[quote]We don’t need more ideas; we need better execution, and a commitment to the ideas we already have in front of us.[/quote]
Abhi Lokesh (CEO) – Abhi Lokesh graduated from UF in 2009 with a Bachelors Degree in integrative biology. During undergrad, he was actively involved with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, eventually becoming the President of the Student Ambassadors in his senior year. His entrepreneurial experience came from interning for three years at Optima Neuroscience, a local med-tech startup, where he was able to immerse himself in the numerous facets of a young, fast-paced company. In 2006, he collaborated with two classmates, including future business partner Alex Theodore, to start a nonprofit focused on alleviating the health and poverty epidemic in Swaziland, Africa. His role focused on revenue generation and business development. This became the foundation from which Fracture, their current venture, was born. Since graduating and co-founding Fracture, Abhi still actively works with CEI as an alumni ambassador and as a mentor for the YELS (Young Entrepreneurs for Leadership and Sustainability) High School Summer Program.
Alex Theodore (CTO) – Alex Theodore attended the University of Florida in 2003 and graduated in 2008 with a Bachelors in Chemical Engineering. During most of his academic stay, he steadily progressed in research under the departments of Environmental Engineering and the Particle Engineering Center. Most of the projects he lead or assisted started as novel inventions or ideas, where he became both a prototype designer and fabricator. These experiences became the building blocks for future endeavors. In 2006, he collaborated with a group of social entrepreneurs developing a hybrid nonprofit/for-profit organization. Acting as the technical leader of the for-profit wing, he and future business partner Abhi Lokesh developed a unique online art gallery that generated revenue for the nonprofit from printing and framing sales. This endeavor proved to be the grounds from which they would later spin off an ambitious start-up called “Fracture” – a printing company that makes framing exceptionally easy and attractive for common consumers. Alex continues to consult for prototyping projects, acting as both an innovation designer and an idea-to-market project advisor for the engineering departments at the University of Florida.
What are you working on right now?
Abhi – Right now, my focus in building a top-notch team. It’s actually a never-ending process that shouldn’t ever stop, but it’s especially significant now.
Alex – My main projects right now are a variety of product improvements (such as new packaging, new mounting techniques, improved print quality) and an overall upscale of the entire production process. That means a lot of custom engineered solutions to many problems and challenges. Everything always has an element of environmental and efficiency improvements too.
Where did the idea for Fracture come from?
Abhi – The idea for Fracture came after a long, convoluted journey that started in a social entrepreneurship class at the University of Florida, made its way through a few art shows in Florida where Alex and I were promoting our nonprofit art gallery, and finally ended up almost three years later in the hills of Swaziland, Africa. To make a long story short, Alex and I learned an indescribable amount running that nonprofit art gallery and it opened our eyes to a potential opportunity in revolutionizing how people print and frame their favorite digital photos. We felt like the status quo was an incomplete, expensive, very unfulfilling process, and we wanted to change that. We had no idea exactly how we’d go about it, but we knew that the concept would revolve around creating a new type of photo product.
Alex – It came from Abhi and I’s previous experiences running a nonprofit art gallery, but that was really just the beginning. It may be where the idea initially came from, but really, Fracture is being invented on a daily basis and we’d be wrong if we said that we don’t learn how to make it better on a day-to-day basis.
What does your typical day look like?
Abhi – It starts with a lot of reading. I have a daily list of business blogs and online newspapers I enjoy reading when I sit down at my desk. It helps me stay updated on what’s going on around me. I spend a lot of time focusing on finances: operating expenses (which we have a substantial number of, since we’re a manufacturing play with a number of moving parts), investments, etc. I like to spend at least an hour or two in production every day, keeping my hands dirty and my feet on the ground. I never want to be that person who’s disconnected from the product. I’m more forgetful than I’d like, so I usually have a meeting or two each day that I forget about. Besides that, there are a number of impromptu meetings that I’ll be a part of, from marketing to customer service to production.
Alex – I put out lots of fires, attend to meetings, answer lots of emails, talk and help other teammates with their projects, work on my own projects, and eat routinely.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Abhi – Bringing ideas to life is a matter of focused execution. Once I have an idea, I try to lay it out visually; I have to get it out of my head. I play a game with myself to try and think about it from every angle possible. There’s a lot of muttering and talking to myself involved. Once that’s done, I usually ask Alex and my team to tear it apart and they know not to hold back. The best perspective they can lend is: Where can this idea fit into our game plan right now? Is this the right time? Is that actually our core competency? If it passes their tests, which it usually doesn’t, then we try and allocate the resources to actually start prototyping it. That’s actually the hardest part right now—we’re so stretched for human capital and horsepower that we’ve got a ton of great ideas that can’t be experimented upon. That’s what I’m trying to fix right now by bringing on great teammates.
Alex – Perseverance and constantly revised vision. When you stick to where you are going and constantly steer the ship in the right direction, it’s only a matter of time before you get to the right place. More specifically, I guess it depends on the context. Engineering projects require stages of fleshing out the idea or initial design, followed by a lot of peer review, then prototyping and then some sort of initial implementation (which is almost always replaced by a drastically improved second generation implementation).
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Abhi – From a macro-perspective, I’m excited about the pro-manufacturing sentiment that seems to be resonating from businesses and the government. I guess the proper term is cautiously optimistic; because I’m waiting for talk to turn into action. I wholeheartedly believe that we’re ready for a new age of stateside manufacturing that can do wonders for the economy, starting with companies like us (sorry for the shameless plug).
Alex – Mobile cameras! They are becoming really really big sources of lifestyle photographs that people want to quickly and easily memorialize in their living spaces (i.e. Fracture).
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Abhi – I actually never had a job until I was in college, and I’ve been fortunate to only work at places that I really enjoyed. My parents never let me get a job in high school, and I really resented that. I wanted to know what it felt like, but they wanted me to focus on my studies. In hindsight, I appreciate their discipline, because I felt much more prepared and polished to enter the job market when I came to college.
Alex – I can’t say I’ve ever had a terrible job, I’ve never actually had a “real” job before – it’s always been some sort of unusual opportunity. I have learned a lot from all of them though. One of the most valuable was when I worked for a really smart general contractor – I learned how to follow behind a smart person (as an assistant) who knew a lot more than me.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Abhi – I would have focused on identifying more web talent and bringing them onboard. Alex and I were and still are extremely confident in our own abilities, but we unknowingly neglected the glaring need in in-house web development, and it’s coming back to kick us now. Again, it always boils down to team.
Alex – I’d focus 100 percent on building our team immediately and not letting anything get in the way.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Abhi- I constantly push myself to try and remain focused. Repeat the mantra of doing one thing and doing it incredibly well; not better than anyone else, but to the best of your ability. Too often, I see young startups pivoting on a dime to chase the next big trend, and leaving a trail of half-baked ideas and products behind them. We don’t need more ideas; we need better execution, and a commitment to the ideas we already have in front of us.
Alex – Look for my errors. On all levels, we make mistakes, have flawed logic, misunderstandings and personality drawbacks. The more we embrace those, the less they detract from our progress and the more productive and successful we become. Humans aren’t good at naturally picking up on their flaws like they are on focusing on their good qualities (stroking your ego isn’t going to do anything). You have to be on the lookout for all the hidden problems, because those are what are holding you back. That means searching for all those assumptions you didn’t realize you were making in your business plan, engineering project, marketing plan, etc. It also means you’ve got to try hard to see where other people are coming from when they disagree with you. I think everyone has personality issues and we’ve all got to work on a daily basis trying to be better people. We also tend to get caught up in the momentum of our opinion or our ideas and need to step back and say to ourselves “O.K., I am sure there are holes in my logic, now where are they?” and go off on a hunt for them. There’s enough work like this to be done all day, every day.
What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Abhi – From the personal perspective of starting Fracture, I think the biggest problem we’ve encountered is an unwillingness to believe that a startup that actually creates something physical and tangible has what it takes to scale and succeed like companies who are purely digital (i.e. cloud, mobile, social, etc.). I think that’s complete B.S.; people just haven’t tried hard enough and they haven’t been willing to innovate in this arena because it’s not sexy. I honestly can’t overcome it any other way other than proving we can. It’s a very personal and exciting challenge.
Alex – At the very beginning of our research and development phase, I got very caught up in the idea of Fracture and trying to perfect the product instead of trying to sell it. It turns out that I simply couldn’t believe that someone would actually buy our product, so I subconsciously delayed getting to that point by constantly working on the product and the process. One day, we jumped far out of our comfort zone and decided to just give our website a reality test, even though the production process was little more than nothing. The initial orders kept me so busy that I didn’t have the chance to deal with the disbelief. That phase never ended.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Abhi – Solve the obesity crisis in America. Focus on understanding why and how we’ve ended up as such an unhealthy nation and see if we can connect the dots between technology, lifestyle, and education to come up with a way to make us healthier. Figure out this monumental issue and you’ll fundamentally alter the future of this country and the world. There’s no valuation or price on that.
Alex – Most of my ideas are technologies, so that’s pretty hard to convey. But here is one everyone can really appreciate (maybe): I think accessibility to good, affordable food is hard to come by in urban cities like New York City and Chicago. In short, I’ve been dreaming of ways to automate freshly cooked meals into kiosks. Think automated vending machine meets freshly prepared organic pay-by-weight meals. I’ve got some innovative ideas about how to pull it off.
If you could change on thing in the world – what would it be – and how would you go about it?
Abhi – The biggest thing that bothers me about the world today is this notion of entitlement and finding the easy way out. I find myself succumbing to it often, and it’s not healthy. I try to remind myself everyday that I’ve been fed with a silver spoon my entire life – we all have. If you’re lucky enough to be reading this on your laptop or computer, then you’re far better off then the overwhelming majority of the world. I annoy a lot of friends and family because I never like to commiserate with them. I really feel like we need a pro-gumption and hard work movement; just people spreading the sentiment of personal betterment through hard work, self-belief and innovation. Is there an app for that?
Alex – I’d change the world’s perception of what “fair” is. Because as it stands, there is nothing “fair” about our lives, anyone who is reading this is probably far more privileged than 90 percent of the people in the world. In my opinion, it’s simple and fair that we share what we have with those who don’t have. I don’t think most of us have come to terms with that very, very simple truth. I’m still struggling with it myself.
Tell us a secret.
Abhi – I am absolutely fascinated by fireworks. Have you ever been in a bad mood watching fireworks? It’s impossible.
Alex – Abhi eats out of the community peanut butter jar with his finger!
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Abhi – LucidChart for creating flowcharts, venn diagrams, and helping me to organize and visually lay out my thoughts. Asana for task management. Harvard Business review; just really thought-provoking articles and insights into entrepreneurship and business
Alex – www.McMaster.com – an enormous resource of tools, materials, components and solutions. I go to that site at least 3 times a day. GlobalSpec.com – a huge collection of tools, manufacturers, new materials, services etc in the form of categorical list serves that you can sign up for in a variety of industry topics. It gives you the latest news on very specific industries. Ted.com – the most incredible, insightful, inspiring and admirable people talking about topics they are passionate about.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Abhi – The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari – because it’s at once fantastical, realistic, and inspirational. It’s a tale about a lawyer on the corporate grind who’s searching for more out of his life.
Alex – Good to Great by Jim Collins. It may not be detailed about how to win your specific market or give an specific answers like many other books will, but it will help you set the foundation right from the beginning and especially for leaders give you the outlook you need to be successful role models.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
Abhi – Fake Grimlock- a funny, quirky internet persona who calls it like he sees it. That’s really it. I’m not on Twitter that much.
Alex – I’m not on Twitter 🙂
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Abhi – I laugh out loud every day. People-watching causes it; I think people are hilarious, and just observing them and how they react to anything and everything is really funny and very telling. We’re very interesting creatures
Alex – I laugh out loud all the time, the most recent time probably being last night when I beat my girl friend in a game of Parcheesi (her favorite game).
Who is your hero?
Abhi – My father, for above everything, reminding me to always stay humble. He’s never satisfied with what he knows or has done, and that’s an incredibly admirable trait for a man who has accomplished so much.
Alex – Literally? I’d have to go to the top of the list and say God. But, I’ve learned a lot and admire a lot of people for so many reasons. I’ve also learned a lot of nature and science. I once watched “March of the Penguins” and thought to myself “If humans could learn just a little bit from those crazy birds, this world would be a much better place.” I think my fantasy hero would definitely be Indiana Jones.
Where do you see Fracture in 5 years?
Abhi – I see Fracture as being the pre-eminent photo product company in the world. We’re renowned for our focus on consistently cranking out photo products that push the boundaries on accessibility, innovation, and practicality.
What is the difference between a good entrepreneur and a bad entrepreneur?
Alex – A bad entrepreneur is focused on their own success, their own ideas and their own vision. A good entrepreneur is focused on the success of the company (the people and the entity), the value of the company to the market (how useful are its goods and services) and right direction for the company (what the company can do best for the world).
What’s your favorite food?
Abhi – A toss-up between crunchy peanut butter and anything my mother puts in front of me.
What’s the most valuable thing you have gotten from Fracture?
Alex – I’ve learned an incredible amount about myself and what I enjoy doing and am good at.
Fracture Twitter: @FractureMe
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.