Steve Fiske is co-founder of first-to-market residential keyless entry technology company UniKey (Shark Tank Season 3) and now co-founder of iApartments (www.iapts.com), smart home technology for multi-family residence communities. On this episode we talk about Steve's rise from computer/art nerd to being burned out and maxed out financially before breaking through with UniKey. He talks about the lead-up to and post Shark Tank, but before that, the struggles - and the importance of personal and team determination to the vision and mission, for ultimate success.
03:38 What to let in, what to keep out - stick with your gut, when you let too much in, you lose track of your vision and mission.
08:00 Learn to say no. Often it’s hard to say no to power (investors) or authority (mentors).
11:27 Just because an investor has been successful in the past doesn’t mean their ideas or advice are necessarily applicable to you or your venture.
13:42 SPONSOR - SecureStartup (www.securestartup.com) - securely manage all of the documents between a startup and investors.
15:35 As a kid Steve was into art and computers. Built his first Linux box at 12, built his first website at 12. Also played soccer and ran cross-country.
18:30 - Went to UCF to study computer science but switched to computer animation, got a Bachelors of Fine Arts. Worked three jobs to pay for school.
21:38 - First job - design work for a defense company then shortly after moved to a biometrics company in Orlando.
24:50 - First company - created an IoT (Internet of Things) platform - bringing “dumb” pieces of hardware online. Had a proven team, investors lined up...then the economy crashed.
31:25 - Started UniKey with 2 partners in 2010, created a biometric lock with Bluetooth fingerprint swipe.
36:20 - Sketchy investor stories - had one case where investor said had to hire him to redo the business plan for $50k before his group will invest. Or, spent a lot of time with investors that wanted to talk and meet a lot - but would never write a check!
44:44 - Shark Tank - applied online, did a video pitch to present (also did a Kickstarter video that was rejected). Got accepted for the show, filmed the episode in Aug 2011.
49:50 - No guarantees that the show would even air and then had to wait several months after we filmed it - and since we were out of money, we had to go get jobs.
50:25 - On the show, it was the first time all 5 Sharks went in. It got down to two sharks (Cuban and O’Leary), worked on a deal for 3-4 months and ultimately we turned it down.
51:25 - Wasn’t sure it would even air and thought they’d edit/paint us in a bad light because we had turned down the deal, but they didn’t, and it ended up being the Season 3 finale - May 2012.
53:30 - Investors immediately lined up - over 1,000 investor emails. Actually had our selected investors fall through as we were waiting for the wire - but were able to go with a VC firm out of NYC.
56:00 - Finally quit our jobs to get started.
57:40 - You can’t overestimate how the perception (yes, perception) of a winner can change based on what people (and investors) see or hear - from industry/market/mainstream PR.
59:02 - Perception of investors kept changing depending on the prevailing winds. At first, it was bad to be a hardware company and they weren’t interested. Then Nest was sold for a billion dollars to Google - then they were interested and we look smart. But wait, you’re not fully a hardware company - now not interested. Fundamentals are not always the drivers for early stage investors.
1:00:56 - It was 8-10 years without a vacation. Venture capital backed companies take years to stand up and get going. Steve maxed out his credit cards twice, burning the candle at both ends.
1:04:30 Hard to have personal relationships (i.e. dating) with such limited time, money, and attention span. And paying down your credit card debts means you’re still cash limited. If you can find a spouse/partner that can do this with you, it’s as important as a co-founder.
1:05:38 - Venture capital backed companies are so much harder than you’d expect. It’s romantic, but a hard road, always fighting for survival - zero-sum game, if you don’t climb the mountain, you don’t win. Especially when disrupting a market or bringing something brand new to market
1:10:30 - iApartments - smart home, smart apartment platform ecosystem for multi-family housing.
1:16:35 After success, second and third time founders often make ‘bad picks’ on their subsequent ventures, plenty of theories on why this is.
1:16:52 - Steve, after leaving UniKey, had many opportunities. Got great advice from a mentor, “Sit on your hands, sit on your hands - and wait for the right one.”
1:19:20 The opportunity cost of moving on the wrong opportunity is very high - you are not available for the right opportunity when it comes.
1:20:46 - Closing and thank you. Is Steve more Iron Man or more Batman?
iApartments - www.iapts.com
Plan Your Start - www.planyourstart.com