Am sure you can all agree that Sloanies are pretty amazing people! I remember feeling that awe and admiration every time I’d hear all the ‘cool’ things Sloanies were doing on campus; so it only made sense that we tell Sloanie stories. Am so excited to spotlight our first Sloanie, Brian Gannon, Founder & CEO of California Labs – makers of a new consumer gadget named Loop. For Brian, the inspiration came with the birth of his son Alex. After missing to capture some of Alex’s important moments and having trouble sharing baby pictures with his dad who lived across the country, he decided to build his first prototype of a wearable camera – like a ‘Go Pro’ for parents. During this time, Brian was still working as a product manager for Maxim Integrated. This evolution from problem to solution made me remember an interview on Freakonomics Radio – one of my favorite podcasts. Serial entrepreneur Miki Agrawal, founder of Thinx, was being interviewed and she advises listeners to think about the things they are most frustrated with in their daily lives and find ways to solve them. For Brian, this was it!
Through the process of testing the prototype with users and applying design thinking principles, he stumbled on an insight that a new display device was what what missing and would have the most impact. If he got it right, he could create a new communication device for the home and create a new category and really put a dent in the universe. Users wanted it to be portable so it could be moved easily in the house, stable so it could be propped, beautiful so it could add to the aesthetics of the house and connected so people could communicate and share with others. And that is exactly what Loop is! Loop is an intelligent personal display for the connected home. The product is 8 weeks from shipping, so you can imagine the excitement and jitters Brian has.
Brian always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur and his previous experience in management consulting and product management provided a solid base to found a business. Like most other entrepreneurs, Brian self-funded for a while and then later joined a hardware incubator where he met his genius designer co-founder Ethan Ballweber from RISD. They were able to raise initial capital through angels and eventually raised a seed round with a great lead VC. Brian believes raising money is an art and a science. From these tips he provides, you can definitely see where the art and science play in. As many of you look into fundraising for whatever ventures you are working on, this is excellent advice:
- Unless your team has major star power, the initial fundraising will be done in a series of angel investments. This is not a bad thing for several reasons. The first is that your initial idea is usually flawed, so you want some ability to change/pivot. Second, and related, more money means more people which means harder to change. Look at it as a way to get yourself positioned for a seed or even a Series A round.
- Try to raise incremental amounts of money the best you can and when you are pitching your business, you always want to sound like you are at the end of the fundraising round. Create anxiety and momentum.
- Raising money is incredibly time consuming. Try to make it less by squeezing in all your meetings in a condensed period of time i.e. 1-2 weeks of meetings. Do it kind of in a rush and do it fast. Your targets need to feel the urgency and scarcity so they can commit sooner rather than later.
- Confidence is everything. Walk into the VC offices knowing your stuff. Try to project an air of inevitability that you are going to close funding.
- Finally, prepare for a lot of “no’s”. It is somewhat a numbers game. Try to learn from each meeting and improve your pitch. It is a process.
For me, this advice was eye opening. Am hoping that it helps you as much as it informed me.
Chatting with Brian was a blast. He was open, down-to-earth and passionate about Loop. Humble Brilliance comes to mind and it’s no surprise because he is a Sloanie! We reminisced about our love for Sloan and fun fact, Brian’s class was the first year that G-Lab was introduced. His class only had 10 people, so Brian went to work convincing his friends to join him. Believe it or not, Professor. Simon Johnson was heading the class as he still does now and Brian and 3 other Sloanies went to Buenos Aires and had the time of their lives. Horseback riding in the Andes, to a lost wallet and to a broken watch – this is what makes MIT Sloan tick!
I thought this was a telling phrase: As an entrepreneur, you are always trying to stay alive until you catch a break. Thank you Brian for taking the time to talk with me, it was a pleasure.
For those looking to found something, look to solve that annoying, nagging problem. Your idea doesn’t need to be big or earth shattering, it just needs you to believe in it.
If you have other Sloanies here in the bay area that you think would be excellent to spotlight, please reach out to me firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on twitter @kibuanita.