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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.