Ehb is a self starter, a serial entrepreneur and is in the business of changing the world. Ehb is a Bay Area native who opted out of attending one of the most prestigious universities in the country in order to teach himself everything that he wanted to learn. After playing professional volleyball and some time working in the real estate industry, Ehb decided to share his love for music even further and opened a music studio. After 7 years of running a profitable recording studio, Ehb decided to get out of the music business and started his first tech company. His motivation? Gaming for good. After a real life test of the market he found that this concept, gaming for good was viable and he went to work. Ehb is a huge proponent for testing out your idea on a very minor scale in order to learn whether or not if it’s worth your time on a large scale.
A minimal viable product or a MVP is when you take a business idea that you are considering, figure out the the most minimal version of that business and see if you can get people to pay for it. For example if you wanted to open a sandwich shop, first see if you can get someone you don't know to buy a sandwich from you. Maybe at a park or downtown in your area. It’s all about testing the market first, in addition to testing yourself. If you dislike selling a half dozen sandwiches for one day, imagine having to sell 50 a day, everyday. Today Ehb is working to do something epic, as if gaming for good wasn’t already a gigantic venture. Ehb’s next venture is in the business of disrupting the economics of human trafficking by making the business of it unattractive. Read below and check out Ehb’s story and his take on entrepreneurship.
What made you decide that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
"I've always been a naturally curious person who likes to tinker and figure out how things work. My nickname as a child was "Mr. Puzzle". Due to my curiosity, I also like to solve problems. I'm almost obsessive about solving something once I get it in my head. This is what we do as entrepreneurs: create solutions to pain points (consumer or human issues). I was also influenced by my father who was and still is a serial entrepreneur. I used to watch him lead his team to solve engineering problems and I always thought that would be a fun thing to do - work in a team to solve big issues.
One other reason I became an entrepreneur was out of necessity. Sometimes we don't have choices but to become entrepreneurs in order to survive and push on in life. This is why India is exploding with entrepreneurs. There is systemic poverty there and the only way to survive is to be creative and entrepreneurial. I had similar circumstances when I was much younger. My survival instincts have always been strong and have served me well over the years which contribute to and compliment my entrepreneurial skills. "
Did you go to college?
"I was supposed to attend Stanford University, but decided against it. I'm an autodidact which means I have a high ability to motivate myself and learn everything I need to know on my own. Perhaps, it's also my innate stubborn nature and inclination towards independent thinking. At the time, I saw college as a time and money sink. I decided to teach myself what I needed to know. Trial by fire out in the real world to prove my worth and abilities."
Do you think college is important when it comes to starting a business?
"I think, in general, college is very important. Just because I didn't attend doesn't mean that everyone can get away with it. College can open many avenues of opportunities for those who lack them. The networking effect of colleges alone is worth it, in my opinion. There are certain things I had to learn and hustle the hard way which would have been easier to obtain through a top college. So deciding to go to college depends on you. Do you think you are strong willed enough to strike it out in the world alone or do you need to work within a closed system to find your way? There are advantages and disadvantages to either path. There are many paths to entrepreneurial success. The advent of online open source education deeply excites me because it can provide top quality education to everyone across economic lines."
What was your first business?
"My first real, bona-fide business was my recording studio. It was a more traditional brick and mortar business. I built and operated my own studio for 7 years. The premise was to build a mobile recording solution that was affordable to bands tight on budget or who couldn't afford world-class studio time. I grew revenue by volume instead of seeking marquee names and it was quite successful until the advent of mass home recording solutions which put a dent in both independent operations, like my own, and even high end studios."
Tell us about your transition from employee to business owner?
"Perhaps, a better way to look at this question is to understand that as a business owner you are always a humble employee. Business owners hold the double function of having to lead and be held accountable to their own leadership. In fact, I would go so far as to say that business owners/founders are beholden to work tirelessly for their team. Leading by example means you have to be a model employee yourself."
What were some of the early lessons you learned that were necessary for being successful?
"The biggest lesson to learn is how to deal with failure and accept that failure is part of the learning process. How a person deals with failure is a litmus test of entrepreneurship. Having a healthy relationship with failure is key to success. I would also say that stress management is incredibly important. One of my deepest and earliest failings as an entrepreneur wasn't failing on the business side, but failing in how I treated those in my life that loved and supported me. I was so focused on my ambitions and pursuits that nothing else mattered, not even family and friends. This was a mistake. It created massive emotional stress and dissonance in my life that I thought I could overcome by simply pummeling through them instead of creating space for people in my life. Learning how to be more in tune with yourself and emotional health is important to being a successful entrepreneur. It also makes you a better leader."
What inspired you to create your tech company?
"Chuck Close famously said, "Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just show up and get to work." I live by this. I live by my passions and pursue activities that help those passions flourish. I had a passion for education and video games, so I creatively combined the two disciplines and started my own gaming-for-good mobile gaming company.
Funnily enough, the catalyst was a simple, random conversation I had with my best friend over a New Year's Eve toast many years back. I was taking a break from being an entrepreneur and he asked what my next move was going to be. I had no answer, so I decided I needed an answer and the genesis of WRENDO (my gaming company) came to be. No inspiration needed, just a motivation."
Is a MVP (Minimal Viable Product) important?
"One word: ABSOLUTELY. MVP's are how you test out ideas fast and cheaply. It's part of the lean start-up methodology. Most entrepreneurs are cash poor when starting out and need to figure out creative ways to test ideas and product. Creating a bare bones MVP is the way to do this. I would go further and say that testing whether or not your MVP can create revenue is even more important. In lieu of that, at the very least, test user adoption through your MVP.
I remember I needed to test if my gaming for good idea could work and bring in revenue, so I conducted an open experiment to prove the business model to myself. The premise was to set up a table and two chairs in a high foot traffic area with a bag of groceries and sign that said Play War For Good. If anyone could beat me at the card game War, then I would donate the entire bag of groceries to a homeless man that I personally knew. To test out monetization, I would offer the player additional cards at a price in order to beat me. I would also offer to put 20% of whatever the player paid me and put it in the bag of groceries. What happened both helped me solidify my idea and amazed me by what I learned what people were willing to do help another individual. One person didn't have the cash to pay for additional cards, so he crowdsourced the funds. Another girl also didn't have any money on herself so she left. I thought that was that, but then an hour later she came back and simply gave me the cash to put 20% towards my homeless friend. That was wholly unexpected. Eventually, I had a very large crowd gathered and motivated to help my homeless friend. In only the 2 hours that I performed this test, I had made for myself $80 and an additional $20 in the grocery bag for my friend. Even though I know there were factors that skewed the experiment, this result was enough for me to move forward and decide to build a team. That was my MVP."
To you, how important is a Business Plan?
"A business plan is a living document that evolves and grows. When first starting out, I wouldn't obsess over a business plan. What I would obsess over is implementing ideas, building MVP and coming up with revenue strategies and incorporating that learning process into the business plan. Business plans are fundamentally useful in communicating your ideas when you are talking to investors and need to deep dive. However, for the most part you should focus more on perfecting your different pitches and presentation decks. They are far more important in the beginning. If you can't effectively communicate what you do in 1 - 2 sentences then you have an issue with your business model. Do eventually get your business plan in order because you will need one. Just don't obsess over it in the beginning. I operated without a formal business plan for almost two years before anyone even needed to see one."
When you started your tech company, what were some tactics you used to build your team?
"Building a team is a fluid and incredibly important process. There is no formula to it. For me, being able to build a team is, not only a test of my leadership and motivational skills, but also a test of how viable my business idea is. If no one wants to work on what I'm building, then I need to take a closer look at it. Even the worst communicator can have an idea that's so compelling that it draws people.
Some basic tactics is to reach out to your network and simply ask. That simple act can go a long way. People love to help each other and even if they won't work with you, they can recommend and make intros to people who will. If you don't have a network, then get cracking and build one.
If you can't build a team through your network, then it's time to get creative. Don't become discouraged. It could simply be that people are working on other projects. Competition is very high these days for certain skills. When I was building WRENDO I spent the first 5 - 6 months networking my ass off and looking to build a team. Even though I didn't find the right partners, I did build out a network that has come in handy even to this day with my other ventures. When I realized how difficult it was going to be to find the proper partners through my network I had to do some creative thinking. I thought about what types of people build video games besides programmers/engineers: artists, musicians, animators, UI/UX people, etc. I decided if I couldn't find a trusty programmer, then I could find an artist to get started. I was already versed in music, game design, and UI/UX design myself. I started looking at art sites online, such as Deviantart. That's where I found a wonderful artist, Renee Yoch. I saw that she had a small exhibition at FLAX art store and decided to go meet her. We talked for some time and she decided she really liked what I was trying to do and mentioned that she was already working on another game with a programmer in Michigan. Eureka! I asked Renee if it was ok to contact her partner and that's how I met Pete Mooney, a fantastic code ninja from Michigan. I was able to convince the both of them to port over and work with me on what I was doing. In one fell swoop, I had acquired a mobile gaming team. On the surface, perhaps, random, but it was through creative thinking and searching through different avenues that produced this opportunity."
What's one of the most important thing to keep in mind when building a team?
"You must be the best component of your team. If you can't honestly do this, then don't try to build out a team or even be an entrepreneur. Your team is going to look to you not only for leadership during the fun times of building product, but also during crises. As team leader, you will be tested to the most extreme and if you can't maintain stability then your team will notice and will fall apart.
Another aspect to look out for is to not build a team out of desperation. I've seen entrepreneurs who cobble teams together sloppily and the work suffers for it because the team leader didn't take the time to vet out the team and make sure they are all on mission point and message. Too much bickering, doubt and distrust arises. This is not a failure on the team, but a failure on you as a leader. Always take the time to make sure your partners are fully on board and don't have other distractions. If you are going to be 100% committed to your venture, then be fair to yourself and surround yourself with those who are equally 100% committed. The allure of outsourcing for programmers is always prevalent, but if you find you have to do this then you haven't done the legwork to make your idea is attractive enough to build a true team."
Tell me how your experience was with getting funding?
"Fundraising is a pain in the ass and fun at the same time. Basically, the very first day you begin to fundraise, you never stop fundraising, ever. If you raise a seed round, then the bigger angel round is right around the corner, then Series A and so forth, so understand what you're getting yourself into when you begin looking for funding. Very few startups are revenue positive enough to not have to look for early funding.
I'm a huge proponent of bootstrapping for as long as you can, along with taking small seed funding from family/friends until you are truly ready to strike out for angel funding. Accelerators and incubators are another great avenue to go because they typically lead to bigger funding options.
I bootstrapped my first venture and became revenue positive enough to maintain growth. However, that was a more traditional brick and mortar venture. I also bootstrapped with WRENDO and eventually found my way into an accelerator. That road took some time because we had to prove team and product viability.
There were a couple of reasons why we didn't take larger funding. One was because we found ourselves early on in acquisition talks, but things went sour so we abandoned talks. Second, after we entered the accelerator I found I had personally lost passion for what I was working on and wanted to pursue a higher venture which I am now doing: disrupting the economics of human trafficking. I have found that it is vastly important to find a mission you can dedicate your life to, but I wouldn't have come to this realization without having started a couple other ventures."
Would you ever get into venture capital one day?
"Perhaps. I do believe we need more impact investors who will funnel money into ventures that truly matter and affect real human issues, such as poverty, economic inequality, access to potable water, access to education, sustainable energy solutions, etc. Right now, I'm content being an activist entrepreneur trying to solve these issues."
Do you feel that traveling is good for entrepreneurs?
"Absolutely. Traveling brings perspective and gives you a chance to see how others live. It forces you to get out of your bubble and realize that there are far bigger issues to solve than what the next big social media bet or frivolous app will be. Of course, if building frivolous apps is your thing, then it's your thing. Not my thing. Anyways, yes, absolutely travel and see the world. While doing so, respect the cultures you visit and incorporate outside ideas into your matrix and learn."
Of all the places you have traveled, which place made the most impact on you and why?
"There hasn't been any specific place. Every place I have traveled has taught me something new and impacted me in different ways which is why it's so important to travel. It's opened my mind to possibilities I never would have thought of and brought different perspectives to problems I'm trying to solve.
I will offer a fun exercise, which is to travel in your mind. Just sit and daydream and imagine the many different ways people can possibly live. By doing so you don't necessarily have to physically visit every place in the world but you expand your own thought horizons."
Some say your network is your net worth. Do you agree?
"First, I would take away the word 'net'. Worth is an ever growing process and can be quantified in many different ways. I would say your network is simply an extension of who you are. Your worth is based on the fundamentals of who you are. If you are superficial and superfluous, then your network will reflect that. If you are a person that cultivates compassion and care for others, then your network will reflect that.
Everyone possess innate worth. It's how we draw out the best in each other that is important. Not looking at factors that create subjective notions of worth."
Tell me a little about your next venture and why this is important to you.
"Currently, I'm starting something called The Wren Initiative to disrupt the economics of human trafficking. The wren is my favorite bird and is famous for its many loud and complex songs across breeds. We represent the multicultural and diverse wren and must come together as one and raise our voices loudly to combat human trafficking and modern day slavery.
Equality in all forms - economic, social, political, etc. - is very important to me. As a people and species, we are most harmonious and happiest when there is equality. This is the main driving factor for me in combating human trafficking because this particular issue will soon become the #1 illegal trade globally. I made a promise to a wonderful little girl that I helped raise that I would make this a better world for her and her children. I mean to keep that promise."
What's some advice that you would give aspiring entrepreneurs?
"Build things that matter. There are so many human issues out there that have yet to be solved. In order for us to achieve the next order of enlightened evolution we must do a better job at solving these issues. As entrepreneurs, we are poised at the forefront as the vanguard towards creating impactful innovations that can deeply affect society. Societies have become better over the centuries, but we still have a long ways to go before we have earned the right to call ourselves an enlightened society. Build things that matter. That is all."