William Morriss

Founder of IP Toolworks

William Morriss has spent the last fifteen years helping clients, from startups to Fortune 500 companies navigate complex issues surrounding law and technology and obtain protection for their inventions. He is a passionate advocate for the value of patents in business, having seen the impact in the success of his clients and his own work as an entrepreneur. William is Senior Technology Advisor at IP Toolworks, a company which he founded with the goal of helping attorneys respond to rejections from the USPTO more effectively by leveraging a wealth of publicly available but previously inaccessible information.

Where did the idea for IP Toolworks come from?

I conceived of the technology used by IP Toolworks as a tool to combat the inefficiencies that I observed in my day-to-day practice as a patent attorney, negotiating with patent examiners and training new associates. The result: a proprietary core technology that, much like Google, utilizes sophisticated search algorithms to provide efficient, automated techniques to help attorneys find information that is directly relevant to their specific situations.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I typically spend my day putting out fires in order of urgency. If I find that I am getting caught up on something, I know to put it at the bottom of my list if I can, as it likely means that there is something unresolved that is making it particularly difficult to do. Because my work as an attorney requires me to track my time with great precision, it is easy to see when something isn’t working and adjust accordingly.

How do you bring ideas to life?

As a patent attorney, I have a lot of experience working with clients on the fine points of how inventive concept translates into implementation. For me, this is best accomplished in three steps: 1) make sure I have a solid understanding of the idea, 2) break down the implementation of the said idea into steps, and 3) find the best person possible to work on implementing each of the pieces (see no. 8).

What’s one trend that excites you?

I am excited that vaccination is trending upwards and infection rates are trending downwards. I believe this has exciting implications for all of us, regardless of field.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I try to stop and fix things when I notice something isn’t working. I will delete an app from my phone if I realize I am spending too much time tapping it, or take a break to eat if I realize being overly hungry is preventing me from focusing on an immediate deadline.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I wish I would have known the right way to get into programming. My parents helped me find some opportunities for study to support my great interest as a child, but because it was something completely new to them, it wasn’t clear just how to go about it.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Focusing on STEM and devaluing humanities and liberal arts is probably the worst thing we, as a culture, can do for education. It’s like telling everyone to look at the world through microscopes and then being surprised when no one understands the big picture. This is so blindingly obvious to me that I’d say I can’t imagine how anyone doesn’t realize it. However, I only realized it myself after I met and married a historian, and since that obviously isn’t scalable I have no idea how this particular truth will ever gain wide acceptance.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I try to find the best people I possibly can, to work with, and delegate as much as I possibly can to those people. Spreading responsibility across a solid team makes it possible to accomplish so much more. In addition, by making sure the best person for the job is doing the job in question, everyone increases productivity since we’re not constantly scrambling to build new skills.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

There is a lot of emphasis on failing fast. I agree that pouring resources into a ship that’s destined to sink is never a good idea, but sometimes things take some time to hone. We ran a very lean operation, and this allowed us to stick things out long enough to build a solid product and make the adjustments we needed to get to product-market fit. If we’d decided to “fail fast” we would have flamed out early and never gotten where we are today.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

We really struggled getting to our first sale, despite having done what we believed was a thorough due diligence. The software began as something I wanted to use in my own practice. We had spent a lot of time prior to launch interviewing potential customers and working with users in beta, and worked with mentors and subject matter experts to learn about how to launch and manage a startup. But when it came time to go from users to paying customers, nothing came. I was about ready to give up, but my cofounder reminded me of how intentional we had been in building the business thus far, and that we really did have a solid product. So, in the end I trusted my team, and came out the better for it. It turned out we were able to get those first sales, and found users who got as much benefit from our software as I did despite those early setbacks.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Software (perhaps some kind of network monitoring application made more consumer-friendly) that tracks and reports on everything being collected. Data privacy is one of the hottest areas of opportunity right now. Companies are scrambling to keep pace with new regulations and in need of tools to help them keep in compliance.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently invested in high quality Bluetooth headset. It makes such a difference to have on calls, especially now that I am working from home. Bonus: now I can listen to my favorite YouTubers and energetic dance music, without worrying if our one-year-old might be taking a nap.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

When I have something that requires a lot of thinking through, or am preparing for a presentation, I like to get up and move to keep my mind fresh. I have found that having a metronome app on my phone is really helpful for this, as it helps me maintain my cadence and keeps me moving as I think through whatever knotty problem is bedeviling me.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I think that entrepreneurs should read more fiction. Not only is it a great stress reliever to escape into a good book, but the engagement with storytelling and world-building that comes with it helps foster skills that we all need to stay on top of the game. I particularly recommend A. J. Hartley’s novel, Will Power, a fantasy adventure about subverting expectations. This book will give you a new take on what it means to be disruptive.

What is your favorite quote?

“Never play to win a pawn while your development is yet unfinished.” Aron Nimzowitsch

Key Learnings:

  • Failing fast is not always a good idea.
  • We all should get vaccinated asap.
  • Read more and more fiction. It is not just a great stress reliever, but the engagement with storytelling and world-building helps foster skills that we all need to stay on top of the game.