Last week, I had the opportunity of Interviewing Morgen Newman of IdeaPaint. Morgen is currently the VP of International Sales, helping the company establish distribution in more than 20 countries globally.
This is the full interview, hope you enjoy it.
Hi Morgen, Thanks for doing this interview with me, How are you doing today?
Excellent thanks. At the moment we are working hard to close out the year with continued strong growth, and I personally am working on opening a few new international distribution partners.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I grew up near a golf course and found myself crawling through the woods unearthing lost golf balls, which I would polish up and sell back to the golfers. While selling used golf balls was not a real business, I think that experience wet my appetite for being a part of something entrepreneurial. I graduated from Babson College in 2006 and have since spent most of my time helping establish and grow IdeaPaint. Outside of IdeaPaint, I am most happily found rock climbing, cycling or skiing.
How was the idea for Ideapaint born?
The concept for IdeaPaint was born out of the frustrations of a brainstorming session amongst a group of Babson students. They got frustrated with hanging paper on the walls, thought whiteboards were too expensive and limiting, and the concept for dry-erase whiteboard paint was born.
Tell us about Ideapaint and what role you play in the company?
IdeaPaint is all about helping ideas grown and helping people work better. Our products are really innovation tools more than anything else. IdeaPaint was officially launched in the summer of 2008 and has had over 60,000 successful installations since. I am currently responsible for our international distribution and sales, so I spend a lot of time on the road establishing relationships with partners in other countries. Today, we are actively distributed in over 20 different countries globally!
What was the most difficult process during the start-up phase and how did you deal with it?
IdeaPaint’s technologies are incredibly advanced and difficult to make (2 labs said it was impossible), so for us product development was the most difficult part of the early days. It was disappointing to always be let down by what we thought was the final version. In turn, investors and partners were reluctant to support us until the product showed more promise.
How frustrating was the process in creating the product and how did you guys keep yourself motivated at the time?
In retrospect, the lengthy product development timeline was probably a blessing in disguise. I think if we had a product in early 2007 we wouldn’t have known what to do with it. Instead, we spent most of our time conducting in depth market research and determining the best industries and partners to launch IdeaPaint. In terms of motivation, I think we all truly believed the product was possible, and knowing the potential of a completed product kept us fueled to keep going.
What would you say has been the most memorable moment for you since starting the company?
On the growth front it had to be earlier this year when we achieved national distribution at Lowe’s, a national DIY retailer with 1,700 stores. Seeing thousands of well designed displays lined up to go all over the country gave me tingles, as just a few years ago we were only shipping a few small packages per week. However, I was most excited about our brand and products when I saw the results of our efforts to help refresh many of Boston’s public schools by donating significant amounts of IdeaPaint and our own labor. It is incredible to see a classroom look new and bright and have students reengaged where we have painted old chalk boards to make them into new whiteboards, and coated desktops and tables to create a more interactive learning environment.
You guys currently have a huge list of distributors ranging from schools, universities, government agencies, and businesses, How were you able to get them initially on board?
Well that list certainly accounts for many of our customers. Our distributors typically focus on potential customers in various phases of a renovation or construction project, or a facility that is already complete. We are fortunate that IdeaPaint is a truly unique product and concept which helps our job in securing distributors. IdeaPaint usually helps them generate new customers, bring something exciting to existing customers, and associate their brand with a product and brand that is fun and adds value.
What would you say has been three of the most valuable lessons learnt on your entrepreneurial journey so far?
1. Execute. Planning well is important, but you can plan yourself in circles. The only way you know if your plan is right or wrong is to actually try.
2. Raising capital takes a lot of time. If your venture requires capital, raise money before you think you have to, and raise more than you think you need.
3. Hire quality. In a startup like IdeaPaint, everyone does way more than their job description entails. Every team member, from the CEO to the receptionist, needs to be willing to get his or her hands dirty and act entrepreneurially.
How many employees do you currently have working in the company?
We currently have close to 30 full time employees, and will continue to grow.
Who are your customers? What are your most significant products or services?
Our customers can be thought of as three simple groups: Work, School & Home. Our focus thus far has largely been on the Work and School markets, where IdeaPaint is used to create more collaborative, dynamic environments within offices and classrooms. Schools use IdeaPaint to save a significant portion of their budgets by recoating old worn whiteboards and chalkboards and making them brand new. We primarily sell dry-erase whiteboard paint, in 50 square foot (4.4 sq m) kits, in about 10 different colours.
How have sales grown in the last few years and is the company profitable?
IdeaPaint has been steadily growing at triple-digit percentages since launch in 2008. Within the past 1.5 years we have really seen our efforts pay off as our brand and product has gained substantial awareness and traction.
What are the most crucial things that have been done to grow the business?
First of all, we have built a great team at IdeaPaint, which has been the foundation of our growth. We have worked extremely closely with our distribution partners, investing tremendous time in training and building relationships with them to ensure that IdeaPaint can be a successful product line for them. Also, we have turned down many intriguing opportunities that offered short-term revenues, but were not the best strategic fit. We always make strategic decisions that will create the most long-term value.
What plans do you have now to expand your business further?
We feel that we have only scratched the surface of potential in our core sales channels and markets. We are always developing new products and technologies to make it easier for more people to have great experiences with IdeaPaint.
How do you market your products or services?
We do a substantial amount of product sampling to potential customers. There is no better way to get people excited about IdeaPaint than to show them exactly what it is and how well it performs.
What has been your most effective marketing tactic or technique?
We have offered thousands of trial walls of IdeaPaint to potential customers through our distribution partners. In the early stages of a new market, we have generated many sales and fans by letting potential customers use an IdeaPaint wall and see for themselves how it can transform their environment.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. Don’t fear being naïve - thinking like everyone else isn’t going to set you apart.
2. Ask people you respect for help and guidance. Often, they will be flattered, and usually provide way more value than you anticipate.
3. Set and redefine goals as you go. Achieving many small goals will keep you motivated to continue forward and help you swallow seemingly impossible projects in digestible bites.
Thanks for your time Morgen.