I’ve known Zipit Wireless principals Frank Greer and Ralph Heredia for many years. This week they had an exciting announcement that Zipit had raised $4.7 million in venture capital from Windspeed Ventures, SunBridge Partners, Meritus Ventures, L.P., and SC Launch!
I joked with Frank and Ralph at their press conference that they were overnight successes. Actually they have been working for about four years to get to the point where they could close this first major venture capital round. They survived serious adversity along the way. Great entrepreneurs, if nothing else, are tenacious people passionate about achieving their vision. There are times when little else sustains them.
Frank has spent much of those four years building relationships necessary to be successful. He was a presenter at InnoVenture 2005. He didn’t raise money that year, but he did get to talk with venture capitalists there about what they were looking for and how their process worked. His reputation grew as he came back each year and had done what he said he would do, until at InnoVenture 2007 he met one of his investors, Meritus Ventures. He met one of the other investors through a common business colleague. Few people raise capital from business plans they send to investors unsolicited, but rather most money is raised through relationships with whom the investors have confidence.
It’s a Learning Process
I’ve seen lots and lots of entrepreneurial business plans. They only thing you know for sure about them is the business won’t turn out like the plan anticipates. It might be better than the plan, or worse, but it won’t be on plan. You can do all the due diligence in the world, and the reality is that there is more that is unknowable about a new market and a new business than is knowable.
When I first met Frank and Ralph, they were working on a very cool device that would broadcast music wirelessly to speakers throughout your house. But that didn’t end up being the product they commercialized. The Zipit Wireless Messenger is a Wi-Fi instant messaging device that eliminates family feuds caused by teens tying up the family computer to use popular instant messaging services, while incurring no monthly or per message fees. They got there by developing a product, then getting feedback, refining it, then getting feedback, and refining it, and getting feedback. Creating markets and companies is always a learning process, so entrepreneurs and their investors ought to admit that to themselves up front.
High-Impact Companies Grow Around Major Anchors
Most high-impact companies do not spontaneously combust out of the ether. One way or another, they almost always grow up around a major anchor in the region. In Frank and Ralph’s case, they worked together at the NCR facility in Liberty, SC, where they perfected their craft and developed global relationships on which they have now created Zipit Wireless. They gained credibility with me early on, because they discussed relationships they had with original design manufacturers in Taiwan, which happened to be a major customer base of KEMET, where I was at the time.
It Takes a Village
Borrowing an African fable via Hillary, it takes a village to start a company. Frank gives credit to many people and organizations for helping get Zipit off the ground. Zipit is a founding member of NEXT, an active group of technology CEOs organized by the Greenville Chamber. SC Launch! invested in Zipit at a critical time that allowed it to complete its product and patents that were necessary to raise the venture capital. Kevin Hendricks at Wyche Burgess helped with legal issues. Kristie Byrum, a marketing professional, helped Zipit early on, and now Brandon Advertising and Public Relations in Myrtle Beach is helping them get to the next level.
At End of the Day, It’s All About People.
What really separates Zipit is that they are among the best in the world at what they do. They are optimistic and tenacious, and smart enough to pull on the expertise and resources around them.
Most of all, Frank and Ralph are great guys that people trust. At a time when investors are betting their money and employees are betting their careers on the informed intuition of the entrepreneurs, trust counts more than anything else.