Have you built your company to withstand catastrophic events? In this episode, Chris Allen, the Founder of iDevices, a Hubbell company, joins Tanya Memme to discuss the importance of planning for catastrophic events, especially during these uncertain times. Chris has built and sold a lot of successful companies throughout his career. Tune in and discover how he guided his companies through disruptions and kept his team afloat amidst massive losses.
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Planning For Catastrophic Events With Chris Allen
I have Chris Allen with me. He is an entrepreneur and the President of Hubbell at the iDevices division. You’ve done many different things with your life. You’ve built up many companies and then sold them. I met you at KBIZ because I interviewed you. I was blown away by your personality and everything that you had accomplished. I wanted to have you here because you might be able to shed some light and hope especially with people going through what they’re going through in quarantine. Thanks for coming on. I know you’re busy.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Let’s jump right into the Coronavirus and how it’s affecting people. How is it affecting you and your life? How has it been a bit of a struggle for you? How are you overcoming that?
We changed a lot of our habits around the organization. iDevices is a division within Hubbell, which is a publicly-traded company. For that portion of my business, everybody went remotely. We were lucky enough that as iDevices, we had done planning for catastrophic events such as this and we’re easily a virtual company.
Are you already done planning? Were you prepared or something?
Yeah. It’s the one where everybody rolls their eyes and goes, “Why are we doing this?” Now they’re going to be like, “I’m super intent on figuring this out.”
You were more prepared than our country was.
I was more prepared than some divisions of Hubbell, I will say. We were lucky we were on virtual and all my folks are working. I did have to furlough some people that were chefs and folks that were not able to do their duties in the interim, but we will bring them back. That’s super hard for me. I am a builder of companies and not a person that likes to tear them down, split them up, or put them apart. When I think about that for iDevices, I was blessed from the standpoint that we were able to go virtual.
In my other businesses, I have a logistics business with Amazon where we employ 50 folks. We had to furlough some people up to 60%, and then I was able to get the PPP loan and bring back all those people. I went from tears one week telling people that I was going to potentially have to lay them off for next week to getting a loan from PPP on Thursday and bringing them all back Friday and all our full-time employees.
You have to pay state tax on the PPP loan is what I hear.
Everybody wants their chunk of money and pound of flesh.
Some people can look at somebody like you going, “Why is it hard for you?” You’re probably the third CEO that I’ve interviewed that has had to lay off people or thought they were going to have to, and it’s not easy. What is it like for somebody on your end, just for people to know?
For me, personally, I was born and raised by my mom. She raised me since my father passed away when I was five. My mom’s history was she was a nun before she married my dad, so it’s a little interesting history. She was a nun from 18 to age 31 and then met my dad when she was 36 and had me when she was 39.
It only took 3 years to turn around.
She was always about giving and taking care of folks and the golden rule, “Treat others how you want to be treated.” For me, I take it personally. People rely on me. Even when I was building my company or when I built any company, they rely on me for their income, their kids’ college education, food on their table, and their mortgage to be paid. I don’t take it lightly. I take it personally, so I struggled with it. I was on my way to Vermont and my daughter saw me talking to my employees in the logistics business and I was in tears. I’m upset and struggling with it. I looked at it the way I look at any situation. There’s a path to get through it, you just have to find it. We’ve conquered Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. If you can do that, there’s a path through any situation. You need to figure out that path and then navigate it. We’re able to get the people along and we’re able to get them taken care of so I feel good about that.
What would you say is your biggest accomplishment through all of this?
My biggest accomplishment in life is honestly my kids. I have two amazing kids. The family has always come first. They’ve supported me, and even my ex-wife, our relationship, and our little family unit. Those are some of the proudest accomplishments I have. In terms of what I created, I am proud of the fact that I gave a lot of stock in my company when we were private to employees. By doing that, I created some wealthy young developers and entrepreneurs in their own right for coming on to a company that was in the early stages and taking a risk with me.
It’s easy to go to a big Fortune 500 company with deep pockets that you know is going to be around in 10, 15, 20 years. It’s a lot harder to take a job with a company that, in some of these cases, has 10 to 15 people in the beginning. They grew with me and they were rewarded for that. Being able to give those people large checks and watching their faces when they didn’t understand how much their stock was worth until we sold the company.
That must make you feel amazing. How does it make you feel when you know you’ve affected someone’s life and many people’s lives like that?
It’s touching. It tugs at your heartstrings for sure. I enabled these folks to set their families up in the future or pay for their kid’s college. Some of these folks are 26 years old and they’re stepping into some large chunks of money, and they set up for a life where they’re going to create a legacy for themselves through the legacy that I created, so it’s amazing.
It’s interesting because I’ve interviewed many people on Life Masters and one thing I love to ask people like yourself is, what do you think establishes somebody between being a boss that is giving and a boss that isn’t giving? Because there’s a lot of people out there that hate their job and don’t like their boss. There’s a lot of greediness going on. What makes you inside want to be that person?
Selfishly, I get a lot of satisfaction out of it. It’s an addicting feeling of having the ability to change somebody’s life or help somebody in a unique way. It makes you feel you have a purpose. The purpose of life isn’t to just accumulate wealth and hoard money and then die with a big bank account that you can take with you. Life is about changing other people’s lives and leaving an impact and a legacy that is something beyond what you are today. The old saying goes, “You need to die twice. Once when you first physically die and the second time when somebody utters your name for the last time.” Hopefully, I’m creating a legacy that allows me to be known as somebody that was giving, helped folks, and transformed some people’s lives in a good, positive way.There's a path through any situation. You just need to figure out that path and then navigate it. Click To Tweet
What would you say to people out there that that’s what they want to do? They’re not there yet. They’re frustrated, struggling, and trying everything they can. I have some friends that want to leave a legacy and they can’t get themselves going. They’re struggling.
There are always obstacles. Life is full of them. Whether it’s COVID or whether it’s everyday life, make sure to identify the things that are holding you back, and then rely on a great team around you. One of the best things I did when I was building iDevices, in particular, the biggest company that I sold, was hiring a good team around me. I still have most of that team now. When you hire great people, everything else falls into place. I would say that you recognize your weaknesses. A lot of people try and do everything, so they run in this continuous circle chasing your tail because you never get anything fully accomplished or done and you’re constantly running in a circle. You keep iterating or spinning. You sit there in a stagnant motion.
When you hire and you identify the right people, and then you give them the reins to go do what you hired them to do, amazing things happen. You’ll see your business flourish and your life gets better. It becomes less stressful because you have great people to rely on. A number of components fall into place quickly. It’s hard to do because you’re giving over control of your baby in a lot of cases. Your business is here like another child but when you do that and you realize how much it’s flourishing and how much it’s changing and evolving. It becomes evident that you’ve made the right decision. It’s something that feeds on itself.
I’m sharing a little story there. I was at one point looking to start up a few different businesses or looking to invest or whatever. I cannot tell you how I chose the wrong partners a few times in a row. It was painstaking financially for sure and also emotionally. I’m a horrible business partner chooser. I know a lot of people out there are. It’s a real thing. Maybe I was gullible and I believe in everything. I’m not sure. How do you choose a good, honest, and hard-working business partner? Someone who’s good at what they do, instead of just saying that they’re good at it.
I was lucky that my COO is my best friend since five. He has the same morals as I. I’ll give you an anecdotal story that he came on to work for me. His brother also works for me and he already started working for me. His brother recommended that I hire him to manage the organization. On his first day, he came up to me and he said, “We need to have a conversation.” I was like, “Okay.” I thought he was going to say, “If we argue here, it stays here. We’re still best friends and we’ll always be friends no matter what.” It wasn’t.
His conversation went like this, “If things don’t go well here and things don’t work out and you’re not able to keep everybody and you start laying off, you need to lay me off first before my brother because I’ll be okay. I know I will but my brother needs this job and I want to make sure he’s taken care of.” When you align yourself with people that have the same morals, code of ethics, and general attitude, it gels well, but you also want to look for somebody that compliments your weaknesses. I’m the risk-taker, the guy who will run at anything, and doesn’t have fear of failure and he is the complete opposite. He’s an engineer, a process guy, and a spendthrift. He’s tighter than me. He grabs diamonds.
He’s a great person and collaboratively, he pulls me back. His wife equates it, too. I’m the guy running off the cliff, skydiving or base jumping and he’s the one who says, “Stop a second. Let’s check your parachute one more time,” and then I yank him off with me, together. You have to look for that. When you surround yourself with other folks, the hardest thing and the thing I tell even people when I talk at different colleges and stuff are learning to trust your gut intuition.
That’s where it goes all wrong with me.
If you have that feeling in your gut and you have that little voice in the back of your head saying, “This isn’t right. There’s something wrong. It’s too good to be true. You shouldn’t do it,” listen to it. I tell you, 99.9% of the time, it’s right. It may come out like it’s wrong, but you’ll see some result at the end of the day that says, “I did make the right decision.” I’ve made bad decisions. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve made stupid decisions but the more I look back at it, you have that gut feeling if you can trust it.
When do I know that gut feeling is talking to me? As I’ve gotten older, you do learn when it’s talking to you. Another thing I’ve learned, too, and I don’t know how you feel about this is when you’re in a downward spiral in your life, it’s never a good place to make decisions like choosing a business partner or starting a business. I always tell people to sit tight when you’re losing grasp of life and yourself and you’re in panic mode.
It’s being focused and having the ability to truly center yourself and feel comfortable. A true entrepreneur, honestly, is never 100% comfortable. I thrive in a situation where I have stress and I’m at a certain uncomfortable level that makes me twitch in my seat a little bit because it makes me think differently or change a habit that I’ve fallen into or something like that.
Can you give an example of a time when this happened that you remember?
When I started hiring folks, to surround myself with great people.
This is back to the first time you had to hire a team?
Yeah. I was probably a team of fifteen and I said, “I need to develop a better organization around my organization because we were free-willy developing products.” Successfully, but free-willy so I brought in folks and one of them is my best friend, and then marketing folks and different talents. Turning over the reins was a definitely uncomfortable feeling. “I’m not calling the shots. What shots are you calling? Are you calling the right ones? Would I do that? Would I not do that?” It put me outside of my comfort zone and I was hesitant, but the more I fell into it, the better the feeling felt. I got stuck in a rut where I delegated everything out.
You’re like, “I like this. This is making it a whole lot easier.”
I had to go to one.
That also means you picked a good team though to be able to do that. At that point, you deserve a little bit of that, too. I want to circle back because I remember when I first met you, I was blown away at how you started. You told me that you invented a barbecue device, a meat temperature reader.
It’s called the iGrill.
I remember the stories and it’s amazing how this all started for you. Paint that picture because you and your buddy are roommates or something and you’re hanging out.
It’s my ex-wife at the time. We’re out back and we’re barbecuing, and I had this Brookstone grilling thermometer that had this big clunky device that sat next to the grill, and then another big device that you walked around with that tells you the temperature of the meat that you’re grilling. Brookstone, Hammacher Schlemmer, and things like that were super popular back in the day. I said, “Why do I have to carry this clunky thing around? It’d be great if it’s tied to the iPhone that I bought.” This was back in 2008. iPhones were only a year old at that point.
Were you always techie though?
No. I was an insurance and stockbroker. I’ll see the insurance offices and I owned an investment firm before. I had the idea.
You’re not a techie guy, but you had an iPhone and you had a computer. That’s about it.
I have never made a product before in my life and I dropped out of college after three months. I said, “I wonder how I could do that.” I googled how to do a patent. I drew the pictures with colored pencils on my dining room table and I submitted it all for a provisional patent based on what the patent office told me. I proceeded to reach out to friends, my brother, and some other folks to figure out different people that I could pull in to do quick friends and family rounds of money. I found some contracts and I googled how to develop a product.
That’s how you did it. How much money did you raise from your friends and family to get started?
From your family?
My family would never give me $200,000.
I say that loosely. I have a lot of guys that I consider father figures because my father died that are friends but family.
They believed in you in the beginning. That’s cool.
I cold email Apple in 2008 and said, “I have this idea. We can’t get it to connect to the iPhone because Bluetooth was closed to new developers.” Two hours later, they called me. I cold email this guy who left an email address on a presentation on how to develop for Apple. He was an Apple evangelist.
Where did you meet this guy?
Do you think somebody can do this nowadays or is too saturated? This is unbelievable.
It’s what happens with real entrepreneurs. A lot of people sit and wait for things to happen and true entrepreneurs will go out and make it happen.
I can’t believe it. It’s not that difficult. What you did is simple, obvious, and crazy.
They called me and they said, “Corporates looked at it and they loved it. They want to come to the market. We’re going to help you a little bit with some engineering resources.” We went about and I put together a team and built the product up. I was going out to my design house as a summer picnic for the Fourth of July. I got a call from their head of retail from Apple, who had seen the product in their R&D with their R&D team. He said, “How many are you making?” He randomly called me. I was in the car legitimately on the side of the road and pulled over. His name is Doug Richardson. He said, “How many of these things are you making?” I said, “I can afford to make 5,000 or 10,000. That’s about where I have to tap out.” He goes, “We’ll buy all 10,000.” I’m like, “Excuse me?”
You don’t even know you could at that point. You’re just throwing a number out.
He said, “We’ll launch it in Apple retail for Black Friday.” This was in 2010.
Did you have a prototype made at this time?
Yeah. He was looking at a plastic one and rudimentary. Let’s put that.
How do you take this plastic thing that he’s looking at to sell 10,000? You don’t even have them physically perfected yet.A true entrepreneur is never 100% comfortable. Click To Tweet
I rallied the team. I drove everybody hard but they were all contractors at that time so they weren’t employees. We had meetings twice a day and I made sure they were holding each other accountable for whatever they said they were going to get done that day.
What were they? Designers? I have no idea who you hired to make something like that.
We hired industrial designers, electrical engineers, and embedded software engineers. We had an interesting company out in the Midwest in Illinois that did plastics. He was an interesting and cool guy. There’s a lot of referrals from different folks, Googling, calling and talking, and cold calling.
Thank God for Google.
That was a big resource.
You know how impossible people are going to be thinking. I don’t know if that could happen now.
It happens every day.
You’ve got this product. How long did it take you to make the 10,000?
I talked with him in July and by November, we had all 10,000 into their inventory. I had to drive around Apple’s campus with David Harrington, who is my lead contact there, getting it certified by all the different engineers.
Driving around going, “Here it is. Certify it.” Are you serious?
Paperwork that already drawn up by a lawyer and you’re just there to sign?
No. It’s more so that it worked with the Apple iPhone correctly. There are little boxes that say, “Made for iPhone and iPod.” We have those and they have to certify it. We did all that together. He was a great guy and he was a big help. I created great relationships. That’s what life is about. It’s about connections. We, like people, thrive on good connections and if you’re a good person, people recognize that. Good people attract good people, so you help each other.
I have to tell you, there’s not a lot of people that have that philosophy. Not in my world and not in the entertainment world. I was being honest.
I don’t have that much experience there, but I believe you.
You may. You never know where your life is going to go. How long was the whole process between you thinking of this thing, and then the day you’re barbecuing, walking around going, “This sucks because it doesn’t work on my phone,” to telling 10,000? You got all the paperwork signed and it’s on the market.
It was right around 9.5 to 10 months. It’s quick. Even by today’s standards, most R&D takes a lot longer. I call myself the grandfather of connected products because we were the first product that was ever launched where we had an app that worked with it. There was no other product back then that had a nest. The nest wasn’t around. No connected thermostats, devices, light switches, dimmers, or whatever it may be. There was nothing. It was the first thing. We are inundated with people calling us. I’ll never forget this one. I had a person that wanted me to make them a connected diaper. I was like, “Excuse me?” “I want to know when my kid goes to the back and whether it’s number 1 or number 2.” I was like, “I have no desire to do that testing, so we’re good.”
Now people are asking you to do testing for products to communicate with each other, the phone to communicate with whatever?
After we launched, yeah. That was the big thing because everybody had an idea of what they could connect. It was a new world.
That is unbelievable. What a story. When you say you launched, what does it mean? Apple launched you into the market with a splash of advertising and everything and they’re in store outside?
Yeah, they were in stores. I did a press release. I didn’t even do that. I had no marketing budget. I had no money. I was broke.
Apple was doing it for you, right or not?
No, they put me in their store, and then they did press releases with me or press junkets with me where they would bring in the press but we weren’t on TV ads until maybe 2011 to 2012 with them.
You were pushing it for a few years.
We had two years where we had it on our own. In my first press release, I woke up in the morning and I had 3,000 emails. I was like, “I must have been hacked,” but that’ll happen. It turns out, it was all order confirmation.
Was it a press release that Apple put out?
No. I put it out. I paid this woman, Karen Thomas PR, out of New York.
I need to hire Karen.
One press release and it blew up. We went to CES in January right after we launched in November. We were on the Today Show, Good Morning America, The Early Show, and CNBC. It was insane. I was up every morning at 3:30 to be on TV all day. It was fun.
That happened fast. Karen goes and puts out the press release. It was for a press release. It wasn’t one that Apple had done for you. Where did it go? What do you mean by the press? How far did it reach?
She went to her contacts at all the various outlets, Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, People, Entrepreneur Magazine, and all sorts of stuff like that.
You didn’t tell me that part. Those are big magazines.
I didn’t pay for it. It went to them like, “This is information,” and they decided to run with it as stories. We’re on The Today Show nine times.
That is unbelievable.
Hoda and Kathie Lee, Matt Lauer, Al Roker, we all have them.
You went on this whole tour of all the talk shows. One minute you’re there and a few years later, that’s where you are. How great is that? How does that feel?
It was surreal. I was quoted in Entrepreneur Magazine. We were given the most brilliant company or entrepreneurial company. Being on CNBC as a stockbroker was the end-all-be-all for me. That was a touchdown. It’s a whirlwind. We used to get a lot of pressure on our own, so it was a fun ride with that product. It was amazing.
Your family and friends gave you $200,000 and then all of a sudden, you start selling it. How does it grow from there? Who owns what? It went public, right?
No, we never went public. We sold it to Weber grills in 2016. I sold my next company to the public company, Hubbell. That owns it now.
That happens. The people that originally put in that $200,000, those are the people that own the company, and then you’ve sold it to Weber.
I had brought in more investors. I raised more capital because we kept building more inventory and more products that we added to the iGrill product line, and then we started building out more iDevices products around home automation. Apple asked us to join them when they launched home automation for Apple devices and home kits. iGrill was offered to be bought by Weber in 2012. I went there and sat there all day. Just me. Through numbers back and forth, I agreed on a number finally. It was $4 million and I was like, “That sounds good.” They did due diligence and closed a few months. Two weeks before closing, they go, “We’re not going to buy it.” I was like, “Okay.” If you get knocked down, you pick yourself up.
I want to get the facts straight though. This is when you were iDevices that you were selling it to a Weber and they said no or you were selling it to a different company?
To Weber. They said no in 2012 the first time. They had made a few bites at the Apple. I met them first when I first had a prototype and Apple introduced me to them through their app development team. They said, “You should talk to Weber because they would be interested in this.” I went out there and met with them and their family. It was a family-owned business at the time. They said, “We don’t see it. It’s not going to be a popular product. We don’t think it’s going to do much. It’s too expensive.” I said, “Okay. I appreciate it.” We launched and then we started killing it.
Apple took you anyways. That’s what happened. Apple ended up partnering with you.A lot of people sit and wait for things to happen. A true entrepreneur will go out and make it happen. Click To Tweet
Apple put us in the store and partnered us with some press and everything else. In 2012, they said, “Come back out. We agreed on that price.” They backed out. We went and continued to sell.
What did that feel like? $4 million is in your pocket one day and not the next.
Never count your eggs until they hatch.
I have never come across that much money in one paycheck and then all of a sudden, it’s gone. I would have a nervous breakdown.
Our people, too. We sat down and we figured it out. We know what we are going to do going forward. We were in a situation where we had to either go and raise more capital or pare back the company. That’s right around the time I got fired for the first time by my board of directors.
Your product is selling well at this point, isn’t it?
It is. We had a big return from Target. Target took 1.4 million of inventory of iGrill. They put it in their stores in a weird aisle with electric wires, charging cable and stuff, and sold nothing. The week later, they said, “We’re going to send you all back 1.4 million and you need to refund our money.” It was crippling to a tiny company. We could have gone bankrupt within a couple of weeks. My board of directors, which I had investors by then, we have raised probably about $6 million or $7 million in total. They said, “We’re going to put more money in, but here’s the deal. You’re going to resign as CEO and you can have some figurehead position. We’re going to bring in somebody else to run the company.”
You started the company. I don’t understand how that even happens.
It happens all the time.
Is this shouldn’t be in your contract before you hire these people?
They have voting rights and that’s the way it goes but I was a quick thinker. I’ve always been quick on my feet in terms of thinking of ideas. I had signed personally for some large loans for inventory because I had that Allstate insurance agency. It was an asset that produced good money. I said, “I’ll step down, but you all have to sign for those loans because I’m not going to be on the hook if I’m not running the company.”
They take the loans.
That was the only way I would do it and they said, “No, we’re not doing that.” I said, “I’m still CEO then and you have to figure out something else to do.”
How badly do they not want you to be CEO anymore?
Lo and behold, we took that deal and we sold the rest of the company to Weber in 2016. You would agree that it was his biggest mistake. Jim Stephen was the CEO at the time. He has a family memory. It’s one of his most expensive mistakes because they were acquired by Byron Trott and they were owned by Byron Trott’s organization and they had a new CEO. They ended up spending $47 million for the organization in 2016 and they could have bought it for $4 million in 2012.
Where are you at this point? You’re not the CEO anymore?
No, I am. They never kicked me out. They couldn’t do it. When I said that they take over the loans or else I’m not leaving, they said, “I don’t want the loans.” I said, “I’m not leaving.” That was the end of the conversation.
They were going to let you go and you had to take full responsibility for all those loans.
If I hadn’t spoken up and said something, they were expecting me to hold that.
I’m glad we’re having this interview, so anybody out there reading that is in Chris’s position, make sure you do what you did. That was the biggest, probably great decision that you did.
I had some good advice from a gentleman come in that was looking at investing but we weren’t fitting his investment profile. He said to me, “If you need cash, I get it. It feels like everybody’s coming down around you and they’re going to crush you.” He said, “Realize one thing. You control this.” I said, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “Nobody wants the keys to the kingdom.” They don’t know what the hell to do with it. You ask any investor or loan officer at a bank. You say, “Here are the keys,” and they go, “Let’s have a conversation and figure this out. I don’t want your business because I don’t know what to do with it.”
It all turned around.
It puts you in a position of power. You flip it.
How did you feel towards those people that tried to get you fired? You sell it and now you are all worth a lot of money.
They all went well. Everybody has their own viewpoint. They honestly took me out to dinner afterward and they said, “We’ve had a lot of investments.”
To say sorry?
They said they couldn’t believe that A, we got all the deals done that we did and they amassed the wealth they did but B, that I was always confident. Honestly, I’m not cocky.
I don’t think you are either from the little I know. I’m just saying. I did not sense that at all.
I’m confident that things are going to work out. It’s not necessarily a cockiness. It’s a general feeling that you’re never going to be beaten down and you’re not going to be able to rise up. They thought many times that their investment is going to Zippo. Lo and behold, they net out over $107 million on what was an aggregate $20 million in investment. They got five times return on their money.
What happened after that?
Once we sold iGrill, about a year later, we decided to run a process to sell the rest of the company, which was the home automation division that you saw on the show with dimmers, switches, and electric products. We put out a process and hired some investment bankers out of Silicon Valley. They found Hubbell which is right here in Connecticut. They’re a Connecticut-based company and they’re publicly traded. They came out and they fell in love with the technology and the team. The biggest thing for me with them was that they said, “We want to build upon what you’ve already got and this is giving us a jumpstart to get that going. You’ve got the tea and the infrastructure. This will give us a jumpstart in the market of connected space,” versus I had offers from Apple and from some other large companies. It’s more dismantling what I built and taking pieces of it, and then shedding the rest. I didn’t feel good about people losing their job because I sold my company.
That’s tough, too. You take all that into consideration as well.
I got teary-eyed when I was out at Apple because Apple asked us to come out to negotiate with them. We will pull out the entire team and we’re sitting there. I remember waking up at the hotel that morning looking in the mirror and going, “Do I want to do this?”
They’re offering a lot of money, right?
Yeah. Their quote was they have more money than God, so let’s not worry about the price.
At that point, you’re already doing well.
You’re attached to all of your employees, people that are working for you and your group, so now you’re faced with, “Do I?” That’s a tough decision.
I would have had to move out there, too. I’m not a West Coaster. I’m an East Coaster. It’s cool as it is out there. They have beautiful weather. I like my East Coast. We turned down offers.
That’s huge. Did you turn them down for that reason?
Yeah. They weren’t going to keep products alive. They were just going to get shelved. They kick and take some of the core team that they wanted, so it wasn’t worth it. It turned out okay at the end of the day. I’m happy with what we did. We took care of a lot of people and everybody’s good.
How do you go about making difficult decisions? Is there a process? It’s tough. I’m sure you’ve made some difficult ones.
I always struggle. To be honest, my biggest weakness is getting rid of people. I become attached to folks, and I’m loyal. Sometimes, you need to cut the cord. It’s for both people’s benefit. If it’s not the right fit, you need to let them go but I’d become attached and that’s the downfall. When it comes to big decisions, as corny as it sounds, I’ll talk to my folks spiritually. That gut instinct of what’s going to be right and what’s the right path for you presents itself in due time, so you go with it. That’s why I went with Hubbell because Hubbell came to me and they’re like, “We’re going to take care of your people. They’re going to get good benefits and good opportunities. We’ll raise them up and give them more access to more research and opportunities within the company.” That’s all we want.
What could you say to people out there that are reading struggling and they’re looking for that one big one major piece of advice from someone like you?You're never going to be so beaten down that you're not going to be able to rise up. Click To Tweet
I’m not that smart. It comes down to you what you said, you have to go out and do it. I don’t mean this in a condescending way, but I call them wantrepreneurs. They want to be an entrepreneur, but they’re not willing to do everything or put in the effort, time, energy, and take the risk on. There’s a lot that comes into being an entrepreneur. At the end of the day, you have to take on risk. You have to be willing to work long hours. They say you’re married to your business and you are married to your business, by and large, for the first few years at least.
I went through a divorce in the middle of building the business and raising two kids that were 7 and 8. It’s a hard thing. I was away a lot and I traveled a bunch. It sounds all cool and glamorous on the other side of it but there’s a lot of work that goes into it. The glamour gets people’s eyeballs big and excited but if you put in the work, there is a reward at the end of the day but it’s not immediate. It took me a while. It took 8 years to almost 9 years.
That’s the thing. There’s a lot of people out there, too, that I know. I have friends, too, that they have put 8, 9, 10, 15 years and it still hasn’t happened for them. I’m in the entertainment business, too. A lot of them keep trying and trying. When would you say it’s time to go in a different direction? I don’t want to say quit.
Quit is a definite thing. You definitely have to quit. You have to look at two things if you’re doing Einstein’s definition of insanity. You’re doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. You’re either doing something wrong in your own personal way, whatever you’re doing management wise, or your product isn’t meant to be successful. There are a lot of people that will hold on to the hope and dream but if the market or whatever market that you serve isn’t accepting your product, sometimes, it’s time to call it quits and cut your losses. It’s a super hard thing to do. I’ve done it.
You went through something like that before where you had to say, “I’m throwing in the towel. It’s time to move on.”
Yeah. I was mentoring this young guy. I put in some significant amount of money into the business and I thought that he was more business savvy and more of a hard worker. He turned out to be one of those wantrepreneurs and likes to talk a lot and do the talk but not doing walk the walk. I said, “We need a shutter. I’m not giving any more money. It’s time to call now and call this what it is.” It’s a defunct business and it’s not easy. I’m not as attached to something that I invest in as I am to something I created. We had a number of products within iDevices that we shuttered and we didn’t do, cool ideas but wasn’t the market part.
How does a company like that come up with the ideas? Is it like a think tank where you are all sitting around a table and you’re throwing out ideas? How do you finally decide to choose one? Because some of them probably seem crazy and they’re brilliant.
They used to call me Squirrel. I for sure have ADD and ADHD undiagnosed. My mind is always going so I’m always thinking of stuff. Not being classically trained from a college standpoint, my mind works a little bit differently than most. They have a process and methodology that they go through to develop a product. Mine is more out of necessity or gaps that I see in a marketplace that drives a need. iGrill was a gap in the marketplace because it created a better user experience. It created the ability to create this cool user interface.
That product was launched in 2012. On a Sunday afternoon, I get a text from my lead developer. He goes, “Mark Zuckerberg posted on his Facebook page that he’s grilling with an iGrill.” I was like, “Who’s Mark Zuckerberg?” I had a loop, but you look at those little things like that, that was a game-changer for us. It’s an amazing experience. It truly has been. Take it, run with it, go with it, and do what you can but you have to have that faith in yourself that at the end of the day, it’s going to be alright to carry you through. Don’t give up unless it’s time to give up. If your gut tells you to give up, then you got to give up or it’s indigestion.
Sometimes, it’s time to reinvent. Sometimes you’re reinventing at 35, 40, 50, or whatever.
You can do whatever you want. We invented. It’s changed. Nobody likes change. We’re a creature of habit. You can look at all the analytics around what you do every day, morning wake up routines, nighttime bedtime routines, even with the way you drive to work every day. They’re all routines that are embedded. To change anything in our lives is human nature that it’s hard. With hard choices come great rewards hopefully.
Get out there and try and take a few risks.
Go after it. Go do it.
Don’t let me pick your business partner. Anyways, I want to thank you for your time. This was great. There are people out there that are starting, looking for that niche that is needed in the market. There are some gaps even going through all of this. One last question. I got to ask you this. I’m thinking about this. I lost a ton of money in the stock market. I’m sure you lost more than I did, but it equates to the same amount with the amount. Any advice on what to do?
In terms of investing in the stock market, I always look for uniquely positioned companies that are taking advantage of some either new technology or filling a void in a marketplace. My best stock pick ever for some of my clients was a company called Abiomed. They’re out of Danvers, Massachusetts. I know for one gentleman, not mentioning any names, I bought probably about 150,000 shares of it at $10, $15, or somewhere in that number. This is going back when I was a stockbroker but we’re still good friends. He’s held that position and it went from being worth about a $1.5 million investment to $54 million to $55 million.
Did he invest over $1 million in one company?
Who does that? I’ve heard that’s the worst thing to do.
I do that all the time. I do it in my own portfolio. I treat it that way.
You like to take big chances.
I take a big risk to get a big reward. I don’t get excited with 78% growth year over year. I’m looking for 25%, 30%, 50% growth. I invested in marijuana when canopy growth was $7 and that thing went to $44. That was a hell of a win.
I know others that have lost a lot. I don’t even have the money to go buy new ones.
You have to look at what you have. If you have a portfolio of good companies. a lot of them have rallied back good. If you have a portfolio of crap companies, it’s an opportunity to maybe sell some of those and position your money with some quality companies. I’m a contrarian. I’ll buy airline stocks that are out of favor. They’re rock bottoms. I’ll throw some money in there and see if some of those guys pick up. People get back out and quarantines lift and start flying again. I don’t think the airline industry is dead. I want to fly and go to places.
I don’t think it ever will be. You got the safe one. You know we have to wear masks every time we fly?
How do you feel about that?
It’s super uncomfortable unless there’s an invention. You want to create a need or create an awesome mask that is super comfortable that doesn’t hurt your ears or your head over time.
That lets you breathe normally and you don’t feel like Darth Vader underneath it. I have a hard time breathing in that. Maybe because I don’t have the fancy one but I have the ones that my friends are making. I try to support them.
We did that. We support them. We made face shields at iDevices for all of my workers and we printed them. It was awesome. A lot of our engineers have 3D printers at home and they’re thinkers and makers. We all teamed up and we printed 6,000 face shields and donated them to the hospitals. I bought all the materials and paid for it all as a donation but they did all the work. It was cool.
That must make you feel good, too.
I always give back. That’s the thing. Pay it forward and give back. Those are the two life lessons.
Give back even when you don’t think you can.
We’ve all lost tons of money but there are people that have zero in the bank account and don’t have a way to put food on the table. That’s a super scary position to be in. It’s my obligation to be blessed. I’m obligated as someone who’s blessed to be able to do whatever I can to make sure that they’re okay. I will say that with the logistics company, those folks in the light of looking at not having a job, when I told them that they get out their full pay, their immediate thing was like, “How can I help others?” I said, “That’s all I’m asking for. Don’t sit home and do nothing. Therefore, go volunteer, buy groceries for the neighbor who can’t get out, mow their lawn, or whatever you can do. I don’t want you to sit home and collect a check, so figure out how you can do it.” They were super inspired by it.
They did that to owe it back to you because you’re technically still paying them.
Yeah, and they can’t work.
What do you say to your friends or business associates that have companies like yours that don’t have the same philosophy? You must be thinking about it. It’s hard for you not to sit them down and have a heart to heart.
Karma is a bitch. It comes back to bite you eventually. You can only have so much money, many houses, many cars, and do many different things. At the end of the day, you can’t take it with you. My father died when he was 56 and he was a superintendent of schools. He wasn’t a wealthy man and neither was my mother but they got a good whole life that granted was taken too soon, but they had the ability to pay it forward. Him through education and my mom was a big volunteer.
You saw that. That’s how you were raised.
Stop being greedy. The root of all evil is greed. There’s more than enough to share. The abundance of sharing will pay it back tenfold. It’s true. It may not be monetary, but the feeling and the relationships, it comes back way more than you ever asked for.
When people are fighting over toilet paper, there are lessons to be learned. Thank you, Chris. This was awesome. Break a leg with everything that you’re doing. I’m happy to know that you donated all of those masks and everything as well during this time. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep spreading all the good stuff.
Thanks for having me.
I’m on LinkedIn so you can always connect with me there and I’m always happy to help mentor, answer questions, or be a resource for folks if they need it. I’m not the brightest in the world but I have experience. I can share some horror stories on that alone.
I’d rather take not being bright and being successful. You got it, whatever it is. Do we look for you under Christopher Joseph Allen?
Chris Allen, iDevices will get you there. You can Google me, too. It will usually get you to LinkedIn. My Facebook is private, so you can’t go there. You can also go on Instagram, Christopher_Allen_Sr.
Until next time.
Thank you. Take care.