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Rick Bullotta - From Founder to Exit: Building a Successful IoT Company - Thingworx

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Rick shares his experiences in building Thingworx – one of the first application platforms for the connected world – from a small team to $112 million exit. When you’re growing a company rapidly what chances and what stays the same?

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Rick Bullotta - From Founder to Exit: Building a Successful IoT Company - Thingworx

  1. 1. Lessons Learned From An IoT Startup Or, how to lose a lot of hair and sleep in just a few short years Rick Bullotta, Co-Founder
  2. 2. A little history  My background is primarily in manufacturing and industrial automation  I’m mostly a self-taught developer and a life-long learner  I have been very lucky to be part of some great companies  I have had operations, sales, marketing, and technical roles – very important  Life is an accumulation of knowledge and experiences – get lots of them  I value the importance work/life balance – Slackerpreneuring
  3. 3. What I’m doing today  My “day job” is primarily:  Leading our product and technology strategy in the IoT segment  Supporting corporate development and M&A activities  Working with our key partners  Growing and mentoring the next wave of leaders  Active Investor  LP in Bolt I and Bolt II funds  Investor in startups in Smart Agriculture, HR/Talent Management, others  STEM Supporter  Mentor for our local IYPT team  Working to expand technology education in local schools
  4. 4. Why start a company in the first place?  What do you want out of it?  Wealth?  Enjoy what you do at work?  Technology legacy?  Fame and industry visibility?  Create jobs?  Solving big problems?  Doing good for the planet?
  5. 5. It’s not going to be easy  Make sure to get a copy of Oh, The Places You’ll Go. You’ll need it.  Not being able to make payroll is a “character building experience”  Get your family comfortable with camping early on  Believe in your mission  Get rid of negative influences immediately  Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em
  6. 6. Deciding what’s important and how to make it happen  Creating real value for your customers – which you will not likely know at the beginning  Build something differentiating, not a “me-too” solution  Big differences between applied technology vs fundamental research  …and researchers versus developers vs entrepreneurs  If it isn’t creating/selling/supporting your product, ignore or outsource it  Early is better than late, but too early can be a huge challenge as well
  7. 7. Staffing your team  Your first 5 hires may well determine the success of your venture  Your co-founders need to bring different skills than you do  Apply the “Kevin Bacon” rule – but only 2 levels deep  William Wrigley was right  Get rid of bad hires fast  Co-location helps a lot, even today  I’m not a believer in starving your key players – each person has different needs  Be generous with equity, but not too generous. Use your head.
  8. 8. Financing your growth  Revenues are usually the best form of financing  Must align with your business goals/metrics  Grow revenues? Logos? Customers? Profits?  Always takes more than you think (R&D vs S&M percentages)  SaaS/subscription models put you in the financing business  Leverage free everything – PR, networking, tools, hosting, space, etc…  Share costs with your channel early on  If you take the lean startup/MVP route, focus on Viable – not Minimum  Building a channel can be far more expensive than building product
  9. 9. The importance of channels and partners  THE IOT IS AN ECOSYSTEM PLAY. Period.  The best product in the world will fail miserably if no one knows about it  50% of a lot is a lot. Share the rewards with your partners.  Working partners COSTS MONEY. All relationships cost time and money.  Partners create excellent exit opportunities, but choose wisely.  Channel partners can give you global reach quickly.  Reward your partners for “big name” wins and success stories (and require it)  Most partnerships are useless.  Your partner strategy will change over time.
  10. 10. Knowing when/how to make your exit  Nothing wrong with building a lifestyle business  The IPO market is alive again, but requires big upside potential  M&A activities (OK, actually, business failure) are the most common exit  Startups have become the innovation engine for establishes companies  Beware the black swan and consider the competitive threats  Know your limitations  Your acquirer won’t value what they bring to the party (GTM, etc.)  Don’t forget the contributions of the people who got you to this point  Get good advice. Good M&A lawyers are usually worth every penny.
  11. 11. What happens after the exit?  Usually it’s just the beginning of a new chapter.  If you’re going to be kept around for a while, make sure it is somewhere you would want to work.  Take care of your team – they’re a key reason you were successful.  Earnouts are usually pretty sucky, for everyone involved. Usually.  Aim for as much operational autonomy as possible, initially.  Remember that you might be the new shiny object. Exploit it.  Decide what you want next. As early as possible. Be honest.  Create great opportunities for your team.
  12. 12. Where are some hot areas in the IoT?  Security – lots of activity, but tons of work and innovation left to do  Analytics – deep/domain analytics, analytics at the edge, real-time analytics  Wireless – interesting opportunities to drive down cost of wireless comms  Consumer experience – let my grandmother be able to use this stuff  Data Access and Privacy – highly granular data storage and access  Data Commerce – monetizing data ingress, consumption, and insights  Applications – vertical applications/solutions to exploit the IoT
  13. 13. Happy to help!  Twitter: @RickBullotta  Email: rick.bullotta@gmail.com  Skype: rick.bullotta.thingworx