My CEA: Inside the Minds of CErial Entrepreneurs: Part I
The consumer electronics industry boasts a large number of small businesses and start-ups. With a seemingly endless supply of ideas and the unwavering passion to pursue them, many CEA members match the profile of a “serial” entrepreneur.
As they successfully launch a new company, some hand off the day-to-day operations to a partner or sell the business to a larger company in order to pursue new ideas. Some forge ahead and grow into larger companies themselves. And those who face setbacks retool and find a new path forward. These innovators are notorious for their drive, passion and a love for taking risks.
While their individual companies, ideas and challenges are all very different, their entrepreneurial DNA is remarkably similar. Here’s a look at some of the qualities they all share and why they’re essential:
They have vision.
In one of the fastest-moving industries on the planet, entrepreneurs in the technology sector must have vision. Their proverbial vision must be both near- and far-sighted. In real terms, it’s just as important for an entrepreneur to anticipate trends and gauge future demand as it is to recognize in the moment when the time, technology and business environment are right to execute.
Charlie Hillman, founder and CEO of GrandCare Systems, conceived of an idea, borne out of a personal need, for a simple and reliable solution that would make it easy for seniors to live independently longer and for their loved ones and caregivers to monitor their well-being from afar. Long term, with the senior and elderly population growing rapidly, Charlie saw the need for such a solution in the marketplace. It was clear to him, though, that the technology and infrastructure weren’t quite there yet. “I put the idea away for about eight or ten years,” he says. By 2005, as technology - namely, broadband and the widespread adoption of connected devices - had matured, he decided that the time was right to make a move. “The technology has to be there, but it has to be there in an affordable way,” he explains. “Some like to be first out of the gate, and some like to wait for the market to develop. If you’re successful, you get to define the metrics that judge your product category,” he says.
Indeed, “vision” in entrepreneurial terms means more than gaining a glimpse into the future. That foresight is essential, but no more so than being able to recognize when the time and technology are ripe. When Dan Simpkins of Hillcrest Labs and his team were looking for their next venture around the turn of the Millennium, they went to great lengths to ensure they got both parts right. They started ‘Hillcrest University,” an internal think tank, to look at trends in telecomm. Over the course of a year, they used trend maps to identify business problems they could solve. They determined that intuitive TV user interfaces would be the solution to a problem that had not yet arisen, but surely would in the near future. “Out of our think tank we determined that TV had not seen a lot of innovation in decades, and that sometime several years out, video compression would allow it to be easily transported over the Web,” Dan explains. There was going to be an explosion, they predicted, in the amount of content available through non-traditional channels that would require a new, more fluid user interface. “The time was right to innovate,” says Dan. The company’s “smart TV” interfaces now power the onscreen menus in many of today’s connected TVs and set-top boxes.