Becoming is more important than being. The enjoyment comes not from the destination, but the creative process it takes to get there.
Ken has been in the semiconductor technology industry for 35+ years. He earned his BSEE in 1982 and MBA from Pepperdine in 2012. Ken has 6 patents, has worked at 2 successful startups and launched two businesses of his own. One of those businesses is MiLegacy, which incorporates the positive aspects of social media for the purpose of creating your own “Life Filing Cabinet,” which makes personal posts (stories) and associated photos/videos easily retrievable as they’re categorized by milestones of your choice. The ultimate purpose is to provide a user-focused experience that focuses on capturing memories and connecting people through the moments that matter most to them. Ken lives in the heart of Silicon Valley, in a small hamlet called Los Gatos. He makes wine from his own vineyard, is an avid wakeboarder, skier, martial artist and plays the saxophone and piano.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
A few converging events inspired the development of MiLegacy. My father-in-law (Jim Carothers) is a Vietnam veteran who was exposed to agent orange, and years later after his service, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Because we were not sure how much more time we had with him, we wanted to memorialize his life and tried hiring a biographer. It was expensive, difficult, and the rewrites were inaccurate. The second event was visiting my father’s burial site. After pausing over his site at a large cemetery, I started thinking about how many people were there that lived full lives, only to be described by a small plaque with a few adjectives like ‘Beloved Father ‘ or ‘Devoted Wife,’ along with their name and dates on earth. They of course had significant lives, stories and adventures to tell and things they loved, but most of that history was lost to antiquity. We decided that there was a better way, using a nexus of a social media framework and the capabilities of today’s cell phone. We decided that we were going to fill the absence of accurate family history and replace the lore passed down from previous generations.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’m up at 5:30 a.m., exercise then am off to work. If it’s Monday, I make a list of the top priorities for the week. These are things that NEED to get done, and if not, we’ll have serious problems. Always do those things. Unless you’re making wine or cheese, your products or ideas don’t usually get better with age! I like to say TNT….Today Not Tomorrow.
How do you bring ideas to life?
They have to resonate with a need. I ask myself: “Is this something we would personally use.” Prior to deciding to developing an idea, you have to to define the “why moment.” As Simon Sinek said, it’s about “why you do things, not what you do.” Once it fits with ‘why,’ we make a prototype, and iterate numerous rounds to see what works and what doesn’t. We have built hundreds of quick mock-ups to pursue the ones that feels right.
What’s one trend that excites you?
People are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with contemporary social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter and Snap have come under criticism and scrutiny for taking advantage of their user base to drive profits. They have compromised privacy, displayed offensive posts, compromised user data, all for increasing their own growth. People are smart and have figured out that these “free” apps have a much more dire cost that they may no longer want to pay.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Naturally inquisitive. Learning about new things drives creativity in other areas. Your mind integrates and makes connections far more than you’re conscious of which evolves into new approaches to previously unsolvable issues.
What advice would you give your younger self?
There are 3 things that stand out:
1. “Am I paying attention to what I’m supposed to be paying attention to?” Be in the moment as there is a lot you miss when you are thinking too much about past events or future scenarios.
2. It’s not necessary to react. Reaction, unless a life-threatening situation reduces the optimization of your choices. Most problems have multiple solutions so take the time you need, do the necessary research and pick the best way to approach a situation.
3. Make your values sacred. If you stand by them and live them, you will never regret a choice.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Becoming is more important than being. The enjoyment comes not from the destination, but the creative process it takes to get there. Those circumstances will be hard pressed to replicate.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Prioritize. Focus on the things that are hard and that no one else wants to do.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Focus on the product first and not the money. If you spend more of your focus on how to monetize your product, it will be evident in the user’s experience and will turn them away. Make the value of the product evident and compelling and users will gladly pay.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I had invested in an underwater hotel. It sounded like a great idea, but I restrained myself and only put in a small amount until I understood where the next pivotal defining moment was going to be. I was planning to further invest if that next step was successfully completed, but it wasn’t. The lesson was to fail early so that you cut your losses and move on.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Create a 360 experience using an AI platform that would connect the variety of media taken during an event and splice them together into a Virtual Reality experience for people who were not able to attend, but could still feel and see the event unfold as if they were there.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Upgraded our seats at a Warriors game to be right on the floor. The experience was worth every moment and underscored a phrase I often use….”Money is only as good as the memories you make with it.”
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Google Docs. Allows you to collaborate asynchronously with team members. You never know when good ideas or solutions arise and with Google Docs you don’t have to wait for a meeting to talk about them. People also work on different schedules and with Google Docs you can optimize each team member’s most productive time of the day.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Time Enough for Love, the diary of Lazarus Long written by Robert E. Heinlein. As a science fiction author, he describes maturing through an age of technological discovery and what it means–or is projected to mean–to humanity through the experiences he has had and shares (in third person as Lazarus). Life is full of experiences and those are the key assets we create and retain.
What is your favorite quote?
“To achieve what’s never been achieved, we must do what’s never been done.” If you follow the path already created by others, don’t expect a wildly successful outcome as it has already been done.
- Keep learning. What you learn will eventually apply to something you do or decision you make. The cross-pollination of concepts or applications of ideas make what you do better.
- Take on big problems. If what you do doesn’t scare you, you’re not challenging yourself. Surround yourself with people interested in why (and what) you’re doing and engage them. Create prototypes and figure out what will make them fail early. Learn from that, then iterate the idea.
- What you do has to be enjoyable at some level or you will mentally check out. Enjoy the process of building something significant. Once you achieve a goal, the next challenge is what to do next to recreate that process.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.