- He thought he would sell six-figure products to big companies. Then the market crashed.
What does it take to develop a thriving company and how do you overcome early miscalculations? We found out from First Turn Innovations Co-Founder Todd Mory. His company, Techmor, builds sensors and measurement equipment to maximize performance in race cars and vehicles of all types.
In college, I was a member of a group called Formula SAE, or Society of Automotive Engineers. We designed and built a little race car to compete against other colleges. That got me into engineering for performance.
I previously worked at Toyota in their racing group. When I left in January 2007, everything was great. The economy was going strong. I had this idea that I would sell large systems to big companies, and they had unlimited budgets. In 2008, the market crashed. My business plan was “sell this for $250,000 to the big companies and that for $100,000.” I laugh because none of that happened. But I did sell smaller parts like strain-gauge amplifiers and different tire sensors that people could afford. Those were $200ish rather than $200,000.
I had saved up money to go out on my own so I could live off that. I did have some time to make that pivot.
I worked in the racing industry for about 10 years before leaving, so I made a lot of connections. The old saying, ‘Don’t burn any bridges’ is especially true in racing. It’s a very small group and everybody knows everybody. You can use that to your advantage to build a reputation. At those bigger companies, there were people who I had known and worked with. Some have ordered some bigger projects as the years went on. Other work came from word of mouth. I did one job for America's Cup and the racing catamarans. The contact got my name from a previous customer in racing. Along with your connections and reputation, you have to send out high-quality products. Don’t skimp on anything. If it doesn't work exactly how it needs to work, you need to make it right.
There was a time when the money was going down and I was starting to think, “Do I have to get another job?” We stepped up our sales push about a year and half after opening the business and landed a decent-sized job. It kept going from there. You read things online where people say, “I started a business and soon I had a million dollars a month coming in.” That wasn't my experience.
I think it was not being prepared for the business side. I thought, “I know engineering. I know how to design and build things.” People say if you make a better mousetrap, it'll sell itself. That isn’t true at all. If you work for a big company, all the other functions are in place, like the sales department and distribution. At your own company, you need to develop those functions, payroll, marketing, managing taxes and more. I learned a lot from Googling and talking with accounting experts.
Persistence. Are you in this for the long haul? Because you really have to commit to it and keep going to succeed. One day your costs are way higher than you predicted. Another day, you get a huge order. It’s a roller coaster. Pick something that you enjoy doing. If you've just started a company to try to make money, it could be really difficult when times get tough if you don't really love what you’re doing.
I was a little naive when I started. That can be good. I sometimes think if people knew how hard running a business is, most wouldn't do it. I have optimism and knew what I wanted to do.
I’m a mentor and advisor to our incubator clients. I run our electronics lab for research and development. We also manufacture prototypes and electronics components, doing the assembly and the fitting. No matter how much you plan there’s always some fine tuning to build the prototype and make it work. We offer advice based on experience.