MMB Networks in Toronto currently has more than 40 employees, but the company began the way many startups do: with three friends working out of someone’s grandparents’ basement. As a result, they “did a lot of learning the hard way.” At October’s MaRS Mornings, Daniel Moneta, one of the co-founders at MMB, shared some of the valuable lessons he’s learned while building his business.
Experts in connectivity
The idea for MMB came about organically. Three friends were working together at a company that produced wireless thermostats for hotels that could be controlled remotely. Daniel referred to their time there as “a three-year experience in how not to run a startup.” The trio quickly realized that they understood the market better than the people they were working for, so they quit to start their own innovative venture.
Design and development was the first focus area for this newly formed company. Working on a contract basis for several clients, the team quickly gained a reputation as the only people in the market who knew how to integrate wireless technology into smart products. Connectivity was their speciality, and today MMB Networks is a leader in the Internet of things, using game-changing technology to bring smart connected products to market.
Throughout his journey with MMB, Daniel has transitioned from CEO to executive vice-president of corporate development and marketing, a move that has afforded him the time and freedom to focus more on the company’s vision and thought leadership. With the venture now on firm footing, Daniel has also had time to reflect on the advice he would offer to other entrepreneurs.
He shared the following insights with the MaRS Mornings’ audience in Toronto.
- Trust your judgment. Whether it’s a negotiation, a hiring decision or an investment deal, if something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t. As an entrepreneur living and breathing your business, you probably know more than you realize, so don’t underestimate yourself.
- Hiring advice: recruit friends and true believers. Company culture is incredibly important and new entrepreneurs often don’t realize how easily and thoroughly you can create a good (or bad) one. Really consider your company culture as you hire staff and let them go, as staff who generate a negative atmosphere early on can be poisonous. Daniel’s strategy of getting staff to refer potential employees who they like and want to work with was more luck than intentionality, but it paid off. MMB created a really positive culture where people get along, and it did so accidentally. Further, you should be cautious when hiring part-time workers: as you grow, you’ll want employees who believe in your vision and who will be willing to commit full time.
- Invest in investment and investors. Daniel expressed surprise at how often entrepreneurs consider the fact that they need to seek investment as a sign of failure. In fact, the opposite is true: seeking investment is an opportunity to create a partnership and a strategy to grow your business. In that spirit, it’s important for entrepreneurs to choose their investors wisely. It’s also crucial to start looking for investment well before you actually need it. This will give you a chance to build relationships and tell your story—and to do so without putting pressure on you or your potential investors. Seek out the right investors: ones who match your goals, timeframe and risk tolerance. Daniel and his team started working with MaRS early on, which helped them navigate the world of financing for the company.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Once you find investors, ensure that you keep an open line of communication with them, particularly when you’re facing challenges. This is a good practice for people who trust you and who believe in you—that way, when you do need their help, it won’t be out of the blue and they’ll have a more balanced view of your situation.
- The little things add up. One of Daniel’s more surprising tips was to invest in a points card and to sign up for every airline and hotel points program. By MMB’s third month of operations he had become keenly aware of just how much money businesses spend. Earning points on all of the company’s expenditures meant that half of their employees’ travel was covered and they could use gift cards to incentivize their team. On another note, Daniel encouraged entrepreneurs to hire a designer early on—“they can make you look more established than you are,” he said—and to pay more attention to social media.
Of all of the lessons that Daniel shared with the MaRS Mornings audience, perhaps the most pertinent was the importance of being part of a community of other entrepreneurs. According to Daniel, he and his co-founders learned a lot from talking to other people who were at the same stage as them, as well as from those at the “been there, done that” stage. While your peers may be bandwidth-constrained they are almost always willing to help.