Try Out Your Ideas
The Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
Try Out Your Ideas
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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it's better to try than to talk about i had so many great ideas over the years that i never bothered to realize that could have been great ahead of their time and so on who didn't think of the iphone or this or that yes everybody had you know similar things in their mind where they said oh yeah this could be great the difference is always in the execution so there has to be a bias for action do it earlier it doesn't have to be perfect but do it [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 uh startups in the seven and eight figure businesses as well as a ceo and founder of miller ip law where help startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com and grab some time to strategize with us now today we have another great guest on the podcast mark hellos and i'm going to slaughter your last name so i buy go or dealerinos diorinos that's very good all right it's that's as close as i'm going to get so so marcelo's you're close to perfection devin so uh markelos was has been an entrepreneur i guess for at least the last three years or really dive into it but started out really before that as an entrepreneur and the software right out of business loved it but uh there were things that he figured out that he didn't know were lots of things that he had yet to learn and so went out to get a bit of experience with the bigger businesses um started in software development with some also with some smaller businesses kind of got that work for microsoft for a period of time got the software development side of it and then shifted over to marketing did marketing which helped to kind of combine the marketing side as well as technical skills um and then he started to look for ability to go out branch out do his own thing after hitting a ceiling and started the company he's out now with his co-founder so with that much as an introduction i'm sure mark or mark hellos will tell us all the additional details welcome on to the podcast thank you so much for having me devin it's a pleasure to be here and yes your pronunciation is great remember that i am i do come from greece and my name usually gets a much worse treat treatment from my compatriots so kudos to you you did very very well well fair enough well i'll take that as a compliment because that's most the time i slaughter names just like the next person so so now with that dive let's dive into a little bit of your journey tell us a little bit about kind of coming out with college kind of having the entrepreneurial event but also wanting to kind of go out and increase their skill sets kind of start us off on a journey thank you and i love talking about my journey there are so many things that shape us and you know when you look back into your journey of a lifetime pretty much i'm not very young anymore it's um it's interesting to see all those um the twists and turns that made you who you are today so yes i did graduate from um computer science and uh you know my major back in the day was in computer graphics and my actual masters was in virtual reality and that was way back in 1996 i was uh i was doing virtual reality in a computer that was probably the size of a very small fridge it wasn't an iphone back in the day and i remember that we had to get the university to order some extra texture memory another 32 megabytes and that was so expensive to get another 32 megabytes it's crazy stuff when you consider that now you have i don't know gigabytes i guess in your phone so i did start as a computer engineer because i loved computers and this was one of my very early learnings that it took me very long to realize what it was i love coding and i'm a great coder i think that coding is a form of art and you know you put your best out there and really sometimes with ex-colleagues when i look at their code you can immediately tell who wrote that code because it is that personal but there is always a confusion between skills and professions right being a good coder being a great coder actually doesn't make me a great developer because there's this difference to be a coder you need to be this spirit you know look at the big picture be quick on your feet think about like to integrate like to analyze like to do all those things to be a great developer though it requires that you are a rule follower because you can't go and do your own thing all the time right you have to follow the rules set by others if you want to work in tandem with other people you have to be more serious than enthusiastic because most projects as you may have noticed take several years to finish and i was the kind of guy who would love the challenge who would go do the hardest parts first and then i would hate everything else so i spent about 10 years of my career trying to figure out why i didn't love coding i'd change from company to company and you know do a bit coding here software architecture there and so on so and give us a little bit of an idea so i mean 10 years is a good jump so where did you did you because i think when we talked before but get me you can correct me where i'm wrong that you kind of wanted to be an entrepreneur and you did that for a bit of time out of college and then decided you had to go get your you know wanted to get additional business skills you didn't have is that right or kind of what was that transition out of college that's also true you know i worked a bit after college and i did my own firm which was great i was doing some of the coding i was dreading some of it and i was loving some of the business parts and as i was moving ahead and i saw that i was sometimes knocking my head against the wall because there were so many things that i just didn't know how to manage and trying to wear all these hats without having the experience it didn't work and remember that as a single entrepreneur actually we're two partners it was so hard you had to do pretty much everything and that's when i said that that's fine but let's see if i can get more experience by becoming a manager in coding and this is where i start my gerund to say let's learn about this and i went and started working for companies and you know i coded a bit i managed a bit of coding and things like that none of it really fulfilled me as much as i wanted and that's when i started reinforcing that and said yeah it looks like business is my thing right and sometimes when you are in this technology world you see people who are greater technology you see people who are great at business you rarely see people who have a firm grasp of both so i didn't have a firm grasp of both i was really good at technology so i said let's go and get some better education in terms of business so you know at the time i joined microsoft i worked with microsoft for a number of years different roles originally as a coder later as a product manager and that also gave me the opportunity i'm always thankful to microsoft for that for sponsoring my mba so i got the opportunity to do my mba at the uw and i always like to say that mbas are for lazy people like me because they give you no knowledge that you couldn't get otherwise right everything is in the books and you even get the syllabus sitting down to learn things like hr accounting i would never ever do it on my own volition i'd hate it but it was a required asset it's it's required that you understand accounting if you want to move ahead in business you have to understand hr you have to know about affirmative action you have to think about strategy all these things this is what you get in an mba um so so you know so now you're doing microsoft you you know you've both taken the opportunity to get some skills there get you know see a bit more of the business side you know work or you know make it get some of the things that you maybe didn't learn initially in college especially as you go into software and engineering they don't ever teach the business side they teach you how to do the programming they teach you how to do some of the other stuff but business is really not taught and i would say that's you know a bit of an issue or fallacy with most business or most degrees in the sense even unless you do go get the business degree in mba and even that i don't know that you always get the skills but you so you go get the mba you get a bit of the the big business skills you learn how they do it and then you make a transition i think you sit over to marketing is that right so as you're doing that you say hey i wanted to look or work in a bit of marketing so maybe phil said how was the transition from going more from the engineering side to the marketing side what skills did you pick up and how did that help prepare you going forward um it's always a tough change because it requires shifting the way you're thinking and interesting enough once you go to school what they taught me in computer science school and i started in germany but i think it's pretty much the same everywhere in at the university they don't teach you how to code i mean i think we had one class encoding and that was even elective they teach you how to think and that's the thing that you take away interestingly enough once you go to business school they also teach you how to think but think differently right the business thinking and the engineering thinking are different ways of looking at sometimes even the same problems so i got the mba and that gave me the opportunity to move um you know internally within microsoft and there i was as one of my first roles being the security product manager for internet explorer that was back in the day when we were releasing internet explorer seven and i don't know if you remember but internet explorer seven didn't have uh [Music] wasn't known for being robust in its security features so how do you start from zero and how do you start building up and saying hey no you know we got our act together now we've gotten things that work and we really care about customers after you haven't done something for the most part of i think it was five or six years back in the day it was an interesting challenge and it's also amazing and this is one of the things that i love when i worked at microsoft that you got an audience of like three billion users i got from you know having five customers or coding for a team of 50 to not having three billion potential customers that i was talking to and that's awesome this is uh you know the muscle that some of those big companies bring it's amazing and you learn how to deal with that scale and how you can still influence things whether the scale is tiny or whether the scale is huge as is in the case of microsoft so i did uh some of that and i was loving some of it i was hating being part of a large company and i think microsoft at the time was a pretty decent one but it was as large a company as a large company can be and as you lay your plans things happen that you don't expect like getting married and then all of a sudden your wife says hey i don't really love it here let's go move someplace else and it's important to keep priorities in life so what is it that actually makes you happy it's not just the work or microsoft protech it has to be a mix of everything so if you keep your eye on the mix you're always going to end up being happy and content if you lose sight of it you'll just end up airing on either side right you can put too much on your personal life too much in your professional life you can always get it wrong so that's how i ended up back in uh greece in athens where i started now one question so when you when your wife says hey i don't want to live here anymore let's go do something else you move to greece did you leave microsoft at that time did you have a plan to keep working for them did you say hey here's my opportunity to go be my own entrepreneur do start my own thing but so how did you kind of make that transition you're saying okay we're going to move we're going to go do something interestingly enough um microsoft said hey why don't you stick with us for a while and i was like no no i'm going to be too far away my wife actually stayed for microsoft for almost another 10 years after that and she was working remotely for most part so you see that you can have different solutions to the same problems but at the time i was feeling that being part of something so big was wearing me down so i wanted to try something smaller and that gave me the opportunity to go and i joined i think that at the time it was a startup when i left it was like a 400 person company um a startup in um mobile marketing which is a completely different uh arena again but where your final audience is again huge where you're running campaigns for 100 million users for 300 million users in brazil for 100 million people in indonesia it's pretty cool stuff um so and you know go ahead no so so i just can say so you decided hey i they offered i'm going to decide here's where i make my break i'm going to do there's a lot of cool stuff going on i'm going to do something different so how did you then make the transition to starting your own business or figuring out what you're going to do or what what are you going to do next as you're moving and as you're getting things set up i spent um at this startup i was well a company by the time i spent almost 10 years 11 years which is a very very long time for me but if you're in a small company that's evolving with you then it's actually fun so i started doing one thing and i think over the 10 next years i probably were doing five or six different things every other year something would happen things would change there will be new challenges new markets and that kept me interesting until after some point i reached a stage where i wasn't getting much much new not being challenged and this is one of the main things about what i believe is successful entrepreneurs they like challenges they like to solve problems and when i see myself successfully i go somewhere i find a problem i solve it and i set it up so that it doesn't require me anymore to run so you know i set this all up i kind of exhausted the areas where i could be and i i reached my ceiling so to say within that organization and that problem is to say i really need to find what's next and that you know goes full circle back to my early issues why i couldn't from a great programmer become a great developer and then looking at all those years working with people all the hires i've made and i had the opportunity to hire people literally across the world i hired people in the us in canada in south america brazil argentina all the way to africa and vietnam so once you do that and you try to hire in these places you realize that your usual hiring process the things you know that you anchor upon when you look at candidates and resumes they don't work what i learned for europeans and americans didn't work in brazil didn't work in africa and definitely did not work in vietnam so after many bad interviews unfortunately with people who came to me and i said this is a waste of time for me it's a waste of time for the candidate this person should have never been here why can't i find the right people and you know i was talking with hr a lot and they were saying here's a stack of resumes take your pick and you realize quickly that you can't always find truth in resumes there are so many things that are important and a resume can to an extent assuming that it's truthful tell me if you have the skills but can you tell me if you have the personality for the role if you look at my resume or if you actually measure my skill in coding you think this person is awesome pretty soon you're going to say that i'm a lousy developer if you were hiring me for that so that was kind of the impulse to go and say hey let's figure out a better solution and the impulse you know it's so much better when it's shared so this is where my co-founders come in i think there's nothing more valuable in any startup than people and it starts with the co-founders these were the people who looked at the same problem said yeah and they brought different perspectives to the same problem actually one of our co-founders he's a psychologist by training and he said no no there are methods for this we should say what see what science says and do that i was saying okay let's figure out how we could sell this and why this there is a niche in the market for this and there was our third co-founder who's technical and who said easy peasy i'll get this coded in what ended up being three years but he said like in a week at the time um so and so when you guys you kind of identified okay you're working in a business at the time at the same time then it's just hard to get good employees good people that are going to fit the bill and do the work and do it how you want and so you have kind of the kernel of the idea that hey maybe we should go do or do the startup do our own business it's uh for hiring and you know how to find the the right employees how to do that assessment how to make the matches did you jump all in did you guys you and your for co-founders and ad leave your jobs and start in it did it start as a side hustle is it still a side hustle or kind of how did you or how did you get to where you're at having three co-founders helps so for one of us it was a side hustle uh one of our co-founders said hey i i love this here are ideas i'll even give you some money you guys go do it for the other two of us it became a main enterprise and i think it's so much harder to do things as a side hustle you know every so often you're gonna find uh one um one startup that came up about on this super fantastic idea which just took off by itself however 95 percent of the time startups are successful because of great execution and you know we have an idea the idea has been implemented several times in the market it wasn't something unknown we took the idea we evolved it and sometimes you know when you have this confluence of things the time is just right you have enough technology people are at the right cognitive place in terms of thinking about these things everything just aligns and then uh with all these things we said okay let's go and do it we still need to execute perfectly any success that we've had so far wasn't just because we had a fantastic idea is because we have an awesome execution and here's one thing that i'm always going to emphasize i keep saying probably in every other meeting if you ask our team excellence doesn't require perfection being excellent doing something awesome and world changing doesn't mean that you're doing something perfect no and i think that that there's a lot of wisdom in that now one question that i had as you're chatting so because you said that you know two of you kind of were all in you were doing you know you went in um this was your full-time endeavor and really weren't doing it as a side hustle he also said that it took you know two or three years to really get through the programming get it all built up and running so how were you guys did you or supporting yourself during that time did you have some clients did you have savings did you have investment dollars or kind of how did you support yourselves or as you got the business up and going you know how startups are they leave milestone to milestone so we started with a very small fund to develop a first proof of concept to say that you know it could happen then we showed this and we started getting some angel money and without angel money we were able to hire a team of psychologists because the most important thing in what we're doing was to have solid science behind it we got that leaked you know once you have that milestone you can get the next round of angel money and say okay now i'm gonna do my mvp and then you go and you start getting some money once we have the mvp uh running enough that it looks like a viable business we were able to get the first institutional investors and here this is where we are today where we had the round of uh funding from an institutional investor big pi one of the visa firms based out of um europe has actually been great in supporting us in moving forward with our vision so and so now with that so you got some of the investment you're able to keep you know the lights on have a paycheck for period time as you're now hitting your milestones you're getting things up and running now when you finally got the the product programmed out you got it launched and you got things going you know how is that gone is it you have customers and clients is it still a slow build has it been a quick build is it still one where too early to tell or kind of how is that gone that's a good question what is a slow build so what is the benchmark against which every entrepreneur has to measure themselves and that's a very open-ended question right so i think in our first year we went from literally zero to a quarter of a million in arr which we think a decent performance we think we could have done better during that year we made a lot of mistakes and remember we're an experienced team we're not even the first timers here all of us who've been involved have had experience in one way or another this is not a you know 25 year old startup we still made mistakes it's a new arena it's a new game it's a new place and we learned and we got to where we are now we have an you know every year we want to do at least a five weeks we think that's a great goal and we'll keep on pursuing that no i i that's a great goal and it's great that you're starting you know because some businesses you spend you know two or three years getting the product up and going starting or figuring it all out getting it all built out and then you launch it and you don't have any sales or you have such dismal cells that it really doesn't go anywhere and then it's you know a bit demoralizing or you don't have hey how do now you have to figure out how you're going to pivot how you're going to adjust so it sounds like and you guys then you were able to within a get the product launched you know you spent a bit of time thought it was going to take a couple weeks to program it took a little bit longer but once you got it launched there was demand and there's people wanting to buy it so so now you take and you and then you hit on you know the next you know net or replied on continuing to grow it continuing to double and 5x at 10x it and continue to expand it so now with that in mind why don't we or you know i always have the two questions i asked at the end of the podcast why don't we jump to those i think it's a fitting transition which is along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what did you learn from it look the most important thing in our company any company i think it's people we were setting okrs last week and our first okr is to build a great team in the way of building a great team we are all people and we're all sentimental we have a tool that likely helps us hire people by change checking not only for skills and personality but also for cultured and by cultural i mean that it's easy to understand an accountant that works for one of the big fives is it not big force how many are left um consultancies is not the same type of say accountant that would work for a startup like brick once you realize that you need you understand that you need to look for more than just skills and is this person a good accountant there are accountants who are going to thrive in a startup environment and accountants were going to wither in the same environment so this was our one mistake we hired an excellent person we didn't have the culture out feature at the time and that person was excellent but not for us you know they they can't survive in this environment and it's an injustice to both parties when you keep someone who's not performing optimally and by optimally it doesn't mean that everybody has to be a rockstar optimally means that someone who's at least good and that's the difference right everybody goes out there and looks for people who are you know the two percent we don't hire the two percent we we assess everybody and we don't even hire necessarily the brightest of all we hire the people who give us the most balanced package in terms of can they do the job do they have the skills required for the specific job that's one do they have the personality required for the specific job and do they fit into our culture and sometimes you know you'll give a bit of one to get the other someone is going to be a lower cultural fit and be a better personality fit or whatever but you always buy the whole package no no and i love that an idea because i think that you know sometimes you're gravitated to oh who has the best resume from skill sets or who has a most stealth you know the most stellar background that oh this is just going to be the the perfect person and yet if you're negating you're not overlooking on fit you know you can have the best person but if they don't fit with the culture and i'll give you an example that you know even in my end you know we do miller ip lab we focus on a lot of startups and small businesses i'm always to look to change a bit of the the legal or legal you know profession how things are done why are they done and i'm always questioning and so just because you're a good attorney doesn't mean you're going to fit well with the with the law firm or with my law firm because we're not going to be the typical law firm so if you're saying hey i just want to go in be an attorney do this the way that it's been done for 100 years and you know get in and get out even if you have the great skills you're not going to be the the right fit for us and so i think that too often to your point people are looking just for the skills when fit has every bit as much or more of an impact and whether or not they're a good candidate so i think that's a mistake to a an easy mistake to learn and certainly one to learn from you're so right and one additional thing that i'd like to emphasize is that a lot of times people go looking for fit and that when tried to an extreme can lead to monocultures what we're trying to think is can we have someone who's going to add to our culture so we are who we are and this is who we would like to be and it's interesting we have a benchmarking exercise in our software where you define your culture and then it measures everybody and tells you how um you're doing we're not who we would like to be and that's fine no one is who would like to be we always aspire to be better but it's great when you can say hey i'm not going to hire devin because he brings all the other things but he's going to bring this element of i don't know inventiveness that my rest of the team are lacking he's going to bring resilience he's going to bring customer focus whatever it is that i care about i can now supplement to my team and this is how you create a great team um no and i think that that's that's very insightful and very true well now as we go to the second question um which is if you're talking to somebody that's just getting to a startup or a small business what would be the one piece of advice you'd give them well i gave one piece of advice which was excellence doesn't require perfection i'm always going to stand by that and you know i was explaining my whole journey and i said how i started and i went and got more and more more knowledge because i wanted to avoid mistakes and you know i we needed to know more and i think i convinced earlier that i said hey we had our first year it was awesome we did so many mistakes despite all our experience so even though experience teaches you how to do things action is what makes the difference so if i had one word of advice it's always it's better to try than to talk about i had so many great ideas over the years that i never bothered to realize that could have been great ahead of their time and so on who didn't think of the iphone or this or that yes everybody had you know similar things in their mind where they said oh yeah this could be great the difference is always in the execution so there has to be a bias for action do it earlier it doesn't have to be perfect but do it so i think if i say just do it it's copyrighted already but you get to me fair enough i i doubt nike will probably get mad at you if you just say just do it over the podcast so you should be good no but i think that there's you know that's interesting is you know done now i think we've done over 150 episodes on the podcast and i'd say probably and i'd have to go back to actually double check the one the biggest thing on the the most entrepreneurs are saying is just dive in or do it earlier you know don't hold off don't wait too many people will wait for years or months or years and they just once they finally get in dive in and they do it they they find out they love it they enjoy it and it's the best decision they wish they'd done it earlier or they never get going and then you always have that regret so i think just diving in doing it getting going is is probably the best there's a lot of wisdom there well as we wrap up as people are wanting to learn more they're wanting to use your product they're wanting to be an employee they're wanting to be an investor they're wanting to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to find out more or connect up with you this is 2020 so you know the easiest way is to go up on our website brick.com and you know it sounds like a brick but we spell it bryq dot com or you can email me marculos with two else m-a-r-k-e-l-o-s at brick.com i'm always happy to hear and we want to support startups we even have special very very reasonable almost ridiculously priced packages for startups because it's the most important thing that we can give to startups and we love it when we give these packages startups they grow into awesome teams and then we keep up selling them as they grow bigger and bigger into unicorns so yes if you have a startup and you're wondering man i cannot deal with this i'll hire whomever i'll hire referrals referrals are great if you know what you're getting not because just someone referred them everybody has to be treated equally if you care about diverse and inclusion do stop by bric.com and have a look free trials great packages don't do the disservice of leaving hiring to randomness no and that's the best thing that you can do for your company that's another advice man i should have changed my advice can i go back hey lots of good advice and i think that's all very worthwhile and i encourage everybody to check out brick definitely a great new way to figure out how to hire and get that right match and to make sure you're bringing on the talent that you want with our mark hellos it's been fun to have you on it's been a pleasure now for all of you that are listeners and you have your own journey to tell and you'd like to be a guest on the podcast feel free to apply it to be on the podcast by just going to inventiveguest.com if you are a listener also make sure to one click subscribe so you get notifications as all the new awesome episodes come out and two leave us a review so that everybody else can find it or find out about the podcast as well last but not least if you ever need help with patents or trademarks feel free to go to strategymeeting.com schedule some time with us as chat and we'll strategize with you about protecting growing your business so thank you again mark hellos it's been a fun it's been a pleasure and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last thank you very much for having me on devin and you know ip is one of our most valuable assets we always care about it so it's interesting to be talking with an ip lawyer every time all right well thank you again you