Thomas Franklin, a senior partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton and founder of Triangle IP. Over the years he has worked with numerous Fortune 500 tech companies in crafting their patent strategy. He has built a deep first-hand understanding in the areas of Software, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Internet Technologies. He is an IAM 300 strategist and has been recognized by Super Lawyers annually since 2014. He also won ‘The Best Lawyers in America’, 2016 Client Choice Award USA. He was also recognized as the best IP Non-Litigator in Annual Barrister’s Best list 2020. He is a regular contributor to websites like IPWatchdog, Cloudtweaks, Hackernoon, and many more showcasing his IP expertise.
Where did the idea for Triangle IP come from?
In our legal practice, we do several things that help companies track and stimulate their innovation capture. One of them is to create a list of various innovations underlying the products that their inventors are working on. Some clients started tracking those lists on their own for their patent pipelines using generic collaboration tools. From there, one key component of Triangle IP was born – ‘the idea manager’ that could provide collaboration with underlying technology to ease the process. As a patent attorney, I help my clients with protection of these innovations. It’s made me very successful on the legal services side. But not every startup or SME can afford to have a partner at a large firm facilitate their innovation capture & management process. The genesis was to try and take those techniques and integrate them into a tool to virtually facilitate innovation capture. What we wanted was to democratize that process with a free tool that required no special training or expertise. Even today, many enterprises that desperately need IP protection are unaware of the process to go about securing a patent. However, the fact is, if you are not patenting your ideas, you are giving them away. Competitors love the naivate because they can freely steal other’s unprotected ideas. Many companies, especially SMEs lack the sophistication and determination to protect their ideas. We wanted to change that and help everyone go about protecting their inventions with ease. That’s where the idea for Triangle IP really came from.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day would be work from, let’s say 5 am, until midnight maybe. That’s a typical workday, a 16-18 hour day. Pre-Covid, the day meant getting to the office before the traffic gets bad, work all day, and get back home after the traffic gets off. In legal services, more hours means more money. So you end up working many hours. Making a workday productive is all about having a plan. If you show up for the day not knowing what you are going to do that day, means you are not really going to accomplish much that day. I keep lists and we have dockets & reports that say what needs to be done. It’s all about having your stuff laid out.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I am an angel investor in about 50 companies, some of whose founders I also mentor. Experience with mentoring has taught me that the key to bringing ideas to life is choosing the right ones. Not every idea you have needs to see the light of day. The things that make the most sense are the things you are already doing. The best ideas come from things that people have already vetted. Ideas that they’ve already been thought through in the industry that they belong to. For a great idea, pick things that someone has been doing for a long time. Then, figure out a way to help people do it better. My work ethic calls for list-making and managing those lists into a workflow. That’s what Triangle does.
So how you bring ideas to life is you have to be selective because there are limited hours in a day. Otherwise, you’re just chasing after any shiny object that catches your eye.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The biggest macro trend is just medicine in general. In today’s data age, it feels like we’ve taken the Shaman of the Jungle formula and maximized it to the nth degree. The trend that excites me now is the maximized Shaman of the Jungle formula meeting Big Data. We’re starting to actually understand the chemical processes in cells, how the body works almost from an engineering standpoint. A medical professional can only have so much experience in life. Medical school can give them a certain amount of knowledge but not very in-depth in every area. Even professionally, physicians can have access to only a few thousand patients in their careers. So, individually, they cannot see infrequent trends or smaller problems. But with big data, we can now see things that are very very rare and read weaker signals. So having a data scientist combing through data with the new understanding of how the body works has brought us to a new age in medicine that’s going to be fundamentally different. And that excites me.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Process and routine. Business is all about process. Repeatable process. That’s how you get things accomplished. With my colleagues, and what I do, there is a routine. It’s like a machine. A machine doesn’t wonder about what it is going to do today. It is wired to work a certain way. You turn a key and it does its job.
What advice would you give your younger self?
When I was younger in my career I was always worried about how it’s going to turn out. Should I take a short cut? Should I be earnest and sincere and avoid that shortcut? You don’t really know. What I would say to my younger self is perhaps there is really no secret. Don’t be so insecure about what it takes to be successful. It is staying focused. It’s not taking the easy way out of things and sincerely engaging in what you do, especially if it’s something you love to do. It’s no tougher than that. Success is all about finding something you love to do and pursuing it very diligently and relentlessly.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
“It blows my mind to see people still rely on gut when analytics can help them make much better decisions.”
Your gut has become obsolete. Now that we have statistics on what is empirically more likely to succeed, you don’t need your gut anymore. We rely on the gut in the absence of data. One of the big things with TriangleIP is to use Big Data with Analytics to provide answers. We’re trying to provide answers which previously weren’t available – answers that were perhaps in people’s gut.
My practice is very data-based and very analytical. It’s surprising how tools that provide this data are not used. Most people do not use these tools because they are difficult to access. TriangleIP wins on the ease of use factor. The power of statistics, if thoughtfully done provides actionable intelligence which makes interpretation so easy. That was our goal for TriangleIP. To have thoughtfully put together statistics to have easily interpretable intelligence.\
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Find your mentors in life. No one does this alone. You might be in an organization that has an official mentoring program. Try and participate in those. Your mentors are everywhere around you, in your normal life. It’s usually your ego that prevents you from seeing that. Sometimes, your child can be your mentor who can give you an insight into something.
Sometimes it’s a colleague from your enterprise. It’s people all around you. If you can put your ego in check and listen for those signals. It may be a person you talk to on a regular basis.
I went for a ride with one of my mentors last weekend. And hopefully, I will go for a ride with another one of my mentors soon. One of them is a client and the other is someone who once hired me for legal services and now works at a computing firm. We have great conversations that I get a lot out of. But there are also other ways to find that. You might not have exposure like I do at this time in my career. There are podcasts, books, but there’s mentoring all around you. The advice is all around you. You just have to be receptive to it and take the feedback. Often, a lot of people who are super successful are not receptive to new ideas. Their egos let them believe that they are the only ones with good ideas. But that’s not true. Good ideas are around us. All around us. We have to just be receptive to them.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I became a rainmaker when I understood empathy. Being empathetic is what has worked for me and my business. I have discovered that empathy is key to sales. I don’t believe in having a one size fits all approach to all my clients or everyone I interact with. Although being conversant and outgoing is not in my nature, I have worked on it actively so everyone I interact with feels special. It is key to make every client feel special, and so you make sure everyone has a bespoke approach. Having an empathetic process is what helps you keep customers and make new ones.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Especially as an entrepreneur, failure is the road to success. You always hear about the story of the person who cashed in their retirement funds and bet everything on an idea. Hopefully, he’s successful. But if he isn’t in that first idea, he has no money for the second one. You need to allow yourself opportunities to fail before you succeed.
Recently a VC found out about us and wanted to give us money. The problem was we didn’t need money. We were bootstrapped. That gave us more opportunities to have more failures. The problem with big money is that when it comes in all they want to do is scale-up and do things that can make bigger money. But, when you’re bootstrapping you have room to fail as long as you can bump along on the bootstrap.
So come up with a plan because everyone thinks that they have a great idea and they are never going to have another. But people who come up with a great idea often come up with many more. So, prepare for some of them to be failures but also recognize the ones that are successful. Always have the resources available so that you can pile on and give resources to the successful ideas. But absolutely, you have to plan for failure. There’s no entrepreneur who was a first-time success. Those are lottery tickets, that’s what they are.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Oh gosh! There are so many great ideas. That’s a tough one. There are ideas all around us, in the problems we face. This whole age of Big Data is upon us. Today, Technology + Data + a Problem is a successful business. You might be a little bit too early or too late. But somewhere there is success. Look for a problem. Look for available recent data. There are a million problems to solve. Problems that couldn’t be solved before but can now.
One of the problems people have is predicting weather very quickly. We always want accurate weather. Think about this. Solar panels are always pointing skyward. They know cloud cover. They know the external climate. Imagine getting all that data. There are several companies that aggregate solar panel data. You can see production fluctuating. The address they are placed at is known. The orientation they are pointing at is known/predictable or empirically determined over time. You could have a super accurate prediction of weather based on data collected from these solar panels that are already out there. Websites that monitor solar production are open. It’s easy to pull out that data and help better predict weather. If you can predict cloudiness across a whole country accurately and quickly, that could be very valuable information. So think of a problem and look for data around it. And see how that available data could solve the problem. In this information age, that’s enough to develop a business.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Wireless earbuds. They’re not even $100! In these times when we’re on video calls and zoom meetings all day, they’re so freeing. Humans are social animals and these wireless earbuds allow me to be on call while walking or riding. I can get some sun, some Vitamin D, some UV sterilization while at work. And that’s good for preventing COVID and for my mental health. Win-win all the way!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I am a big fan of real-time collaboration between people remotely located. And there are close to 30 collaboration tools I use. I use Google Docs constantly. The ability to collaborate with people on a real time basis, you don’t even need to share a screen! Just open up the same doc and you can have a phone call and that’s so much better than a Zoom call, editing at the same time. Our ability to collaborate in the COVID world went away. There’s no more bumping into people in the hallway so we have to redo our world. And technology I think will be that salvation. This is the only way to collaborate without being there in person in real time. Even with TriangleIP, we have a collaboration feature making internal vetting on ideas seamless. We do hope it helps you enough for you to get addicted to it and bring it into your enterprise!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
When you read for a living, like I do, you do not find reading very relaxing. Last time I read a book for pleasure was before law school. So, that’s a bad question for me. The way I quench my thirst for knowledge is through podcasts and YouTube videos. Some of which I love include Harvard Business Review, the podcasts that McKenzie puts out, there are great podcasts for startups – ‘How I Made This’ is one. Put on your $100 earbuds while you’re driving or doing laundry or other chores around the house. Put on a podcast of your favourite topic and listen. Pay attention to that. There’s lots of distractions that don’t have meaning in our lives. As an entrepreneur, you can get the closest to mentoring through a podcast or youtube channel through someone’s experiences. It’s raw, unfiltered access to stories and experiences that are bound to help you in your journey.
What is your favorite quote?
“I reject your reality and I insert my own.”
I heard it on Mythbusters – a show about Hollywood techies who do special effects. Most all of us live in a cage of our own making. We might have a self imposed health issue, stuck in a job we don’t like, be in a bad relationship or have a bad lifestyle. I was prediabetic. So, I shed 50 pounds, changed my lifestyle and am free of heart disease and other possible repercussions of obesity. All I did was – changed my lifestyle. I rejected the box I was in and inserted my own reality. Think of what you want to be and just make it happen. Most things are within our power. When the pandemic first hit us, most of us thought it to be the end of the world. I chose to reject that reality. I found a way to get on the vaccine trials. And once I had the vaccine, I chose to travel the world. It proved to be the best strategy. Airfares couldn’t be cheaper, hotels were offering discounts and I could work from anywhere. There are some situations that are impossible. But more often than not there is a way out of that box. You just have to want to find it.
- Process and routine are the keys to business success.
- No business works if it is not driven by empathy.
- Turn your problems into ideas. The things around you that trouble you most will often give you your best ideas.
- Today, ‘Technology + Data + a Problem’ – is a successful business.
- Find your mentors in life. The guidance that they give you, nothing else will.
- Don’t bet all your money on a single idea. If it fails, you won’t have resources to fuel your other (probably successful) ideas.
- Your gut has become obsolete with so much analytical data out there to help you take decisions.
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.