Innovators. They come in many forms. They dream big but they aren’t just dreamers. They form raw ideas into cool products with disruptive business models. They shatter entire industries and leave established leviathans running scared with their tails between their legs. The Innovators interview series connects you with the most driven people on the planet. What makes them tick? What advice do they have for tech founders? What tools do they use to get the job done? Read on to find out.
Brandon Levey is the ThinkerUpper of Stitch Labs. He holds a BSE and MSE in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan. He began his professional career at Sandia National Laboratories working on domestic nuclear security systems analyses. While at Sandia he started two product based businesses – one specializing in sustainable clothing and one in manufacturing mobile accessories. Through his experiences in the design and manufacturing world, Brandon identified many problems faced by small businesses, and the scarcity of tools specifically designed to meet their needs. Intent on building an intuitive business management application that could help millions of businesses, Brandon paired his experience with his technical background and founded Stitch Labs. Stitch is a web based software solution designed to support the growth of business that design, make, and sell products.
What do you enjoy most about your work and why?
Ultimately there are two things that I enjoy most about my work. The first is the feedback from our customers about how Stitch is actually helping them. I cannot adequately express how happy it makes me to know that we are creating a product that has a profound effect on these businesses, and the lives of the people that run them. Knowing that we are building something that’s making a difference gives me a deep feeling of satisfaction.
The other aspect of my work that I love is being able to work on all of the different projects we have at the same time. We are fortunate to have a team with a highly diversified skill set. One of the most exciting things about a team like this is that we all learn from each other, and bring a unique perspective to the table. Being able to operate in that type of environment is truly wonderful.
Where does your passion come from? What drives you, inspires you, excites you?
That is extremely difficult to articulate. When we were pitching to raise our seed round this question, in one way or another, often came up. The best way I can describe it is a feeling that when something is not right in the world, it needs to change. When I identify these things in my life I get an overwhelming feeling to do something to change them. Additionally, I’m not someone with a happy medium, I’m more of a 0 or 100% person so once I’ve committed it is very difficult for me to stop. Also, I come from a long family of entrepreneurs, so perhaps it’s just in my blood.
Someone reading this wants to start a tech company. What’s your best advice for them?
Spend as much time as possible with the problem you are trying to solve. The problems I’ve worked on where I feel that I have been most successful, are problems that I am intimately familiar with on a personal level. Then, when you think you have all the information you need, build something super simple, and find hundreds or thousands of potential customers to talk to about it. Only then can you have a true understanding of how to solve the problem, and the real impact the solution can have.
What are a few tech startups that you’re really excited about right now and why?
One company I’m in love with is Nest. At 10 years old I started tinkering in my Dad’s sheet metal shop. Over the next 9 years I spent most of my summers, breaks, and some weekends learning how to bend metal, install HVAC units, and diagnosis heating and cooling problems. What Nest is doing with their thermostat is so much more than just a simple design improvement to a seemingly unexciting industry, it can help revolutionize how people communicate with their homes and offices, and save a ton of money in energy costs.
Another company that I’m fascinated with is Puppet Labs. Because I don’t have a lot of experience in devOps I didn’t fully understand the need for something like this. One of our backend engineers implemented Puppet for our infrastructure and it’s incredible. Given how important scalability is these days, I think these guys have real potential to become the norm for how software companies grow and scale their infrastructure in a stable, efficient, and cost effective way.
Lastly, I am quite excited about Xero. They are growing incredibly fast and I believe their approach is changing the way small business accounting works.
What tech tools (websites, apps, gadgets, etc.) do you rely on both for work and in your down time?