Covid Sucks. Here's What This Entrepreneur Is Doing to Make Schools Safe.
A conversation with the CEO of a company that makes disinfection tech for the classroom.
In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what’s your business?
My name is John Watkins, CEO of FSC Lighting. FSC manufacturers energy-efficient lighting and recently pivoted into disinfection lighting with a focus on safely getting kids back to school.
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What inspired you to create this product? What was your "aha moment"?
Covid sucks. We found a LED chip through a partner that has cleaning characteristics that are not UV and are safe to be under.
What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in producing and marketing this product?
That the teachers do want to get back into class. They are passionate about face to face learning. And they are afraid. Parents have to work and want their kids back in school.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
Desiring to be the tip of the spear and feeding on it. Building something from nothing but an idea while putting yourself financially at risk. Stress. Looking fearless to the market while inside your stomach is roiling. And winning.
What was your toughest challenge and how did you overcome it?
Business partners are very challenging. I have overcome this challenge by allowing the partners to make 90% of the decisions that don’t matter and making the 10% that do.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs about fundraising?
Be ready to be told no a lot but really be ready to say no yourself. Equity is the most expensive to give away at the beginning so do anything you can to not dilute if you have something special.
Any advice for pitch meetings?
When I sold most of FSC to private equity in 2018, we had 14 suitors and did 14 pitches in 12 days. It was insane. If you have a right-hand person that is good customer-facing, that is huge. If you have a CFO, leave him in his office. They understand the numbers but not nuance. The CFO should build the pitch deck and only be available for written Q&A.
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
A lyric by the group Chumbawamba: "I get knocked down, but I get up again." Stupid, right? But listen to it loud and tell me it doesn’t make you wanna throw down!