Jeff Wilkins, CEO of Motili, has turned $1 million of personal investment, along with his co-founder, into $80 million in revenue. Pretty capital-efficient, this entrepreneur’s journey!
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start with where your story begins. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Jeff Wilkins: I grew on the East Coast. I was born in Bethesda, Maryland, outside of Washington DC and moved around a lot as a kid. I spend time in Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.
I went to undergraduate school back on the East Coast. I went to Duke and majored in Electrical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering. I then went to the West Coast. I was at Stanford and pursued a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA.
Sramana Mitra: How about the timeframe?
Jeff Wilkins: I’m 57 now and went off to college in the fall of 1980. My entrepreneurial sense started in Silicon Valley. I worked in Silicon Valley for a number of years. I ended up going to Austin, Texas, in 2000 and then Colorado at the end of 2008. I’ve been in Colorado for about 10 years now.
Sramana Mitra: When did you start Motili?
Jeff Wilkins: Motili was incorporated in May of 2015. It’s a little over four years old.
Sramana Mitra: What’s the genesis of Motili?
Jeff Wilkins: I started and sold eight companies.
Sramana Mitra: In that case, we should go a little bit more chronologically. What happens after you come out of Stanford?
Jeff Wilkins: I mentioned that I was doing Electrical Engineering at Stanford as well. I went and helped start a company called Corazonics, which made cardiovascular medical device equipment. High-resolution EKG is a more specific area.
The company was eventually acquired by ART. It’s probably best known for being involved in a landmark patent infringement case. Back in the mid-80s, software was not patentable. You had to have things that were physically realizable.
There was a bias against the algorithmic approach to things. That was the subject of patent coverage. Software was copyright coverage. They were distinct worlds. Corazonics was involved in analyzing high-resolution EKG signals.
Without getting into any particular technical details, our algorithm was thought to be infringing by another company. That went to District Court. That became an interesting piece of foundational IP in the support of patents for software – Corazonics versus Arrhythmia Research Technology.
We were on the losing end of that. Being someone who claims that that shouldn’t be patentable, we ended up paying them license fees and a bunch of other things. That was the genesis of that business. Ultimately, we were acquired by another medical device company.
Sramana Mitra: What timeframe are we talking now?
Jeff Wilkins: This would be in the 1985 to 1986 timeframe.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do after that?
Jeff Wilkins: I went back to Stanford Business School. I wanted to get a little bit more business experience. I was an engineer at Corazonics and started to see that the technical aspects of the job were important, but there was a whole wide world of topics related to entrepreneurship that I really had no clue about. I ended up going back and enrolling in the MBA program at Stanford in the Fall of 1986. I graduated in June of 1988.
Sramana Mitra: What happens after you come out of Stanford?
Jeff Wilkins: At that time, you wanted to work in the Valley. Back in 1988, one of the hot companies who was pushing the envelope for computer technology was Sun Microsystems. I was a Product Manager at Sun for three and a half years.
I had a chance to launch some very big products. These were products that sold more than a billion dollars a year in revenue and had a worldwide distribution. There are always challenges around end-of-lifing the old model and ramping up the new model.
It was a really interesting learning experience. It was not one that was well-grounded in a new employee on-boarding program. I remember when I went on the first day, I was asking about things. This guy just said, “If your boss calls you, get their name.”
There weren’t a lot of dead sea scrolls telling you how to do things. You had to go into an environment that was growing hundreds of employees a month. I actually liked that. It was stimulating in a lot of ways. You went home energized even if you were a little confused. I enjoyed the time I had there. There is no substitute for the wildfire exercises of doing real products.
Our conversation continues here.
This segment is a part in the series : Best of Bootstrapping