Take Stock of Your
The Inventive Journey
Podcast for Entrepreneurs
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Take Stock of Your Emotional Health
"Take stock of your emotional health. The highs are really high, and the lows are really low, and it's very isolating."
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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take stock of your emotional health because the highs are really high and the lows are really low and it's very isolating everyone this is Devin Miller here with another episode of the inventive journey I'm your host the founder and managing partner of Miller IP law where we help startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks I also am a serial entrepreneur so I love to talk with and to help startups and small businesses today we have on the show and and Ann will tell you a little bit more about herself to give you a quick overview she started a logistics company did some of the jumped over to bid the food industry has been in the life sciences incubator with MIT and now she's working with some animal projects so Ann welcome thank you thanks for having me so why don't we just you I did a very quick intro but why don't you introduce yourself tell everybody a little bit about your journey and where you started and then we'll see where he ended up today yeah thanks I was really interested in languages and travel which is how I got into international shipping and logistics way back when I got out of business school I did that for a few years and then 9/11 happened so that was a transition that happened to me and I sold my part of that company and then after that I got into food import and distribution I acquired two companies one after the other and we imported products from Europe and South America and that was really interesting cuz I love the food business and I know it's early on the conversation about okay off for just a second in this and said so you had your logistics company and first of all just for those I always hear the word logistics but maybe give you the 30-second overview what is a logistics company how does that work or what do you actually do so it was freight forwarding so it's basically a travel agent for Freight so if a company in the US is buying furniture from Spain or Italy we made the travel arrangements for Freight no higher all right that is a great that's probably board that I do for the industry prior to that so thank you so far to take that and because you were a little bit we have companies or facing you know Cove in and some of the shutdowns everything else and almost not you know get us different than 911 not trying to compare in that sense but in the sense that you know something that you weren't anticipating that you wouldn't have expected happened to you and it wasn't really you know I it's a largely outside of your control how did you deal with that or decide okay here's the time to sell or the time to get out of that company and start a new one how did you kind of decide to make that transition well our office was downtown next to the World Trade Center so we went through a lot of difficulties but people still needed to buy products from overseas and shipped products so it was more of a personal choice then I went to culinary school which led me to further my interests in food so I after a while I purchased acquired a food import company and some of the clients were clients of mine in the shipping business so it's kind of a natural segue in some sense so you went from logistics and then it so the food industry are doing that over there that was with because you started it was a culinary school kind of a person personal interest wanted to learn how to cook a little bit better and okay exactly then you said hey I like doing the the food and cooking you that enough that I'll jump over to that business yeah mm-hmm so we imported huge amounts of olive oil balsamic vinegar Mediterranean products and sold them to companies here in the States and North America Canada as well alright so then not so I interjected it to your story so I'll let you get back to it I was just curious odd on how that came about so go ahead so we did that for a few years and then the recession hit and I got out of that very you know after a few years and that was interesting but that was before food was really sexy now food is sexy but we were just doing large amounts of Mediterranean food in South America and then I got into Life Sciences that's part of my academic background science in business I ran an incubator affiliated with MIT so how did you so I mean so how did you make that jump now so you went from logistics food industry made sense and then how did you get into the life science incubator and then how what was your kind of year how did you get connected up with MIT and between all of that just personal networking I met someone who was looking for someone to execute on IP mmm educational IP it was always something I was always interested in science and my business background led me to this incubator okay so and you hit on a word that I you know I've always biased towards which is IP but how did you you know and for those that you know they don't knew the episode IP generally includes you know patents trademarks and copyrights so did you have any background in IP or just had an interest or you've done it before near other companies or how did you you know what sparked the interest in that that area I had no experience with IP at all but I was going to bring New York capital venture capital to educational intellectual property that's was sitting in Massachusetts anywhere in the life sciences that we could execute on the IP okay and build companies from it so when you got into the incubator because you know incubators have a lot of its you know it's a little bit of a buzzword in the sense that you hear a lot of people that everything for not you know I've heard incubators or help your propagate your product off the ground to productize to help you sell to you know monetize things - so when you say incubator you know what what did you do with the incubator hat what did the incubator do if it was based on life sciences as I said so if someone came with a disease and they needed to find a cure or treatment we would look for intellectual property and try and develop something and bring in the funding to bring it to fruition like a treatment for melanoma for example or an orphan disease something like going so did you go out so somebody come with you you come or come to you with an idea or you know where what the project would you go out and look to acquire IP for that business or okay yeah and and execute bring it to make a company out of it so how did you go about identifying or finding that IP or deciding which one was worthwhile to pursue and make a company out of so we would search universities for the appropriate IP whether camford MIT Zurich Caltech whoever was working on the topic hmm and so there's a because I you know and I've worked with a few different companies to get into the universities and what was your experience with the universities was it because you know some universities they're very heavy on IP and they will file a whole bunch and then they kind of don't know what to do with it so to speak and so then it kind of sits here and collects dust until what happened yeah they don't know how for the most part it just sat there and it was very valuable information but it was not executed upon okay so then how did so you go to reach up and you know I'm sure this is old hat to you but I'm interested in just a bit you'd reach out to universities and say did you reach out and do your homework beforehand you say we have these you have these patents that we think you're valuable or did you more say hey we're going we got some you know life science or products or you know people who want to do something this and there's true what do you have in there and then kind of comb through what they had available because you know you could almost do it either way right yeah you can and it depends because for the most part the university owns the IP and then you have to go through different kinds of agreements and licensing arrangements and sometimes there's you know and the name of a person attached to it as well so by the time you get to monetize this it's it's a long detailed difficult process okay and then one last question that'll keep on your story so how did you and again we're doing that in every University seems to be a bit different how did you go about evaluating the IP because I mean some universities they you know they don't even know how to start to evaluate it or know what it's worth or did you set up a licensing agreement or how did you kind of is your from the University and saying hey you've got this valuable IP that we'd like to help you know productize or bring to market how did you kind of go about with those deals and figure out what was a fair analysis because I you know you've got I were and the reason I asked is sometimes I'll have clients that are almost saying hey I want to go out and see you take pickup kind of the cool ideas that the universities are working on and then to make it to market where you get students or you know graduate students but they have absolutely no idea how to evaluate it so how do you go about evaluating what that I that what that's worth yeah each case is different you built we build a company around each particular case and then each case was a different scenario like the scanner for melanoma to detect change and the skin was a different business a different model of mammography was a different business and they different lifecycle for the for the products they've got to get to market so it's each thing was a different example okay fair enough so then I keep interrupting because I just find that interesting that pretty interesting points so he did that for a while you worked with the incubators and then kind of what was the next step of your journey so I was commuting from New York City to Cambridge and then as I said these would take long life cycles for business is I needed my autonomy so it was time to move on I invented I'd live in New York City as I said a device it was an idea I had and I said let me just see if I can do this a clean compostable solution to dog waste for urban pet parents it was in my head I am NOT an mechanical engineer I have a science background and a business background so I thought okay let me see if I can really do this so verbally I tested it on people and they liked the idea and I found several engineers to work with I went through quite a few engineers this is all self-funded bootstrapped and then I went through a Business Accelerator with my idea and successfully completed it and have a patent-pending product now and that's where I am it's called curb ickis which means the word in Latin for urban is urbe kiss and on the sea in front of it means curb your urban pet okay that's a catchy name now we're gonna jump back to a little bit because you know you win so let's say you were working with the life science incubator and you're at MIT you know and or work or in association with MIT I mean less certainly you know anytime you see MIT York a bridge or Harvard or any of the major law schools you're gonna know is you know have a bit of cash a net so as you're working at that and you said you mentioned a little bit he kind of got to where you wanted to have a bit of autonomy and working on your own but how did this how did the idea come okay I'm gonna work go from my science incubators to working on compostable solutions for dog waste I mean that seems like a good jump you know a major jump or a different direction so how did you make how did you come up with the idea and then what made you decide that that was worthwhile to pursue it was a mate it's a major jump yes it is picking up dog waste but it was the pain point that I've always had you know I'm born and raised in in New York City and it was always in a pain point for me so the first idea was just to was I don't have a dog right now just angry at you know people not doing the right thing so I wanted to solve the problem by coming up with something to make them do the right thing and then doing my research I realized that you know plastic is not the solution plastic bags biodegradable certainly not the solution because there are so many different definitions of biodegradable so the real solution is compostable bags and then finding a way to compost the waist and use it as fertilizer in urban parks so it's a completely circular solution so that work so words it was the paid boy come from you'd walk down the street and after dogs you know people that have lost the dog so they hadn't picked up from or picked up after him hang it got tired of you know all the the waste leftover along the streets are on the curb from people that were picking up yes exactly and now it's particularly timely dog ways can contain harmful bacteria viruses Salmonella e.coli and we can't just treat waste like like it's nothing because it can transmit disease sure no I thought that completely makes sense and to your points probably timely with everything else going on so then you said okay I'm tired of this problem I you know I want to do something about it then you know what what was a transition between leaving the incubator and saying okay I'm going to do this as a startup did you work you know work them in parallel or start to work the idea or you know work out at nights and evenings or you just said hey I think this is a great enough idea I'm gonna jump all in and you know bootstrap it from the get-go or how did you make that transition I said you know if anything I have to give it a hundred percent otherwise no one's gonna really believe it mmm and it sounded crazy coming from me like a dog poop vacuum people enough people said that's a great idea okay so then you have the idea you start to work on it you said that you go to a few different engineers and what what was the experience with the engineers or what made you decide to go from one no exami I get that I've hear everything from and you know or at least from I hear from clients and that you can go with everything from and then help you can go to online and you can you know try and hire one that's a you know contractor you know that works in India you can work one this local you can do it so how did you go first of all find your engineers and then what with how did you end up finding the right one for you I worked with the group called collaborative that's no longer in existence I've been doing this for three years they match entrepreneurs with engineers and I my frustration with them was that and I kept going through their engineers that I had a vision in my head that they kept telling me it's not going to work that way and I if it's in my head it's I'm gonna make it work so they finally I think I was on the sixth engineer who now is going to be my co-founder because he really stuck with me and we for three years later he's he's working with me okay and we work sorry with a engineer from Cornell engineering team is from different schools because I'm applying for grants like a small grant from MIT a small grant from Penn State and a master's engineering students are working with us also okay and did that did that grant system kind of come to as you did work with the incubator or MIT or is that just happened to me independently so then you finally find energy so the one question I have is so maybe you can explain your product a bit first and then I'll ask my question but so you have the device that helps to excuse me um you know pick up dog poo for left for a better word and you know make it so it's compostable and so people will actually clean up after the pets but how does a device work how is it different than just a plastic bag or even just a bag and picking up after your dog what makes yours better okay so currently the MVP prototype is 3d printed on a 3d printer mm-hm and it's a high-end lifestyle branded device so it looks cool it's red it looks like an urban like branded product that you'd want to be carrying around so it's lightweight it weighs less it's I wish I could show it to you but I left New York sitting in Russia I don't have it with me it's like as long and it has a button and it it's a vacuum and you put a compostable bag in it and you just bend over pick it up and it stays closed and then you eject it when you get to the bin okay a nerd that knows when you've picked up all the waste mmm okay so then you almost have so first step is you have a device it you know a vacuum that will pick it up in an essence for you and put it in a compostable bag scent right mm-hmm and then they take that you'll go to a nearby bin and I think when we talked before you talked a little bit about how you'll also have you're working to have specific bins or bins that they can then drop that and so it can be but otherwise if you get a compostable bag but you put it in normal trash it's not going to do any you're not gonna do any composting with that no go to the normal landfills right and that would be better than plastic bags and better than biodegradable bags but it's still not my entire vision so how do you and so when you have this idea and you're looking to change the market how do you get how do you get people's buying right so a lot of the reason or at least and we do have a dog I'm in the lot more of the country so I'm not as much in the city but will still walk around and we do the same thing we'll take a bag you know we'll pick up after the dog and then we'll throw it in the garbage its most other people typically if they pick up after the dog but they'll let you know that's what you'll do so how do you you know change a bit of mindset of getting people to buy in or wanting to first of all pick up after their dog and then second of all say hey this is a much better product how do you kind of start to educate or get people's buy-in as far as in the market exactly so we're trying to be the thought leader we're trying first of all we're creating space right and then by having a device for dog waste and then we're being thought leaders in the space so I have a several interns for the past couple of years creating content about how pernicious dog ways can be and how dangerous it can be and then the gross factor like who wants to do that bend over pick up dog waste right and now the big thing that in New York City is people are shamed into picking it up right because you stand there and you look at them and say what are you waiting for and then when they once they pick it up they just dump the bag on the curb they don't even make it to the corner hmm educate people about the bat you know plastic is banned in New York City okay and biodegradable people don't even know what that means so what is the difference between and III guilty as everybody else what's the difference there between biodegradable versus compostable they're biodegradable has lots of different that's different definitions depending on what it's made of compostable biodegradable bags can sit in landfills for years even hundreds of years depending on what they're made of and then the bags will break down but they really do need to be composted properly okay so then you compost so then let's so you impounds like you almost have a two states or a two phase project right where one is come up with the device get people to buy in you know the compostable bag is certainly better than plastic or even the biodegradable ones it could take a very long time to decay or to break down and so then you're getting one is getting people to use the device with the compostable bag you know at least that way there-there is better for the environment and then two is rolling out the garbage you know almost the area where they can their put it in a specific bin for then that that will actually be used for composting so I imagine the device sales is almost how do you get or what's the plan or maybe it's still in the works now you how do you get buy-in because I just made and I'm ignorant a little bit about it so do you have to go to the city and get permission or how do you get the bins across the state if you're deciding with that now with the Department of Sanitation I've spoken them a few times but this is going to take a while I just want people to pick up after their dogs that's step number one and educate them about the hazards of dog ways okay fair enough so so then the question allows so you ever get to get a dog or you have any desire to get a dog especially now I do being quarantined and bored out of my mind I would love to have a dog ya know is interesting so I was reading an article a few days ago that the actually you know you have dog shelters and that and typically they're almost overrun with too many animals too many pet or pets you know there's cats or dogs or other things and yet with Kovach coming up the animal there the animal shelters actually you're running I mean in a good way but they're they're placing all the animals and they're running out in the sense that everybody now wants an animal or someone to keep the company or so has it and so it almost then makes the usefulness of your product or the reactant you know the desire for people to have it even greater so that then maybe it will help to further launch things and motivate people well cool so then we're going to jump into that so you get all the way through so where is it at today as far as and I know you touched on it briefly but where you add in far the process I'm launching it and getting it going and how's that been for you we have a working prototype as of today we had a little delay shipping parts and things because of the situation but we have a working prototype the launch may be a little delayed because of all this and we made you a Kickstarter I'm not quite sure yet but we're we have as I said just the working prototype the website we're educating consumers with information okay and so when we when do you anticipate to launchers that still a little bit up there unknown as you've had to hit delays and other things or ones kind of a soft launch I would say hopefully by September depending what's going on right now always introduces a little bit more chaos or unknowns into the equation okay oh cool well that that sounds like it is you know not in the too distant future so then one other question other question that'll hit on the two last questions I always ask the in the podcast so you mentioned you've been at this was a three year so there since you've you started on the journey and so is that you know and it sounds like you're bootstrapped you're hunter persona owner and you haven't taken any best or dollars is that right right so how's that been Amin the bootstrapping is always hard and then doing it for three years and how do how do you balance that you know if you're is it mostly been you know apply for grants or go to the universities or you know go to the government or how do you keep a bootstrap and keep all that ownership because the temptation is always hey let's go take investor dollars right there let's go bring in somebody so we have enough money we can take the market and yeah you give up control and you give up some ownership so how did you balance that or what made you decide to bootstrap it and how is that been over the over the life of the company so far well it hasn't been that much fun but I did get two grants as I said small very small and working with students has been great because they love that the clean mission they and they love the dog concept so I've gotten the best help from students it's been so gratifying and it really refreshing and they they're great and a lot of students get credit for what for helping engineering students social media marketing PR [Music] yeah gives them an opportunity to kind of learn on the company from the ground up and gives you access to a lot of good talents les that's a great match okay well as we wrap up the podcast episode I always have two questions I always hit on at the end of it so all the first one is always so what was the worst business decision you ever made and what the idea with that is always you know we kind of hear the highlights you're gonna hear hey did this under this and it worked out now we're on to this you know it always sounds like you the highlight reels and you watch the movie or you hear you know read the book for the TV show it always sounds like things just magically always work out which is very seldom if ever how reality works out so with that what's the worst business decision you made I think early on I just assumed that everyone was motivated by the same thing meaning i under valued human capital I thought everyone was motivated by money just pay them more they'll be fine which is so not true I think you really I need to really get to know everyone that works with me for me and know what motivates each person separately like someone some people like quality of life some people want a title not everyone just needs to be paid more I made that mistake okay no it's fair mistaken it was probably set especially if you're to look at you know and I don't know if I ever include myself or not on the Millennial Generation but there's almost seems like there's been a shift in the marketplace for a while as hey I'm gonna work with the same company for 50 you know 30 or 40 or 50 years I'll get my pension I'll get my retirement and I'll be great and now you're almost having a generational shift of now it's more of Purpose Driven or you know I have other things or I wanted I'm not working I don't want to work my whole life I want to have a balance and so certainly I think I'm sure a point that resonates with a lot of people was you have to find what motivates and what what incentivizes different people and then structure if they're a good employee you know things to incentivize them and what will get them to perform the best so I think that's a great insight so last question that I always ask is so what if you're to have a startup or small if somebody is wanting to get into the startup or small business has a good idea and just getting into it what would be your one piece of advice for them one piece of advice take stock of your emotional health because the highs are really high and the lows are really low and it's very isolating and you're gonna have your friends and family that's a great idea that's a great idea but it's complete strangers will say that's terrible I'm not paying for that like that is a dumbest thing I've ever heard and then you just have to really keep going but know when to take some advice and maybe tweak it and change it a little bit but take stock of your emotional no honey that's great and that's part of the motivation of this podcast is is having worked with a lot of startups and done it myself there's absolutely those highs and lows and one week it seems like everything's going great you made a breakthrough and it's going to be the best you know best month ever and then it seems like the following week everything is falling apart that the next week you're gonna have you know somebody that's you know that you know some other thing that motivates you and it's just there is a lot of highs and lows and it can be a bit lonely or you know lonely or isolated in the sense that a lot of people don't know what you're going through like you know if you haven't been through the startup you have a bit through the small business and you're you're doing you know people don't get what you're going through so there's certainly a good a good that's good advice in the sense that people need to make sure that they are prepared for that before they they jump in so well great but with that we'll kind of wrap up wrap up the podcast but I wanted to give you a chance that people are wanting to either get to know more about your product or you know sign up for pre-orders or you know wait watch for the launch or keep an eye on it or reach out to you if they if they want to want to get involved what's the best way to connect up with you or your product the website is for those of you that are new to the new to these startup or the small business arena and they're needing help with patents or trademarks certainly feel free to reach out to us at Miller IP law and we love to help startups and small businesses for all those along your journey good luck with your journey it get prepared for the ups and downs and make sure to check your mental health thanks again Ana for coming on it's been great to have you on it's fun to hear about your story and look forward to seeing how the the compostable your compostable dog solution turns out and hopefully it's a raging success and you're able to change the change the world and make it for the better thank you thanks so much [Music] [Music] English (auto-generated)