Mulhern joined CradlePoint as Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board in September, 2011, after several years at Highway 12 Ventures and more than 20 years at Hewlett Packard. His prior experiences gave him insight into the business world that has helped him transform CradlePoint into a leading provider of cloud-managed 3G/4G LTE networking solutions for distributed enterprises. Mulhern was more than generous sharing his insights with the evening’s Startup Grind audience of more than 65 people.
Mulhern spent just two years at Highway 12 before he was tapped to lead CradlePoint. But in that time, he says he learned a lot about how to judge the potential for success of a startup. “The most important thing we looked at was the people starting the company: were they the right people to do it? Did they have passion and energy for what they were doing? Were they determined to succeed—but open to the possibility that things might not happen exactly as they planned them. Were they prepared to pivot?”
He gave to two examples of Highway 12 companies that had to change their vision in the face of reality. The first was a travel company that wanted to join the ranks of Expedia, TripAdvisor, Orbitz, and all the rest. The founders soon discovered that their real audience was tour operators not the general public. So they pivoted and are still in business and doing well. The second was a company that started out providing a platform to help publishers go digital. The problem, they soon learned, was that publishers didn’t have the money to buy their solution, so they pivoted to become a successful content marketing company.
The challenge for most startups, Mulhern says, is to stay solvent enough to hit that next value milestone. “When you're getting venture backing, you're always trying to prove that next value milestone. If it takes longer than 18 months to prove it, you're probably going to have problems getting the next round of funding. So you have to remain both very determined to succeed but very flexible in terms of finding the right opportunity.”
On the startup environment in Boise, Mulhern noted that one difference between the Treasure Valley and the Silicon Valley is that down south there is enough money around to fund not just great ideas, but good ideas. “I think there's some truth to thought that if you have a great idea, the capital will find you. But it’s not always the greatest ideas that succeed right out of the gate. Sometimes it takes time to find that perfect opportunity.”
Mulhern’s vision for CradlePoint is to stay in Boise and serve as a springboard for new companies, much like Micron and HP have done in the past. “What I like best about the Treasure Valley is that we have white collar workers with blue collar ethics—people who believe in hard work, who are willing to put in the work to find that right opportunity, who want to be successful. “
Here are more of Mulhern’s thoughts on:
Leadership: “When you have smart folks that have a lot if initiative, they don't want to be told how to do something,” he said. “My approach is to reach an agreement on what needs to happen and then provide the freedom for folks to figure out the best way to do it—and do it in a way that's never been done before. It’s critical that you leave room for innovation.”
Creating a business culture: “The one thing I don't like to do is put our shared values on a slide and stick them in everyone's cube. I've been in so many organizations where people do that and nobody lives by them. But if your staff can make a general statement about those values, then you know you're living your values and it's not just a sign on the wall.”
Starting up: “Get as much finding as you can. But once you get the money, spend it wisely. That's one of the things that really impressed me about CradlePoint. If I approached someone and said they needed a new workstation the attitude was, ‘No, I don't need that. I can do this. I can get by fine.’ There is just an attitude of ‘let's save the money for building the business and not perks.’”
Dealing with sleepless nights: “At CradlePoint we're at a stage where what helps me sleep at night is just the way we build our plan: our revenue goals we have, our margin goals, the products and services we need to have, when we need them by, how many sales reps and channel partners do we need. Having a good plan gives me the peace of mind to sleep well at night.”
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Startup Grind Boise with Guest Host George Mulhern, CradlePoint CEO