In my early days after college, I developed this really cool wireless mesh networking technology that was designed to solve many problems that help connect devices to the Internet. But selling this technology to the underground mining industry was not easy.
I was closely mentored by a well-known Canadian serial entrepreneur and technologist, one of those you don’t meet often. Our small team was passionate, got it to work and, early on, made several installations for different applications, ranging from bridge health monitoring to machine health monitoring and control. In layman’s terms, here’s what it does: up to several hundreds of tiny devices can communicate together in order to create its own intelligent network in a distributed fashion. It lives years on small batteries, creates and fixes its own network by itself. It can also have sensors to sense the environment in order to convey data analytics to an operation manager on the web. This is really cool.
After a while, we realized that our situation in Canada was somewhat complex. The classic track if you want to build a scalable company is to move (or sell the company) to the US, get top money and reach a large market (more on that later). But our founding team wanted to stay in Canada.
Our company was relentless in cold-calling companies to come see and invest in us. We also tracked activities on our website. In doing so, we realized that most of the traction came from the mining industry, in which many Canadian high-tech companies operate. Jannatec Technologies, from Sudbury, Ontario, first came to see us and I started to build a relationship with the company. As the CTO, I met with them regularly to define the requirements of product 1.0 (academically the “minimal viable product”) and conduct periodic trials. In the meantime, my partner obtained the market information we needed from people in the industry in order to assess the market feasibility. This discovery led us to the light at the end of the tunnel: more investment, advisors and management talent, and at the end, many installations in the Americas.
This sounds simple but in a start-up environment, this is quite challenging. Think about it this way: we were a bunch of twentysomethings with an amazing technology that had no market credibility. This was a hard sell. Bootstrapping the company for 5 years had been difficult. We had invest our time and energy to make it work. For example, flying was too expensive and driving 10 hours back and forth to Sudbury Ontario from Montreal was the only option.
Within two years, and with lots of coffee, hard work, endless product trials and most importantly a deep belief that things would work out, we landed this first distributor deal. The rest is history.