Inc Magazine’s ’30 Under 30′ Winner Shawn On Building Hardware Startup
This interview with Shawn Frayn, founder of Looking Glass, was conducted and condensed by EntrepreneurHK.
EHK Talks to Inc Magazine’s ’30 Under 30′ Winner Shawn Frayne About Building Hardware Startup.
1. Were you doing entrepreneurial things when you were younger?
Sure. I always worked summers at my Dad’s garment factory, figuring our ways to make a little more money on piece-work-pay by coming up with little labor saving inventions with my brother and sister. I also remember selling miniature paper airplanes to other kids in primary school.
2. What was driving you?
To earn more money to buy more candy. We didn’t really get allowance like most kids in the US, so we had to do these things to earn spending money.
3. What were some early entrepreneurial lessons?
Always go to the top of an organization in any pitch or negotiation. Dealing with middle managers is always a waste of time.
4. Do you have any mentors?
Of course. Dick Sperry is a prolific inventor in the US who I’ve stolen lots of ideas from, re: how to make a lean, extremely fast invention lab. Amy Smith, a teacher and inventor who started D-Lab at MIT, is probably the mentor that influenced me the most. But the people I work with are the mentors that influence me the most daily, most significantly friends and colleagues Jordan McRae and Alex Hornstein.
5. What did you learned from them?
How to make people believe in something that doesn’t exist yet. That invention is the art of making something simpler; engineering is the art of making something more complex. Inventions come from anywhere and anyone, most often non-specialists. And the new technologies that can actually make money for the inventor and be accepted by society in the inventor’s lifetime are a lot like a Murakami novel – 90% familiar, 10% different.
6. Shawn, you are from the U.S., the west coast. From your personal experience, what is the fundamental difference between the startup mentality in HK vs The Bay Area?
People love startups more in the Bay Area. But in HK and broader S. China, people are faster at getting new prototypes made and ideas to market. They just don’t crow as much about it. I think the most powerful startups of the future will have a leg in both the US (either the Bay Area or Brooklyn) and Hong Kong or Shenzhen from the start.
7. Let’s talk about your latest hardware startup Looking Glass. Why did you pick HK?
It’s fast to get hardware prototypes made in HK.
8. What about talent, is it hard to find hardware startup talents in this part of the world (HK, Shenzhen) compare to The Bay Area?
Increasingly most hardware startups have at least a small team in Shenzhen or Hong Kong. So, I’ve not found it hard to find top-class mechanical and electrical engineering talent. Software is harder to find in HK and Shenzhen at the moment, but that will change fast.
9. Compare to software startup, building a hardware startup requires a bigger upfront investment, how did you find money to get things started?
I sold some inventions, so that gave some experimental super high-risk capital. And the team for Looking Glass, my new startup, was largely intact from the start, from an invention lab I’d run for almost ten years. So, recruiting costs were zero. Early this year, Looking Glass also raised a seed round from six visionary investors. And the HK government has invested a bit of matching capital as well.
10. In your opinion, at what stage is the best time to raise angel round?
After you have a basic prototype, but before you start to sell product.
11. Your Look Glass crowdfunding campaign has met the funding goal. Can you share with us the one most important thing that contributes to the campaign’s success?
We are doing a bit of an unusual strategy re: Kickstarter crowdfunding campaigns. Instead of doing on mega campaign, we are doing a series of micro-Kickstarter campaigns, spread apart by 6 months. This is less about making money from the Kickstarters and more about free press and getting real market feedback on some experimental product ideas. I’ve been part of three Kickstarter campaigns over the last few years, all of which reached their goals, and I think the most important things in each has been to 1. run the Kickstarters with one other partner 2. make a good video that either highlights the tech or tells a story 3. set a small, achievable initial crowdfunding goal to build momentum.
12. Give me one advice for hardware startups.
You will most likely lose all of your money and work 90 hour weeks with nothing to show for it other than a prototype and a Techcrunch article. If this doesn’t scare you and you have a burning idea that keeps you up at night, then you should start your startup today and pursue your dream before your parents convince you to become a banker.