Chris Allen, CEO of iDevices: The Grit And Hustle Behind His Smart Home Solutions Company

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How could a guy without a college degree and a background in landscaping create a successful smart home solutions company that works alongside Apple and other big-name tech giants? It’s not easy. It takes a lot of grit and plenty of hustle - and Chris Allen has both.

This episode is a real treat. You’ll hear the story of how Chris Allen built iDevices from one product idea to a multi-product powerhouse in the Smart Home industry. He explains how he had the boldness to go for it in a tech-oriented industry even though he didn’t have a technical background, how a cold-call to Apple proved hugely successful, the steps it takes to build a great team and how he did it, and more.

You have to hire great people and empower them to do what they do best

As Chris began iDevices he followed the path most startup founders do. He wore many hats and had his fingers in every project and decision. But as the company grew he discovered that it was beyond his ability to manage on his own. He had to learn how to let go of things, to pass them along to other capable people who could take them on fully.

Two of the areas he found most difficult to step out of were marketing and hiring. It’s not that he felt particularly skilled or expert in either of those areas, but he enjoyed them immensely. He’s had to learn to trust the great people he’s hired to do what they are best at so that he can do the things that move the company forward. And his team hasn't disappointed.

The decision to delegate things to competent people is one of the most necessary and pivotal for every startup. It brings accelerated growth more than any other decision.

You’d expect a smart home solutions company to be in Silicon Valley. Not this one

Avon, CT is not where you’d expect to find one of the most successful consumer tech companies in the United States, but that’s where Chris Allen has located the corporate offices of the company. He’s discovered some distinct advantages to being outside the normal environment of the consumer technology industry.

Being outside Silicon Valley has drawn candidates for open positions who are a wider demographic than the 20 to 30-year-olds common within the industry. He has some team members who are in their 60s and loves the way the diverse age range contributes to the creativity and ingenuity of the company.

To be successful you have to be willing to receive the criticism as well as the praise

Chris is an advocate of the “Lean Startup” methodology made popular by Eric Ries. One aspect of the approach that he’s particularly fond of us the process of soliciting feedback from customers, iterating, then shipping new products. With a software or services company that process can be fairly quick. But with smart home devices like Chris’ company sells, the time frame from idea to product can be as much as 18 months - and it’s not always simple to get direct feedback from customers.

How does he get the feedback needed? From the beginning Chris has worked extra hard at making connections with customers, asking for their feedback. He makes use of surveys to help his team understand how their products are being used, what new uses cases may exist that they haven’t considered, and what issues are being experienced with the product as it is. The benefits that come from such diligent customer communication is unmatched.

Don’t go big right away. Take the time to discover and know your market

I always like to ask my guests for their advice to new entrepreneurs and Founders. Chris wasn’t shy to pass along advice that’s contrary to much of what you hear in the startup community. He advises that you maintain slow, steady growth and NOT go big right away. Too often he’s seen companies launch on the back of a huge Kickstarter campaign only to discover that the fans who supported the product on Kickstarter are the full extent of the interested market. When that’s the case, scaling isn’t possible.

His suggestion is that you take the time to do market research. Understand your target customers and grapple with their needs. Discover the best ways to serve them that are both genuinely helpful and able to scale. Then you’ll have the foundation necessary to build a company that can endure over the long haul.

If you are with a consumer technology company planning to launch a new product at CES or are even looking ahead to CES 2019, the Max Borges Agency can help you succeed. To learn more, check out: www.maxborgesagency.com.

Topics Featured In This Episode

  • [1:25] The story behind Chris’ company, iDevices
  • [5:37] From landscaping to a consumer tech startup: the catalyst and early challenges
  • [9:04] The advantages of NOT being headquartered in Silicon Valley
  • [12:36] The story behind cold-calling Apple - it had to do with Bluetooth classic
  • [15:44] Why Chris is willing to take risks to move his company forward
  • [19:36] How Chris’ role has changed as the company has grown
  • [25:12] Mistakes made along the way that listeners should learn from
  • [28:05] Advice to those starting a company today
  • [30:10] Using Lean Startup methodology and tools to create the iDevices products

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Chris Allen

Connect With Max Borges

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