In our left hand we held the sum of money our friends and family invested in us, in our right we held the failed term sheet from the venture capital group we couldn’t close. I say that our friends and family invested in us, but really the principal of lending money to family and friends applied here. They gave us the money because they believed in us and wanted us to succeed– but I firmly believe that it was love and support that drew the investment, not ROI.
We didn’t yet have the experience to understand that our failure to close the venture capital investment was just one of many failures that we would experience as young entrepreneurs. We didn’t know that failure is common and nearly any failure can be overcome. In that moment, all we knew was that the months we had spent developing our business had brought us to a dead end. We didn’t see our own personal growth, we just saw wasted time. While processing the consequences of our failure and making decisions about our future, it was the initial support of our friends and family that drove us to keep pushing forward.
We were right back to where we started. Our initial group of seven had shrunk to three. We were still a group of engineers. To maintain any type of momentum, we pivoted our business to become a generic engineering services firm. We never came together and made an active decision to abandon the robotic toy, however, as we started working on projects for other people, the concept of our robotic toy became less viable. Until we had a viable idea of our own, we focused our energy on building projects for others. Our business grew and we helped bring many new products to market.
Our first product was a back-up assist camera to help drivers align their trailer hitch with whatever they were preparing to haul. The second was a nuclear material detector that would process data in real-time to increase nuclear material identification speed. Our third was an explosives detector, followed by a fourth project to assist with cancer treatment. The projects grew in complexity and we cherished every challenge. Each project we completed led to new personal discoveries for our team, and our business. We excelled at taking sensor data, preprocessing it, and conditioning it to become applicable. In most cases, the end-use was to run a complex set of algorithms against the data, usually on a server side application, with hardware acceleration to increase the speed of processing.
It was an exhilarating and heady time–embedded systems were on the rise and our business was positioned perfectly. Our experience grew to match our ambition. The people we hired formed the core of our embedded systems business. The work was never easy, but it paled in comparison to the challenges we would face in the future.
We enjoyed our engineering services work, but knew we wanted to become a product based business. That vision began to take shape when we met a researcher from Carnegie Mellon University.