The benefits of joining a shared office community are well known. There’s access to amenities, a smiling person at the front desk, a safe place to receive your packages, and hopefully excellent and ever-flowing coffee. However, the ability to connect and collaborate with other entrepreneurs in shared spaces should also not be overlooked—the opportunity to learn and grow from others that have gone before you can provide a tremendous advantage. You might receive sage advice at the coworking table, over the kombucha machine, or at the bagel bash, but that is by chance. The best way and the sign of a well-run vibrant community is when an attentive office staff member makes a pointed introduction to connect two people.
This is what happened when Jonathan Walker of Applied Wireless Local Area Network was introduced to Mike Recker of Mr. Beams (now Ring and Amazon) at Launch Workplaces. I thought that Jonathan as a start-up would benefit from meeting Mike because both develop high technology products in the business to consumer market, which requires tricky patent program planning.
Jonathan is developing a patent-pending location-based system that seamlessly tracks assets both indoors and out. Only a few years into it, he is already on his second prototype. Potential markets include military and real-time asset tracking.
Mike is currently the CTO of Ring Lighting. Previously he was a founder of Mr. Beams, a family of wireless lighting solutions. In 2006 when Mike and his friend David Levine couldn’t find a solution on the market to light a closet, they made their own, and Mr. Beams was born. The product line launched with a wireless spotlight, step light, and ceiling light. Since then, Mr. Beams has grown to provide more than 30 lighting solutions to increase home safety, security, and convenience. In 2018, Ring purchased Mr. Beams to further enhance its security solutions in neighborhoods, and in 2019 Ring was acquired by Amazon.
The two sat down in Launch Workplaces’ large conference room in February. What lessons bubbled to the surface during their meeting? First, it became apparent that Mr. Beams’ success was due in large part to networking and building relationships. Mike and his partner talked to anyone and everyone in the lighting industry and at conferences. Those connections paid off multiple times along their journey. Even today, having a solid relationship with their component suppliers allows them to head off inventory and quality problems before starting.
Second, they were fiscally smart at every stage. In the beginning, Mike spent his evenings soldering boards in his basement until he developed the prototype he wanted, before hiring an industrial design company to finish it. When that was done, understanding that the business’s legal aspects can be just as important as the technology, he next spent his evenings writing over 400 pages of patent applications while watching TV. This established the framework of their patent portfolio, which today includes 75 patents.
When the products were ready to sell, they marketed them slowly online and in catalogs to test the market. Only after sufficient demand was created and enough online stars were earned did they go after large brick and mortar retailers. To win accounts like Home Depot, they understood how the margins would have to work and that their costs would have to be very low. They also knew when to walk away from unfavorable opportunities, even if that storefront is in every city in America. The journey from building a product in a basement to having the business bought out by Ring took 13 years, and it happened because of relationships and smart and careful planning.
Already Jonathan has benefited from the encounter with Mike. He is revamping his patent program and looking at new ways to manage his suppliers and quality process. “Mike answered a number of questions with great clarity and confirmed a few concerns that I will need to address with my device,” he said. He plans to stay in touch with Mike along his journey. Who knows, maybe Applied Wireless’ products will one day attract the attention of Amazon too. And he’ll be able to thank Launch Workplaces for playing a part in his growth.
As for Mike, he enjoys supporting budding entrepreneurs and providing advice. He is an active member of Montgomery County’s Business Innovation Network’s Tenant Review Committee, helping to admit new members into its innovation centers.
How well does your shared community staff know you? If you aren’t introduced to fellow members of your community by office staff, you might want to look around for a more collaborative, vibrant place. Check out Launch Workplaces, where work gets done, and valuable connections are made!