Simon Barker, who was EE Times' Student Entrepreneur, is back. He is now two years into his engineering career with thoughts on what it takes to drive a startup company and warnings of the pitfalls that await the unwary.
NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, England – A couple of years ago I did some blogging for EE Times billed as the Student Entrepreneur. At the time I was finishing up my PhD in Resilient Electronics and Energy Harvesting at Newcastle University but then things got busy as I had to focus on writing up my thesis and then finding some gainful employment.
Clearly I was already fascinated by entrepreneurship so you will not be surprised to hear that I made the decision to jump straight into starting my own company. The area I wanted to tackle was central heating. It may not be a sexy market but, as the Nest guys are now showing, it is one in desperate need of an overhaul. For those not in the know Nest is the thermostat company founded by Tony Fadell, the designer of the hardware for the Apple iPod.
I don't have Fadell's pedigree but two years into my journey my business partner and I have taken on nearly £500,000 of investment (about $780,000) for our product, the Radfan. We launched in March of this year, selling out our first production run in less than a week.
I won't impose the details of our product on you – although it is cool – as the purpose of resuming my blogging is to try and set down and share a little of what I have learnt, a bit of what I now believe to be true and to hear the opinions of others.
Barker was a black and white engineer.
At the start I was a fairly black-and-white kind of engineer. I believed everything could be boiled down a simple yes/no answer. I believed that technical correctness was most important and everything else should fall in behind. I believed that the idea was all that mattered. With a great idea, the laws of physics and some evidence to back it up, raising investment would be simple and straightforward!
As you can imagine, over the last two years I've received quite a few lessons, jolts to the system and wake up calls! Many of them, fortunately, very early on, but others pop up and put me back in my place on a semi-regular basis.
I now understand that technical decisions have to be made in the context of the market and that the market is a human-modulated affair, which can introduce some irrationality into the system. I've also learnt that a brand is much more than a logo, and that execution trumps idea, especially in a general economy as bad as this one. We've U-turned and pivoted when needed but I have also learnt that sometimes you just need to go with your gut and "stick to your guns." An entrepreneur needs a stubborn streak!
The pressures facing us at the moment are unprecedented – so I'm told! It seems we are living out the Chinese curse – or opportunity – of living in interesting times. With old industries stalling and new ones taking off at the speed of light, one thing that is certain is that electronics will remain at the forefront of these changes and that all organizations, small or large, should make the most of this.
In this blog column I aim to bring forward startup insights and ideas. Feel free to shoot arrows at them – politely – and add comments.
Simon Barker is chief technology officer of Radfan, based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England.
Related links and articles:
Student Entrepreneur's top ten entrepreneurs part 1
Student Entrepreneur's top ten entrepreneurs part 2
Student Entrepreneur's Hawaii adventure