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When F. Scott Moody rolled out a venture called AuthenTec in 1998, he did so in a town a good deal smaller than Wilmington. Melbourne, Fla., today has about 77,000 residents, but since Apple’s acquisition of the mobile security company last year (in a $356 million deal capturing its fingerprint security sensor technology to improve products like the iPhone), a number of these smaller-town folks can say they work for one of the world’s largest innovators.
Moody, now an advisor and mentor for startups who was in the Port City on Wednesday for a talk with local entrepreneurs and idea people, said he can see advantages and challenges this area has in its bid to grow as a tech and innovation hub. In an interview with Port City Daily in the recently opened UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) business accelerator, Moody weighed in on the possibilities here and offered his perspective on what it takes for a startup to fly.
The following is a truncated version of that interview.
What is your visit to Wilmington all about?
It was at the invitation of Jim [Roberts, CIE’s executive director] a few months ago, and really focused on just the whole idea of entrepreneurialism and startups. I had originally moved from Florida up to the Triangle area, really because of the positive entrepreneurial ecosystem they had there. And what I’ve really discovered is that that’s relatively true throughout North Carolina. You know, there’s a real focus of people to help startups, to mentor the entrepreneurs in the community, both in programs like this as well as the university system–for example, UNCW.
When I was asked [to appear in Wilmington], I really have a goal to help startups and entrepreneurs and I took the opportunity.
Plus, the fact of the matter is I was raised on the beach, lived on the beach most of my married life, moved to Raleigh in December, and given the opportunity to come to the beach [laughter], I definitely took it.
Wilmington is trying to stand a little bit taller than it has in recent years in terms of innovation, technology, entrepreneurship. What are your impressions of this facility, the CIE?
I was very impressed. You know, the people that I’ve already met, the physical space itself. To some extent, there’s this idea of clustering around entrepreneurship, whether it’s a downtown area, whether it’s an incubator, whether it’s an innovation center. Where’s the opportunity that you have to go meet other like minds? It’s not always about a mentor or a speaker. It’s just the opportunity to speak and be with people that in essence think like you, that have common problems that you can talk about. Without a place like this, there’s nowhere to go.
It’s very difficult to find, because, you know, there are offices throughout the area, and once in a while maybe somebody might have a little cocktail affair, but it’s full of 15-second conversations. I think something like this is really important. It’s kind of like a home for people to go to, to have the opportunity to meet like-minded people. And then you throw in the mentoring, the talks, the so on and so forth. And I think it’s critical to have that.
As for being in an environment of like minds, for Wilmington, one part of the conversation is trying to attract people to this area that can kind of help form a core, a cluster, a tech culture, satisfy tech hiring and so forth. How do you sell that, versus–say, if I’m a technology guy, I might want to be just in the Raleigh-Durham area versus a city like this. How does a community build up a core?
I think you just talked about it. Really, in things like this … I actually think it’s to, you know, grow up. And, really, you have to incubate it from the area itself. I think it’s very difficult to convince someone from San Francisco or Raleigh to do their startup here. Why? Because they don’t know anybody here. They don’t know the investors, they don’t know any of the startups, and so on and so forth. So the opportunity is to raise it up here, and once that startup is started up, you do have the opportunity to recruit in talent, which is different than recruiting [a startup] here. You can hire engineers from, you know, some of the best universities in the state … and it is a very positive environment being here at the beach.
Melbourne was where AuthenTec was. We’re smaller than this, right? Much smaller than Wilmington. It was very difficult to recruit people. But once they moved in, they never moved. You had a long-term employee, and that’s a real positive for a company. So there’s a lot of good reasons why somebody wants to move here. But I do think you have to raise up the startups from the talent [already] here.
Are incubators and business accelerators becoming more of a standard in communities across the country?
Like everything, I think what happens is you see some successes and then everyone else jumps into the game…. An accelerator–there’s a million of them right now, because they’re trying to figure out–you know, they’ve seen some successful ones … and they’re like, ‘Well, let’s go do that.’ Right? ‘And so what we’ll do is we’ll put some people in a room, we’ll give them $50,000, we’ll take 7 percent equity, and you know what our job is? It’s to put as many [startups] through here as possible, and hopefully one or two of them will take off.’ For some of them–that’s not all of them–for some of them, that’s the mentality. An incubator like this [at CIE], it’s not about just making those investments. It’s what we were talking about before: growing, incubating it, growing the baby from the womb here–not recruiting in a new child.
… But it does take a while. These are very brand new startups, right? People think that these things are instantaneous successes, and they’re not. Right? And it takes from the start, on average, if you’re going to make it, eight years to have some level of success. So it is an investment, but it is an important investment, because these are the things that generate, these are the things that grow, and they do generate a lot of jobs and they do generate other startups.
How long did it take you before you felt like you’d really kind of arrived with your business?
I’m hoping tomorrow [laughter]. I don’t know. I find it all a little embarassing right now. I think founding CEOs get too much credit for what is clearly a team sport. I never really considered myself, considered the company, successful. There is no answer. We had a lot of wins. Whether it was a new company, new customer, a fundraising, the IPO, the sale. I said earlier today there was a real feeling of our original vision coming true when the iPhone 5s came out. Because they can take [AuthenTec’s product, the fingerprint sensor] places that we couldn’t. Our dream originally wasn’t about money or anything. It was about how do we take this product ubiquitously? How do we make a difference in people’s lives? When you see it on that, that is making a difference, right? That was like, ‘Hey, that’s pretty cool.’
In the process of actually trying to get to your first big win, what advice can you give to an entrepreneur who hasn’t caught a break yet? Maybe with the filter of failure, loss, when you were going through AuthenTec, for instance.
I don’t believe in failure. I think it’s some silly word. To me, ideas fail. Products fail. Companies fail. And I’ve spent time in Rwanda and I’ve watched the whole country fail. But people don’t fail unless they give up. Otherwise, it’s just an experience. Michael Jordan missed a lot of shots. I don’t think he was a failure. There are things I could have always done better but, you know, you just keep plugging along, and it’s back to the first part of your question. What advice can I give somebody who’s looking for that first break? The harder you work, the luckier you get. Don’t doubt it for a second.
[CIE’s Jim Roberts interjects] You know he’s from here, too, by the way. Michael Jordan.
[Moody continues, laughing] Oh, is he? I didn’t know that. I didn’t make that analogy on purpose. It’s just a very natural analogy to make when you’re talking about a great athlete, right? But the fact of the matter is you just keep plugging along, and it doesn’t mean you change your vision or change various things, but it’s just an experience. ‘I lost that, let’s go get the next one.’ You go home, you’re upset about it. But you don’t go home and say, ‘I’m a failure, I’m going to give up, I’m going to stop.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, we didn’t win that. What are we going to do next?’
But doing a startup, what I think people might not understand, and they need to understand in the beginning, is it’s an unbelievable amount of hard work. An un-be-lievable amount of hard work. You live it. When you’re not at work, you’re thinking about it. When you’re on vacation, you’re thinking about it. You think about it all the time. And it is a tremendous amount of work and you have to be ready for that level of work.
[Moody gestures to the tall Roberts] All you tall guys were athletes right? I would have loved to have been an athlete. If I was taller, faster–really had any athletic ability whatsoever–I could have easily been that athlete, and the coach running up and down the sideline throwing my hat down. But I’m not. Work is my sport. It’s the thrill of victory, agony of defeat. It is not by far the most important thing in my life. That’s God and family. But I like work. And that’s what keeps me going when we stumble. So, to me, I almost never even saw it as work. It was kind of just what I did, and I enjoyed it.
Moody went on to say he gave serious consideration to retirement in recent time, but he couldn’t break his drive. Just this week, he launched a new company, called K4Connect.
So far, its only easily found presence is on Twitter, @K4Connect.
Asked about the company, he said he wasn’t ready to divulge much more than the foundational idea: our lives are increasingly connected, but there must be a better way to live with that, “without technology being a hassle.
“We hope to have our first product out next summer.”
Moody is also managing director of startup-mentoring and investment firm First Talent Ventures. He is found on Twitter at @fscottmoody.