Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Like most people in the physical security industry, I kind of came to it by accident. It’s pretty rare to hear a kid say, “when I grow up, I want to be a security professional.” Like so many others, I stumbled my way into the security industry as a technician because I needed a job but stayed in the industry because I found some very compelling emerging technology, dynamic people, and an industry that was poised for growth. I was able to see the industry’s potential. Over the next 20 years, I worked my way up the traditional corporate ladder at Tyco Security Products, launched a product from scratch, and then brought it to market. When you do that successfully the first time, it can make you want to try it again. So, when I went looking for my next challenge, I looked for something where I could use my corporate skills and entrepreneurial spirit. Along comes this amazing facial biometric technology company called StoneLock, and it was the perfect match. Opportunities don’t come along like this every day. It’s been two years now, and it’s been quite the ride.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Well, I’d like to say there are two parts to this answer. Number one, my partners David & Colleen Dunlap were looking for a big idea. An idea that would be just as relevant in 50 years as it is today. Protecting people’s identities and their privacy was the clear winner. If you take a look at the controversy surrounding facial biometrics today and how the world has gone over the last few years, it’s obvious that privacy is a big problem. But how do you fix it? So, David & Colleen developed a privacy-first facial biometric software technology that was a complete biometric access control system. The physical security world is a tight-knit group, and to break into the market, you need someone who knows the market. That’s where I came in. At first, I was simply curious, but then I had my “Aha Moment” and realized that for StoneLock to really get off the ground, the “big idea” needed better focus.
When David first stood me in front of the biometric reader, and I watched it work, I fell in love with the science and thought, “holy, this thing just recognizes me. And it was quick, and it was easy.” I saw the far-reaching possibilities, and I was hooked. After a couple of sit-downs with Colleen, I loved the science behind facial biometric technology but thought the initial offering was too hard to maintain. So, we went from being a full access control facial recognition system company to a biometric facial reader company.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
After 20 years with Tyco Security Products, I felt like I had given all that I had and had reached as far as I could. I realized that I needed to jump off and for the second time in my life, I basically jumped off without a safety net. The first time was when l met Anita and quit my job to move across Canada to be with her. It turned out to be a wise bet since she ended up becoming my wife and mother to our four kids. I trusted my gut. I knew there was something there and took the risk. And now here she was the second time; instead of being the reason, she was my rock. Anita didn’t ask “how are we going to pay the mortgage” or “how are we going to pay for our kids’ education,” she told me “Hey! We’re going to make this work.” I’m an extremely lucky man and really appreciate her for that. Anita gave me the space I needed to spread my wings and never pressured me into taking a “real job.” I was able to reinvent myself, be creative and come up with something unique. Even when the first venture failed, Anita encouraged me to keep going onto my next adventure. I would never have met David & Colleen if Anita hadn’t supported me 100%.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
First, our product is truly unique to the market. No one else is offering a biometric facial reader that protects user privacy and doesn’t discriminate against skin complexion. At the end of the day, we wouldn’t have the product without the team that made it happen. I’ve always loved that small herd mentality. Part of what makes StoneLock unique is that we have a very small, dedicated group of people that want to win. And, everyone brings their own ingredients, their own drive, their own expertise to the equation. It allows us to be agile with our product and in solving problems for our customers. You find out what your team has got when a problem arises. Who’s going to hide under the desk and let the call go to voicemail and who’s going to pick up the phone and say, “I’m on it, let’s get this done together.” There once was a time when we had an issue with a client (it happens, no product is perfect) and after 18 hours of troubleshooting, collecting data points, and brainstorming ideas from the team, we had a fix to test. An issue like that could have taken weeks on a bigger team. It was all hands on deck; no one let their phone go to voicemail. Not only was our customer floored that we were so fast our whole StoneLock team was re-energized and inspired.
So, what really stands out about StoneLock is 100% a combo of the science behind our facial recognition reader and being lucky enough to have the right team in place.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I think as business leaders, it’s important that we take a role as mentors and help people grow, especially on our teams. Success puts you in a position where you have power over people, and there are different ways that you can choose to wield that power. I decided at an early stage of my career that I would keep my karma bank full and use my power for good. In the physical security industry, we talk about changing the world one door at a time with access control products. I like to focus on helping to change one team member at a time, the ones who help me sell those access control products. If you can create an environment that is open, welcoming, and nurturing, then people are going to thrive and take that energy home to their families.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
1) Story Telling — If I’m not able to outline the vision I have for the company to my team, we might end up going in different directions. Having a vision is one thing, but can you clearly articulate it?
2) Self Discipline — It’s so easy to become distracted by shiny new tools, ideas, and concepts. Especially in the tech world. Having the self-discipline to stay open to new ideas while sticking to the vision of where you want your product to be in 5, 10, 20 years. Listen always but change in moderation.
3) Empathy — If you look back 20–30 years ago, working in a company was almost military-like. You had your title, you had your desk, and you stayed within the boundaries outlined by a job description. If you stepped out of line, there was a sort of corporal punishment that would pull you back into your box. It was fear-based order. I don’t think you get the best out of people from fear. I think you get the best out of people from teamwork and knowing what it means for people to feel valued on a team.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Just one? 🙂 We launched a physical security product right before the world shut down because of a pandemic. No one could have expected that. There we were with a biometric facial reader and no faces to read, but in the end, because we had kept our overhead costs low, and we were already set up for remote work and had the right systems in place. We were able to stay on track, adjust and even scale. What could have been a disaster turned out to be an opportunity and we took it.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
1) Work With Your Failures
If we hadn’t realized early that we needed to redesign our facial biometric reader to integrate with leading access control systems instead of doing it all, who knows where we would be today. We halted our whole production so the whole team could hyper-focus on building out the StoneLock GO.
Take your wins but stay humble. It’s your demeanor that will help you attract the top talent.
3) Keep Your Costs Low
Do you really need that new state-of-the-art office chair? I can’t stress this enough. Don’t blow your budget on expensive marketing, let your employees work remotely, and keep office overhead low; employee churn is expensive so hire carefully and with intention.
4) Use Your Network
You should be building your network through attending your industry’s events, getting involved in the associations, and using LinkedIn. Reach out to your contacts when needed.
5) Don’t Get Discouraged
Success is never a straight line. You’re going to have good days and bad days. And sometimes on those bad days, you’re going to want to give up. The ones who keep going make it to the finish line.