Unveiling the entrepreneurial path from an ordinary college student to CEO of a startup raising millions of funds【Forum】
TEXT_Irene Hung / PHOTO_Irene Hung, Sounds Great Co., Ltd.
This is the first interview of my forum series. (You can click my 👉 Youtube channel: Irene Dream Workshop). I am honored to invite a startup team “Sounds Great” that I met when participating for the Vision Program project in Singapore a year ago. “Sounds Great” is a a startup that develops speakers made of semiconductors, and the volume is smaller than that in the current market. The founder, Ted, has started his own business before he was 30 and has achieved certain results. There are many concepts and practical experiences worth sharing on his entrepreneurial road!
Why did you want to start a business when you were in college?
I am a bit rebellious. One of the reasons why I want to start a business is “I want to put my own ideas into practice.” In fact, many entrepreneurs have this characteristic, that is, they are dissatisfied with the status quo or the current society, and they hope it can be better! However, there may not be room to perform under ordinary work or life, so they will choose the path of entrepreneurship.
When in college, was your first project of starting a business to be making smaller semiconductor speakers?
At the beginning, I didn’t actually focus on small semiconductor speakers, but wanted to make body armor materials. However, I couldn’t find a good partner manufacturer for the materials of the body armor. So I went further to find the application of the speaker diaphragm and applied the body armor material to diaphragm in order to improve its sound quality.
I would further use semiconductors as speakers because I went to China in 2017 to participate for entrepreneurial projects there and received a lot of information indirectly. At that time, we just heard the news that China is going to invest a lot of capital in the semiconductor industry. The price of semiconductors may drop significantly in the future, so can semiconductors be made to produce other products, instead of merely ordinary chips?
What we think of is our expertise in chemistry, which is the speaker product! After returning to Taiwan, we studied carefully and found that there was indeed a chance and feasible, so we started and immersed ourselves in the research for about two years before it officially surfaced.
After you came back to Taiwan, there were two years of research and development time. Had you been doing R&D by yourself in these two years? Or did you find a like-minded team to work with you?
At the beginning, I did the research and development by myself. Many entrepreneurs in Taiwan probably do the same. They first have a good idea, technology or product before they can further develop their own business. Therefore, most entrepreneurs in Taiwan have the ability of research and development, and so do I. But in the later stage, you will need a R&D team and partners!
When looking for team members, will there be any selection items? How to choose that this person is suitable for working with you?
In fact, it’s difficult to find people like the way a big company does or see a clear resume. Generally, when you start looking for partners or teams, you start with people you know around you. In my case, I met a teacher in class. I earnestly hoped that he could come to help me in the process of starting a business. I had been asking and requesting for advice to make this teacher also interested, and then joined us. This is a very good way for me! I have also heard about the entrepreneurial model in Silicon Valley. Most investors like this way, which is a very experienced professor leads young students to start a business.
When you first started your business, were you inspired by a teacher?
When I first wanted to start a business, I went to many schools to listen to courses about entrepreneurship. At that time, I met a teacher who is also now the co-founder of our company!
In fact, he did not encourage me to start a business at the beginning. He understood that it is easy for students starting a business to fail. Because entrepreneurship is a “mixed age” competition. For a student who has not graduated or just graduated from university, they have to compete with a 40 or 50-year-old competitor who has been in the workplace for 20 or more years and who wouldn’t make a concession, so in fact, starting a business with no experience, no wealth, and no connections is an extremely difficult thing.
So at the beginning, I was hit and blowed by this teacher many times. The teacher didn’t accept me for the first half of the year, but I was very persistent at that time, insisting that I wanted to start a business! After pestering this teacher for about half a year, he began to give me more positive feedback.
What are the gains and progress on the way of entrepreneurship?
The biggest gain is that I have grown very quickly, because entrepreneurship means that everything must be understood from start to finish, including the initial establishment of the company, which requires a lot of government processes and administrative tasks, while also taking into account the part of research and development. On top of that, I have to connect with customers, manufacturers, and even investors. During the pitches to investors, I need to modify the presentation skill. I think any position in a company won’t include the above jobs at the same time.
The company’s progress is very good! We just closed the Pre-A round of fundraising in April a while ago, and our Pre-A round plus the Angel round raised a total of 55 million NTD, which is not easy for a Taiwan company, because the capital is currently 56 million. It’s a fairly large company.
Before getting the Pre-A round of funds, did you encounter any twists and turns?
I have encountered many twists and turns and it is not easy to get the funds, but I think the most important thing for a startup company to raise funds is “Do you know enough about yourself and what you are doing?” Many start-up companies are easily shot or rejected by investors during the fundraising process mainly because of the reasons that they don’t understand what they’re doing, whether it’s the matter itself or what kind of positioning will the matter exist in the market!
Because some technologies are actually very good, but when it is put on the market, there may not be a large number of consumers to buy it. It may be that the product is too high-end and the price cannot be lowered, or this thing is too unpopular so there are not many customers. Therefore, if you know enough about what you are doing, it will affect whether you can get the approval of investors and get further fundraising.
In addition to what I am doing, am I myself a person who is willing to practice and change? In fact, most entrepreneurs don’t know from the beginning that what they want to do is this thing, and this thing will succeed in the end. The situation usually is I want to do something A. In the process of doing it, I will find that it is not “too right”, maybe B is the right thing. After the correction, I might end up with F, G, and H, something of which is very far away and may be completely different from what I started at the beginning.
Therefore, in the process of continuously observing, modifying, and reflecting on yourself quickly, I think it is an important key to whether a company can get funding or survive, because getting funds is just a beginning. After getting the funds, there are more things to do, but in fact, many things can be done before the funds are obtained. If these things are not done, investors can discover so there will be no way to obtain the funds.
For you are the CEO of a company, you may have to devote a lot of time to business. How will you achieve a balance in your life?
The quality of life is something that everyone’s needs may be different. I like a saying that today I am in a very concentrated state when I go to work or study schoolwork, so it makes me feel very tired. For example, I handle the company’s R&D at work, and after get off work I handle the company’s administration. I can leave the more relaxing or interesting parts at other times to ensure that most of my time is in the company’s situation, but I have a process of conversion in the middle, so that my mood can be adjusted, because the parts used are actually different! For instance, I use my brain to read books, but my brain can relax when I do presentations. Human adaptability is very strong, so as long as this balance is reached, people are very able to adapt.
In addition, there is another very significant thing about starting a business, which is to be willing to go out and communicate with others, because perhaps external information is a very important thing. In fact, many people will build a car behind closed doors, so the products they make do not meet the needs of the market. Hence, in the process of entrepreneurship, try to go out and chat with different fields of people as much as possible. And then understand what you are doing, is it the same as the expectations of others and the general society? Especially when a person does not understand this field, he will have more imagination, which people in this industry may think it is impossible. But often the soul of newly created core products is something that could not exist at the beginning, but it has been made possible! So I think chatting with people who are not in this field is a good thing.
Finally, what do you want to say to people who want to start a business but haven’t started yet?
I think starting a business is like jumping off a cliff, and you have to assemble an airplane before landing! Therefore, for most entrepreneurs, the test is reaction ability. Many of these reaction skills must be logical. You must be able to do everything naturally and well. For this, you must rely on experience, or otherwise rely on hard work and sacrifice sleep time to make up for it. In the initial stage of business, when there is not much capital, it must be done by yourself.
As for encouragement, I think Elon Musk said it very well, that is, a reporter asked him: What kind of encouragement do you want to give people who are starting a business? Elon Musk replied: “If you need encouragement, then don’t start a business!” Because when every entrepreneur is faced with all the core problems, there are not too many people who can help, and they must figure out by themselves. Therefore, people who can solve problems by themselves and have the ability to solve problems are suitable for starting a business! Entrepreneurship itself is to solve problems. If you can’t solve your own problems, how can you solve other people’s problems?
When we first met in Singapore, it was the program of selected 10 powerful Taiwanese start-up teams to visit Singapore for matchmaking opportunities of angel investors. At that time, the youngest of these 10 startup teams was Ted, but I was very admired that Ted can talk freely on stage, no matter if facing doubts or questions from investors, he can still firmly state their current product projects and solutions. It has been almost two years since we returned to Taiwan now. Ted has improved a lot in his product optimization, presentation and logical thinking skills! I also admire his persistence and learning ability, and hope that more people can be inspired. Finally, please support “Sounds Great” more and keep it updated!
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