Photo: George Tsintzouras of AlertLabs. (Credit: Anthony Reinhart for Communitech)
Written by Craig Daniels
Tsintzouras, whose firm produces sensors that monitor water usage and predict leaks and floods, was also the recipient of the $100,000 prize for the day’s best pitch. Tsintzouras sat down with Communitech News to talk about the state of his company and the challenges that lie ahead.
Q – Winning $100,000 has to feel good and of course money is always welcome. But what was the big takeaway for you from the Demo Day event?
A – What was great about it, really great about it, is that we weren’t speaking to a group of friends. These weren’t close comrades. This was a group of investors taking a hard look at the company, looking at the value prop, looking at the problems being solved, and what we were bringing to market.
For them to hear us, well, it helps provide a bit of validation, that we’re on to something. The truth is it felt good for a bunch of investors in the room to hear us out and say, ‘That’s a really great idea.’ That was exciting.
Q – Give readers a snapshot of where your company is at the moment in terms of growth, rate of growth and where you go from here.
A – Most startups go through a phase of ideation and product solution, prototyping, then they go through early beta testing and then they move into small-scale ramp-up and big-scale ramp-up. So we’ve gone through those early stages. We’ve done the product validating, we’ve created alpha units, we’ve done beta testing and now we’ve tooled up and are assembling final, finished goods. So we’re right at that stage where we’re launching and taking sales and making shipments.
The next stage for us is to start ramping sales and understand deeply how the business works so we can do things like forecasting and marketing.
Q – Funding is always a big decision. What’s been your approach in that regard? Did you go the venture capital route or fund organically?
A – Being a little more experienced as a team meant that we could seed this organization on our own, see it through those early stages where we’re proving the validity of the concept.
Since then we’ve raised a seed round which has a combination of venture, and local angel. We’re just closing that now. We’re ecstatic about it, actually, and thankful. We’ve had a lot of VC interest.
Q – What’s the biggest challenge for you as an entrepreneur and what advice can you give to companies that are starting?
A – At the leadership level of the team, it’s great to have subject-matter expertise and it’s great to dive into things, but at the end of the day, as leaders of the company, we have to manage multiple streams of activity and make sure those are all co-ordinated.
The biggest advice I could give anybody is you can’t just focus on one stream or one product. You can’t just focus on development. You can’t just focus on sales. You have to focus on all of those things because they all matter.
Every entrepreneur has strengths and the tendency is to focus on what you’re good at. I’ve seen companies for example, just focus on dev, dev, dev and then all of a sudden the next growth stage has happened and they’re left with massive gaps.
The thing that allows us to maintain the pace we’re keeping right now is that we’re looking at all those tracks at once. We’re moving the ball forward in every one of those swim lanes as a team. Whenever one area falls short, we all kind of jump in and help move it forward. The whole has to move forward, not the individual parts.
Q – Recently there was a story in the Waterloo Region Record about a local couple who experienced a sudden, dramatic spike in their water bill. The story referenced your company and the City of Guelph, which is one of your partners, and that your product might have caught that kind problem before it mushroomed into a big expense. What were your thoughts when you read the story?
A – This kind of thing — a sudden spike in water usage — happens all the time. A couple years ago there was a snowbird couple who was away on vacation and they came back and had a massive disaster in their home. They incurred massive expenses and trauma to their family-life in dealing with it.
Two weeks ago, a couple expecting their first baby was hit with a massive water bill. These things happen often. A leaky toilet can quickly consume $300 of water.
These kinds of problems are the mothers of invention, that ones that cause products to come to market. We’re just happy to be ready with our product and be able to offer it to people.
The same thing happens with energy and gas and heating and cooling. This is the stuff that AlertLabs does. We can help people not only catch problems, but the added benefit is we can also help people understand what’s happening so they can take proactive approaches to savings and encourage conservation.
Q – How important has it been to your company’s development to be based in Waterloo Region?
A – In our opinion, there is no other place like Waterloo Region. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the years of innovation and technology that have seeded the environment and ecosystem here or the amazing network and support structure that exists in Waterloo. It’s this region and its people that allows companies like AlertLabs to accelerate and grow globally.
P.S. We’re looking for software developers.
Communitech is a partner of Startup HERE Toronto. This article originally appeared on their site.