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Ryan Bove, MBA ’12

Co-founder
Aurochs Brewing Company
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Diagnosed with a gluten intolerance, Ryan Bove set about solving the problem of finding a good gluten-free beer. He and his friend Doug Foster, who has celiac disease, launched Aurochs Brewing Company this fall.

The elevator Pitch?

Our goal from the beginning: Make great-tasting craft beer that is naturally gluten free.

What was the “aha!” moment?

About six or seven years ago, I ended up getting really sick right after college. It turned out I had a severe gluten intolerance. When I got my diagnosis, my business partner, Doug, started helping me with my diet. Then when we got to beer, the options were very, very limited at that time. We started home brewing at the same time I was going to the Tepper School. Toward the spring of 2012, when I started looking at different ideas for my class project, it occurred to me — who doesn’t want to start a brewery? That’s when we knew we might have something a little more than a hobby.

How did the Tepper School change your idea and your company?

The two things that really stick out to me: The network of people we’ve met was extremely beneficial. Also, some of the lessons we learned in the early classes from Dave Mawhinney [executive director of the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship and associate teaching professor of entrepreneurship], Art Boni [The John R. Thorne Distinguished Career Professor of Entrepreneurship], Chris Cynkar [adjunct professor of entrepreneurship] and Frank Demmler [adjunct professor of entrepreneurship] stand out. We had to get out of the building and listen to people. We met a lot of people who helped us get where we are today.

Pivotal players who get included in the thank-you speech?

First and foremost, our wives have been extremely supportive and have helped out on numerous occasions. My wife [Emily] worked here for months. And Doug’s wife [Amy], too. Jonathan Matusky [MBA ’12, E ’11], Dave Lishego [MBA ’13], Ryan Husted [MBA ’12] and Dave Rasmussen [MBA ’12] — those guys helped us out the first five, six months. Then we had a handful of other students who helped us out with various projects — way too many to name. Countless mentors, advisers, suppliers — we could probably list a hundred people, maybe more. We’ve been fortunate to have lots of people help us out in a number of ways. Even our parents — cleaning kegs and washing dishes.

What were your experiences with initial funding?

Initially, we pooled our money. We had Doug, myself and a third partner, Ryan Husted, who was a Tepper classmate. He was moving to Cincinnati, but he was helping us get started. Then we got into AlphaLab, and from there the Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund [at Carnegie Mellon] and eventually to Innovation Works. That whole Carnegie Mellon network, we were fortunate to meet a bunch of people and work through their pipeline.

How about growth?

We started in my apartment. We then moved to Doug’s house, which was slightly bigger. We temporarily were in [Pittsburgh’s] Strip District, but we never made it to commercial status at that point. Our current location is 7,000 square feet. For a while, we were using just 200 of that; now we’re closer to 3,000. With this buildout, we plan to go from two full-time employees to a team of five to several people over the next year. And then expand from there.

What about the highs and lows?

I feel like I’m going to quote another Dave Mawhinney truism: “You’re never as low as you think, and you’re never as high as you think.” The journey has been a roller coaster. There are some pretty high highs and pretty low lows throughout the process. There have been many occasions you think you’re not going to make it. But each time, somehow our network comes along and helps us to solve the problem in some way, shape or form.

Does anything keep you up at night?

Beer literally keeps us up at night: We’re here brewing. Some long days, for sure. Cash flow is always a good one for that. You never escape that—it’s always a challenge. I believe with time, we can solve every hurdle and obstacle. We’ve encountered enough that we’ve built up enough confidence to handle them.

What was the best advice you received?

Getting outside the building was really important. Dave [Mawhinney] always says, “Network, network, network and then network some more.” Also, I think there were a lot of things we picked up: term sheets, business plans, just different things we experienced in school that once we experienced them in the real world, we already had a leg up.


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Doug Camplejohn, MSIA/E ’88

Head of Products
LinkedIn Sales Solutions
San Francisco, California

During a varied career in Silicon Valley, Doug Camplejohn founded multiple ventures, among them Fliptop, the predictive sales and marketing firm that LinkedIn purchased more than a year ago.

Which kinds of ventures succeed?

I’m a big believer that perseverance wins. There are a lot of people smarter than me, younger than me, who can raise more capital than me, but most people I know would have given up before I did. That’s made all the difference. I hate losing.

What key piece of information gets overlooked when getting started?

I had the good fortune of starting my career at Apple, where the spirit of Steve Jobs infused the halls and made us obsessed about building “insanely great” products. We always brought the conversation back to what was best for the consumer and obsessed about the smallest of details. Even now, I’ve been given the nickname of “Eagle Eye” at LinkedIn, because I’ll spot a typo or a pixel out of place in a user-interface design. A lot of products suck because the designers, product managers and engineers settle for “good enough.” You have to keep pushing and rebuilding and fine-tuning until you get to the core truth — something that’s so simple that it seems obvious in retrospect. Most people give up way before then.

What skills did you have to learn to get this off the ground?

Fliptop was my third startup, so I already had a lot of lessons under my belt, but I’m constantly learning, and there’s so much more information out in the open now. Sites like Venture Hacks, Startup Lawyer and AngelList, and blogs or newsletters like First Round Review, David Skok’s For Entrepreneurs blog and Both Sides of the Table by Mark Suster are just a few of the great ones. Don’t be embarrassed by what you don’t know. Just admit it, and seek out the smartest information and people to learn from.

What were your experiences with initial funding?

I generally hate fundraising. It’s a huge time sink and draws your attention away from building the core team, product and business. That being said, it’s like a presidential candidate going through the primaries and debates — the barrage of questions helps you look at your business from all angles and come out the other side even stronger. I’ve found that some of the best investors are the ones who can decide the fastest and are already helping you out while they’re doing due diligence. If it’s an investor who is going to join your board, you’re basically getting married for years over a few slides and meetings, so trust is everything.

How about growth?

Fun fact about Fliptop — you can trace the growth of our company by moving between buildings at the corner of Second Street and Howard in San Francisco. Our first office was two rented desks at 182 Second with just my VP of Engineering and me. We graduated to a space shared with another company at 215 Second and grew to eight employees there. Then we moved to Howard Street — first at 590 and then 594, getting to 18 employees in the United States and 10 in Taiwan. And finally, we moved into the new LinkedIn San Francisco building at 222 Second, making the circle complete. I can see all four of my original offices from my desk on the seventh floor now.

What tips do you have for enduring an acquisition?

Just realize that there’s a fine line between being a hero and a goat in any merger and acquisition process. Luck and timing play a big role, so don’t get your whole self-worth wrapped up in the outcome. And the posturing you’re doing with the acquiring company about the amazing state of your business and the other term sheets and acquisition offers you’re supposedly fielding? Everyone can see through that, so don’t play games.

What were the highs and lows during the sale?

LinkedIn was an awesome company to work with, and our corporate development partner was a smart, even-keeled straight shooter. But we had one crazy investor who threatened to derail the whole deal and held the company hostage up until the last minute so he could get more money for himself. Fortunately, I never have to work with him again, but it was crazy stressful — even up to the morning of close.

Does anything keep you up at night?

I constantly worry about MVP: Money, Vision and People. Are we going to run out of cash? Are we pursuing the right vision? And are we bringing in the right people and making sure the great ones we already have want to stay? The most satisfying thing to me about a startup is not the financial outcome, but seeing great people come together, build relationships, grow and go on to even greater things afterward.

What was the best advice you received?

I’ll always have a special place in my heart for [former] professor Jack Thorne and his entrepreneurship classes. I remember being really nervous about an idea I presented to him for a patient monitoring system for hospitals, because I knew absolutely nothing about the market. Professor Thorne got me over that fear, and, in fact, said my lack of knowledge could be a huge advantage because I didn’t have the same preconceived notions that market “experts” had. That stuck with me and has allowed me to be less fearful of jumping into new markets.

What “big ideas” would you like to pursue next?

I think people tend to ignore pain points they’ve lived with for a long time and create workarounds. These are usually the biggest and most profitable issues to solve. It’s important not to fall in love with the first idea that comes along. Most ideas are features, not companies, or have some other reason why they don’t make sense to pursue. One of my favorite quotes related to this is: “The difference between a good filmmaker and a great filmmaker is how much you leave on the cutting room floor.”


Cindy Padnos, MSIA ’80

Partner
Illuminate Ventures
Oakland, California

Cindy Padnos ascended the ladder of success by incrementally climbing down in the sizes of the businesses where she absorbed, advanced, innovated. Eventually, she co-founded her own firm, Illuminate Ventures, and found her niche in venture capital.

The elevator pitch?

We are the best early-stage investor to work with in the enterprise software category. We measure “best” not just by our strong performance metrics, but by the company we keep: Our startup founders and teams, co-investors, advisers and LPs are all best of class. We invest in targeted high-growth sectors where we can add value well beyond our capital. We’re doers, not watchers.

What was the “aha!” moment?

I think I’d call it an evolution rather than epiphany. I feel as though I’m actually on my fourth career, and each transition felt big to me at the time — but was possible because it leveraged many of the skills and connections that I had already established. As a consultant, I learned to develop an understanding of new markets and products very quickly. From the corporate world, I learned all about how and what business buyers buy. My startup experiences taught me how to build things from the ground up — teams, products, partner channels, you name it. As a startup founder, I experienced both the depths of despair and the highest highs taking one company to a successful IPO and helping another survive the dot-com bust. Starting a micro-VC firm was a natural transition when I recognized a major shift in the market that created an early stage investing gap that perfectly fit my skills and interests.

Which kinds of ventures succeed?

In the categories I invest in — enterprise software — entrepreneurs need to maniacally focus on understanding and addressing real customer needs that can deliver positive ROI. The best companies in our portfolios typically have a deep understanding of a fundamental business problem; have identified a better, faster or less costly way to solve the problem; and are rigorous about being capital-efficient until the time they know they have a validated product or market fit. Then they put the pedal to the metal to accelerate past any competition.

How did the Tepper School change your idea and your company?

My business school experience, without a doubt, impacted how I think. As a student, I gained many analytical tools, but more importantly learned how to use data to help make better strategic decisions. Fundamentally, I think you need both, and it’s rare to find a program that helps you put the two skills together. You can’t build a successful business based solely on data or analysis, nor just on vision and strategy. The combination is an amazing secret weapon that I’ve been able to leverage at critical decision points in my life. We apply this approach every day in our investment process, but I also see it as a life skill — not just something of value in a business setting. The rest of the world seems to be finally catching up with Tepper — with AI and big data applied to inform business decisions being hot areas for investment today.

What were your pivotal moments?

I made conscious choices to change careers multiple times. But I did it in a way where I could carry forward with me much of what I had developed along the way. I don’t think I would be as happy or successful if I had left those skills or relationships behind.

Pivotal players who get included in the thank-you speech?

We’re an intentionally small firm, fitting into a category known as micro-VC. Firms like ours typically provide the first institutional round of financing to high-growth tech startups. Ben Bayat — a Pittsburgh native — and myself are the investing team. Ben and I both have been prior founders and have spent our entire careers in the enterprise space—both are advantageous to our early stage B2B investing focus. We also have a Business Advisory Council whose members include some of the most successful corporate execs, entrepreneurs, academics and investors in the enterprise software category in the world. This group extends our firm’s reach by adding to our deal flow, helping with due diligence, and in some cases even taking board seats. It includes some terrific people with Carnegie Mellon affiliations: David Coulter [MSIA ’71 and BBA member], Liz Fetter [MSIA/HNZ ’82], Jim Morris [professor of computer science] and Shanna Tellerman [ETC ’05, A ’03].

How about growth?

I did it all backwards! I went from giant to small. I started at the largest company in the world and went much smaller over time — but, in doing so, I think I actually dramatically expanded both the reach and the impact I can have. I went from one very large company to a portfolio of many small companies that can grow to be large — including some in our portfolio that have gone from zero to $100 million in revenue and profitable exits. Our portfolio companies employ thousands of people who build and deliver products that impact tens of thousands of businesses and millions of end users. My world is not measured by square footage; it’s measured by helping great teams build innovative, successful companies from the ground up.

Does anything keep you up at night?

Nothing keeps me up at night now — only 15 or 16 portfolio companies I always feel responsible for helping! When I invest our capital, when I sit on a board of a portfolio company, I feel a huge responsibility to help them succeed. I always ask, “What else can we as a firm do to accelerate this business and help them build a better company?” Fortunately, our entire firm shoulders that responsibility. We have our internal team, a phenomenal 40-plus-person Business Advisory Council and access to other great resources.

What was the best advice you received?

A number of people at Tepper said to me, “You’re an entrepreneur.” Of course, I have to admit that I didn’t listen very well and instead joined what was then the largest company in the world when I graduated — AT&T. Each company I chose thereafter was successively smaller until I started my own. Had I listened better, I would have gotten there sooner, but I was graduating at a time long before it was “normal” to be a startup founder with an MBA and little work experience.


Edward Austin Webb, MBA ’17 candidate

RoBotany
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

After meeting at a entrepreneurship networking event, MBA candidate Austin Webb and robotics research engineer Austin Lawrence joined with MBA ’17 candidate Danny Seim and Webb’s brother, Brac, to launch RoBotany, an indoor vertical farming technology company.

The elevator pitch?

RoBotany is an indoor vertical farming technology company that is transforming the industry with automated robotics and software analytics. Current vertical farms are inefficient. Labor is more than 40 percent of operating expenses, and over half of production space is lost due to extremely manual processes and wide aisles. Further, data analytics are extremely limited. RoBotany’s patent-pending technology solves these problems by bringing plants to the worker, allowing for the first-ever human-free grow room and an increase in labor efficiency by more than 50 percent. It also allows us to bring our grow racks closer together to increase crop output by more than 1-1/2 times, and our software data system not only controls our entire farm but also allows us to collect growing analytics for optimization and production analytics for operations.

What was the “aha!” moment?

The idea was formulated by Austin Lawrence and myself last year over coffee, then dinner, then a long conversation/meeting. Then, over time, we formulated the vision as we spoke more to people, gathered more market information, and truly identified and validated the market need.

What did you do for your summer entrepreneurship “internship”?

This past summer, I worked on RoBotany full time with my team instead of working for a company or firm somewhere. “Internship” with quotes around it is exactly how it felt. Being the CEO of RoBotany is my job; I just happened to start it before I finished school.

How did the Tepper School change your idea and your company?

I came to Tepper and to CMU to partner with the best and brightest, and to start a company. I am extremely fortunate and grateful to have been able to do just that. It goes to show how robust the ecosystem is here and how good a job Tepper and CMU do at encouraging cross-campus collaboration.

What key piece of information gets overlooked when getting started?

The “idea” doesn’t mean much. Market validation and execution, and the vision that guides those two things, are what’s important. And this is why it’s all about the team. If you don’t have the right skills and abilities, you can’t execute, develop the right business model, set the right vision, etc.

What were your pivotal moments?

Our first major pivot was when we decided to leverage our technology to be a farm operator instead of a technology supplier. Who knows? Maybe the market dynamics will change so much that we’ll pivot back, but we’ve got more than 10 reasons why we’ve chosen the superior business model based on the current and projected competitive landscape.

Pivotal players who get included in the thank-you speech?

I have awesome co-founders. They are the most brilliant engineers I’ve ever met. Austin Lawrence has more than six years of robotics and mechanical engineering experience. Before co-founding RoBotany, he co-founded his first agricultural technology startup, where his automated solutions for consumer hydroponics were recognized in the New York Times and NPR. As the robotics expert with tons of hydroponic farming knowledge, Austin focuses on everything robotics, product development, farm-system engineering, intellectual property and farming. Interestingly, he grew up on a blueberry farm and we call him “Larry” — while we call me “Eddy” — to avoid confusion.

Danny Seim is a multidisciplinary engineer. Throughout his career, he has designed and built state-of-the-art manufacturing, assembly and fulfillment facilities, which included integrating industrial robots and enterprise resource planning systems. As an everything expert, Danny focuses on farm system engineering and construction, operations and designed experimentation at RoBotany.

Brac Webb has more than 12 years of electrical and software engineering experience. As our Internet of Things (IoT) and software expert, Brac is focused on farm-system engineering, the overall software system architecture, database and back-end design, IoT firmware, front-end user interface, and product development. He is my older, sometimes wiser brother.

What were your experiences with initial funding?

Initially, we were offered approximately $100,000 through a government organization and an accelerator. It was an honor, but we made the tough — though correct — decision to pass on both investments. It just wasn’t the right fit. Fortunately, since then, we raised a $400,000 tranced seed investment from Robotics Hub, Pittsburgh’s robotics VC firm. We are very grateful and extremely excited. It allows us to conduct robust grow testing on our Version 1 Miniature Farm as well as design and build our Version 2 Miniature Farm.

How about growth?

After identifying the market need, we started construction of our Version 1 Miniature Farm in May 2016. As of mid-August 2016, Version 1 was built in front of Project Olympus, and we are now growing plants with robots and software. The mini-farm is 4 feet wide by 9 feet long by 7 feet tall. We are very excited to build our Version 2 Miniature Farm, which will be much bigger — 12 feet wide by 25 feet long by 15 feet tall.

Does anything keep you up at night?

The success of our startup is a race against time, and every day there are many strangers out there trying to take our lunch and undo everything we’ve been working so hard for. Every day is another round in the game, and I’ll always want to go faster and have it done yesterday. It’s also what gets me out of bed every morning.

What was the best advice you received?

That’s hard to say. Dave Mawhinney [executive director of the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship and associate teaching professor of entrepreneurship] gives RoBotany great advice daily.