GoToTags founders Craig Tadlock and Keith Kegley saw an opportunity a few years ago when they realized that wireless sensor technology would become cheap enough for consumer use. Today, their startup is trying to fill in all of the key gaps around NFC, or near field communications, a technology that allows devices to communicate with one other over short distances.
The company started by selling NFC-related products online at BuyNFCTags.com, a way for the entrepreneurs to get a better handle on the market. Their software division, which operates under GoToTags, includes low-level encoding hardware and software, as well as mobile apps tied to NFC. It also has a cloud platform, which helps big and small companies manage NFC tag deployment, including analytics.
We caught up with Tadlock, a former developer at Microsoft, HomeGrocer.com and Corbis, for this installment of Startup Spotlight.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “GoToTags provides end-end software and tag solutions for NFC deployments.”
Inspiration hit us when: “We realized the amount of money that the big companies — Apple, Microsoft, HTC, Samsung, Visa, Google, PayPal — we’re going to invest to put the NFC sensor in consumers’ hands for mobile payments. We saw it as an opportunity to build non-payment related products without the typical nightmare of new hardware tech deployment.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Invest in yourself, and then eat what you kill. If you wouldn’t invest in your own company, then why would anyone else? Build a business that makes money. It wont make a lot at first, but that doesn’t matter. Keep iterating and listening to the market to figure out what the market actually needs that will bring in more money. Once you have a proven model, do a VC round at a nice evaluation to increase revenues, not just build the product.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “We separated our business into two parts; an online store (buynfctags.com) and a software division (gototags.com). Anyone and everyone comes to our online store and talks to us about their projects; and we listen… intently. It gives us visibility to the market and connections to the people and companies in this space that nobody else has. The ‘right’ people come to us.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “We brought on board the best people any of us had worked with in our career. For startups, it’s the people that matter. We’ve also let go of several people — quickly.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Like many startups, we wasted time/money building the wrong products first. This is a natural consequence of iterative development. We’ve also been guilty of being short term greedy, rather than long term greedy.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “I dont know any of them personally; I’ve heard good and bad about each. Doesn’t matter how famous you are, what matters is if you are smart, committed and are the right fit.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “Every consumer has an NFC sensor in their mobile device and we manage tens of millions of tags in the world. This started more than a year ago.”
Rivals should fear us because: “Ever try to take a bone from a hungry dog? Ya, it’s like that.”
We are truly unique because: “We can provide an end-to-end solution; from low-level SDKs, to mobile applications, to physical tag production, to encoding services, to cloud software to agency consulting. No other company in our space has this all under their single roof.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Our growth and large orders. We dont have a huge operating capital base and our market is growing fast. We get huge order in and have trouble floating the terms. Its been a fun lesson in financial operations. We brought on an experienced CFO and now its much better. It really helps having someone just focused on the financials, even for a startup.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Find an outlet for your stress. Running, yoga, skiing — whatever. As the founder you will experience stresses you couldn’t ever had imagined. You can’t let this leak out to your team. Startups are already inherently unstable — don’t add to it.”