What does it take to build a successful start up from the ground up? No matter the sector you’re trying to build your business in, there are some universal steps founders can take to give themselves the very best chance for success.
During a recent Founders Fireside Chat, Tech in Motion hosted a discussion with the minds behind C. Light Technologies, the award-winning neuro-tech and AI startup revolutionizing the way clinicians detect Alzheimer's, MS, and other central nervous system conditions. Founders Dr. Christy Sheehy and Dr. Joe Xing shared the steps of their startup journey, from developing a novel technology, raising funds, to building their team, and many others.
Sign up here to register and watch the entire conversation on demand. Below is a recap of the discussion with some of the learnings and advice from their experience.
How did you get started?
I started in engineering, then moved to academia where I studied ocular technology, and now to a startup focused on spinning off the technology to improve eye tracking. We are currently working on the licensing that goes with it and building out the product. Our motivation was to help millions of people who suffer from various neurological disorders.
How did you know when it was the right connection?
Originally, I had another co-founder who left to pursue other interests. I had been a solo founder for a year before Joe came on as a consultant. It was important that we could demonstrate that we could work together. He consulted for about six months and our work meshed so well together, I said let’s add a late-stage cofounder. It’s always great to have someone else to commiserate with and talk to about things that matter. Really, you have to have fun and enjoy this process. And both of us feel that way.
How do you divide up responsibilities?
Joe handles the technology side and I handle the business side. It’s very clean-cut. We have heard that when accountabilities get blurry, it can be a problem for everyone.
How was your journey to get funding? How did you overcome frustration?
We started fundraising in 2020 just when COVID hit. It was a crazy time because people didn’t know what to expect because it was right after lockdown. With everything being remote, I sent a lot of cold emails, at least to one thousand people. A lot of people said don’t waste your time with this approach. But my gut told me differently, even though it is a little bit different approach to fundraising. Ultimately it paid off. After that, we got a lead investor through an accelerator program. Accelerator programs are fantastic because as a first-time founder, you are able to network and reach investors who you otherwise wouldn’t have known. If you have the passion, you don’t have to necessarily know the right people, you can break through.
Read More: Startup Experts Share Tips on How to Make a Winning Business Presentation
Was there anything unique about your pitch deck that you think sets it apart?
A lot of the feedback I got from my pitch deck was that I was very personable and conversational in how I described the problem and solution. It is desirable to weave your personality into your story and be able to interact with people on a personal note. Some of the VCs we talked to had loved ones that suffered from various eye or nerve diseases. Relatability is my sweet spot. You will build trust with them faster if you are transparent.
After you get your funding, then how do you begin to build your team?
In looking at candidates, passion is king. It is one thing to have tech qualifications, but to work toward a higher mission is a different characteristic. In a startup you could be working on one thing for weeks, then suddenly that could switch. So, if you are only in it to have a nine to five or job, or work on a particular project, it’s not going to be the right fit for you. You need that passion to push forward.
To find that passion, ask interviewees about their previous projects. How they describe them is a good indicator. If they talk about the project without mentioning how they felt about it, or what it meant to them, that is usually a pretty good indicator that they were not super passionate about the project.
Also, testing out the waters is a great process as far as a good fit. We have had some people work on a probationary period for a while. That is great for both parties to see how we work together.
How did you go about finding mentors?
I joined a female founder startup community. I also had the luxury of tapping into university accelerators, and experts at the NIH. Every chance I get to access mentors through startup communities, I do so. Basically, I am constantly pitching and getting the word out. Also, I emailed researchers around the country and introduced myself. “I come out of an academic institution and am trying to determine if my technology will work. Can we talk?” A good chunk of those people said, “let’s talk.”
What has been the best advice you have received from mentors?
The best advice I got was to keep moving. You hear a lot of “no’s,” and it’s really important not to personalize them and understand why is that a “no.” Investors have told me this is a weakness area, and now I have to address it. Push forward, and be flexible knowing that we know the technology best and are experts in our own field.
I had a mentor tell me to interview investors and do due diligence on them as much as they are doing on you. Though it seemed excessive to me to spend a couple of months on that, it was a really good point in that this will be a working relationship, and knowing how each other thinks and work is essential.