Mike Feldman | Crain's Charlotte

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Mike Feldman

Background:  

T1V is a Charlotte-based software company that specializes in interactive technology for large screens that enable workplace collaboration. T1V was founded by Mike Feldman, 54, a former electrical engineering professor at UNC Charlotte.

The Mistake:

I started my former company, Digital Optics, in the early ‘90s, when I was 30. We were doing diffractive optics, holographic optics. We came up with a new way to do it that was revolutionary; it was so much more efficient and way better than anything else. We got our results, and so I gave this paper at a conference in California. It was really well-received, and people were asking questions. There were industry veterans who couldn’t believe it. I sat down and thought, “This is great. This is it. This will impact the entire world.”

And then this company came up after us, a company from Finland, and they presented the exact same thing I had. I thought, “What the hell? I spent the last five years on this, and I didn’t need to have done that. The same thing could have happened without me doing it.” So I was really bummed out.

You need good technology, but it’s the people who have impact.

The Lesson:

I came back, and a few days later we had an internal presentation for the company. At the time, I didn’t think those presentations were important; all my time was spent on the technology. I talked about how the company was doing. We had 25 or 30 people at the time, and I was showing the results, and everybody was so excited. The revenues were going up, our orders were going up. I thought there’s a lot more to a company than just having good technology. There can be two or three companies doing the same thing and you can still win. Everyone was so excited. I felt their excitement and realized that was what was important. Creating an environment and building a company from nothing and having people love coming to work; that’s what is important. I realized that was what my calling is, not the technology. It is building the company and the culture.

That was a total shift in my life. Of all the mistakes I’ve made, that had the biggest influence. I think about that all the time -- how different I was after that.

So here, I’m concerned about how the company is doing and how the people are doing rather than trying to make sure we’re having technological breakthroughs. You need good technology, but it’s the people who have impact. When I was at Digital Optics, I didn’t really think about that much as I do now. We have our values posted on the walls, and we spend a lot more time focusing on the mission and culture. Part of that is communication, and part of that is recognizing that people want to grow and make decisions, to have responsibility. You want to reward them and give them recognition. That’s probably the most importance piece -- letting people make decisions and feel like they are accomplishing things. So trust is important too.

How you hire and promote people is a key. At Digital Optics, we had the classic venture capital model. You raise money, and the VC guys come in and say you’ve done great so far, now go out and get the best VP of sales and marketing, the best VP of operations, the best COO, every different position. Go do a big search and bring in people who have done it before. We do that here sometimes, but not much. If you do that too much, it can de-motivate the people within. When we have a new position, we may do a search, but the first thing we look to do is to promote from within. When a new job comes up, everyone knows they have an opportunity. It’s not automatically going to someone outside. 

Follow T1V on Twitter at  @T1V_Interactive

Pictured: Mike Feldman | Photo courtesy of T1V

 

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