Last week, the Entrepreneurship Celebration at Cornell University featured various panels and discussions regarding the challenges and rewards of entrepreneurial paths. Here’s a look at the Physical Product panel, moderated by Ken Rother, Managing Director, eLab and Robert Shepherd, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospece Engineering, Cornell University. Student panelists included Nandita Bal MEN ’15, Founder, Meditrust; Steven Dourmashkin ’15, MEN ’16, Founder, Specdrums; Micah Green ’18, Founder, Maidbot; and Caitlin Parrucci MEng ’16, Founder, Equine Design. Panelists reflected on these questions:
How did you become inspired to create your business and product?
Nandita: I did my undergrad in India, and during my senior year, my grandma fell ill. She was living a very active life, and then became bed-bound. I was scared to have someone else take care of her since they might do a bad job like sorting pills incorrectly. I had also talked to many audiences that took pills on a regular basis, ranging from 22 to 72 years old to analyze how they perceive taking daily medications. In the end, my conclusion was that I wanted to create a product that would have a sophisticated internal system to organize medicine, but still maintain an easy external user interface.
Caitlin: I got my idea during my senior year from an innovative product design course. Growing up, I served on staff at my barn, and I became used to mucking stalls and taking the horses out. From that experience, I realized that dumping buckets was my least favorite job because it took so long, and I could be doing something more valuable for the horses. My first idea was to create an elaborate automated watering system that was better insulated and could watch the water intake. However, now I’m primarily focused on using a water bucket to manage water intake.
How did you find the right people to work with?
Micah: At the beginning, I got my team members through events. I’d go to the career fair or random information sessions and network with people who had similar interests as me and could envision Maidbot in real life. Then, I turned to my mentors and professors for connections for great CTO partner. Now, I use more traditional recruiting like an application and interview process to hire my team.
Steven: I met Matthew, my co-founder, on a project team in the College of Engineering. From there, we started meeting people in our classes that had similar interests to use and became passionate in our business. More recently, we have given pitches in New York for eLab and posted promotional flyers to attract potential employees and participants.
Some people can come up with great prototypes, but haven’t done what you all have. What makes you different?
Nandita: I realized that I was solving a real problem that I didn’t give myself a safety net. I didn’t look for jobs because I had a strong support system that was determined to get this product to a stage where it could really be implemented. My team was already seeing the product being used.
Micah: My mom was an entrepreneur so I guess it’s in my blood. I started off with many small businesses and realized that I loved the adrenaline rush. One of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs is, “I’ll be dead soon.” I completely agree with this because life is too short to not to do what you want to do. Right now, I’m living a dream and when people tell me to go back to school, I say that I’m learning from a different form of education. The ability to create something from nothing amazes me.
Caitlin: Some people get too stuck in the business idea that they can be afraid of sharing their ideas because they don’t want to be judged or have their idea stolen. I’ve learned that you can’t be afraid of sharing ideas. An idea is worth two cents, but it takes a lot of work to actually implement it. I consider myself different because no one is as crazy and passionate about my business as I am.
Can you talk about the importance of product marketing and knowing what the customer wants?
Caitlin: I focus on asking the customer about their routine and targeting pain points. I want to know what actions or steps they have difficulties with. Instead of focusing on creating multiple iterations of a product, I prioritize the solution and end goal.
Micah: When talking to customers, I look for the “no’s”. Many people will tell you good things and that they love your idea, but it’s better to hear the negative and constructive comments. To do so, I speak to as many people as possible to get a variety of responses and emotions.