Entrepreneur Association

Entrepreneur of the Month: Jeff Chang

Tell us about your business and the inspiration behind it?

Doblet solves the battery problem.

We’re building a network of smart portable batteries, so you can charge your phone anywhere.  We put our batteries in bars, restaurants, coffee shops, gyms, hotels, libraries, museums, co-working spaces and all sorts of other venues – now expanding into over 1,000 venues in the Bay Area.  When you run low on charge, just pick up a Doblet, charge your phone, then drop the Doblet back off.

Doktor, my co-founder, was at a bar in San Francisco, charging his phone with an external battery.  The guy next to him asks, “Mind if I borrow that battery after you’re done?  I’ll buy you a beer!”  The guy on the other side says, “I’ll buy a beer for both of you, if you can charge my phone too!”

Doktor wondered why charging wasn’t just readily available, right where & when you needed it.  And Doblet was born.

What resources at Anderson and through the Price Center have been most beneficial to you and why?

The biggest benefits of Anderson are in their sheer variety.  Unlike almost any other kind of postgraduate program, B-school lets you explore as many fields and industries as you wish, and learn from classmates with a vast range of backgrounds.  Realize how rare this melting pot is, and be intentional in taking full advantage.

For me, the Price Center was key in finding internships in VC and PE.  Elaine, Angela and the wonderful people at the Price Center were always helpful in exploring new startup ideas, and the first we’d talk with when looking to create new EA programs and student startup initiatives.

And it was at Anderson (BPD, Knapp, VCIC, other classes) that I came across the first few dozen business plans I’d ever seen.  Of course, the B-plan is a relic of a forgotten past in both Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach – but for certain kinds of businesses, it helps founders really think through their ideas, revenue models and product-market fit, before approaching investors.

How has the Silicon Valley environment impacted your business? 

Silicon Valley is unlike any other startup ecosystem in the world.  The reasons have been described in depth in dozens of books, many documentaries and hundreds of articles – far beyond my ability to describe here.

Still, one big key is the pervasive startup mentality – the drive and focus, the acceptance of a startup ramen-profitable lifestyle, the embracing of an ability to move fast and break things, and the extraordinary range of disruptive ideas, upended industries and many types of potential.  The Bay Area doesn’t work for everyone – we all have friends who’ve tired of it quickly and moved elsewhere – but it can definitely help when you’re building up a startup.

Amazing talent can be found everywhere, but talent that’s been primed to launch or join startups, people who aren’t still stuck in the corporate / large-industry mindset, is often tough to find.  That’s where being a part of such a deep startup ecosystem helps.  Of course, fundraising’s also easier in large ecosystems – keeping in mind that the process of fundraising can be a tricky thing for any startup.

At the end of the day, where you build your startup is often a personal preference, or dependent on where you first got started – some founders enjoy the ambiance of Silicon Beach more, or have businesses that make a presence in NYC nearly mandatory.  Others really appreciate the startup communities and people in London, Toronto or Tel Aviv.

How did you receive funding?

We both put bootstrap funding into Doblet, near the get-go.  We were then fortunate enough to become a part of YC, in the Summer 2014 batch.

YC is an experience, a family & a network unlike any other – at least at this moment in startup history.  If you get a chance to be part of YC, go above and beyond to make it happen! : )

After Demo Day, we raised $1.3M from a group of VC and angel investors, led by SoftTech VC.

Six months later, our V1 hardware was approved by Apple MFi (as the world’s first Apple-approved smart portable battery), and we launched in venues across the Bay Area.  And now we’re expanding the network, signing on new corporate partners, and getting Doblet V2 ready for production and launch!

What challenges have you faced while starting this business?

Hardware is interesting.  It’s become simpler in the last eight years, since the days of Fitbit, but there’s still a broad assortment of tripwires to snag the unwary and inexperienced.  Manufacturing timelines generally aren’t meant to be met; everything that can break will break, especially in the field; and you can never do enough testing (both in the lab and in the field).

Last year, Luke and I wrote a YC blog article regarding the early stages of hardware startups.  Hardware has a fun learning curve.

At the same time, the experience you gain from building and scaling a hardware startup is incredible, the people and providers (across the globe) you get to know are awesome, and it’s definitely more exciting / panic-inducing than pure software startups, in a lot of ways.  These days, it usually involves building an app, firmware and hardware startup all at once.

We need bright people to build physical things, objects we can interact with, acting on the things around us.  Software’s still eating the world, but hardware’s the stuff that holds our world together.  Come and build a hardware startup today!

What is your long-term vision for your company?

Doblet’s building the world’s first truly mobile power network.  We’re forming relationships with thousands of local partners, and hundreds of large corporate partners, so you can charge your devices everywhere.

Long-term, in the 6 – 8 year horizon, we’re rolling out continuous wireless charging across our network.  That means, in hundreds of thousands of venues all across the country, your devices will just stay charged.  No more cords, extra batteries, adapters, battery worries – all to become relics of the past.

This past summer, my co-founder and I wrote a guest review article regarding the present and future of wireless power, for TechCrunch – if you’re interested, could be worth a read.

Doblet will become the mobile power and data network for the rapidly expanding universe of IoT devices, controllers and sensors – keeping billions of devices across the world charged and communicating at all times, and relegating battery cells in devices to the background, used only as backup power.

How has being an MBA student helped you in starting your business?

An MBA can always be helpful, if you apply the skills and network the right way.  But it varies for different kinds of startups.  If you’re building anything tech-related, and don’t already have technical skills of some sort, go pick up a few technical skills before you launch your startup.

If you already have the technical skills and some reasonable experience working with products or services, B-school offers many useful lessons in finance, accounting, people management, industry analysis, customer interviewing skills and biz dev, not to mention the chance to approach the right connections in your Anderson network whenever the need arises.

When you’re dealing with tech-related startups, just remember to throw the standard MBA mindset out the window – incremental improvement, ROI and NPV, and all that stuff that inhibits radical inventiveness and dampens your willingness to take risks – and you’ll be fine.

Remember, as Paul Graham says, spend your time building product and talking to customersDo things that don’t scale.  And tune out all the noise – most startups spend years dancing a step away from failure, until they achieve massive success “overnight”.

What advice can you offer for aspiring MBAs and entrepreneurs?

When you find the right opportunity or the right founding team, be ready to jump.

Try to avoid founding team sizes larger than 3, unless you’ve known everyone on the team for a decade or more.  5 founders is really pushing it.

More often than not, you’ll be making at least a few small pivots – and there are times you’ll need to rethink your entire startup.  Never get stuck on your original idea, market, customer, revenue model or technology.  Move things around and experiment endlessly – through it all, just focus on product-market fit and sustainable growth.

Get to breakeven and profitability.  Even if you’re growing at 2x / week, proving that your product-market fit is good enough to generate revenue is rarely a bad thing.  As many startup founders have noted, fundraising is easiest when you don’t need the money.

Technologies come and go – it’s what you’re doing with your product and customers that counts, not the underlying tech.

What works for one company doesn’t necessarily work for others.  There are always lessons learned, but always think carefully, before you decide what the lesson was.  Don’t be afraid to try a bunch of different things, one at a time – depending on the specific people on your team, some things will work and others won’t.

Keep your team informed and rowing in the same direction.  Transparency means very different things to different people – try to come up with a reasonably agreeable definition, let everyone know, and stick to it.  i.e., if you want to send weekly team update emails, or do weekly meetings, or biweekly 1:1s, and they seem to be working, don’t slack off until you’re ready to experiment on making it better.

I’ve become convinced that 2/3 of startup success is what you do when everything’s on the line, when the product or the customers are going down the tubes, and/or when you’re about to go bankrupt.  Michael Seibel is a co-founder of JustinTV / Twitch, and Socialcam, and now a YC partner – as he notes, the 4+ occasions where Justin.tv or Socialcam almost ran out of money, were the most difficult personal/professional challenges he’s had to overcome.

Can you pull through, survive, and keep growing?  Pull out all the stops, create new opportunities, make full use of your people network, modify your startup’s “fixed” parameters – to get past the artificially created limitations of your own burn rate?  Get to breakeven, and keep on moving up and to the right?

What is your favorite memory from Anderson?

Awesome camaraderie and friendship.

Late-night team meetings poring over VC deal financials.  200 x 100-foot flags covering cheering crowds, and thundering drums, at Pacaembu in Sao Paulo.  Pitching a new diabetes ecosystem at the Wake Forest MBA Biotech Competition.  Savoring pitchers of beer with Anderson friends at the Navigli canals in Milan.  Seeing new EA weekend events and roundtables come together.  Sprinting to the top of the cliffs at Petra, to look out over Wadi Araba.

Skydiving with Andersonites at Skydive Perris.  Watching red-carpet premiere films at Cannes, and riding France’s first motorcycle taxi.  Packing kids’ toys and school supplies for Zezinho’s school in Rocinha.  Rolling down the red sand dunes of the Wadi Rum.  FEMBA holiday trips to Vegas.  Hang-gliding over the forested slopes and city blocks of Rio de Janeiro, and landing on the beach.  Taking part in a B-school startup panel at Tsinghua University.

Every moment spent in Caesarea — roaming the ruins, ocean-gazing or picking from 20 flavors of gelato.  Reunion with former classmates at Dave and Carrie’s wedding, overlooking the ocean in San Diego.  Resting a hand on the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem for the first time.  Working on diamond industry deals in Manhattan Beach.  Competing in Knapp.  Bringing donuts to the Price Center, chatting with Angela and running things by Elaine.  Seeing the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

Checking out the art crafts fair in Buenos Aires, and hiking the falls at Iguazu.  Getting Chinese food at 4am at a corner restaurant in Dublin.  Understanding startup deals from the VC perspective for the first time.  Putting on a suit and leather-soled shoes (for the very last time ever) for I-banking recruiting events.  Getting Panda Express, Carl’s Jr. or Rubio’s at the Ackerman Student Union.  Interviewing FEMBA candidates at the library on SuperSaturdays, and getting some awesome people admitted!  Movie nights at the AMC Century City, with classmates and friends : )

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