Rebellion Photonics’s Founder Proves Herself With A Multimillion Dollar Company – with Allison Sawyer

Posted on Oct 22, 2012 - 9:00 AM PST

How does a woman whose entrepreneurship professor told her she wasn’t good enough to lead end up launching and leading a multimillion dollar company?

Allison Sawyer is the CEO at Rebellion Photonics which sells incredibly sensitive chemical imaging video cameras and wait until you hear why that company has that name.

The company sells incredibly sensitive chemical imaging video cameras. The Air Force actually signed an $800,000 contract with her company to put cameras on drones. We are going to find out how she launched and built this business in this interview.

Watch the FULL program

About Allison Sawyer

Allison Sawyer is the CEO at Rebellion Photonics which is currently selling snap-shot hyper-spectral microscope add-on devices for use in analytical instrumentation market.

Raw transcript

Mixergy’s audio transcription is done by Speechpad

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Hey, there freedom fighters my name is Andrew Warner, I am the founder of Mixergy, home of the ambitious upstart. How does a woman whose entrepreneurship professor told her that she wasn’t good enough to lead end up launching and leading a multimillion dollar company? Allison Sawyer is the CEO and founder of Rebellion Photonics and wait until you hear why that company has that name.

The company sells incredibly sensitive chemical imaging video cameras. The Air Force actually signed an $800,000 contract with her company to put cameras on drones. We are going to find out how she launched and built this business in this interview. Allison, welcome and thanks for doing this interview.

Allison: Thank you for having me.

Andrew: Your husband walked into your office looked around and felt that he could see that your dreams, the dreams that you had before you even started this business, came to life. What was it that he saw that made him feel this way?

Allison: That was actually a very interesting comment from my husband when he walked into the office for the first time. Our new big office, the first real office we had, 5,000 square feet and eight employees it feels very real now. He just said I see you all over the office, I can see your taste everywhere and I can see how the desks are set up the people you hired, it’s got your stamp all over it. It also has my co-founder’s stamp. So, I co-founded the company and when you go to the lab, he has the lab set up exactly how he always thought a lab should be.

We are an optics based company, we deal with light and he always, his name is Robert Kester, he’s our Chief Technical Officer, he never understood why labs were white especially the optics labs. So, our optics labs are kind of cool they are black and black furniture. It’s cool if you are in optics. It’s nice to actually build something and go this is how I think it should be and so I will make it like this. It’s really wonderful.

Andrew: That is one of the best parts of entrepreneurships and sometimes we as entrepreneurs forget about it when we complain about this or that we forget, wait, we are in charge of our own destiny. We can change the colors of the walls, we can change the direction of this business, we can even change what we create. In fact, we don’t even have to show up every day. It’s incredible freedom I mean, obviously, the company won’t necessarily survive if we just stop showing up but, if we are not loving it we don’t have to show up and we can just adjust what it does and adjust our environment. I mentioned at the tip of the interview what your entrepreneurship professor said. We’ll get into that later on in this interview, but what I found interesting was that it wasn’t just your entrepreneurship professor that was supposed to be encouraging but really wasn’t . . .

Allison: Right.

Andrew: . . . it was even the environment that you grew up in. You are a woman who grew up in the South. What was that like? What’s expected of you as a woman from Alabama?

Allison: Oh, really interesting. Yes, I was born and raised in Alabama, and in Alabama, even today, it’s all about expectations, isn’t it, and you’re not expected to do well in math. You can take math if you want, but if you drop out of calculus, no one will look twice. And so that’s why when you get to high school math, very few girls are still taking pre-cal or calculus, and even fewer in the honors class. There’s just very little encouragement, and I think it’s all about expectations. My mother was very different than all the other mothers, and she absolutely expected me to get an A in calculus. So those were the expectations, and I’m very thankful that she had those for me.

Andrew: And when they didn’t let you take the test for honors math, what did your mom do?

Allison: Well, I moved schools in the end, but I actually went to boarding school in Connecticut. I like Alabama on the whole, so it was pretty gut- wrenching to go so far from my family, but you do what you have to do, especially if you’re nerdy and like math, which I still love math. I do love math. I find it very relaxing.

Andrew: I do, too, because there’s a right answer in that.

Allison: Yeah, I know, it’s great.

Andrew: And in conversations there’s not necessarily one.

Allison: Yeah.

Andrew: So you see that. You told Jeremy, our producer who did a pre- interview with you, that you wanted to be brave, to be a super hero.

Allison: Yeah.

Andrew: What do you mean by that? What were you doing?

Allison: Oh, gosh, I don’t know, I was big reader, and when I would read “Lord of the Rings” or 1984 or [??] or any of these great novels, I just always wanted to be the hero or be an adventurer. Then you grow up, and when you’re 15 or 16, you think, “Oh, life’s not going to be as good as the books.” Then you get a little older still, 20 or 21, and you go, “Well, actually, it could be better. It could be even better than books. It can still be an adventure. I can still be my own hero.” It was just redefining it from maybe your childhood dreams, and I do feel that way. I feel like I don’t even mind that when people are terrible to me because it’s just like, “Oh, good, you’re a character in my story. I needed you. I couldn’t be a hero without you, Mr. Evil Man. So it’s fine. Thank you.”

Andrew: Allison, I grew up with these visions of greatness, too, of the possibilities of the world. I remember looking around at my friends, and they would get excited about sneaking out of Brooklyn and going into Greenwich Village for I don’t know what or going and sitting in Central Park for the afternoon. That would be a rebellious thing that they did, and I thought, ‘Think bigger. Why are you laughing at me for having these dreams of one day owning a big company in this big city and working towards that instead of getting excited about laying around on Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park?’ But it was hurtful. Did you feel any of that, too? Did you feel any of that ostracism or any of the pain that came from living in a world where people didn’t feel like you did?

Allison: Yes, I think I always felt that when I was growing up in Alabama that I was a bad person because, especially as a young woman, you’re supposed to be sweet and kind and altruistic and always putting others before yourself. And to be really focused on yourself and ambitious and not wanting to stay home and wanting to lead and be president of clubs and be the bad guy, quite often as CEO, I make jokes about getting new business cards where it’s just “Allison Sawyer, Bad Guy.” I have to be the bad guy. I mean, the buck stops with me, and I’m the one who has to fire people. I’m the one who has to yell at some of my best friends in the world. I don’t really yell, but, you know, keep us all to timeline, and to be that person that you have to be as CEO doesn’t equal being a good person in Alabama. So I honestly grew up my entire life thinking I was just a bad person. I don’t think that’s true anymore. I really don’t, but it is really fascinating to look back. When people tell you something enough, you do really just believe it unconsciously, don’t make a decision, but you’re just like, ‘Oh, I must be that,’ what they say. And I look back, and it’s so tragic. I think that’s one of the most tragic things about my childhood. It was just so wrong. I was a great kid, and I should’ve known it. Oh, well, I’ll do it differently with my kids.

Andrew: That’s why I want you here to do this interview, and that’s why I wanted us to talk about this part of the story because there’s somebody listening to us right now who feels like the bad guy. Maybe she’s a student who wants to build a business later on, and people are saying, ‘It’s not for you.’ Maybe he is an entrepreneur who’s risking paying the mortgage to build his business, and someone is saying, ‘Why don’t you just take a job?,’ treating him like he’s basically betting on black on roulette in Vegas instead of building something that could change the world, change people’s lives, doing something like you, where years from now his wife or his friends will walk into his office and see the dream came true. And the dream for you started off when you volunteered at a local Incubator [SP], and that’s where you met your co-founder, Robert. And what was Robert doing that made you say, ‘I’m interested in his work’?

Allison: Sure. Yeah, I was working for free part-time while in business school at a local technology company, Incubator, and Robert Kester [sp], my co-founder and one of the inventors of the technology, came in from a local university. He was a Ph.D. student, and this was his Ph.D. thesis project in biological research of all things. I’ll actually never forget it until the day I die. He came in, and he handed me his technical paper, and he goes, “You know, I think we have a really great new product. It’ll be an attach-on device for microscopes to do live fluorescence imaging for medical research. And it’s going to be really big, and I think we should start a company on it.” And I’m just like, “Hmm, maybe.” But when I read the paper twice, pretty dense stuff, I asked him later, “Well, can we take it to the real world? Can I put this on a normal lens? Can I put different lenses on it? Can I take it out into the real world?” He’s like, “Yeah, sure, if you think they’d want it.” And my brain exploded. I was like, “Yes, they will want it. They will want it. They won’t know it at first, but they will want this.”

Andrew: Who is ‘they,’ and what will they want with this did you imagine?

Allison: Sure. In our technology we have video cameras that image chemicals, so they identify the materials and the image. So not just your suit is black, but actually we see a silk/wool blend. Or more useful in our oil and gas customers, we’re looking for explosive gas leaks, like methane or toxic leaks, like H2S.

Andrew: OK.

Allison: We also do work for the defense. In fact, the United States government is our largest customer still, and they’re using our cameras on drones or intelligence and surveillance. So there’s a wide variety of applications. I think the most exciting are in oil and gas, though.

Andrew: OK. And you said, “Yes, of course, I see this. These guys are going to want to buy this.”

Allison: Oh, it’s very big. I was so excited. Yeah.

Andrew: And you proposed to him that you guys do what?

Allison: We were both graduate students at the time. I was in business school, and I proposed that we take this technology, I would write a business plan, and we’d take it to business plan competitions. They sound kind of silly, but you can make some good money from those things, and that’s exactly what we did. We won one big competition in Asia, and then we placed second place here at a competition in America. And after all those competitions, we walked away with, I think it was, around $150,000 of starting capital, and that is what we used to start the company. And since then, we were able to start sales within six months, so we’ve been able to self-fund and raise debts. We haven’t actually taken on BC Cash [sp], yet. That’s fun.

Andrew: That is fun. It’s incredible that you’re able to do that. I want to find out in a moment why you won those competitions. How you won them. First, it takes a lot of guts to look at someone like Robert, who’s just created something and say, “I want in on this.”

Allison: I was scared.

Andrew: What were you offering him in return for letting you in on this partnership?

Allison: This didn’t all happen the same day. Probably the same week. I met him and a week later I asked to meet him at our student bar. We’re both students at Rice University and Grad School. We met at the student bar. I can’t believe I’m telling you this. I said, “Robbie [SP], I’m in love with this technology and my background’s physics.” I do. I love this tech. I said, “Let me tell you my dream for this technology and if you like that dream, let’s do it.” I told him, “In six months we’ll have three employees and we’ll start sales in medical research just to get in the cash and then in two years, we’ll launch in oil and gas, then we’ll find a customer.” I told him my idea of how it would go, my dream for how a company would be, focusing on what the character of the company would be. Also, we both agreed early on that we may exit in four to five years, but not a quick sale. Right from the beginning I told him what my dream for the company [??]. He goes, “Yes. [??].” [??].

Andrew: It was the idea that you can take his vision and his work and turn it into a real business with your work, with your guidance and then you go to speak at these business plan competitions. You enter it and here you are, a woman who says, “I can lead this thing. I can take this technology and turn it into a real business,” and your entrepreneurship professor says?

Allison: “You know you’re not good enough.” It’s seared into my brain.

Andrew: Why?

Allison: He sounds really evil when I tell that story and he’s not my favorite person in the world but he’s not evil. Later on in the conversation he was like, “You remind me of my daughter. I don’t want you to get hurt.” After the meeting, gave me a big, wet ooey kiss on my cheek and a hug. He really thought he was doing me a favor by letting me know emphatically that I was not good enough. That I should not be doing this.

Andrew: What do you think it was that made him say that you weren’t good enough?

Allison: I’ll never know but my best guess would be there is, especially men of his generation, an impulse to protect women and he probably didn’t think I was good enough, which is fine.

Andrew: I’ll ask you this. He is just a character in your story. A person who says something. You are the driver of your own story and there’s one or two different ways that you could have gone with this. You could have allowed this statement to be buried in your head and when you spoke up at the next business plan competition, just as you were about to really give it everything, that bit of confidence that makes people say, “Yes. She sees it and I believe in what she sees even though it’s not here yet.” At that moment when you’re about to say the words that will make them feel that way, you could hear his voice and then suddenly lose that confidence. That’s one way. Where it constantly weighs on you and makes you doubt yourself at the most critical moments. The alternate way is to say, “I’m going to prove him wrong. I’m going to prove myself right.” What I’m wondering, as I do these interviews, is why do some people take statements like that and allow themselves to be hurt by it for life, essentially. It just constantly keeps bringing them down at the critical moments. Other people like you are still driven forward. What’s different? How did you use this that allowed you to drive you forward?

Allison: For me, by the time he told me this was after we’d won some competitions and it didn’t matter anymore. Once I found this technology and I found my co-founder, finding him was the hardest part. Once I found this company and we made the decision, from that moment on, after Robbie and I shook hands, nothing was going to stop me because I know for a fact, I’m not going to say we’re going to be successful, but I know for a fact absolutely nothing would have stopped me. The riskier part is someone could have stopped me before I found the technology. Before I found my co- founder. That’s the more precarious situation because you have this very quiet belief that you could be special. You’re not allowed to say that but, quietly, you think you could build something but you don’t know how, you don’t know where you’re going to find it and you’re reaching at straws. I worked a year and a half unpaid while in business school for the hope. Quite a few scientists came in. Quite a few technologists across our board. It was blind faith and the real silent killer is when people tell you, ‘Take the less risky version. Go take the corporate job. What are you going to do when you have kids? Have you thought about that?’ I’m going to lose it if I get that question one more time. [??] have to throw my coffee mug at them.

Andrew: What did you do at those business plan competitions that allowed you to win? Those aren’t easy competitions. There’s cash on the line. They’re driven people competing against you. What’s one or two things that you did that allowed you to win? Want the audience and myself to learn from the way you did it.

Allison: You have to be a bit realistic about the whole thing. This is a 15 minute pitch, sometimes with very hard core technologies like ours. In a 15 minute pitch, they’re never [??] going to understand the technology. They’re barely going to understand the business model. It’s an emotional vote. With 15 minutes it’s an emotional [??]. You need to make sure you get their blood pumping. You don’t let them get confused at any point because if they get confused, they will blame it on you and it will be your failure. Make sure you keep at reasonably high enough levels so no one in the audience gets confused. Also remember [??] everything, your job in that 15 minutes, is to be a story teller. When the lights go out, they look down at their score card, they have an actual image in their mind of, “Yes, this is where the company will be in ten years. [??] this is how it works.” I look back and I’m shocked. We did [??] because we didn’t even have a prototype, which is much less than some of the other competitors, but we did have a story and Robbie and I, obviously, believed and we got all the technical validation we could. At the end of the day you’re telling a story and there is an emotional human factor that we want to deny. We want to say we’re purely logical beings but that’s not true.

Andrew: It’s not. That’s one of my challenges here as an interviewer. People want to come on and give the facts, the facts, but we know, me and the Mixergy team, having done these interviews, is what the audience will take away from this, what will make them care about the facts is hearing about what life was like for you in Alabama. Hearing about what that professor said to you is going to make them listen to the way that you pitched and understand that it’s important and have it stick in their heads. It’s a challenge. Especially with tech entrepreneurs, we only want to talk about facts. We only want to talk about numbers. One of the things that happened as you started talking about your story was, you say it. What led to the name, to Rebellion Photonics. I don’t usually think of rebellion in a name of a company like yours, but it was a reaction to what?

Allison: The widespread disbelief that any of this was going to work.

Andrew: Haters even? There are haters of this idea. What would the haters do? How would they express themselves?

Allison: Well, it was two-fold for my co-founder, Robbie [SP]. He would go to conferences and present his work. This is really quite a big leap forward in our branch of optics. He would show the data, and people would just not believe him. They would come up to him and just say, “I think you fudged your numbers,” which in academia is quite a strong thing to say. So for him, the name means that the technology will work and this will totally change that niche. For me, it was a little different. It was a little broader. In hardware, there’s a generally wide held belief that you have to be a 50-year-old white male, and that’s just the truth. I’ve never been on a panel with an under 50-year-old female or under 50-year-old anyone. So in hardware it’s really dominated by the older generations, and there’s a generally held belief that you can’t get into oil and gas, or you can’t get into defense, you can’t get into these boys’ clubs and do anything quickly and that you have to take D.C. [SP] money. In fact, you have take $50 million. And I don’t know what’s going to happen in the end, but I do believe that [??] technology is going to change safety in the energy industry, and it’s going to have its role to play in national defense. And I just don’t think you have to be a 50-year-old white guy. So far it’s working out fine. So this is a [??]

Andrew: And quickly, too.

Allison: Yeah.

Andrew: Sorry, I interrupted. The big mistake of interviewing is to interrupt someone just as their flowing with the good stuff, and here I did it. What I did it for is to just jump ahead for a second and let the audience know that things did work out. We’ll come back to how they worked out, but first-year revenues were what?

Allison: Oh, I think first year was $600,000.

Andrew: And second year?

Allison: We’re hoping to reach $2 million. I’m an optimist.

Andrew: OK.

Allison: And next year should be around $3 million or $4 million. Hard to tell.

Andrew: All right.

Allison: So for a hardware company, this is all very fast growth, and I’m not really focused on the revenue we make this year and next year. That’s really lovely to have that coming in, but I’m really focused on in three to four years.

Andrew: Well, here’s the thing. A lot of us are on Kickstarter now. We support projects on Kickstarter that are supposed to come out in six months, and maybe they come out a year later than they’re supposed to, not because the person behind the Kickstarter campaign is evil, but because hardware is different. It takes longer to create hardware, obviously, than a new iPhone app or a new Web-based app. Well, what did your first version look like?

Allison: Well, for one thing we started making sales, receiving purchase orders before we had a product done. The big companies do this, but little companies don’t tend to do this, which I think is a mistake. Some of our big suppliers, like Raytheon, do it all the time. So when you’re about 80 percent completion, we tend to start doing sales. This is especially important if you have a long sales cycle product. It’ll get done by the time you need to deliver. It’ll work out.

Andrew: OK.

Allison: And then the other thing with hardware is it’s never done. It’s never done. It could always be better. You can always have a different user interface. It can always have improved power connection. It can always get better. That’s why I keep an arm’s length distance from the engineering side, just so I can have a better perspective and go, “No, that’s going out now. This is done. We’re going on to 2.0 next week.”

Andrew: Because if you’re so close to engineering, you’re going to start to take on the worries that they have about it. You’re going to start to see in a magnified way all the small flaws.

Allison: Right. And then also there’s the matter of choosing your customers carefully. I think a mistake that I see quite often is where hardware companies will act like software companies, where software companies go in and they make a platform that’s supposed to be for everyone. And that’s great for software and IT companies and anything on the Internet. That’s good for you in your massive markets. But for hardware, I just don’t agree with that. I think you go after the easy low hanging fruits. So, our first customers were researchers. Researchers don’t care if it’s pretty, they are incredibly intelligent so, they can do their own coding so, the software can be extremely basic. They have big budgets, they don’t tend to negotiate price that much. So, is it a huge market, research? No, absolutely not. We may not even be selling there in five years but, they were great first customers.

Andrew: How did you know that they would be the right ones?

Allison: I used to do research so, I knew them.

Andrew: I see.

Allison: I use to work in a lab.

Andrew: You were going to continue. I interrupted you.

Allison: That’s OK. When it comes to hardware I see people going after the massive market and BCs tell you to focus, focus, focus but, sometimes if you are like us and it’s a camera is a camera is a camera for the most part, your tech team can build one device that’s good enough for these people, bring the cash in, and also, learn so much from that first product. Then when you bring it to the next level it reaches a larger market.

So, our next big clients were the U. S. government. They do low volume, high profitability projects over two years and they are super fancy again, super fancy cameras. We won’t be doing those forever, but that was a way to take the hardware to the next level. Now, for oil and gas we are at the, what I would say, building the Toyota. It works, it works, it works, it’s easy. First there was the Nissan and then the Rolls Royce and then Toyota. Which I think is actually how it should be because the Toyota is the hardest one to make.

Andrew: Why?

Allison: To make something easy to use, cheaply, and in mass production that’s the final glorious step in hardware.

Andrew: You said that you sell to the first group of people then you learn so much from that first product and then you go to create the Rolls Royce. What did you learn by selling to researchers that you didn’t know on your own?

Allison: Every department in our engineering team would have learned a lot. We learned that you have to put on a sticker near the power switch “don’t unplug me while on.” I mean, everything, even these little things you wouldn’t conceive of, how to save video. You can save a video in a lot of different ways, we learned the best way for what our customer wanted and then also there’s every little thing.

With hardware, another unique situation we have is finding the right suppliers. By doing these different generations of the cameras with the different customers we were able to try out suppliers. We would try out six different suppliers for the same part every year. Now, when I’ve got my big, important, projects that’s got to work.

So, going into oil and gas we are doing our first pilot with BP in November. When we were making that camera it had to work but, I already knew exactly which suppliers I wanted because, that’s usually where a hardware project is going to go. Sometimes it’s development but, quite often, especially these days, your suppliers will be late. So, working on the supplier relationships and really figuring out who’s going to make their delivery date is worth so much.

Andrew: Why did you not want to show that first version to people, to potential customers even? That first product once it was built, why didn’t you want to show it off?

Allison: The business plan (?) we had a proof of concept but I didn’t show it. It was the first fight I ever had with my co-founder actually (?). My job as CEO so often is to build the dream and for people who don’t have a (?) in optics, which is most of us, it is very difficult sometimes to look at a proof of concept and then understand that, that actually verifies that dream, sometimes it burst the bubble that you make. Which is sad because, actually, you are (?) look at it and go: “Wow! Which we had quite a few people. You just have to, everybody needs their own [??] to [??] for everybody.

Andrew: If I understand you right, you are selling the future. Five years from now, and if what you reveal is something that the future, as in tomorrow’s technology, even though it’s impressive today, it’s just tomorrow’s technology, people are going to say, ‘Oh. That’s it? I saw five years from now, where’s that?’

Allison: I think it’s more of a lot of people, even tech people, even investors are not used to hardware. They’re not used to hardware companies. They’re not used to the mess we make and they’re used to seeing finished products. It’s just people who don’t have experience with unfinished products.

Andrew: Your first customers, the researchers, did you show them the first versions, the early prototypes? You did?

Allison: Yes, and that’s why they were good customers because they’re not educated. They’re extremely educated and sometimes when you’re dealing with highly complex product, those are the best ones to go for it first.

Andrew: I don’t know this technology well, obviously. You’re doing such a great job of explaining it to me and to my audience, but I’m wondering, before Robert’s work, was there ever a camera that could detect chemicals and identify the chemicals that way?

Allison: Yes. This field of optics is called hyper spectral imaging and it’s been around since the 1980s. Up until now though, this technology hasn’t been widely used because (A) it’s way too slow, so we take real time video, but all our competitors before us would only take one picture, one frame every eight to ten seconds. Some take two to three minutes. Some take hours, if they’re doing really high quality. It takes a very long time to do one frame. That rules out most outside of the lab applications. Secondly, it’s not nearly sensitive enough because if you think about, they’re scanning the picture. Now they’re getting a little bit of light and less light means lower sensitivity, or lower [??]. Not sensitive enough for the real world and way too slow. Researchers at Rice, of which my co- founder was a part of their lab, got a $3 million grant from the National Institute of Health because they used hyper spectral imaging to look at the chemicals within cells, especially cancer cells because they have different chemical reactions than normal cells. It took about two to three minutes just to take one of these pictures.

Still very interesting, but they were like, “You know it’d be great if we could take real video of the chemical interactions.” This lab won a $3 million grant to do that and they were successful. Robby’s [SP], thesis was able to do it. He was able to do this successfully. There hasn’t been a big change in that technology in over 20 years, over my lifetime. It wasn’t a simple software fix. People have played with software a lot. It was a totally different way of doing the hardware. The insides of our cameras look totally different than all our competitors. You need it. If you wanted a big leap forward in the results you were going to have to totally put aside everything they knew about hyper spectral imaging and do it the different way. That’s what Robby did. I’m continually amazed that he was able to do that.

Andrew: Oil and gas companies who will be your customers of what we call the Toyota version of the product, how will they use it?

Allison: I’m really excited about the oil and gas market. Right now to detect gas leaks on offshore rigs, refineries, chemical plants in general, they’ll install little point detectors. They’ll have 20 little point detectors around their huge refinery and these will alarm up to ten times a day. I’m not kidding. Ten times a day these will go, “Red light. I detect gas.” That’s it. That’s how they are monitoring the rigs and refineries. Before we paint them as evil, that’s their only option. They can also do a hand held point detector but they don’t like to send people out there too often because it’s dangerous.

Andrew: All these alerts that go off, are they real alerts? Is there really a leak?

Allison: There’s really gas there. Sometimes they’re false alarms. It’s hard to tell. It’s one data point. People in the scientific community, if we only had 20 data points and we needed to make $1 million decisions off these 20 data points, 100 data points, I would freak out too. The main problems refineries and rigs have, it’s the accidents, but the down time. When these alarms go off, they do the best they can with the data they have and they have to turn off the rig or refinery. A rig or a refinery will be profitable that year mostly based on down time. The less down time, the more profitable they would be. It puts those managers in a really difficult position. We want to change that. Instead of these ridiculous point detectors we would like to install [??] cameras where you still have the automatic alarms, no blinking alarm, but you also have a visual image. There is [??] leak. It’s leaking methane at this concentration. Some leaks, it is normal for a refinery to leak a little and that’s fine. Some leaks can be changed at the quarterly turnaround scheduled maintenance. Some need to be fixed [??] more information.

Andrew: Some need to be fixed immediately, you were saying? The connection broke off for a second.

Allison: Some leaks need to be fixed immediately. A lot of them can wait until the scheduled maintenance every quarter. Just by giving them more information they’re able to make, we’re hoping to [??] one refinery that was not profitable last year. We would like to make it profitable just by lowering down time. It’s not just a nice safety device to have. We are proposing, “Let us help you turn around some of your refineries and rigs.”

Andrew: Let’s talk a little bit about sales. This isn’t an easy sales process where you put up a quick website. Buy a couple of Google ads, send traffic to it and ta-da, cash comes in the door. I mentioned the $800,000 contract that you signed with the Air Force. My audience needs to know how to sell to big companies. They would like to know how to even be able to sell to the government. Teach us what you learned about selling to the Air Force so that we could become better sales people, too.

Allison: Defense is a little funny. It takes a really long time and you start off with little projects, typically SBIRs, which are Small Business Innovation Research grants. Then you move into BAAs, which are more contract work. Often the best thing you can do with government work is to partner with a larger company. We’ve partnered with Raytheon. We’ve partnered with Orbital Sciences, which is a satellite company. They did Google Maps. They’re the ones who made those images. Typically we partner with a bigger company. We kick them a little money from the grant. “You got to do this.” They do a little work. You need to get some of the big name companies on there.

Andrew: They sell for you?

Allison: No. We just get to put their name on the proposal. [??].

Andrew: That gets you in the door.

Allison: That gets you in the door. Also defense likes academia. Look who’s the best person in your field. We got the head of the largest optic society in the world to write us a letter saying, “This is [??] great technology.” Did it help? I don’t know, but we’re doing very well on our defense side. That’s very slow and steady. To get to the big contracts, just takes time. With corporate America, it’s actually a little easier in some ways. They tend to be more logical in corporate America, which I appreciate, but they’re tougher. It better be faster, better, cheaper or you really need to not even try. Faster, better, cheaper. Then you need to make it bite size when you pitch. When you pitch the first time you have to understand that your goal for the first meeting is usually to go to a second meeting. You have to understand that you’re going to need to talk to many different levels. Get in as high as you can, which is easier to do these days with all these networking sessions and Linked In, it’s easier than you think. Get in high and they are going to peak their interest which all you are doing. They will send you down to the technical people who will give you the yea or nay. So, you want to make sure no one hates you. They need to like you and then they will send you back out to middle management then they will send you to procurement. You are going to have to have 10 different PowerPoints because, they are all going to be interested in different things.

Andrew: How did you learn this? You are not someone who I am looking at your background, Teaching Assistant University of Colorado 2004, 2007. Student researcher after that, then Intern at Houston Technology Center. You didn’t have a background that would tell you how to sell and here you are closing a sale to the U. S. Air Force, closing sales to researchers, soon closing sales to oil and gas companies. How did you learn this stuff?

Allison: I don’t think it’s rocket science for one thing.

Andrew: But, don’t you have to at least talk to someone who has gone through it so that you know what the process is? Or are you just feeling it out for yourself?

Allison: This is my (?) I think this is the biggest mistake that I think a lot of startups will make I really believe this. Don’t make it harder than it is. You can figure out who you need to talk to. I knew I needed to get into VP or Director level. They are going to pass me out to their Health and Safety Manager la di da. It’s really not that tough, you just need to stand back and use your noggin and think “OK, how will this work.” But, the biggest mistakes I see with a lot of startups in hardware, I don’t really know software, but in hardware they will bring on an old guy who has 30 years experience.

The problem with bringing in an old guy with 30 years experience is he has his Rolodex of people and he is going to go to them first even if they are not the best fit. So, maybe we would have ended up with Marathon Oil or Shell because those are the guys that he knew. That’s not logical, you need to be thinking who would be the best fit for our technology. We have a next generation safety product, we want to move as fast as we can and who is the best fit, let me think about it. Oh, BP would probably be looking to try some new safety technology. You just need to take a step back and just really have the confidence to go “hmm, let me think about this.”

Don’t get me wrong. BP turned me down, I think, three times before they said yes. So, no, just means come back later. But, I don’t like to see companies bring on these really experienced guys and they just go their Rolodex when that isn’t always the best logic. At the end of the day corporate America is making logical rational decisions. It’s not as buddy, buddy boys club as I think their reputation is. I think they have an unnecessarily harsh reputation in oil and gas.

Andrew: When you mentioned the entrepreneurs who will bring on the older guys with the Rolodexes and the polished résumé it reminded me of something. It reminded me of the time that you hired someone with a beautiful résumé and what happened to that relationship. Can you talk about that? For what position was this?

Allison: One of my biggest mistakes was making a bad hire early on and then waiting too long to fire them. That wasn’t on the business side. We brought in a Director of Engineering to help (?) more with the Operations and also with software development.

He had a beautiful résumé and he had been with a company that went from 3 people to 50 people and were bought, literally, a perfect résumé for this position. But, where I failed is I underestimated how important company culture was and how important personalities are. His personality totally clashed with our CTO, who is a wonderful person, and this guy wasn’t a bad person at all, in fact, I kind of liked him we had a lot similar hobbies. I still like him, but he was a horrible, horrible fit personality-wise.

Andrew: Why, what do you mean? What was his personality like and what was your culture?

Allison: Our culture is to move, let’s see, we’re just very productive, we’re kind of quiet. (inaudible) Pretty nice, pretty nice people. There’s never shouting. There’s like never shouting in the office I think, ever. This guy was a, you know, came from Eastern Europe, really bossy. My way or the highway. And I’m not saying that doesn’t work at some companies, it does. But at our company that’s just not how we operate. There were no (?) here, not on my watch. I’ve had enough of that outside the walls, we’re just not doing that here. This is not a place for alpha dogs. And so.

Andrew: All right, we won’t get too deep into it.

Allison: And I wish, I look back now and I should obviously not have hired him. I obviously should not have hired him. I look back and I blush, but.

Andrew: Why, what was it about?

Allison: It was one of the few occasions where I’m like, well everyone says I need this guy and everyone says he’ll be great and so I did it. And it was one of those few occasions where I didn’t think for myself. Where I didn’t stop and think from the basics. That’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to not make assumptions on how things have to be. I don’t.

Andrew: You have a hiring process now that helps you hire better. And I want to ask about that in a moment but first, letting someone go especially someone that important to the company. Yeah, you just said whoa.

Allison: It’s bad.

Andrew: It takes a long time to, well why do you say that?

Allison: Oh you know, we’re only eight people. We’re pretty much all friends. But when someone is not good enough, it’s really difficult to fire someone. I think that’s another thing that’s just was really surprising to me. I thought firing would be straight forward. You know they’re not going to be successful here, you know that for a fact, and it’s still incredibly difficult to fire someone, so.

Andrew: And so you put it off, you put it off, you put it off. And then something got you to finally say it’s time. What was that?

Allison: I didn’t put it off like oh I’m going to fire this person, I won’t do it today I’ll do it next week. It was more, much more unconscious. It was more of a, oh he should, he is intelligent, this should be working. You know I’ve given him these lists of things, why, you know, this will work. We tend to be very optimistic people, oh it will work out, he’s intelligent, it will work out. And I look back now and, no, it wasn’t going to work out. So.

Andrew: So what is it that gets you to finally say it because as entrepreneurs I think we all face that situation where there’s someone that’s not working out. Some partnership even that’s not working out. And we need to say it and move on, but we don’t recognize it, we don’t do it until for you something made you say, okay it’s time. And I’m hoping that as we see it in you we can maybe recognize that situation in us.

Allison: Oh, I think he just acted inappropriately one time, just yelled at someone that they should have known, it was the last straw.

Andrew: I see, and you said clearly this is not.

Allison: I don’t recommend waiting that long, do not follow that example. I have fired someone since then and we fired them quickly. And I really just focus on are you going to be, it’s not do I like you, it’s not are you intelligent, it’s are you going to be successful at your specific role? So that’s the only thing I let.

Andrew: Now you have a new hiring process. What’s the new process?

Allison: Well it’s not a fancy process but it works for us so. Now especially when I’m doing a technical hire, but when I’m doing any type of hire, there’s the first interview then there’s the technical interview to make sure you’re technically where you need to be. And then so right when we think we’re about to hire someone the last step is just have them come out to the office, hang around for an hour or two. I’ll hang out with them, I block off my schedule for that afternoon and then we, I take the whole company out to a bar. We don’t all drink, well half of us get diet coke, we’re so boring, but we do go out to a bar and play cards. And that’s a really good time for me to be able to step back and see how they interact. Now I don’t need outgoing personable. They can be shy as heck, that’s fine, but if you can see that… It’s hard to explain, but I know when my team likes somebody or not. Even if I ask them, they’ll always yes. They’re not going to say anything mean about a person, but I know. I know if they like them or not and if it will be a low stress relationship. One time we did take someone out to a bar, and we were about to hire this person. You could just tell. You could just tell. It’s funny I remember they were… I can’t even explain exactly why, but I just knew my tech team wasn’t going to like this guy.

You know what, there are just enough people out there in the world to hire that you need to hire someone that will fit in. We have all different types of personalities here, and I don’t really care if I like them or not, especially if I don’t have to work with them all day. But I do care if the other employees like them. I think that’s one of the most important things.

Andrew: You’ve learned also through building this business to read people. You learned to tell a good story in a way that it doesn’t confuse your audience and make them think that you’re at fault, that you’re not a good presenter and that’s why they don’t get it. Because you told good stories, you won those competitions and were able to bring money in the door, but you also learned to read people and understand their needs quickly. Why is that important, and how do I do it?

Allison: Oh, I think being able to read people in a situation quickly to be able to gauge the temperature of the room and to very, very quickly figure out what their needs are. Oh, he just needs to say yay or nay and get out of here, so we need to pick a few check boxes and just… this guy’s corporate America. He just wants to hang out with the startup all day and play ping pong…just to very quickly figure out that it’s never as simple as a math problem.

Andrew: The ping pong situation that you’re talking about…a math problem would be that we’ve got a defense contractor coming in. We need to make sure that he understands why our technology is better than anyone else’s. We need to explain to him why this is the future and so on. That’s the analytical. That’s the point you want to drive home. Reading people says, hey, this guy just wants to play ping poing. He’s sick of working at this big corporate environment. He likes that we’re a startup. Let’s play ping pong with him and give him a t-shirt and really give him what he’s looking for instead of what we think we need to do.

In the moment of having a conversation with someone, it’s really hard to stop our agenda and to notice and then give that person what they want.

Allison: I agree. It is really hard because you’re so obsessed with your pitch. You’ve been practicing it. You’ve shown you’re on Version 54, so it’s hard…

Andrew: Version 54 of your pitch?

Allison: Oh, honey, I’m on… I have ten different folders where I’m on Version 34 for different companies. I truly believe you need to change PowerPoint every single time. So, I’m one of those, but, yeah, some of them just want to hang out at the cool startup. There are a lot of people who want to do that, but I think figuring out what their needs are, is the most important thing you’re going to do as CEO. Quite often, I go in, and they don’t need to do the next big safety technology. Middle manager number 89 doesn’t benefit from that at all. He needs to not fail. That is the most common need I find is to not fail. It’s not to be successful; it’s to not fail. And so, you have to completely change your pitch and that context.

So, instead of focusing on all the different value you can bring, and you do have that slide. It’s more of – there are no moving parts, really low power. It’s fully automatic. You don’t need to hire anyone else. How we changed the entire business model based on the needs of the people which I talk with the most, which is middle management. They get judged on their capital expenses. OK, let’s change it to an operating expense. We’re going to be low monthly fee. So, I do think…

Andrew: Oh, because paying all at once triggers one alarm in their company and that’s a yard sell.

Allison: Yeah.

Andrew: Paying a little at a time means the expense is small enough that there isn’t as much pressure to justify it, and that’s how you change your model, based on your customer’s needs.

Allison: Correct. You change everything on your customer’s needs. Another mistake I see when dealing with big organizations, I do not deal with the U. S. government. I deal with Jim Leake [sp], in Toledo. I do not deal with BP. I deal with Paul. I deal with Elizabeth and I deal with Frances and each one of them, these are people. You’re not dealing with the organization. There’s no such thing.

Andrew: How do you get your customers to tell you what their needs are? We talk a lot in software, if you ask your customers what they want, they’re going to create this monster that makes no sense for anyone but this one customer. Not even for them. How do you get them to reveal their needs, the real ones? Not their imagined needs.

Allison: For one thing, never ask. Ever. Waste of time. Don’t ever ask.

Andrew: How can you tell?

Allison: Just get them talking. Another thing I see a lot is entrepreneurs will go in and they’ll do all the talking. That is a mistake. I want them to get all the talking. I don’t ever want to sell anything. Often when I go in, let’s say to an oil and gas customer for the first time, it’s not me telling them about their problems, it’s, “How’s that refinery doing? Are you having any problems with your point detectors?” Then they spend half the meeting [??] and moaning about last week they had to shut down their [??] for this reason. I think a lot of entrepreneurs would walk in and go, “Guy kept talking about his refinery the whole meeting. It was a waste of a meeting.” I walk out, I’m like, “He sold it to himself.” I love it. That’s my favorite. I want them to do all the talking. Not all the talking, but a majority of the talking. Sometimes to encourage that, I will force myself to be quiet. Because Americans, especially, will fill the silence. If I’m working with anyone from Britain or France, they will sit there and be silent but an American will always spill the silence.

Andrew: Do you have an example of something that you learned directly from your customer based on letting them talk?

Allison: You’ll learn everything. You’ll find out your competitor’s cost. We always find that fascinating. How much they’re spending per year. What the real problem is.

Andrew: Give an example of a real problem that you discovered by letting someone talk.

Allison: When we first went into a business of oil and gas, we assumed that there was this fear of explosions and catastrophic accidents, is what they call it. In oil and gas, these are incredibly rare. In the news we hear about them a lot but they are pretty rare. Rare enough that almost every manager thinks it won’t happen to them. They may be right, to be honest. We were wrong about that. By just listening, their obsession was down time and it was an obsession because they’ll be complaining. Their bonus every year, which is half their salary at some companies, is directly proportional to profit and loss of that refinery. Profit and loss is directly proportional to how many days that refinery wasn’t running. Sometimes a person, a lot of times, will just want to complain, and from their complaints, I do, too. All of us. Sometimes from your complaints is where some of the best information is.

Andrew: And you might not ever get someone by saying, “What’s your problem?” to say, “My problem is that half my salary’s tied to this refinery being up or down and I need to make sure that I can pay my own bills and impress my wife with a new something, or impress my husband with an increased salary.” But if you let them talk, then you’ll get to the real problem which is not a catastrophic issue, not even necessarily down time for the organization but definitely not earning their bonus, or earning less of their bonus. That’s what you get.

Allison: I always indirectly try to find out how they’re paid and how they get promoted and when and what occasion they would be fired. You never come out and ask that. [??].

Andrew: Those are [??] questions to get the answers to.

Allison: That’ll completely change how you pitch it.

Andrew: One thing that I notice here that I didn’t get a chance to ask you about until now is you were up until 3:00 a.m. almost every night for a period in your life. You’re not still up at 3 a.m., right?

Allison: No, I sleep OK now.

Andrew: No. Every once in a while I still wake up at 3 a.m. with worries. For you, it was what?

Allison: Last year there was a month where we almost didn’t make payroll. We did, but it was very, very close. Just because it was the perfect storm. I had four different customers late in paying me, most like 45 to 60 days late in paying me and I was just (?). It was just really. Anyway, but I’m fine we just had a, but it’s a pretty common story I just could not sleep. I’d wake up pretty much every day for a whole month. Wake up at 3 a.m., 5 a.m. and it just affects, I think, maybe that’s one of the most surprising things about running a company is that I find it because I love it so much, because this is exactly what I wanted to do my entire life, because I feel like I am utterly in my element and was meant to do this. That’s wonderful, that gets me up in the morning, that gets me smiling. I love it. I wouldn’t exchange it for anything in the entire world. I feel so lucky. But on the other hand, I cannot turn off my brain. I find it physically impossible to stop thinking about Rebellion and that sounds kind of cutesy, but think about it three years where I haven’t spent an hour not thinking about it and it’s always worrying. Sometimes it’s really fun, a lot of times it’s very happy thoughts. We’ve been doing great. Half the time it is a happy thought, but just like…

Andrew: So sometimes they are happy thoughts, but here’s the thing. We all have these dualities, these “I was meant to do this. I can do this. I’m going to do incredible things.” And then on the other hand is “Am I really the right person for this? There are so many other smarter people than me” and in your case, in this moment is when what that professor said to you was one of the thoughts that came back to you. And so, how do you channel the good thoughts and cut off the destructive thoughts, the thoughts of what the professor said to you. “Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Am I the right person?” Maybe, what those other people said is right. Maybe I’m a fraud and I can’t believe I even got it this far. How do you shut those thoughts out and give the true thoughts a chance to breathe so that you can be who you were meant to be?

Allison: Yes. That’s interesting. I think I do try to. I do worry more often than I should probably that. Maybe it’s normal, but like the little voice “Maybe you know, maybe you’re not good enough. You didn’t do this right or you didn’t get that contract or that call with the supplier. I mean, it can even be little things like, Oh! The call from the supplier didn’t go well. I mean in the scheme of things it’s nothing, but it pretty much every time I mess up, pretty much every time the thought “Are you good enough” comes through my mind. I need to get over it, but it is there and I’m at that point with Rebellion where I am starting to realize and I’m excited that Rebellion Photonics or, at least, the technology that we have created is going to live on. I will die and this technology will still be being used in some of the applications that we’ve set up so this and starting to think about it like this is bigger than I am and so I really do feel a sense of I am just the caption of the ship, but the ship continues on and to make myself feel better about are you good enough, I just try to think, here are the milestones we’ve set. We’ve set an incredibly aggressive timeline and we’re hitting them.

In fact, we’re doing… We’re piloting our first product on oil and gas about a year and a half sooner than we expected. We were cash flow positive the first year, which is unheard of for hardware companies. We’re doubling in size every six months. So I try to tell myself to calm the dragons and that helps and I look around for where we are I haven’t met someone who I thought could have taken us to where we are faster. If it comes to the day where I just meet this person and I believe they’ll be a better captain than I, I would hope that I would give over the wheel. Not yet. It’s so funny because I do have people call, I’m going to say once a month if not more, saying, ‘I will be your CEO. I have arrived. I have come to save you and I will be your CEO. [??] told me about you. This guy told me about you. I went to the [??]. I went to Harvard and I will be your CEO.’ I’m not kidding. It’s exactly like that. We have a good giggle. I’m warning you guys. We print out your emails and have a good giggle.

Andrew: Can I say this to the audience? If anyone in the audience emails Allison, and I hope people who got anything out of this, I always say this, “Email the guest and say ‘Thank you for doing this interview.’” My suggestion is that you, in the subject line, say, “I will be your new CEO.” At the very least, you’ll get her attention and you might even get printed out and put up on a bulletin board. Say, “I will be your CEO and then say thanks for doing this interview. I’m glad you talked openly about feeling like you couldn’t do it.” Whatever it is. I’m feeling a little insecure about the way I introduced this interview. I said, “How does a woman whose entrepreneurship professor told her that she wasn’t good enough to lead end up launching and leading a multi-million dollar company?” I said that based on what I thought was the value of the company based on a round of funding, but you didn’t get 1.1 million in funding.

Allison: We did.

Andrew: You did?

Allison: No. We’ve only taken about 600K in debt.

Andrew: In debt, right.

Allison: 650K [??].

Andrew: Sales overall haven’t hit multi-million. I think I might have just been trying to puff up the interview.

Allison: No. We’ve had a million and a half in revenue this year.

Andrew: I still feel a little bit bad, like I was exaggerating to get the audience’s attention. I don’t want to do that.

Allison: I think you’re underestimating. I think we’re worth more than a few million right now.

Andrew: That’s what it was based on, the value, but I didn’t have outside valuation. I do feel that it is, of course, based on revenue right now, based on technology and based on the new CEOs who are coming your way. I want to do a quick plug here and then I’ve got to ask you about this bottle that’s been in your office and why it hasn’t been opened. The audience needs to hear this.

The plug, of course, is if anyone’s listening to this, you should know that Mixergy does two things. Mixergy proper does interviews with hundreds of entrepreneurs. is courses led by driven entrepreneurs who teach you how to do what they do especially well. In fact, I see @aieshabral [SP], on Twitter says, “Andrew, I notice you’re talking more about premium membership. Now I’m a supporter. I just purchased, but try mentioning how cheap it is.” I’m glad Aiesa, that you’re there and I don’t want to say too much about how cheap it is because then people will undervalue it. In fact, I probably should increase the prices because people look at the price and assume that it’s worth more if the price is higher. What I’ll say instead is, ‘If you’re looking to build a business and you’re having issues with how to get publicity, how to get traffic, the only people you should be listening to are entrepreneurs who’ve done this already and the place to go to hear that is Yes, some people tell you the price is low but what I’ll tell you is the value is incredibly high. If you watch it for a week, and you don’t get thousands of dollars worth of value for your business, just come back. I’ll give you a refund. I’m sure that like thousands of other people you’ll be happy with going to and signing up right now. Allison, we’ve gone a little bit over. I appreciate the extra time. I’ll just ask about this bottle. A bottle of what and why haven’t you opened it?

Allison: Now I’m embarrassed. We had a bottle of champagne. A really nice bottle. Bought a nice bottle of champagne a year ago and it’s been in the fridge and we said we’d open it at the next milestone. The next milestone comes and we hit it and then it’s different [??] hard work. We go,”We’ll open it when we get the pilot.” We get the pilot, “We’re behind. We got to go to work.” It’s nothing exciting, it’s just we’re not like the Silicon Valley types. We don’t celebrate.

Andrew: You’re not ready to celebrate…

Allison: Celebrate as much as we could…

Andrew: …even though you’ve gotten this far, because you have this vision of going further and further and every time you get to a milestone you think, ooh, there’s so much more we need to do.

Allison: Yeah, that, and the fact that we’re all lightweights, yes.

Andrew: I see, maybe if it was a bottle of Diet Coke, you guys might open it up and celebrate with that.

Allison: Yeah, we should have. No, we are going to do that.

Andrew: Is there one milestone that would make you say absolutely once we hit this, we’d better open up this.

Allison: It is kind of interesting that it’s never…it’s an interesting psychology thing. Why is it never good enough? I think a lot of entrepreneurs are like that. I mean, why are we doing this? There is the chance we’ll be really successful, but we have to be honest, most entrepreneurs aren’t. And they need to understand that. We could…you know, I have a MBA from a good school, I could have gone on to banking, right? I don’t know. It’s never good enough, is it? Not really.

Andrew: Unfortunately for me, it’s never good enough until I look back on it years later and go “Hey, you know what, that really was incredible what I did.”

Allison: Yeah, well, I think…it usually sounds more incredible than when you are living it, because when you’re living it, you know that, you know time stuff and it’s easier to remember those, and I do get that sometimes. I’ve started speaking on more panels and doing more outreach because I’m very passionate about getting more women in hardware, mostly because I’m just lonely. I’m not kidding.

Andrew: If women want to get in hardware…

Allison: If people…

Andrew: What do you think they should do to get into it? I know this is one of your passions that you really do not want to, and I don’t think it makes sense for you…

Allison: I just don’t understand. I don’t understand why I am one of the only under 40-year-old women in hardware that I know. I recently met one other, but… I don’t get it. I don’t understand where all the women are and I just can’t get my head around it. And I… It’s one of those things that I just never expected how outrageously bad it would be when I was growing up. I just didn’t expect that…I didn’t really believe that sexism is real. Even in Alabama, I didn’t think it would have an actual impact. I thought you could always overcome it. But it seems not, if I’m the only one, and that’s ridiculous because I just went to the University of Colorado. I’m not that brilliant. There’s nothing too outrageous about me, there’s nothing super special. I’m from Alabama, for heaven’s sakes. But, so, where are the others? Where are they? And actually your producer…I threw down the gauntlet, I was like, if you ever find me another under-40 CEO of a hardware company…I’m not talking about Fortune 500, I’m talking about a start-up. Then I said you get a free t-shirt and a hug and I would love you forever, that’d be great. And he hasn’t done it yet.

Andrew: I found one for you right now.

Allison: Woo-hoo!

Andrew: I’m thinking who I interviewed that was in hardware…She is incredible. [??] of [??] Now, it’s a different kind of hardware from what you create, but she wanted to create this, as a student, create this alarm clock, that when it went off, it ran off the coffee table and across the bedroom. As she tried to build it in China, she had all these issues and then she had to actually fly out to China and live there, because they weren’t taking her seriously enough in producing her first clock, and she’s been building it up and building it up since then.

Allison: She built her first clock in China? That’s tough!

Andrew: It was tough. And now the reason I found her is because I think she’s helping other hardware entrepreneurs because you face issues that software entrepreneurs don’t know of, that people that open up stores don’t face.

Allison: Right. It’s just different.

Andrew: I’ll keep looking for more and maybe if there’s someone in the audience who can think of any, I want to find out about them. If you think of someone who’s that’s like Alison…half the success of Alison, even a third, I would like to have her on here and interview her on [??]. Alison, thank you for doing this interview. Man, you’ve came a long way. I’m now scrolling to the top of my notes and seeing you here as the girl in Alabama who was supposed to be sweet and ended up being a lion heart by the end and building up this incredible business. I’m fortunate to have you here to tell the story, and I’m looking forward to people in my audience contacting you and saying that they will be your new CEO and more than that.

Allison: I look forward to that, too.

Andrew: …saying what I’m about to say, which is thank you for doing this interview. I mean, really, for being as open as you were about the late nights, about the worries, about the dreams, about the need to be a super hero, about the hard work. Thanks for doing this all. Thank you all for watching.

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  • Paul

    Finally a real Tech-Company!

  • Andrew Warner

    Yup. So far I’ve only interviewed ice cream companies.

  • TaphaNgum

    What an interview and what an entrepreneur. Thank you both.

  • Mario

    Roflmao. More ice cream companies please. But seriously, I’ll be the CEO.

  • Serge

    Andrew, why, why WHY do you always interview ice cream companies?

  • Andrew Warner

    Because I hate tech companies.

  • Andrew Warner

    Thanks. She’s incredible. I’m lucky to have her on.

  • James Ashenhurst

    Love her insight at 59 minutes; the people she’s pitching to often “don’t want to fail”. Knowing your audience is key!

  • Cameron Smith

    Great interview

  • John MacIntyre

    Well, you did interview one. [] :-)

  • Josh Hinds

    Andrew, terrific. As always, thanks for bringing out such great wisdom in the interview with Allison. Brilliant entrepreneur (I’m biased, being that I’m also from Alabama ;-)). You’re one of the best, hands down in what you do.

  • Andrew Warner


  • Andrew Warner

    Thanks you, Cameron.

  • Andrew Warner

    Thanks for pointing to that!

  • Andrew Warner

    Done & done.

  • Geoffrey L. Barrows

    Fantastic interview! As someone who is also in cameras and optics and has experience doing Gov’t contracting, I can really relate to a lot of the stories told.

    I do have one question for Alison though- How did you identify detection of gas leaks, and ultimately minimizing refinery shutdowns, as a problem to be solved using your snapshot hyperspectral cameras? Very often people developing technology on the university side come up with a very cool technology, but then have trouble finding a real application for it. I am curious how you connected the “problem” with the “solution”, whether you used a deliberate search, and whether you faced dead-ends along the way. Or was this problem something that Robert Kester and Prof. Tkaczyk already aware of when starting this research.

    Thank You, Allison, for doing this interview! Andrew- I would love to hear more like this one!

  • Prasanna N

    Thanks Andrew!

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