Blaine: We’re going to do something a little different today. VANTIQ TV has often featured CIOs from large companies talking about digital transformation and related technologies and also featured many consultants and gurus on similar topics. But today, we will speak to an entrepreneur: someone who has successfully bootstrapped his own real-time business from scratch. We will learn about his journey and some great lessons for both startups and for larger companies that want to act more like a startup.
Having said, that joining me today is Jordan Mayerson, Co-Founder and CEO of Hoplite Power. Prior to founding Hoplite Power, Jordan was an investment banker with Guggenheim Securities and Goldman Sachs. He also has degrees in finance from the Wharton School and in computer science from the University of Pennsylvania. Thanks for the time, Jordan. We had a great discussion last week in prep for this and I’m excited to share it with others.
Jordan: I’m glad to be here and hopefully what I have to say can help and be insightful to your viewers – just want to make this an entertaining conversation for everyone involved.
Blaine: Right. And truly, we look like we’re in startup land here. I see you’re at a shared office space now that you’re sharing with a bunch of other startups in New York City. Is that right?
Jordan: That is correct. We are based out of the New York designs incubator in Long Island City which is right outside of Manhattan. Its focus is hardware and design-based companies, which is not the easiest thing to do in a city like New York where everything is more advertising, tech, fintech, or software. We’re a small community of like-minded individuals who are building hardware-based products and physical products as opposed to just software. We have a lot of electrical engineers, mechanical, industrial design. We have access to a shop upstairs. We’ve built all of our products to date in our office, so it’s a good place for us.
Blaine: Really interesting. That’s great! I’ll leave people in suspense a little bit to find out what Hoplite Power is specifically. But, before we do that, tell us a little bit more about your story. Obviously, you started out in investment banking and then somehow, you joined a hardware and software startup or founded one. Take us back a little bit.
Jordan: Sure! I guess it’s a little less of the typical route into tech and engineering. But out of school, as you mentioned earlier, I did have both degrees in computer science and business. Coming out of school, I felt that the business route would be the best way to get into the business world, kind of brush up on some basic needed business skills, get my feet wet in the so-called real world. Having the background in finance made it very accessible to get onto Wall Street in New York going into banking.
Three and a half years out of school, I had also done a few internships at a few other financial institutions, I really felt that it was a good time to take a risk, if I ever were to take a risk. I’m 25. I have really no dependents, no real liabilities. I don’t have a family and kids that I would have to have balance with running a startup, which I hear plenty of people do. I can’t understand or imagine how they do that after seeing the problems and difficulties with just running a startup and being single.
It felt like it was the right time. I’ve always wanted to get back to something a bit more creative and tangible as opposed to doing a financial services type role where I’m doing Excel spreadsheets on a daily basis, but I don’t see any real connection to the product.
At the end of the day, I’m very attracted to solutions for problems as opposed to looking for building a technology looking for a problem to solve. The opportunity that we have here at Hoplite Power was something that plagues everyone who owns a smartphone with poor battery life. And it’s something like, “Hey! Here’s a problem that isn’t being solved, and maybe there’s a better way to go about doing so. Let’s put our money where our mouth is and actually try to leverage this and exploit this opportunity.”
I would say my expectation was never to become our, essentially, lead software engineer, but push comes to shove, always more interested on the business side being able to straddle the divides between both tech and business and being able to speak those languages. You hear a lot of horror stories of entrepreneurs being taken advantage of by VCs, people that are in the investment world. They’ve never done a financial model. They don’t know how to do accounting. A term sheet is foreign to them.
I was going to leverage that background to basically have someone that speaks that language on the team. Lo and behold, we still have said person being able to speak the language and also being able to do the software development, which I think, overall, even though it was never my expectation, is a much more interesting story. It is actually leading us to be very lean such that we will not need to spend extra resources on having a financial person, marketing person, and a software engineer.
Hopefully, we’ll get to the stage where that will happen. Those are good problems to have and we will be expanding. But in the bootstrap mode, it’s been definitely a much better story to tell potential investors, partners, other stakeholders that the product was developed in-house, built by hand 100 percent by essentially two people.
Blaine: This is a great place to stop. Before we get into the story of the development of the solution, which is really interesting, bring us all up to speed on what exactly is Hoplite Power? What is it, what problem does it solve, and what is the business model of the company?
Jordan: I think that’s a good idea instead of keeping your viewers in suspense of what this company does. We’re not in stealth mode and we’re happy to say what we do. Basically, Hoplite Power at its core is providing on-demand smartphone charging solutions through a shared distribution model. Basically, what that means is that we have engineered a network of kiosks on demand, connected. They are about a foot and a half by foot and a half and hang on a wall that we install into a bar or restaurant.
We have a pretty sizable network here in New York City. Basically, it is a vending machine for batteries, for smartphone chargers that you can rent on demand for any type of phone that you have. Utilize the battery pack, charge your phone, and then, like other sharing services, you can actually take it with you from place to place. So, you’re never really tethered to a physical location.
Blaine: So, you’re not putting your phone in the machine. You’re getting a battery out of the machine and connecting it to your phone, carrying it around for some amount of time, and then putting it back?
Jordan: It’s funny that you mention that. That is the reason why we started the business was that we saw these locker-based mechanisms, which is what most people are used to. When we tell them what we do, they’re like, “Oh is that locker you put your phone in?” We’re like, “No. That makes no sense to us. We want you to have your phone on you and you can take the power with you as opposed to you putting your device into a locked box and then sitting there for 45 minutes waiting.”
We’ve heard so many horror stories from companies that have partnered with these locker systems where the locker breaks down and then someone’s phone is stuck inside. Is it the responsibility of the business or the service? If our thing doesn’t work, the worst thing that happens is you just don’t get a battery. You still have your phone. We automatically refund money. There’s nothing negative. Unfortunately, it’s not the best user experience, but you will still maintain your device and have your assets on you.
So those Lockers, it’s the exact reason why we’re doing this mobility type of solution where within 20 seconds and a swipe of a credit card, you have a fully-charged battery pack that’s right behind your phone. Put it in your pocket, and you’re walking down the street.
Blaine: And how many battery packs does a machine hold? How many customers can you serve at once?
Jordan: Currently, our Gen 1 machines are 15 battery packs at a time. Because we leverage real-time data solutions in VANTIQ, actually, as our backend, we are able to maintain very high-level of supply without having to have a large in-market stock.
So, we could have had a machine with 45 batteries in it and then just kind of let it run, but we really prioritize having a very small footprint machine so we can get into these businesses. And then we just monitor the levels as they occur, transactions wise. If a machine needs to be refilled or serviced, we know that before any of our operating partners would.
However, we are actually in the process, and it’s very exciting for us, developing our next generation machine which is the same exact concept, but much higher capabilities from both the technical and other value added services. I don’t want to get too far in the weeds with that, but that one’s going to have a capacity of 40 and not much larger footprint. So, we’re really excited with that. We’ve come up with a very novel, internal system that is allowing us to maximize battery space with minimizing footprint. That’s what we’re hopefully going to be rolling out within the next – don’t want to put any time frames in stone – so let’s say 6 to 12 months.
Blaine: Sounds good! Is it a simple pay per use model or do you subscribe to the system or how does that work?
Jordan: Hey a subscription model would be fantastic. We’re not there yet, but that would be something that we would be very interested in if the market avails itself to that type of model. As of now, it is a pay per use system: you rent a battery, you pay a rental fee, you use the battery, you return it. Pretty simple.
We’re not doing pricing where if you use it for 20 minutes, it’s X price. Use it for 45 minutes, it’s Y price. We want to give the customer the choice on how they want to charge their phones.
Blaine: Makes sense. Thank you. I think everybody’s got a pretty good idea about how this works. Tell us the story about how this came to be. You already said that you got the idea. You saw the pain in the market, obviously. Everybody’s cell phones are continually dying and it’s an ongoing problem. I see no indication that it’s going to go away anytime soon. The standard kiosk model where you plug your phone in and leave it attached to a unit is not optimal. So, you saw this pain in the market and what did you do? How did you decide to begin to tackle it?
Jordan: This kind of goes along with a general concept of how would you potentially do it differently because everything in hindsight’s very easy to discuss. But basically, when we first started the business and we raised some internal capital and some friends and family capital, we were very naive. We were like, “We need a build a prototype. We need to show some initial customer interest. If we have those, let’s go raise some money.” We actually built a – let’s call it a version zero – prototype that actually is an ugly box that I wish I could throw off a bridge, but I can’t.
Blaine: It’s going to be in a museum someday in the Hoplite Power museum!
Jordan: Better than what it currently is because it’s a glorified storage unit we put some boxes on top of! [laughter]
We hired some consultants, some engineering contractors to actually build this out. At that time, I was not part of the technical development whatsoever and was more so focusing on the business development, more the things that I thought I’d be working on.
But after getting, I’ll put it lightly, a good lesson from some early angel investors and hearing that we were just so far off from where we would need to be in order to actually raise some significant capital in terms of traction, we went back to the drawing board and were like, “Okay. The ultimate idea would be to have a system that would share these batteries, but would also be able to recharge the batteries automatically once they’re returned.” Our version zero prototype did that (not very well).
To get it to market, now that I know much more about manufacturing, DFM, and actually getting hardware built, yeah, it would have never gone anywhere. However, it did get us into this space in NY designs, the hardware incubator where we’re at. We asked ourselves, “What features do we care about as a company that consumers probably don’t really care about?” We decided that the ability to self-charge or the machines to recharge the batteries automatically was something that was a nice to have but less so a need to have for proving the market if people will pay a nominal fee for an on-demand charge.
So, we redesigned a system which is our current system which is in market which is more so of a traditional vending machine where there’s a queue of batteries on the inside of the machine, a simple coil mechanism, and when you go to rent the battery, the coil spins and drops out a battery. Then, you can use it.
After pivoting away from going full 100 percent to the idea of having a fully autonomous, self-charging kiosks, we designed our current product. It basically took us from January of 2016, where the initial designs were on a physical piece of paper, to December of the same year where we actually installed our first machine.
So, we bootstrapped hardware in the market in less than a year, which also includes the software aspect because, being connected kiosks, there’s a UI on the machine, a 14 inch touch screen, so that is very interactive and that’s how the consumer actually utilizes our machine and selects the different options, on the touch screen. To provide the ability to go from place to place, it all needs to be connected to a centralized hub of data.
My partner was more so on the hardware side. I was focusing more on the electrical and software side. It was through this process where I was like, “Okay. I’m going to have to get my hands a little bit dirtier on the engineering.” I actually throughout the process, taught myself some basic electrical engineering, enough to design and build the circuit board that’s powering our machines. I have no real electrical engineering experience, but it was kind of a “How do we get this done? We have to do it internally. We can’t hire anyone to do it. How can we show that we are still very strongly supportive of this thesis: that people will pay for this?”
Blaine: Tell the story of the 75-page schematic. I don’t know if you were just about to get to that, but that’s quite a story.
Jordan: During that process of getting our current system up, we were working with a consultancy, an engineering consultancy firm that was marketing toward startups. Our idea was we have the hardware focused and design, the internal mechanisms, the electrical schematics, everything. We kind of were like, “Okay. We’re good with that. We’ll maintain that. What we really need help with and what we don’t have the capabilities on our team is building a network infrastructure for on-demand, real-time transactions.” That was the necessity to actually run this business.
Blaine: A nervous system of the system.
Jordan: Exactly. 100 percent.
And so, we engage this company with the expectation that they would be able to provide us with an MVP (minimum viable product) backend, a few basic APIs that we could integrate into the machine’s programming so that they communicate. We would have a pilot-ready product that we could then put into market, start showing traction, start generating revenue, actually generating the data to show people will pay for this.
Unfortunately, there was a bit of miscommunication along the way. Instead of getting an MVP back end and an API library, they provided us with a very comprehensive 75-page PDF of if they were to build an app and API, this is how they would do it. [laughter].
Fast forward through some of the negotiation and some of the thoughts our company is going to die because of this conversation, lo and behold, we came to a very creative solution. They, at the time, were partnering with a company called VANTIQ which was marketed to us as an IoT automation platform. They thought that what we needed to have done, we could build on top of VANTIQ’s platform, assuming that we got a little of training and got up to speed on how the platform works and how to develop on top of it. And they were right.
Blaine: So, when you say, “We could build it with VANTIQ, you don’t mean that company that wrote the 75 pager?
Jordan: No no no!
Blaine: They were basically saying, “Here. VANTIQ’s fairly easy to learn. You go ahead and do it yourself.”
Jordan: Yes, yes. We were hoping that they were going to be actually working parallel, they would be building this, and we could focus on everything on the machine side: software and hardware. We then realized that in addition to the hardware and the software on the machine, we now have to build the entire backend and the whole networking infrastructure.
But in August of 2016 was when we got introduced to VANTIQ and went through a few tutorials, intro, and training session. By the end of December, we had product in market. We had a full backend API library that I single-handedly developed, in about a three-and-a-half-month span, was able to integrate it into our front end. I was confident enough to program in java, so I thought if I can get the two talking to one another, maybe we have something here.
And now, it’s been almost a year and a half later. We’re still using the same exact backend. As we add more machines, it’s at a click of a button. The new machine comes online. The new machine is then added to our system. It’s been inherently scalable. We don’t have to look to deploy or redeploy new servers or expand our cloud systems, whatever you want to call it.
It allows us to actually increase and scale the network in real time because we can easily add and onboard any machine in about five to ten minutes. We’ve definitely made improvements over time and we see some initial errors that weren’t necessarily debugged, but given the fact that I can go onto a web portal, change the API, and then save it and fix any error pretty much in real time, it made it a lot easier to actually roll this out.
A lot of startups, especially ones where software isn’t necessarily their core focus or it’s a complementary aspect of it, will go and outsource the development. That may get you a product very quickly and very good looking, without having the technical capabilities on staff and in-house to make any changes is kind of cumbersome. It could be costly, outside the scope of an initial project. Who then maintains that going forward? Who maintains ownership? If something goes wrong… I can’t tell you how many times in the middle of the night I’ve woken up, seen an error on the system, logged onto my computer, fixed the API, and then went back to sleep – not have to sweat.
It’s self-determination type of startup where we’re trying to minimize having any technology that’s really developed or built by somebody else such that we don’t know how to modify moving forward. So, that was a huge benefit that at that time, didn’t dawn on us because we were actually operating a multi-machine system every day, 24/7 essentially.
At this point, we’ve had thousands of paid rentals, thousands of unique customers, multiple users, very positive feedback from our partner locations, and it was all based on the idea that people will pay for a charge if they need it. People pay for convenience. We built these machines. We tested them. We go into a business and literally put it on the wall, walk away, and within a few hours, we usually have our first rental because it’s intuitive, people can figure it out, and it’s very rewarding to see utilization in real time.
I can go onto a portal and see there was a rental. This guy rented it for the fourth time – seeing that come in on a pretty much instantaneous basis from any machine in our network.
Blaine: Now when you release your next-gen product, will you have to redo the backend from scratch or will you be able to reuse a lot of what you already created? How difficult do you anticipate that will be?
Jordan: It’s not too difficult in that it’s already primarily been built. I have been spending a lot of time behind the scenes getting the next version up and running. I would say that it’s basically 75 percent of our current system. And having the current system made it very easy to quickly develop the next iteration because we have the ability to bifurcate our data between platform 1 and platform 2, all on the same tech background. We can keep them completely separate, actually run both networks at the exact same time.
A lot of the things that we learned from the first round of development we leveraged for the second round, but due to more of the technical complexity of the new machine, the ability to self-recharge, larger capacity, there was a lot more data that we needed to keep track of. The APIs were a little bit more robust and lengthy in terms of its development, but we made a concerted effort because we know how the old machines ran and know how the new machines differ. We actually pre-built the back end and now we’re going through the process of developing the UI and the application for the next machine and leveraging the new platform as we speak.
Put it this way, the first development cycle probably took me about three months learning the system, getting stuff developed. That was like an initial rollout and then there was a lot of debugging along the way. The second backend, the APIs and databases, I specified in probably about a two and a half week sprint because I knew what I needed, I knew what I needed to change. The nice thing with the platforms that we’re building it all on a dev platform.
So, I can test everything and debug in real time as well. It’s not like, “Let me run this and oh I have to wait until we actually have a network up to debug this.” I can simulate data and start seeing how these things work, where they break, what needs to be changed, and are already going through that process. Within the next month, we are hopefully going to have a fully working demo prototype of our next machine with all the bells and whistles, fully functional batteries, take payment, all that. We are working with a few manufacturing partners and engineering consultants to help get it manufactured. But, we’re in the process of tying all those bits and pieces together on a fully-workable next version.
Blaine: Very cool. It sounds like you do intend to run the V1 system and the next gen system at the same time, at least for some time.
Jordan: Yes. I mean, what’s bad about passive revenue? I mean, the machines run. They still function perfectly well. People use them on a daily basis. We see that utilization. And until we were in a position to rollout our next version of the machines into this same market, there is no reason to remove them.
Additionally, for our next machine we’re going after, we’re kind of moving slightly away from the bar/restaurant market and targeting larger venues: amusement parks, sports stadiums, where there’s a lot of people, a lot of foot traffic. People are there to be entertained. The last thing they want to do is being tethered up in the concession somewhere.
Given that we’re focusing on a different kind of location network, for the near future, there’s not going to be a lot of potential cross contamination, but they’re going to operate in different spheres. Hopefully, eventually we’ll get to the point where we can phase out the gen 1’s and bring in the newer system because it’s going to be actually professionally manufactured, not in our office.
For the time being, until the next one is actually up and running, there’s no reason to remove. We’re actually looking to expand. We have a few machines ready to go in our office that need nice homes. So, we’re looking to expand a few more on the current network and then we’re just going to let them let them ride.
Blaine: Well it’s really exciting to hear the story. Obviously, the hardware development is really interesting and I know a lot of the folks that listen to this podcast are probably more on the software side, but it’s always interesting, as you said, to hear the hardware side. On the software side, it’s also interesting that you can move so quickly and basically take what you’ve got in gen 1, almost build a digital twin of gen 2, run it in simulation, make sure it all works, and then, when you’re ready to go live, you can bring that live in real time and keep gen 1 running.
It’s not years of work with a team of developers, but weeks of work with you. It’s not that you don’t look like a really smart guy. I’m sure you are, but that is still pretty impressive.
Jordan: I am working very well with a few interns that are key to this development.
Blaine: Ah! The Interns! Good for you!
Jordan: Divide and conquer. You know, they’ll be working on X Y Z, I’ll be doing A B C, and then we integrate and then it works and then it’s like great. The funny thing is from our first machine to our second machine, the only consistent tech stack aspect is VANTIQ and is the back end because we’re going from a Java-based web app to a Python-based web app. The firmware that we’ve built for our new machine and all the other modules were communicating over: TCPIP as opposed to serial. It’s actually a different tech stack.
Also, the way that we’re integrating our APIs, we’re going from a Java SDK, which makes it very easy to integrate, to straight HTTP rest calls. So, we’re actually going as a more traditional API calling protocol. Once we figured out how to best communicate with our back end via rest, Java to Python, no big deal. We have to modify how it’s being called, but once we figured that out, it’s now off to the races.
The system to the user is going to be exactly the same, more or less from a high-level perspective, but the underlying tech is different languages, modules, payment software, and different payment hardware. It’s a really separate system, but because we know how the backend works and how that integrates and how that data is communicated and stored, we’re not sweating having to build a backend.
We can focus solely on the new application and any of the nuances that arise from developing with a newer tech stack because we know that when we start to integrate the back end, it’s going to work as expected. I started doing that this week and it’s working as expected, which is great.
Blaine: Glad to hear it. That’s great! So, maybe I’ll combine the next two questions into one. What was the hardest part of getting your company this far? If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently? Maybe those are the same, maybe those are different questions.
Jordan: It’s a little bit of both. It was kind of an uphill battle based on more so the type of business that we chose to pursue. There’s an adage in the hardware space that hardware is hard. It’s true because not only do you have the capital costs required for research and development and you actually building a product plus building out a team, most investors are used to a software-based return curve where you can put in a little bit of money upfront, you bring on a few people, launch some servers, and if you go from 100 users to a hundred million, it’s a lot easier to scale a software business.
The investment community, at least in New York, is still very used to that type of risk profile and that kind of use of capital. So, when we go to places and say, “Hey we need this type of money to build machines because machines cost $2000, $3000 to build.” They turn around it’s like, “Oh my god. That’s a lot of money.” We’re like, “Do you know how much a real vending machine costs? That’s probably $30,000! And I’m just saying 2.”.
Probably the hardest thing has been the bootstrapping aspect; getting product in the market where we have good feedback from customers that they want to use it or businesses that they would like this problem to be solved. When we go to try to raise a bit more capital to expand, to initially launch the business, they said, “We want to see more traction and growth.” And we’re like, “How do we show traction if we can’t build product to put into market to show the traction that you want to see?”.
The question for us was: how do we get into market, bootstrapped with very limited investment while having most of the features that we want to be able to provide or market ourselves? I think that’s where me becoming more of the engineer came out. We needed to get to the market. I have a software background. I hadn’t touched Java in probably five years, and now that we’re doing Python, I hadn’t touched that in about eight, since school. But it’s kind of like riding a bike to an extent: just pick it up and learn it and back to the development.
Blaine: What’s one thing you would do differently?
Jordan: I would’ve said “bloody hell” to prototype zero. I realize now that the most important thing is speed to marketas analogous of a final product as possible. So, when we cut out the capability of doing self-charging, that allowed us to really move quickly because we didn’t have to design our own battery pack. We white labeled and sourced directly from manufacturers overseas. We didn’t have to figure out complex charging protocols, battery management, and power issues there. It’s a very simple system.
If you look inside one of our kiosks, it’s a pretty simple system, to be honest with you. It’s really, more or less, the distribution that is the value add, the battery packs. We’re not really creating new tech here, it’s the access and the convenience that we’re providing and the reassuring thought, “Hey, my phone dies, I can easily get something to call an Uber home or to text my friend that I’m OK.”.
We have a tendency to forget that without the hardware, the phone, all the really cool stuff that our phones do would be useless. So, that would be if I would kind of do it again, [I would focus on] getting quicker to market and focus less on proving and building out the full tech prototype. We could have easily jumped to our current machine without much loss and could have done it a lot quicker because we built it in-house. We didn’t hire contractors to do it. We controlled our own destiny.
My partner, Nick, and I, we ended up building a much more robust, professional product than the engineering consultants we hired to do the first one in the first place. The need for expertise, a lot of people this day and age are really like, “Oh if someone else can do it, let me hire them or let me…” It’s like, “You know what? if you’re an entrepreneur, you better be able to leverage your own skill set other than being a business person or a finance guy.” If you’re not doing some of the development yourself or a key member, it doesn’t seem like there’s as much of that connection to being an entrepreneur, that you’re really putting in the time and effort.
I don’t want to bash anybody else’s strategies or whatnot, but for us, we always were very keen on keeping the tech in house, being able to say, “Hey, we developed this. We’re not leveraging, relying on other software providers or other companies to do this for us. We’re doing it essentially ourselves and it’s worked pretty well today.”
Blaine: Very cool. Changing gears entirely, I always give the chance to call bullshit on some aspect of conventional wisdom, maybe where the gurus are saying user tech gurus are saying X, you think it’s actually Y. What’s your call BS moment here?
Jordan: Coming from that finance side of things, I kind of understand that world and I know people in it. I know how capital is put to use. When I was in my banking days, I was working on billion dollar transactions and whatnot. So, I speak the language. It’s not something that is over my head.
VCs need to stop marketing themselves as, “Oh, we invest in the team.” or “We invest in any stage.” Every guy that I’ve gone to that says, “Oh no you’re too early.” How can you be any stage if we’re always too early? If you were to do an analysis of multiple VC copyrights, it’s all the same regurgitated script. I have a bunch of friends in VC it’s not like I don’t have people in this community.
Blaine: You HAD. You HAD a bunch of friends in the industry. [laughter]
Jordan: Exactly Exactly. More so, I wish there was just a bit more. This never happened because it just won’t: “We invest in X, Y, and Z companies at this stage or later. If you don’t meet those quotations, don’t talk to us.” or “We wish you the best of luck, but that’s not our profile.” It’s the ones that say, “Oh, we invest in teams, not ideas. We invest in blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.” It’s like, you know what, you didn’t have anything better to write on your web site.
Blaine: Wow! That sounds very visceral to you. [laughter] We’ll let you back down off that one a little bit. To wrap it up, take us through a couple of key takeaways or tips for entrepreneurs or business people that are trying to drive some innovation, real-time transformation in the world of business, in a market. What tips do you have?
Jordan: I would say it’s a dual-edged sword because there’s a lot of bologna out there, don’t get me wrong. So, you’re going to have to do your homework.
It’s two things. Let me bifurcate between tech side and business side. On the tech side. I would say look to see if there’s some other solutions out there that you can leverage that would help you get to market faster because getting to market fast is the ultimate goal; proving your product, whether it be hardware or software.
Then, you need to get something built. Most of your early adopters are not going to be looking under the hood of what you have built. So, if you can leverage other technologies or platforms, for us, [as an] example, we didn’t want to build an API and database platform from scratch. Those exist. Why not leverage one that’s already debugged and a lot better than what we could ever build internally? That’s one other area that we can de-risk and then we can focus on the things that you have to develop.
I would say, on the one hand, spend some time trying to figure out what can be leveraged off the shelf or if there’s certain things that would require some development but not pull from the ground up.
Two, I’m never a fan of outsourcing tech, especially if you’re looking to do a tech product. You can’t really say you are a tech startup if you’re outsourcing everything. You’re more of just a business. There are plenty businesses that operate like that and it’s great, but I don’t want people to get caught up in the fact that, “Oh. I’m an entrepreneur and I’m not really doing anything.”.
On the second side, so on more the business side, don’t waste your money on efficiency tools until you really need to use them. There’s a lot of tools out there for communicating, accounting, collaboration, time management, pretty much anything that a business does. A lot of people are very quick to pay for, of all things, convenience, which is what I market our company as. [laughter].
As an entrepreneur just starting up, it’s not easy. You’ve got to put in the sweat equity. Don’t be paying for a CRM until your Excel spreadsheet of customers and clients exceeds your ability to function and you need the CRM.
One thing that I would recommend spending money on is a good accounting software. I’m using QuickBooks and I keep track of all of our finances, but I do have a background in finance. So it’s hard for me to separate those two. Money will go by very, very, very quickly. So, spend every dollar wisely, more or less. So, if there are certain things that are less sexy tools, like to use Excel over some cool new fangled product, use Excel. Don’t go out and pay for all these expensive things so it looks nicer. At the end of the day, you’re trying to get the product out and the product is going to hopefully speak more than the fancy CRM templates you develop.
Blaine: I think that advice applies not only to startups but to larger organizations. Their agility gets reduced. They get bogged down in all the tools, all the resources, everything that they could do. They could launch this new product and integrate the system into SAP in six months or they could just get it out there and keep it simple; more MVP oriented, more agile and develop things rapidly. So, I think your advice absolutely applies to large organizations as well.
Jordan: Yeah. We got to a point – I’m just using my company as an example – where we were spending more time talking about the tools and figuring out how to use the tools than just doing the work and doing what our businesses is. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely certain things that make life a lot easier. We used communication which makes it great. We use Dropbox – great. Google Docs – great. Basic stuff.
If you’re getting into these crazy task trackers and you’re a team of four people, if you can’t communicate with your team and know what people are doing, you probably have bigger problems than having to use a task tracker, that type of stuff. There’s definitely goods. There’s definitely bad. I would definitely say try not to spend all your time assessing tools. And if you find one that you like, just go with it because the next one out there is probably not going to be materially that much better.
Blaine: That’s good advice. Well, that wraps it. Jordan, thank you so much for joining us today, really enjoyable conversation.
Jordan: I appreciate it! This was fantastic, and it was a great opportunity to reengage and talk to you guys again. I hope talk to you guys soon.
Blaine: Absolutely! And for those interested in hearing more about Hoplite Power, check out hoplitepower.com. And if you are in the New York City area, keep your eyes open for the kiosks, hopefully a gen 2 kiosk in the not too distant future.
Jordan: Hopefully! We’d all be happy about that.
Blaine: You bet. And of course, you can reach out to me anytime at [email protected]