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So Gary, what's your backstory?
Hey there! I'm Gary Caldarola, born and bred in Sydney, Australia. I spent my early years in Five Dock and then shifted to Cabarita in Sydney's inner west. My schooling took place at Five Dock Public and Concord High. I later attended Sydney University, where I initially pursued a double degree in commerce and engineering mechatronics. However, I found accounting a tough nut to crack and decided to pivot to a double degree in physics and mechatronics.
A highlight from my university days was my involvement in Formula SAE - a thrilling extracurricular where we designed, built, and raced cars against other universities. I participated four times, and it was an amazing experience.
Roots matter. I come from an Italian heritage. My grandparents migrated to Australia in the mid-20th century, and their hardworking nature had a significant influence on me. Both of my grandfathers were incredibly hands-on, working in jobs that involved building and creating. This love for creation has been passed down, and now, I share this passion with my kids. We love building things together, starting with Lego and now venturing into robotics and carpentry.
I went on to work at an engineering consulting firm, SKM Sinclair Knight Merz, which was later acquired by Jacobs. My role was diverse and dynamic, giving me exposure to a myriad of projects. Later, I joined Cochlear, where I dived deep into product design and project management. My journey in the startup world began with Apricus, a solar hot water startup. And then a decade at ResMed, another Australian success story. Each of these experiences enriched my understanding of product development, right from the conceptual stage to the market launch.
My journey brought me to espresso, where I collaborate with a fantastic team.
So Scott, what's your backstory?
Growing up, I was the kind of guy who dived deep into things that captivated me. In high school, I sometimes lacked motivation. But as graduation neared and the future beckoned, I felt the urge to shape my path. My love for building things led me to civil engineering at university.
Yet, while I was studying, my entrepreneurial spirit was ignited. I participated in hackathons, pitch events, and even co-founded a non-profit that did commendable work in Nepal post the devastating earthquake. This period was instrumental, leading to the conception of espresso alongside my friend Will. Joining the startup world felt right. There was something electrifying about creating something from the ground up.
espresso was the culmination of all my passions. It started as a personal solution to a problem we faced but has now evolved into so much more
Gary what does espresso do and how did you guys come up with the idea?
espresso is all about empowering individuals to achieve more, no matter where they are. The brainchild of Will and Scott, and then Fabian shortly after that. The idea was born out of a simple need - to work collaboratively and efficiently anywhere. Initially, their prototype was more of a second screen than an interactive touchscreen, but it paved the way for what espresso is today: an optimised touch device compatible with numerous platforms designed to enhance productivity.
I became a part of this journey thanks to my daughter's friendship with Will's niece. Over a cup of espresso, Will shared his idea, and it resonated with me instantly. The concept of working seamlessly on dual screens was not just a luxury; it had become a necessity. As months flew by, I found myself deeply involved with the project, eventually leading up to our successful Kickstarter campaign.
How did you get your first 10 customers?
The very first set of customers were essentially us, the founding team. After us, the circle expanded to our friends and families. It's always a strong testament when founders use their own creations; it’s proof of both necessity and passion.
How did you determine that your product was a good match for the needs of your target customers?
We started as our own customers, shaping the product largely around our personal preferences. But with each prototype, we sought feedback by giving demos to our circles - friends, family, and our broader network. This iterative feedback loop highlighted a few critical features. For instance, we emphasized an ultra-thin design for portability and convenience. The shift towards USB-C compatibility was another milestone, as it was an emerging standard back then. Additionally, we integrated a magnetic set of stands and accessories after initial compatibility issues with third-party products, leading to the creation of our now-popular espresso Stand. The ultimate signifier for us was when friends, upon seeing our prototype, wanted to buy it immediately. That’s when we knew we were onto something and began drafting our go-to-market strategy.
How did you reach and acquire your first 100 customers?
Our journey to the first 100 customers began on Kickstarter. Launching there gave us the validation we sought, especially when we closed the campaign with over 1,500 orders. This success wasn't just about numbers; the positive reviews and feedback from customers, many of whom had previously engaged with brands like Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung, further strengthened our position in the market. Despite challenges like the onset of COVID during our production phase, we remained resilient. Utilizing our own products for remote development was a surreal yet empowering experience. Post-Kickstarter, influencer-driven marketing played a pivotal role in our growth. Using the profits from initial orders, we reinvested in production and scaled our outreach.
What distribution channels did you try that didn’t work?
After Kickstarter, we tried IndieGoGo, another crowdfunding platform. But the most effective channel for us was setting up our own direct online sales through our website. This direct connection fostered valuable feedback and insights from customers, some of whom used our products in unexpected yet innovative ways. While online platforms are potent, they do come with their set of challenges, especially with ever-changing advertising algorithms and privacy regulations. To broaden our reach, we're now eyeing collaborations with expert distributors and resellers across different countries, hoping to bring our unique Australian essence to a global audience.
What specific resources have been most helpful in growing your business?
The best tools for us? It's undoubtedly the team. Having the right team with the proper mindset, motivation, drive, and skill sets has been instrumental. Our journey from a small group of four to a team of 35, and our user base's exponential growth from 1500 to tens of thousands, wouldn't have been possible without them. As we scaled, the challenges changed drastically, so it was crucial to have an agile team that could adapt.
A well-defined product development process, robust manufacturing, and a strategic design process have also been invaluable. We emphasize change management and adopt a stage-gated approach, where we critically review and assess each phase before moving on. This has not only minimized issues down the line but ensured that we cater to our end users' needs while keeping the supply chain efficient.
Gary, how did you make the transition from a side hustle to full-time entrepreneurship?
Making that transition wasn't a walk in the park. Balancing my primary job with the side hustle felt like juggling two full-time jobs. After about three years, taking the leap into full-time entrepreneurship was intimidating. The uncertainty of leaving a stable job and the friends and colleagues I had made over a decade was daunting. But the thought of "what if" propelled me forward. The possibility of regret was scarier than failure.
Scott, how did you make the transition from a side hustle to full-time entrepreneurship?
Each of the four co-founders, including myself, has a unique story about making this commitment. For me, it was a matter of timing and risk appetite. With the promise of a promising graduate opportunity and the early stages of our product, espresso, it was a challenging decision. However, I took a chance with a more flexible teaching role during university, giving me the space to focus on espresso. Looking back, that decision was a turning point in my life.
Gary, what drives you to do what you do?
My biggest motivation? My family. Their unwavering support has been my cornerstone. I've always been driven by the joy of building and watching things grow. Seeing my team evolve and grow professionally is incredibly fulfilling. And the cherry on top? Witnessing a customer smile because of something we've created. The knowledge that we've made a tangible difference in someone's life is unparalleled.
Personally, I've always believed in making things simpler. Our world is complex enough. With espresso, I saw a solution to a widespread problem. Improving work efficiency can lead to a better quality of life. My journey with espresso has not only made me appreciate the nuances of product development and design but also the intricacies of business. It's been a rewarding learning curve.
Gary, what advice do you have for founders in the earlier stage of their journey?
For any budding entrepreneur, it's crucial to set artificial deadlines. If you haven't achieved product-market fit, give yourself a strict timeframe. Always gauge if the market truly wants what you're offering. If they do, great! If not, pivot. Learn, adapt, and iterate. However, the most important piece of advice? Never give up. Entrepreneurship is a grueling journey filled with hurdles. Every challenge might feel like a knockout punch, but resilience is key. A company only fails when its founder gives up. Keep pushing forward, believe in your vision, and find solutions to the challenges in your path.
Who are some recommended experts or entrepreneurs to follow for learning how to grow a business?
Reid Hoffman's Podcast: Masters of Scale
Elon Musk's Bio
Jim Collins: From Good to Great
Phil Knight: The Shoedog Story
Reed Hastings: No rules, rules
Ben Horowitz: The Hard Things About Hard Things
Ray Kroc: Grinding it Out
Robert Iger: The Ride of a Lifetime, Ed Catmull: Creativity Inc.
Any quotes you live by Gary?
- "If worry won't fix it, don't worry."
- "Never give up."
- "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."