Alex is a technology professional with a focus on markets in North America, Europe, and Asia, for products related to hardware communications, smart home, software, and the Internet of Things. He is the co-founder and CEO of Mercku; a leading communications company focused on smart home products and applications. In 2018, Mercku launched its Red Dot award-winning, second-generation mesh Wi-Fi system, the most powerful in the world. In 2019, Mercku will launch its third-generation IoT product, aimed at transforming the smart home industry through powerful indoor positioning technology. Formerly, Alex was a management consultant and he holds a BMATH from the University of Waterloo, a BBA from Wilfrid Laurier University and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Key Takeaways From Our Conversation
“I think you always start with what you’re good at. You always look at ‘what am I good at’ at the end of the day and how do I parlay that into something that’s going to be successful in the market. Once you identify your strengths, then you can determine what problems you can solve.” – Alex Qi
- The business model will be directed at solving a specific problem
- Your time is not divided between projects
- All your energy is driven towards your real passion
- A strong foundation is built to support future growth
- You can focus on developing your strengths
By establishing a core competency for your business, you are able to market yourself as the authority in a specific field.
In order to stand out amongst competitors, you need to offer something they cannot.
It is important to capitalize on your strengths.
Once you become a recognized expert in the field, opportunities for collaboration will find you.
“We have something that other companies have tried to do for years and years. Like Amazon, Google, big companies have tried to do it and they have not been successful. We can do it because we have the engineering talent to do it, and a lot of this is really like black magic. We have this really critical, core thing and we’re like ‘let’s just build on that’”. – Alex Qi
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Get in touch with Alex Qi
Resources · Transcript · Tell YOUR Story
To learn more about IoT visit www.mercku.com or send a direct email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Connect with Alex Qi in person at some upcoming conferences, including the CES conference in Vegas.
Unknown Speaker 0:00
Hey there. Welcome back to season one, Episode 12 of fascinating founders. I'm your host, Nicole Holland and I'm thrilled to be your guide as we dive in and uncover the stories that came before the success of some of the world's most fascinating founders. hailing from a multitude of industries and socio economic starts, you're going to learn what's made these fascinating men and women realise their dreams from an inspired idea to millions in revenue disrupting, innovating and impacting humanity for the better. You never know what's going to come up in our casual conversations. So get your notebooks ready cosy up with a great Cup of Joe and join us as I dive in to learn how these inspiring individuals have figured out how to thrive in a time where most people give up on their dreams. My guest today is Alex T, who is a technology professional with a focus on markets in North America, Europe and Asia for products related to hardware communication, smart home software and the Internet of Things. He's the co founder and CEO of marku, a leading communications company focused on small Home products and applications. In 2018. Merck who launched its red dot award winning second generation mesh Wi Fi system, the most powerful in the world. 2019 brought Merck who has launched its third generation IoT product aimed at transforming the Smart Home industry through powerful indoor positioning technology. Hello, Alex, thanks for being here.
Unknown Speaker 1:21
Hey, Nicole, how's it going?
Unknown Speaker 1:22
Going? Great. I would love to just give you a minute or so to tell our listeners like, where murukku is now and what you guys do, and then we're going to dive into your founders journey.
Unknown Speaker 1:37
Sure. Sounds good. So where to begin? I guess two years ago, we started two years ago on the basis that you know, a lot of people in Toronto and Canada all around the world have Wi Fi issues. And in 2019, that doesn't seem like an issue that a lot of people are facing, but in fact, one third of all households have a Wi Fi connection issues. So we thought it was a good way for us to get into the connectivity. industry, we have a lot of blackberry DNA, our founding team has over 400 patents in their name. And that's a lot more than a lot of companies have altogether. So, with all that technology, we're like, Okay, what problem can we solve today and Wi Fi just seemed like a really great way to start. And we've all dealt with a lot of Wi Fi issues in our own lives, right? I mean, buffering, Netflix, video calls, you know, there's a lot of issues out there. So we thought that was a really, really good place to start. We've launched two generations of weifare products at this point. Last year, our second generation the M to garner a lot of awards, it did very well in the market. And this year, we're actually taking our first step towards the smart home market or the autonomous home market and launching something completely different. And we're going to be tackling the problem of indoor home connections going forward. So we're taking a big leap in the company. And at this stage in this moment, we're very excited to launch something completely new. But that's a little bit of what murukku is doing now and where we've been in the past
Unknown Speaker 2:59
also I love it. So what happened before? marku? How did this company come to be?
Unknown Speaker 3:05
So great question. I think you always start with what you're good at. I think that's kind of what I would how I start that type of answer. I just think that you always look at, okay, what am I good at at the end of the day? And how do I then parlay that into something that's going to be successful the market, we're good at communications technology, like we're not good at a lot of other things, right. So if we're building furniture, or a building, like an online platform, we're not good at that doing that kind of stuff. But we're really, really good at the hardware store side of things. So I think with you know, decades of experience in our team, that's something we have identified to be like, okay, we have the strength. Now. It's like, Okay, what problems can we solve? It's like, okay, I can run really fast. Okay, that's great. But what problem can not solve right? Or you can be a professional athlete, but in our case, we're good at communications technology. So we looked at that as an asset. And then from a prompt standpoint, we're like, okay, we're good at communication technology. There's a need for communication products in the world. How do we create something that, you know solves a lot of pain points that people have. And I think that's how we created murukku and thousand 17.
Unknown Speaker 4:11
Cool. And when you say we how many co founders are there,
Unknown Speaker 4:14
we started off with a team of six people, myself included. So me and five other people, I was more on the product and marketing side of things, we have, obviously, a large portion that team above for them on the tech side of things. So as me on the marketing me on the sales, and on the product, and we have someone else on the operations, and we have four of them on come the tech side of things. So we're starting off with the company, you want to make sure that the initial team that you have is all really talented people, but all really good at what they do. We didn't have too many people that extended beyond kind of what they're good at. And I think that was actually a really important part of starting a company.
Unknown Speaker 4:49
So this is really interesting because usually when I speak with a founder, it's just them or them and one other person or maybe two other people, but six people together. That's a lot of people for starting something new. How did you find it to be in terms of like? Was there somebody who kind of live spearheaded the idea? or How did you come to start with this idea? with six individuals? Like Did you already know each other? Like how did all that work out?
Unknown Speaker 5:22
That's a great question. And I think four of us has actually worked together before on a separate company. So we actually started working 2015 on a company called Haiku, which is in the media space. And we found that that space was incredibly interesting. And the growth patterns were incredibly strong, and we were doing really well but we found it incredibly hard to scale us because at that time, we were doing something called OEM, which is, stands for original equipment manufacturer, but basically we're just white labelling our products for, you know, TV stations, and it's good but it's a project based organisation which is really hard to scale. So we love what we're doing the four of us and then We had the opportunity to kind of combine that team that we had with another kind of technology that was already out there with two other people. So the two other people they were working, you know, within a company in developing Wi Fi solutions. So at that point, we thought it was a perfect marriage between kind of what we built on the infrastructure software side. And then they had some really great stuff on the hardware side. And then we thought, why don't we combine our forces and solve a bigger problem together? in a weird way to answer your question, Nicole, we all didn't know each other from a from a long time ago. But I think that having a bigger founding team allows you to capture a lot more of the day to day stuff with more expertise. And you don't have one person or two people stretching themselves too thin. And you know, for going any kind of opportunities in any space.
Unknown Speaker 6:47
Amazing. I love that. It's definitely new on the show. All right. So when you think back What was your first entrepreneurial endeavour? Like when did you get bit by the bug if you did, or how did you come To be an entrepreneur,
Unknown Speaker 7:02
it's an interesting question. I think my first time was sales in a. And when I was in university, they had these nodes, the school in Waterloo, which is not too far from where you are not too far from where I am now. But they had these Co Op programmes where you get to spend four months and work for a company. And luckily, I found in my third term, a really great opportunity thousand eight to work in a company that was a startup and stops really interesting because I think the structure of startup is so different than that of a big company. I think we work in a big company. It's like you are a workhorse in a way. You want to run at the pace that everybody else is running at. If you're running too fast, you're running too slow. Then you got to fit in more than fitting out. That was great. But working a startup, it's like you get to be a racehorse, you get to kind of drive this you have to have a lot of things you can control. So in 2008 I was helping out with with another founder that was doing something really really cool. He was building these big like testing chambers in his garage out of wood that was better performing than Any other system on the market? So basically, Nicole would be like you and I building a car this weekend out of wood that was more fuel efficient than like a BMW. Right? So he was doing some really, really cool things. And I was like, wow, okay, this is something new. Right? And how many times in your life do you get a chance to work with someone like that? So I had a chance to work with him for three years on that specific project. And last year company wasn't, you know, incredibly profitable. I think they have some really big things planned as well, next few years. But we ended up staying in touch in 2014. When I decided to try something new. He was actually my first investor. So I think that that kind of came full circle in a way but I think the entrepreneurial world is so great because you have all these things within your control. Whereas if you're working in other environments, you'd also have that but it's controlled within a large organisation. You play a piece of the puzzle, but with an entrepreneurial mindset, you are like, in a lot of ways, the main positive Everybody's own puzzle. And how did these puzzles all together to form a bigger picture? Right? in that kind of environment really exciting.
Unknown Speaker 9:07
Very cool. Once you had that experience at the startup and with your friends, you got funding from him. What was that first endeavour that you went off on your own for
Unknown Speaker 9:19
that was a media company. Oh, that was a media competence. Yeah. Yeah. So so that was actually really interesting, because in 2014, I watched about Asia for a few years to do it. I remember at that time, you know, I was doing something that was a little bit more stable. I was in consulting for a little bit. And I was supposed to do my MBA and more of a traditional kind of background. But I said, you know, let's just try to go to agency what this thing becomes. So I just personally did like little roadshow within Asia. We talked to 25 you know, TV directors, some for the biggest shows in Asia. There's one show called The voice. I think I ran this as a little bit as well, but in Asia was watched by like 50 million people. And after that meeting with that director on the way at the airport, the director texted you know, our person there This is the coolest thing I've ever seen. So at that time, we're doing this app that allow you to kind of interact with the TV show as is going on. Even 25 different directors 22 of them. So around 90% 88% said that this was like the coolest thing, they would work with us if we were a company. So then I was like, Okay, this thing might work this, you know, this is a maybe not like a pipe dream. And so I kind of cancelled all my other plans and stay in Asia for a little bit to work on the project and ultimately became kind of what we want to become. So I think that was how we got started with media part of things and is really kind of something that we were lucky to be a part of.
Unknown Speaker 10:34
So if I'm getting this right, then you had this idea, this thing that you could do, and you were talking with the different programmes, and you just weren't big enough for them to invest in as it was that you had to create a company out of that.
Unknown Speaker 10:49
Yeah, I mean, it wasn't something that was kind of fitting within the organisation. And at the time, we didn't want to be just working with one TV station either. For a big TV station, like let's just say it's it doesn't bigger ones in Asia, but in North America be like an NBC, for example, right? Or ABC, Disney plus they have their own teams. And Charlie does a lot of different things, there was nothing that we can really bring to them on the tech and platform side. We were good at the interaction side. So that was something that we were like, okay, so we do have that specific value add, but it wasn't a value add that we felt like we want to stick with just one TV station, we want to have that kind of technology, and then run that as a solution for a lot of different other TV stations. So I shout our peak, I think we work with like 10 different TV stations within Asia, all kind of running our system at the same time. It was something that I think that we wanted to have the independence to kind of pursue kind of the the clients that we wanted to pursue, but at the same time, that's also the other part of the challenges like when you're pursuing different clients, you're also project based company, and to scale you have to hire more people. It was something that it was a double edged sword. So part of it, you get the independence. But the other part of it is that you get kind of limited by kind of the outreach. You can have
Unknown Speaker 11:59
got it So is that company still in existence today? Or are you all in on market? We're
Unknown Speaker 12:05
all in. I mean, the company is still there. But we've since kind of let some other people run it. So we've stepped away from the day to day operations from a company and focus perspective, I really think that a lot of founders can only focus on one thing. I know there's serial entrepreneurs out there, I can never imagine myself being one of those guys. Because I just think that like, even with this thing that we're doing, there's so much stuff to think about on a daily basis. And we're splitting that time between a lot of different projects. I just can't fathom how that can work. So I think from our perspective, now, in our perspective, kind of going forward, we are totally kind of focused on the Smart Home area, doesn't mean that we're not thinking about the media thing in the future. We do see a future where hardware and software on the media side is integrated into one thing, and I think that day or that, you know, product is not too far away. We've started whiteboarding some of this stuff as well like internally about how to have that like in you know, localised, Storage broadcasts where we call it content and have that, you know, built within the scope of like a home environment. So that's not far away. But in terms of kind of what murukku is focused on, it is connectivity, this smart home and going back to your original question, right? It's like the whole thing of, you gotta do what you're good at doing. Right? So I know, I'm not a super good artist, or creative person in that sense. I'm going to do product, I'm not going to draw pictures, right. So I think those are things where you have to kind of stick to what you're good at. And I think that's something we really kind of focused on. That's
Unknown Speaker 13:30
fantastic. Very cool. So when you realised that where you were at was going to be challenging to scale, and that you didn't want to focus there and you wanted to focus elsewhere? And you made that decision? What were some of the key takeaways, the key lessons that you learned in going from where you were to building to scale on the Mark husa
Unknown Speaker 13:59
on the micro side, With media, I mean, when we're doing the media company at certain point, we have trouble scaling. And we thought, okay, we have something good here. But we can't get it to a point where we need to get to be sustainable. And there's another article that came up, why don't we have it? I know that's an overused word. But it says that's kind of what we did. But I think the really inflection point took about, I would say, almost like half a year to a year where we realised Okay, so we had this project going on. And that time, we were turning down projects as well. And it's hard to turn down a project when they were over half a million dollar projects, like if it's a small project and easy. Like, we can't do that project because of our time frame, things like that. But when they TV stations, like we like you guys, we want you guys do is project is, you know, X amount of whatever it is, and it's going to take your whole team eight months to do it. Yes or no. And that point, I think there are some solutions that we're thinking about whether it's to hire people to outsource that. There's other options we can do. But in terms of kind of long term sustainability. I think it was something that we said okay, this business model from a project consultant perspective is is not going to fly from where we want it to go. And not only that as the rest of the world's improving as well, because we came in 2014. At that time, people are still watching TV, like live TV. Now it's crazy to think about any kind of show being something that you can watch live, right. You know, a lot of people say like Game of Thrones was like the last show where people watched it as it happened. Right now, every show you download Ustream, you binge watch. So I think the rest of the rows also shifting towards that as well. Okay, so we have to invest a lot more into this space to really kind of establish that Domus there's a lot more of a chain there as well. And we looked at some other competitors, we're raising up and we're saying, okay, we want to work with these guys. And there's a lot of competitors that we're actually talking to at that time that, you know, want to work with us. But then in terms of kind of collaboration with them, that would be another, you know, half a year, year down pipe. And it just at that time, the other opportunity arose on the hardware side, where it was proven, it was kind of, you know, they just wrapped up a first generation hardware product at that time, and we're like, Okay, this is great. This is a great foundation. To, to move into something that you know, to capitalise something core that we have. And I think that's what Haiku, that's one of the things looking back on it. It's like knowing what you're good at. And with Haiku, we were good at the creative product part of things. But we didn't have anything necessarily as like a core competency. Now with murukku, I think that stores flipped 180. Because we have something I work with that other companies have tried to do for like years and years like Amazon, Google, big companies have tried to do and they've not been successful. So we can do it because we have the engineering talent on our team to do it. And a lot of this is really, really like black magic. So we have this really critical core thing. And we're like, okay, let's just build on that. And at Haiku. Something we had a lot of product was a lot of, and I think a lot of startups So you talked a lot of founders go through this issue is like the customer acquisition cost is so high. How do I grow a business it's gonna take $5 per customer on average, I'm going to grow 2 million that means it's a $5 million investment. And there's this whole like calculation behind it, but he has something Critical, then you have something really crucial the advantage like in the market they can really capitalise on. So I think that was the main decision for us at that point, like, okay, we have something really critical here. Let's just play with this. It's not a shiny new toy, but let's drive this car as far as you can go with it. I think that's kind of proven the past two years to be a successful decision.
Unknown Speaker 17:20
That's amazing. Thank you. That's fantastic. That was like huge. I
Unknown Speaker 17:25
just thought for a long time. It's
Unknown Speaker 17:28
really good. So we are really kind of out of time. And I just wanted to make sure before we go, I ask you one last question and give you the opportunity to share any last words of wisdom and anything you want to tell my listeners about how they can connect with you further. I'm wondering if you could just sum up your very best business advice in 60 seconds or less for somebody who wants to follow in your footsteps who wants to just like download your learning and accelerate their company? What would you suggest to them?
Unknown Speaker 18:01
I mean, I'm in my early 30s, nicollet, all most of you know, the downloadable stuff other people need to have in their life because I think it's an exploratory process. I think you're faced with all these challenges, whether it's in work or in your personal life or anything, all these challenges are going to come up, it's more so how you can deal with these challenges and be flexible and listen to other people, or listen to the market or listen to your customers. I think that's a really big thing, and really kind of be flexible in that way. Right? Because I think like the pitfalls that people have, it's like, Okay, I'm sticking to this one path. I'm going to build a black Model T Ford, and you can have any colour as long as black. That's not gonna fly today, because you have to really listen to what customers want to do. Right. So I think I'm still downloading that stuff myself. I'm still trying to listen to you know, yourself and other founders and other products and other companies. I've been really successful and just listen to kind of what you guys have done as well because I think that flexibility is going to be the really important thing going forward for any kind of company.
Unknown Speaker 18:58
Beautiful. listeners want to explore marku or connect with you further, what would you love for them to do?
Unknown Speaker 19:05
Our website is www.mercury.com You can also send us an email at connect and Mercury calm as well. And, you know, reach out if you have any questions or want to learn more about IoT we're going to be at a few conference coming up including the CES conference in Vegas. We just got a notification that we were one of the honorees for the CES award till 2020. So we're pretty happy. I literally came in and half an hour ago I'm not your own choking. I don't know I'm supposed to tell you guys but
Unknown Speaker 19:35
it's out there now. But yeah, so so i think you know, come visit us see us come to those any conference over coming up and shoot us an email. there's any questions. Thanks again to Alex for being my guest on today's show and for sharing his bounders journey with us. We'll have links for you to connect directly with him as well as resources, discuss the full transcript and more at fascinating founders.com today is the final episode of season One and I hope that you have enjoyed this show. As much as I have enjoyed bringing it to you, I would love it. If so, go over to iTunes sorry Apple podcasts. Now I've been in the business for a little while so it's changed names, Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcast. leave us a review, let us know how you are enjoying the show. let others know if it's for them. The more sincere and authentic you can write a review of fascinating founders, the more helpful it will be to others. And I appreciate it so much. This has been a labour of love. And we've got more great things more great interviews more great, inspiring, fascinating founders coming up in season two and beyond. So stay tuned for that. Make sure you're subscribed so that you don't miss a thing when we do release Season Two Also, if you yourself are a fascinating founder and you would love to be a guest on fascinating founders or if you would just like to get your name out there as a guest on podcasts that your ideal buyers are listening to. Hey, that's what I do. So come on over to fascinating founders calm you're going to find the form to fill out if you'd like to apply to be a guest as well as links to connect with me and yeah, see how we can help you do interviews that convert to grow your business through podcast guesting and more until season two. I wish you all the best and look forward to connecting with you on the other side.
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