There is a saying that an entrepreneur will “work 80 hour weeks to avoid working 40 hour weeks.” When I first started Titan Robotics in my garage two years ago, I don’t think I quite grasped that idea, but it didn’t take long to figure it out.
Lately, I’ve been asked to speak in the community about not only being an entrepreneur, but a young founder of (so far) a successful startup company. Events, like 1 Million Cups, have been great opportunities to share Titan’s story, our vision and where we’re going in the future. But these events have also provided me a chance to face constructive criticism and questions, and receive helpful input along the way. That advice and community support has been vital for Titan since its inception, especially for a mechanical engineer who decided to start his own business at the age of 26. I think for anyone venturing into entrepreneurship, especially young people, community support and mentors are key components.
For those who don’t know about Titan’s humble beginnings, here’s the short version. I had landed a job as a mechanical engineer at Diversified Machine Systems in Colorado Springs, designing some of their massive 5-axis CNC machines. But just like many engineers, I had hobbies. And one hobby I discovered was 3D printing. After putting together a reprap kit, and going through many cycles of breaking it and rebuilding a better version, I put out an ad on Craigslist saying not only could I print your desired part out on the 3D printer but I could even build you one too.
The next day I had a request to design and build a large 3D printer, one of the biggest on the market, but at very low cost. Challenge accepted. I took what I had learned from working on CNC machinery and applied it to this massive 3D printer I would make. It was go big or go home. So I welded the steel frame myself, had the guys at my shop help precision machine it, and built the first Atlas in my garage at home.
What started out as a hobby grew into a second, full-time job and eventually into my own company. In the Spring of 2015 it was time to part ways with DMS and dive head first into the startup realm. We moved from the garage to a bigger garage, an old auto body shop. But we quickly outgrew that space as we added more employees and talented interns, and started building more machines. Not even a year had passed and we’d grown from the home garage to an 8,000 square foot facility.
There have been plenty of growing pains and challenges along the way. From bootstrapping the company, to learning how to be a manager and CEO, those 80 hour weeks really turn into 100 hour weeks. When someone asks me what advice I have for young entrepreneurs, I say, “Work hard. Work until you can’t work anymore — and then keep working. It’s the only way to get through the barriers to entry.”
But in addition to the hectic and long hours, it’s equally important to surround yourself with the right people. Mentors, experienced entrepreneurs and even investors who can offer advice or a different perspective are extremely helpful. While many people think getting investment is the only way to start a new company, we found it wasn’t the right fit for Titan. Instead we made the decision to bootstrap the company by growing organically and putting all revenue right back into Titan. It might seem like the slower or more difficult course, but we believe it’s the right way to grow and expand, laying a solid foundation from the very beginning.
In just this short amount of time, I think we’ve moved past the label of startup and into the small business arena. In addition to the new industrial space, Titan now has 10 full time employees and a reputation as a leader in building large-format custom 3D printers. We’ve been honored with the Emerging Venture Award from the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, and most recently I was named as the Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center.
At 29 years old, I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would about making machines (and selling them), becoming a business owner and developing a great team of employees to build that business with. But I know there is much more to learn, especially when it comes to being a founder with many hats to wear. Thankfully I have community supporters like business mentors through SCORE in Colorado Springs and great relationships with other entrepreneurs through Peak Startup. The saying “it takes a village” applies to a successful small business atmosphere too.
I’ll have a chance to share Titan’s story and the possibilities of 3D printing at TEDX Arena Circle at the University of Northern Colorado on September 25, 2016. For more information on the event, go to http://tedxarenacircle.com/