think my thoughts were formed really pure before i had any like didn't have any sense of entitlement you know which was fantastic so now that i'm in it i can make i can compare myself to my thoughts of myself back then and make sure you know i am you know when there's pain points exactly all the executives but especially me you know endure the most of it you know take on the headwinds so the people working for you the less of them right so and i loved um find what you're best in the world at and i loved his conversation on how you know i'm finding the right people and uh i thought that that has been a really good it's been a really great guiding post for me 

um i've read a lot of other books too um but if i can only give one piece of advice i'd say to read that no and i think that you know first of all i love the the book good to great so i think that's an easy simple takeaway but it's it's certainly an insightful book it gives you a lot of ideas of how to to build a business that's sustainable that will last and what that takes so i think that's a that's a great piece of advice well as we wrap up and if people want to find out more they want to be your customer they want to be an investor they want to be an employee they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to connect up with you or find out more 

yeah absolutely um you can just go to our website emojishelp.com and uh just go to that contact email and i will get it i still a lot of the phone numbers and emails still come to me because they're still small and i'd love to hear from anyone um i still uh i still am very hands-on so do a lot of training i still help out a lot with tech support and i love but i love being the main interface between um us and people who want to know more about modis so um yeah don't hesitate 

all right well i definitely encourage people to check your check out moto's health find out more and uh and or get involved so well terry thank you for coming on it's been a pleasure now for all of you that are listeners if you want if you have your own journey to tell and you'd like to be a guest on the podcast feel free to go to inventiveguest.com apply to be on the show if you're a listener also make sure that one click subscribe so you get notifications all the awesome episodes come out and to leave us a review so that people can find us new people can find us last but not least if you ever need help with patents or trademarks feel free to reach out to us we're always here to help just go to strategymeeting.com thank you again terry it's been fun to have you on and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last 

thank you i appreciate that have a great day 

you too you

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