What’s the inspiration behind Wayzn?
The idea came to us on a snowy night on a ski trip to Lake Tahoe. We were talking about how much money we'd spent to board the dogs for two days, and Mike had a thought. What if we could use our phones to let our dogs out using our sliding patio doors when we weren't home? It sounded like a good idea to us, and our wives and friends, so we decided to give it a try. We built a prototype and everyone who saw it asked for one, so here we are.
Both of you are seasoned entrepreneurs and have co-founded multiple startups. How has your prior experience shaped Wayzn?
Adam’s experience with startups goes all the way back to PointCast and includes many failures. The lessons learned inform almost everything we do, from managing risk to the importance of understanding the job to be done.
Mike’s success with LifeSaver Mobile, and his career of developing and launching new product introductions for enterprise software companies, by contrast, gave us a proven framework for lean management and achieving technical excellence.
You are not only co-founders, but also brothers-in-law! How do you work together?
Surprisingly well, actually. It took us a while to transition from bros to co-workers as we learned to trust each other’s expertise and judgement, but neither of us could have accomplished this without the other. We can rely heavily on each other when needed, and we know the other will always be there in a way other co-founders might not.
Can you speak to your individual styles when it comes to leadership?
Our work styles are different and we use that to our advantage. Mike is a visionary who is always challenging himself and the team to ask, “What is possible?” Adam tends to ask, “How can it be done?,” reinforcing the importance of being able to deliver on our promise.
We also have a lot of similarities: we both put people first, lead by example and tend to have fun in everything we do.
How do you handle risk and competition?
Everything in life and business carries risk. We are constantly looking at our risk and trying to minimize it by taking it on in small increments. We look at the growth of the company as a series of milestones, or gates, and each time we pass through one it mitigates risk in one area and allows us to assume new risk in another.
Competition in the pet door space is fierce, but one in three households own a dog so we have barely begun to scratch the surface of the market’s potential. Competition in the smart door and window space, by contrast, is still minimal and Wayzn has a meaningful head start. If we continue to innovate and produce products that people love we should be able to maintain a leadership position.
Dogs are an important part of both your life and business. Did you always grow up with pets?
We’ve both had dogs for most of our lives and, like most dog people, we are always thinking about ways to maximize their enjoyment. Adam’s dog Riley is a Black Shepherd rescue that loves cucumbers and understands only the chase and eat portion of the game fetch. Mike’s dog Cooper is the playful Labradoodle performing in the Wayzn website video. Cooper is well aware that he’s helping to change the doggy door world and that without him we might never have conceived Wayzn. Thanks, Cooper!
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
We officially launched Wayzn at the Consumer Electronics Show in late January to rave reviews, and two months later the entire world was engulfed in a pandemic that crashed the economy, so the timing couldn’t have been worse. With limited cash on hand we were forced to shift focus from growth to sustainability so we could still be around when things recover. Thankfully, we’ve been able to keep momentum on the product side and are starting to see signs of improvement in the market. We host Zoom calls with our customers every day and can see how excited they are about Wayzn and our future.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
Absolutely. We’ve been close to each other for 30 years, but working together we’ve learned so much about each other and how to leverage the other’s strengths to succeed. Being able to communicate openly, like brothers do, has also helped us see areas where we can grow and improve ourselves so we can be more valuable to our team.
Much of your prior experience has been tech-based. Have there been any surprises when switching industries? Any challenges?
We’ve both worked for software companies our entire careers, so the jump to hardware has been a real eye opener. We understood supply chain in theory, but we are still learning lessons all the time as we put it into practice. Ironically, we probably focused too much attention on getting the hardware right and underestimated the difficulty of developing firmware that solves for the big three: safety, security and satisfaction.
What’s your team culture like?
Wayzn is a family company, so we keep it casual and operate on a principle of deep mutual respect. As founders we model the behaviors we value, such as open communication, patience and a relentless focus on solving the customer’s needs. This attracts like-minded people and the culture just gets stronger. Even our customers want to get involved with the company as investors, affiliates, alpha testers, and even as employees. It’s gratifying to have people so invested in our success.
What is your superpower?
Adam: Tenacity. I participate in adventure races and similar endurance events which require a strong commitment to training and the ability to push through discomfort. When building a business this trait comes in handy almost daily.
Mike: Resilience. I despise failure, but have come to recognize through decades of successes and some failures in business and personal life that it’s the failures that make you stronger when you can accept and learn from them. It took me seven painful attempts to qualify for the Boston Marathon at age 49, but eventually you learn what to expect at mile 22 and how to get through it.
What’s your kryptonite?
Adam: Chocolate bread pudding.
Mike: A quality cup of joe every day.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
Adam: I have a sweet tooth so I take my coffee with sweetened condensed milk. Mmmmm.
Mike: I take singing lessons and record them. To chill, I take drives and replay/practice my lessons obsessively and ignore the onlookers at stop lights.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
Adam: I enjoy building and riding electric skateboards, rucking, playing guitar, yoga and relaxing with family.
Mike: I love fishing, biking, and running loops on mountain trails. It’s a drag wearing a mask. I hope to ski again in 2021.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Adam: Focus on the customer and everything else will sort itself out.
Mike: Surround yourself with excellent people, and stop to check yourself if you think you’re always right.