Welcome back to the Founder Feature Series, where we chat with the founders of the 6th Cohort of The Mentor Network 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, and they could use your help too!
Today, we’re getting to know Kent Lauridsen, Founder and Developer of BlissBot. Kent has a myriad of interesting work experiences and most recently, he has been drawing on the learning he acquired through his Wharton MBA in Technology Management and Operations Management.
Established in August 2017, BlissBot links the physical world to the digital world. Kent has developed a working MVP, with the greeting card industry as the first use case. Users can purchase a greeting card and after writing the typical sentiments on a card, utilize the app to capture an image of the writing and “e-ttach” selfies, videos, or $giftcards, etc. to the card before snail mailing it to the recipient who gains access to these digital assets, merely by capturing another image of the card. The app is able to use the receiver’s image of the card to locate the sender’s unique image and retrieve the digital assets that were linked to it by the sender—and then present them to the receiver of course.
What did you do before you were the Founder of your startup?
I spent the last 7 or 8 years managing engineering and new product development groups for a couple engineering/manufacturing companies, but before that my experiences have ranged fairly far and wide…from senior operations leadership at Amazon.com, to helping a young Korean liquor brand maximize its partnership with Anheuser Busch, to management consulting efforts to westernize mammoth Russian steel mills in Siberia during the wild-west days shortly after the Wall came down. That was a lot of fun!
Parachuting into multiple situations where I had little or no experience, and that had little in the way of roadmaps to follow, but much in the way of urgency and high expectations have proven valuable for learning to trust my own instincts and ability to create a path forward and keep after it. So, venturing out on my own to start something in a software world that is light-years beyond a couple of courses at K-State (back in the day) learning to program in Fortran and PL/I with punch cards (Google it) hasn’t really felt as impossible as maybe it should have.
Why this startup? A.k.a. what is your ‘why’?
It drew me into it…..I think because it involves a cutting edge and quickly evolving technology (image recognition) where it’s a free-for-all right now to dream up your own unique use-cases. Plus there is the added challenge and attraction of diving into the deep-end of software/app development, where I could teach myself (thanks Google). I also love leading teams of engineers and creatives which is hopefully where this all leads.
Something like seven or eight years ago, I read an article about how the greeting card industry was struggling to stay relevant in an increasingly digital world. Rather than sending physical cards for “thank you’s”, holidays and special occasions, customers were more and more opting for low margin digital cards, or even just posting something on Facebook.
I had also just discovered a Google app that allowed you to take a picture of something and use that image to search the internet for similar images and wondered if it wouldn’t be possible to use that capability to marry physical greeting cards to the physical world. I mocked up something quickly and it worked! You could write something on one card and then write something on an identical card, take a picture of each and upload them to the internet where Google could not only locate them in the vastness of the worldwide web, but could tell them apart from each other just because the handwriting was different on each. Barcodes and QR codes are typically used as unique identifiers for connecting to the digital world. Now you don’t need them. You can use your own handwriting.
What was your first milestone/win that let you know you were on the right track to building this business?
Although I had built a demo app that proved the concept actually worked, would anybody really want to use it? Fortunately, I had befriended a retired executive who was familiar with digital innovation in the industry and although appropriately skeptical of my having anything really new or interesting, agreed to get together over coffee to hear me out. Even before I’d finished the demonstration you could see the wheels starting to turn, and then suddenly the lights just popped on and one idea after another came bubbling out. That’s when I knew I was on to something.
Why did The Mentor Network stand out to you as a positive program to be involved with?
I had been the caricature of the lone wolf holed up in his “office” (a.k.a. bedroom) for eight or nine months learning Java/Android and writing a patent application.
I needed to start getting feedback from others and to be better connected to the startup community. And, unlike most other programs, The Mentor Network looked to be especially geared for early-stage ventures in need of feedback, sounding boards, and introductions.
What have your big wins been so far within The Mentor Network?
How do you maintain sanity in this crazy, insane startup world?
I like to stay current flying as an escape and a challenge, but it’s hard to justify the expense very often while I’m investing in this startup. But on a day-to-day basis, I’ve found I really enjoy fixing things, and have spent tons of hours late at night and on weekends resurrecting old outboard motors, keeping our old BMW motorcycle up to snuff (for off-the-beaten-path road trips) and fixing vintage electronics.
These things allow me to focus my thoughts on other things I enjoy for a while. I think it also lets my mind chew on startup things in the background.
KC has so many resources and people to help entrepreneurs. What are we still missing? What gaps do you think we need to fill?
I think it would be interesting to explore the ROI of adding a new twist to the current ecosystem model, by investing public/private money in full-time, paid, mentoring staff who are available for free to the community (maybe so many hours of help per entity per quarter) to provide one-on-one guidance.
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?
If you could go back to the day you started this journey and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?
Get plugged into the startup community from the get-go, and start meeting people.
Reach out to Kent and BlissBot via KentLauridsen@BlissBotCards.com!
Also published on Medium.