Joshua David began his foray into his new company as a relentless, problem-solving intern. His entrepreneurial spirit emerged early. “I was an eBay power seller while in high school,” Joshua relates. “I bought cell phones overseas, unlocked them, and re-sold them. I was learning about profit and loss in high school, and making good money.” As a student at Drexel, Joshua took an internship at a Malvern-based medical device company, and that paved the way for his next entrepreneurial endeavor. “They didn’t treat me as an intern, but as a part-time employee. I got to know the CEO and CFO. They even paid for my 21st birthday party.” “As an intern, I just focused on helping anyone I could. If I couldn’t solve a problem, I’d come up with some other options.” The SETVI Spark One of the problems he saw early on was that the sales people weren’t using the marketing portal, and that the marketing people were complaining their marketing tools weren’t working. Joshua decided to jump on his idea, and he knew his friend Stephan was just the person he needed. “Stephan knew I was serious about my idea when I showed up with my iPad and a bunch of documents. We met at noon at our usual diner spot and didn’t finish until 1 a.m.” “We quickly identified what we lacked, and started going to other startups. One of the hardest things about starting a company is having people believe in you. To work for you without any salary.” Eventually, they found the right team members and built the content management system, creating a minimum viable product from a series of screen captures. “With SETVI, salespeople can tailor their presentations for whomever they are meeting. They can see what their clients are doing with the presentation once they send it to them. Are they opening it? Which slides do they look at or forward to someone else?” On Charging for your Beta Version Joshua found that clients were willing to pay for SETVI right away. “We started selling SETVI in beta, because they saw value in it. I think you should always charge for your product, because if they’re not buying it, you can identify the problem and fix it.” Logitec was their very first client. “The rep was more interested in the analytics, but we didn’t have the analytics built yet. He was going to buy a product from another vendor, but he liked ours. So he paid for it and we agreed to have the analytics in 2-3 months.” Coming Full Circle “I reached out to the people I’d helped as an intern. I said, ‘remember that problem you were having? I solved it.’” Those connections paid off. “Now, they are clients. I emailed the CFO of the company I interned at, and sent him a video of what I was doing. He loved it. It’s hard to believe that 3 years ago I was moving printers around, and today I was sitting in a meeting with the CFO. On Determination “There are going to be really high highs, and really low lows. It’s a lot of hard work. There were a few times I worked 40 hours in less than 2 days. One time we landed an investor after doing that, so it was a nice payoff.”
Lucinda Duncalfe finds that training in the martial arts is a lot like running a company. “You have to be willing to be vulnerable, the same way as when you come to full speed in an attack in martial arts. Women in particular are terrible at this. We ask for less money, we worry about what people will think. Just GO.”
With a tenure that includes a string of successful CEO gigs in the tech industry as well as a vegan meal delivery service, this Wharton Business School grad has always enjoyed a good match. Starting out at SEI and Infonautics, she formed relationships that would follow her throughout her career.
A consulting gig with Elverson-based online banking software company Destiny Software led to her first CEO-ship, which was a surprise. “Destiny founder Skip Shuda called me on a Saturday to talk about doing marketing for them, and I told him what he really needed was a CEO. On Monday, he called me back and said, ‘we think you’re right–we do need a CEO–and we’d like you to do it.”
Lucinda advises wanna-be entrepreneurs to keep their lifestyles in check so they can be fearless. “At SEI, I was making a lot of money. When I went to Infonautics, I took a 50% pay cut, and when I moved to Destiny, I took another 50+ percent cut. I’ve always lived well below my means, so I could do that without it being a problem.”
“I like to do what I like to do. You can do that if you make a lot of money, or you can do it if you don’t spend a lot of money.”
When the tech bubble burst in 2002, Lucinda sought out her next endeavor. She and a partner founded TurnTide, an anti-spam tech company. “We bought the technology with stock from our new company. And 6 months later we sold it to Symantec for 28 million bucks.”
“I believe that if you keep doing the right thing, then the connections will happen.”
Lucinda joined Conshohocken-based Monetate in 2008, citing her excitement about the big scale and international presence. “There is a whole new set of lessons to learn when you’re working on something that you didn’t build yourself.”
Monetate marks her fifth stint as CEO. “I believe that if you’re good, it just sort of works out. At the end of the day, it’s about results. If you’re good, just keep being good.”
Real Food Works
The film Forks Over Knives changed Lucinda’s life. Extolling the virtues of a plant-based diet and condemning big pharma and factory farming for making people sick, the 2011 documentary “made me really politically angry,” she says. “If you don’t know about the power of food on our lives, go watch that movie.”
Struggling with arthritic joints since early adulthood, the lifelong athlete was at a point she needed to do something. “I was too young for knee replacement. After seeing this movie and doing research, I changed my eating. In about 3 weeks I was pain free.”
Her dramatic results inspired an idea to make those dietary changes accessible to anyone, leading to the formation of Real Food Works, a plant-based meal delivery service partnered with Forks Over Knives. “Real Food Works uses the excess resources in the existing food infrastructure to make a healthy meal-delivery service. We make it easier to get people eating healthy food every day.”
Launching Real Food Works has had its own challenges. “Food is a cash flow business and it’s not super scalable. It was tough.”
She called in favors. “One of my contacts said, ‘you have 3 passes and you’ve used one. Is this another one?’ And I said ‘yes it is.’” But Lucinda thinks Real Food Works is ready. “We have 17,000 people on a list ready to sign up for the service.”
On Doing What You Love
“I’m 52 and I’m still passionate about doing this. When I look around at other people my age, there is a small percentage of us who are all still engaged doing what we love. There then is another small percentage doing something totally different. And then I have a whole bunch of friends who are kind of going on cruise control.”
“As my mother is fond of telling me, I gave up napping at a year old and haven’t looked back since. I’m not one to go on cruise control.”
Teaching is on the horizon. “I want to start a CEO school. There are specific things that you need to know how to do.”
Like managing risk. “One thing I always tell people who say that entrepreneurs are risk takers. Not at all. Entrepreneurs manage risk, but we don’t get emotional about it. People tend to be afraid of all the stuff around a “thing” that happens, and not the actual thing itself.”
If you’ve ever marveled at the way food slides out of your frying pan, you can thank John Bacino. The same goes for Glide dental floss, with its talent for slipping effortlessly between your tightly spaced teeth. He’s even the man behind the sinfully smooth feel of those Elixir strings on your guitar. And anyone who raced a mountain bike in the late 1990s remembers the maintenance-free magic of RideOn shift and brake cables.
“Knowing a need and filling it was an early lesson I learned,” says John. That lesson led to a long and illustrious career at W.L. Gore, and spurred him to launch a company in his retirement.
It’s Not About Mushrooms
“I grew up in Avondale on a mushroom farm,” muses John. “I knew there was one thing I didn’t want to do, and that was mushroom farming.”
Instead, he focused on inventing. “I started making Teflon-type dispersions and spraying them on an industrial scale, taking the powder and turning it into a spray.” With his method, he was able to produce a thicker coating of Teflon, perfect for applications in the chemical, pharmaceutical, and semiconductor industries.
He sold several of his patented ideas to W.L. Gore in 1981 and joined the team, eventually moving into developing membrane material. “All of a sudden I became a person to go to in order to develop a new material.”
The first generation of the material was intended for computers, but John—and the Gore philosophy—didn’t stop there.
The Ingenuity Team
John and his team wrapped the thin, flexible material around bicycle cables, and RideOn cables were born. The sealed braking and shifting systems virtually eliminated the traditional maintenance cycle of cleaning and lubricating. Mountain bikers loved them, but so did other people. “Somebody at a company in Florida saw the cables and asked if we could make the material for puppet strings.”
John formed the Ingenuity Team at Gore to explore new uses of the products. The durable, dirt-resistant membrane found its way onto guitar strings and even into dental floss.
John retired from Gore last April, but he’d already been plotting a retirement filled with innovation. “I was at the gym working out. I noticed that everybody who came up beside me, the first thing they’d do was to untangle their ear buds. It was minutes of wasted time.”
The relentless inventor in him decided to take a shot at designing a solution, and HOOP-IT was born. Holding up a Ziploc bag filled with early prototypes, he describes the first version. “I glued 2 magnets to a cog belt. You could open it with one hand. Other versions on the market use Velcro or a snap and need 2 hands to open.”
Size matters. “I used silicon wrist bands, but I needed a smaller size. So I found children’s wristbands.
Durability matters, too. “Every time I glued magnets on they fell off.”
He finally got a version he was happy with, made a bunch, and took them to a fitness club in Hockessin to sell them. “I sold 50 in 2 hours at $8 a piece. Another guy came back and bought 14 to give to his kids and people at work.” John new he had a hot seller.
Even today, as he thinks about scaling up for mass production, he’s still tinkering with the design. “The inventor in me is never happy.”
“I’ve made things that touch your life but you don’t know who I am.” It takes awhile to comprehend the magnitude of inventor Robert Morris’ journey. After telling us how he invented multimedia, he’s now moved onto the web browser. And the list of inventions doesn’t stop there. The title of his presentation, “How I Changed the World and Kept my Privacy,” contains a certain irony. While it suggests intentional ownership of that privacy, the situation is actually the result, to a large extent, of others taking his ideas. Multimedia Robert’s first big invention was a linear video program called V_GRAPH that allowed for video sharing between computers. It was the early 1980s, and “People were used to computers connecting to each other using text, not video,” says Robert. He took the prototype to a friend, setting up the TV monitor that displayed video housed on a computer, and stood back so his friend could see it. “He didn’t get it. He was convinced there was a VCR attached to the TV. He couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing.” Robert then showed it to an investor, telling him, “You’re going to have multimedia on every desktop in 5 years. He told me I was crazy. But that was the same person who turned down Steve Jobs so I don’t feel so bad.” Robert and his partner struck a deal for V_GRAPH to be bundled as a part of a software package for creatives from a company called Tempra Media. But through a series of missteps, Robert lost out on the financial windfall from his invention when the company became the subject of several patent disputes in the late 1990s. The Web His next project was an object-oriented platform called Ozone. “It allowed multimedia components to be displayed in one view. It could run over the web.” Most significantly, the package included a web browser. Robert and his partner took it to Microsoft. “It was responsible for them getting the AOL contract instead of Netscape.” But Robert and his partner, on their shoestring development budget, hadn’t navigated the patent and copyright implications. Once again, they lost out on the big time to a company with far greater resources. A similar fate befell an early calendar product they designed. On Doing Other Things Frustrated, Robert changed gears and wrote a book (working title: Inside the Revolution: The Story of Robert Morris). It’s about Robert’s namesake, who in addition to signing the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution, also served as Superintendent of Finance from 1781 to 1784. On the Future, and “Working for the Man” Robert considers himself unsuited to be an employee. “I have to put my heart and soul into things. I’m too weird to get a job. I’m just a basic guy who comes up with something he thinks is a good idea.” His next big idea? Robots. “Not a creepy plastic person or a squeezy cat, though. It will be simple and useful like everything else I’ve made.” Stay tuned.
“I didn’t think of myself as an entrepreneur until 2 or 3 years ago. I just thought I was dumb enough to keep going no matter what.”
CoreDial’s CEO Alan Rihm found his status as a “real entrepreneur” further validated when he was recently honored as a 2015 Ernst & Young Technology Entrepreneur of the Year in Greater Philadelphia.
But it took getting let go from his first job more than 20 years ago to fully plunge Alan into entrepreneurism. “I’d been working on a business plan all along. Now, I had just been given 3 months of pay and told goodbye. I realized that I just got pushed off the diving board, and if I don’t do it now, I’m never gonna do it.”
And so, with a 100K loan from the Small Business Administration, Alan told his wife, pregnant at the time with their first child, “I’m going to start a business.”
The ISP Craze
Alan’s first business piggybacked on the ISP craze, selling web and dialup access. In need of some guidance, he approached a senior corps of retired execs. “They told me to get a good lawyer, get enough money, and to go get out there. I discovered that people will give you help, but you have to do all the hard work yourself.”
The year was 1995. “We bought 2 servers and rented 1500 square feet of office space,” says Alan. With no one to actually run the servers, though, “We put an ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer. We got 2 people, including a guy working part time at DuPont.”
“We went from selling 2-3 accounts a day to 20-30 because we went on the Howard Stern Show and gave away Netscape disks for free.” Alan needed help. Fast. “I recruited my mom to answer the phones. She said, ‘But I don’t know what to say!’ I told her just to pick up the phone and put them on hold.”
He sold the enterprise within 2 years, paid off his credit cards, and prepared for his next venture.
Alan started ASPRE, an e-commerce company, in 1998, quickly adding 7 employees to the roster. They won a collaborative deal with AT&T that allowed them to grow to 75 employees in just 4 months. “I loved the culture there,” says Alan, which taught him the importance of intentionally building the culture you want to have in an organization.
After selling ASPRE, Alan founded a CRM company called CentraView. “It offered one central view of everything I need in my business. I put half a million dollars of my own cash in. We worked on it for 2 ½ years and raised another million in angel money. And then we hit a wall and couldn’t raise any more money. I had to put it to bed. ”
In 2004, Alan spent 3 months helping out a local ISP, Chester County Internet, get their business on track. After counseling them to sell off the ISP portion of the business and focus on developing a spinoff VoIP service, the founders came back and asked Alan to help them run the new enterprise.
“I tried to leverage everything I had learned about business. We applied all those things, but I still made all those mistakes again. We weren’t fully funded. I was still paying guys out of my personal bank account.”
Alan’s approach to leadership and culture is strongly influenced by the book Great by Choice. “One thing I’ve learned about culture building is that it takes a constant drumbeat to build a culture of success. You have to constantly talk about it. And then you start seeing people in the hallway saying ‘if we’re using the hedgehog strategy then we should do it this way.’”
Now, CoreDial has grown to 100 employees, and they’re looking to add 30 more. “I’ve also learned that you not only have to hire the right people, but get ‘the right people in the right seats on the bus.’ And also at the right time.”
Another cultural choice is the foosball table. Just not in front of the CEO’s office. “I was so excited, gushing about this table when I bought it at 3 am. We put it outside my office, and no one used it, because they didn’t think they were actually supposed to play. So we moved it to a spot away from my office where people are comfortable.”
Alan’s approach to culture includes firm roots in Philly. “I believe that if you can’t make an opportunity happen here in Philly, you can’t make it happen anywhere.”
For over 30 years, Ben Franklin Technology PArtners has been the leading seed stage capital provider for the region’s technology sectors, investing over $175 million in more than 1,750 regional technology companies, many of which have gone on to become industry leaders.