Welcome back to the Founder Feature series for the 5th Cohort of The Mentor Network! In this series, we chat with our founders to learn more about them as individuals, as well as their entrepreneurial journeys. They have some great wisdom and experience to share with the rest of the community!
This week, we’re chatting with Jamee Miller, Co-Founder and Proud Dyslexic and Payden Miller, Co-Founder and Honorary Dyslexic, of Hidden Abilities! Hidden Abilities creates assistive technology for people with learning disabilities, beginning with the Read ‘n Style pen, their first product, which scans text and reads it aloud for people with dyslexia. They are an early-stage startup, but they’re certainly making great strides, and we can’t forget to mention their fantastically successful Indiegogo campaign! They were in KU Catalyst, which is KU’s student business accelerator. In 2015, they received the Wozniak Award for Entrepreneurship, which is a $5,000 grant from Steve & Janet Wozniak when they spoke at KU during Global Entrepreneurship Week. They were one of the 2017 LaunchKC finalists chosen to pitch during Techweek KC and recently, they learned they will be receiving Digital Sandbox grant funding – how’s that for traction!?
What did you do before you were the Founder of your startup?
PAYDEN: I was sophomore in college when Jamee and I started this venture so I don’t have much direct professional experience to draw from, which has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand I didn’t have much of a base knowledge of the business world so it took a while get caught up and I ended up having to learn everything on the fly. At the same time though, I think a lot of people who go directly into careers end up with limiting self-beliefs that wind up not serving them well in the future so I’m glad to have discovered entrepreneurship when I did.
JAMEE: I have been working from the age of 12 so quite a bit. I have worked the longest in food service, but I’ve worked in factories, real estate, and more. My favorite job, the one I miss the most, was student athletic trainer for Pittsburg State University. But every job taught me something different and it has all led to the diverse skill set I have now. In food service, I learned customer service, delegation, leadership, and time management. In the factories I learned process and developed my work ethic. I learned to sell from my time in real estate. As an athletic trainer I got to help people, which is why it was my favorite. Honestly, all of these experiences have helped me become a stronger person and founder.
Why this startup? A.k.a. what is your ‘why’?
JAMEE: The ah-ha moment came when I was going through the dyslexia diagnosis process at age 26. It was a stressful time because it was also my first semester at KU and I was having to set up accommodations for my classes. This got me thinking about how I got through it as a child. I honestly wouldn’t have done so well if it weren’t for my mom. On nights I had homework, we would sit up at the kitchen table. She would read a couple of pages to me, having me follow along, and then I would read one to her. Remembering back to those late nights and early mornings with mom is what ignited the idea for our first product, the Read ‘n Style Pen.
PAYDEN: I decided to join Jamee in building this company because I desperately want to help the millions of brilliant people like her who have spent their whole lives falsely believing they are unintelligent, when the truth of the matter is that they just have difficulty reading.
What was your first milestone/win that let you know that you were on the right track to build this business?
PAYDEN: The first major milestone that showed us that we we onto something was placing as a top 4 finalist in the Mark L. Morris new venture development competition in college. Before that little bit of validation we couldn’t tell if we were really onto something or if this was just a grandiose delusion. I remember making a social media post at the time, basically wondering out loud to myself saying, “Wish I knew someone who has done this before that could tell me I’m not insane.” Five days later we got the news about the competition and took it as a sign that we needed to follow through and make it a reality.
Why did The Mentor Network stand out to you as a positive program to be involved with?
JAMEE: When we applied for the Sprint Mentor Network we had already made good progress as far as internal business development goes, but it came at a cost. We’d been so focused on product/business development that we hadn’t taken the time to build relationships within the Kansas City entrepreneurial community. When we learned about the Sprint Mentor Network we knew it would be a great fit for us and saw it as an opportunity to begin building the relationships that we needed.
What have your big wins been so far within The Mentor Network?
JAMEE: For me it’s just been that connection to a like-minded community. Entrepreneurship can be lonely and scary at times, but having at least a few people you’re close with, who are struggling through similar problems, helps a lot.
How do you maintain sanity in this crazy, insane startup world?
PAYDEN: Ha! I don’t think I do really. I mostly just accept the insanity as part of the process. This lifestyle beats you up sometimes, but for me it’s better than living in a cubicle for 40 years. Sometimes you just have to choose which pain you’re willing to struggle for.
One huge thing that gets me through those tough times is having a great team behind us that I really care about personally and who I don’t want to let down.
Lastly, I couldn’t do this without the support of my wife and co-founder, Jamee. Somehow we always find a way to pull each other up when one gets down.
JAMEE: I’m not sure I had much sanity to begin with. I think crazy is a good thing. My favorite Steve Jobs quote is,
The people crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.
KC has so many resources and people to help entrepreneurs. What are we still missing? What gaps do you think we need to fill?
PAYDEN: I’m probably not the person to ask about this. I’m still trying to get a feel for all the resources that are available to us here in Kansas City and I find a new one I didn’t know about every week, it seems. Until I get a better grasp of what all is out there, I can’t tell you what is missing.
Regarding the KC startup ecosystem, what has been your favorite service/resource that you would like to share with other founders to take advantage of?
PAYDEN: Any startup founder in the area probably already knows about it, but for any prospective founders, 1 Million Cups is a great resource. It’s certainly not a comprehensive, turn-key solution for building a business but it is a great place to turn when you’re first joining the community and need some direction on where to go and who to talk to.
JAMEE: One Million Cups is good, as Payden said, but I’d have to mention KCSourceLink. The events and calendar section has a lot of the classes and networking events that will benefit any founder
If you could go back to the day you started this journey and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?
PAYDEN: I would have told myself that it’s really not as difficult as you make it out to be in your head. Most of the moves are rather common sense and 99% of the decisions you make on a daily basis aren’t as critical as you think they are. I’ve come to realize that any mistake that a person makes in life that doesn’t result in birth or death can be fixed, given enough time. So rather than sitting back and trying to figure out the perfect solution, try to find the pretty good solutions and move on to the next problem.
JAMEE: Teach yourself to code and take some public speaking classes. It will be very beneficial.
Also published on Medium.