Frank Levinson is a PhD in astronomy who went on to start a company which develops optical communication components. His company Finisar was the first in the industry to break into the big league manufacturing a particular kind of optical components. At the Nasscom Product Conclave, Levinson shared his views on how startups need to bootstrap and survive the growing years.
Why will anybody work with you when you are a startup?
Because I have good technical competence, good ideas, and customers are willing to trust.
What’s your favourite quote?
The one from Dwight Eisenhower: “I have not seen a plan that’s worthwhile but it’s the act of planning which will get you through.”
What was your biggest challenge in Finisar?
We were using a laser device manufactured by a Japanese company who had tested it for long-life capabilities. This was part of our optical component we were selling to another Japanese major. In 1995, we hit a situation where in a batch all the laser devices which were tested for long-life capability were dysfunctional and we lost our customer.
Why did you change from engineering services to a product?
We could never scale with services
How do you retain the team?
What engineers want is the belief in your vision. Esops and other tools work but they are not the end all.
I have a great algorithm and a great potential customer who may not understand it which one a should I choose?
When failure hits...
We should own it up. I make sure I don’t make the same mistakes. To avoid it in the first place, ask people what are you are really doing wrong.
How do you transition from services to products?
In our case, every 6 months we sat down and said we want to get to do product. We told ourselves not to get too comfortable with services. We succeeded after 6 years.
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