“So, you have obviously found the drug and are fully hooked on it,” joked Mike Colwell, Executive Director of Square One DSM, as he introduced Gabriel Glynn, CEO of MakuSafe and Colwell’s guest for the final 2016 edition of Startup Stories. The drug in question, of course, being entrepreneurship and Glynn, being a habitual offender, with no less than six businesses to his credit.
“About 10 years ago I had been working a career in retail, but I got tired of missing holidays including every Thanksgiving since I was 14 years old.” This explained his decision to seize upon an idea his father shared and form his first business; Asset Protection Specialists(APS). As that business grew and franchised, he launched a marketing company exclusively focused on marketing APS with his franchisees as clients. This, in turn, brought him together with fellow entrepreneur, Brett Burkhart as Glynn merged his marketing function into Burkhart’s SlashWeb. SlashWeb was ultimately absorbed by Shift Interactive of West Des Moines, where Glynn settled in for a long career.
That long career lasted 11 months. “As happens when you are a serial entrepreneur, I got that itch and decided I had a really good idea and wanted to do something else.” That idea was MakeuSafe, something he stumbled upon while touring his father’s manufacturing facility.
MakuSafe is an innovative wearable technology for industrial workers that monitors seven environmental exposures that can result in injury or illness and records that data in a manner that can be real time monitored by safety managers as well as archived for study or incident reporting. Intended to serve both the employee and the employer, the company mission statement declares their desire to “Save lives by making the world a safer place through technology and data.” “One thousand people a day die from work-related accidents around the world,” he explained, reinforcing his belief that the company could have a real positive impact.
However, MakuSafe, the sixth startup for Glynn, was a step in a whole new direction. MakuSafe took him into the world of hardware. “We are going to see more and more hardware startups in Iowa,” interjected Colwell. “There is a lot more hardware to do.” Much of the conversation with Colwell and the large audience centered on the challenges that hardware development offers in juxtaposition to the more common software and software as a service development, predominately seen on the Central Iowa scene.
Among the differences noted by Glynn was the connectivity needed. Earlier in his career, while remaining connected with the startup community, he suspected value could be found in expanding his connections to more traditional networking opportunities, such as Rotary and the Association of Business and Industry. “I didn’t know how I was going to use those connections at the time, but they are what turned this project into a reality,” he reflected.
These traditional groups connected him to manufacturing resources, not only for the physical development of the monitors that would be the heart of MakeuSafe, but also the end users, who would, interestingly enough, also stand ready to be the initial investors.
“In an entrepreneurial journey, there are times to bootstrap and there are times to spend money, and we understood early on that our resources were not going to get us very far down the road,” he said of the decision to take their existing monies and find an engineering firm that could create their first MVP, without which very little investment funding would be forthcoming. “It’s hard to raise money with an idea on a napkin, and it’s hard with an alpha device that looks like a science fair project,” he adds.
“It’s amazing what happens when you have a device that works when you are talking to investors that feel the pain,” commented Colwell as Glynn explained that the first plant he approached to beta test the device fronted fifty percent of the first round of funding.
With the product still in refinement and full deployment likely to occur in Q2 of 2017, Glynn could pause and reflect a bit under questioning from the audience. Patience, he maintained, was a virtue. His successful pressuring of his engineering firm to reduce their required time from five months to five weeks had paid off but he warned against the diminishing returns of such an across the board strategy. “Everything takes a little longer, so learn to enjoy the process,” he offered.
Stupid luck was also a factor when the engineer accidentally toasted the very component that was preventing the MVP from functioning. “That could have been the company right there,” he quipped of their remarkable fortune.
“I’ve been very good about documenting everything along the way, and if at the end of the day it doesn’t work out, I’ll be able to go back and read all of that and I’ll probably be able to figure out why,” he suggested.
Either way, he will likely be on to lucky number seven.