Take note: Livescribe founder talks investors and start-up tips
Jim Marggraff, founder of digital smartpen business Livescribe, has faced no shortage of financial challenges as an entrepreneur. He launched just as the GFC hit, and battled to find investors to get Livescribe off the ground. But after 5 years- and one million smartpen sales- his company is at the forefront of the market. Here’s how he did it.
The Livescribe digital smartpen has been embraced by students, educators and business professionals following its launched in 2007. By linking audio with handwriting, the technology has revolutionised note-taking by allowing users to digitally capture what they hear and write.
As a start-up, however, Livescribe faced ample challenges: “We launched a product in one of the worst financial and retail markets in history,” Marggraff told Dynamic Business.
“I was walking to meet a potential investor in New York City as I saw an announcement for the Lehman Brothers failure scroll across the news ticker in Times Square,” he recalls, pointing to the tumultuous state of the market, as the GFC began to take hold.
In the six months that followed, Marggraff had to find investors that were willing to take a risk when funding had virtually ceased. Livescribe was not only an unknown company, it was also launching an entirely new product. For this entrepreneur, it took years to convince licensors of the technology’s potential.
“I was told the smartpen ‘could never be smaller than a banana’,” Marggraff says. It was no small task to fit the components of a computer into something as compact as a pen, but with time and persistence, the Livescribe team were able to refine the design in order to meet Marggraff ’s vision. It’s this drive and determination that has seen Livescribe grow from an Oakland-based start-up into a global success.
Nothing is impossible
As an entrepreneur, Marggraff is used to hearing the phrase ‘that’s impossible’: “You have to turn impossible into possible and find the right team to help make a vision a reality,” he explains.
With the success of Livescribe, Marggraff said his vision has been realised. But at what point does being an entrepreneur stop being risky? “It doesn’t, by definition”, he says.
The challenge in creating something new can be daunting- and the odds of success are minuscule, Marggraff admits. But he believes that the most successful entrepreneurs are those that continue to take risks in order to innovate: “Risk-taking is in the genes of an entrepreneur. It drives breakthroughs and success”, he says.
So what advice does Marggraff have for start-ups?
1. Do it for the passion. Starting a business is a long and challenging process, so you need to have a passion for what you’re doing.
2. Be persistent and prepared. You will hit major hurdles, so you need to be resilient, pick yourself up, and keep going. Persistence is visceral to a real entrepreneur.
3. Do your research. Background research will help you understand all potential and existing opportunities and threats. Gather as much information as possible – you can never be too prepared.