Jim Robeson is a 2013 alumnus of the Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program. While in MBET, Jim built his company, PiinPoint— an online platform that enables businesses to find the best location for expansion. Now, just over a year after graduating from the program, PiinPoint has proven to be a game-changer for business owners. Conrad's Marketing and Communication's Manager, Amanda Watkins, sat down with Jim to catch up, and to talk to him about his experiences as a student in the MBET program.
Amanda Watkins (AW): So, let's get right to it, how did you learn about the Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology [MBET] and why did you decide to apply?
Jim Robeson (JR): While doing an economic development certification program at Waterloo, an attendee told me about the MBET program. I was intrigued because I had come from an entrepreneurial family, and I had a dream of building my own business. MBET and Conrad spoke to my needs, it was what I was looking for.
I sat down with Doug Sparkes [Director of the MBET program at the time]. I was impressed with the course selection in MBET and the practicum, because of the ability to build a business over 10 months in the program.
The length of the program also appealed to me – one year of school while you could build your business at the same time was attractive. I didn’t want to spend too much more time in school, but I wanted to build my business.
AW: Talk to me about the impact of the MBET program on you and your career. Do any specific people, courses, or events come to mind?
JR: Nancy [Vanden Bosch]’s strategy classes were truly invaluable. I learned how to build a structure behind my idea.
BET 604 [New Technology-based Venture Creation] was also helpful. It allowed me the time to focus truly on the business and perfect the pitch, since I was forced to do the pitching. The whole concept of 604 was valuable, to have the ability to collaborate with others, create a joint venture, and bring on team members. It helped PiinPoint. I learned quickly what it’s like to work with other team members.
At MBET the focus was that it is up to you to build your own business, up to you to fix things on your own. This feeling pushed me forward. MBET taught me to be fearless, it gave me that hunger. If you want to make it work, you've got to go out and do it for yourself.
At the end of the day, I wouldn’t want to change how it [founding PiinPoint] happened. People can get comfortable at times when there is a safety net. You need that fear in you to go above and beyond. You’re investing your own money in the business versus just being in a regular master’s program. MBET pushes you to success.
Could there be different things added? Of course. However, MBET helped mold me into the type of entrepreneur I am right now.
AW: What has been different about what you do now in your career as compared to pre-MBET.
JR: Career wise before, it was a 9-5 job. I was part of a core team, but in terms of building something, I was building policies, and advocating. I enjoyed doing it, but it was a constant uphill battle. I wasn’t creating enough change, and my passion was somewhere else.
Now, I don’t work. I am doing what I love. I put in more time, but it’s something I’m creating from the ground up. I am building something I love, I am building something I believe in. I’m passionate, I’m determined to make this work.
A big difference is that no day is the same. I learn something new every single day. It’s exposed me to legals, fundraising, PR, sales, marketing, accounting … PiinPoint has opened me up to every aspect you would expect in a corporate job and more.
Doing everything from the ground up, you start at the very bottom. You're building and validating an idea, then you start to build your team, and suddenly you’re sitting down with C-level executives all over the world, pitching to them.
AW: Tell me about the successes in your career since graduating from MBET.
JR: Following MBET, I applied to Creative Destruction Lab, and was accepted in Fall 2013. We entered the Velocity Garage in October 2013, and were accepted into Y Combinator (YC) that November. PiinPoint won the Velocity Fund Finals in December 2013, and then attended YC. We hired several employees in January and have continued to build the team since.
PiinPoint now works with some of the largest retailers and real estate firms in the world.
We have raised funds from some of the most prolific investors throughout the world, which include Mike Stork, a well-known angel investor in Waterloo, Dan Deboe from Salesforce, and Garage Capital.
But our biggest accomplishment is the team that we have. The team we have built in 12 months is phenomenal– I could not be more proud of the people I get to work with every day. I’m very thankful for what they bring to the table and what they put in on a daily basis. If there has been one major accomplishment, it’s bringing together this team.
AW: What advice would you give someone in the MBET program today?
JR: I would say to surround yourself with people who are going to help you accelerate your company. Get out of the building and speak to potential clients to find out if you have a business that is solving a pain point. No idea is a bad idea, but you need to truly believe in what you’re about to embark upon or else you’ve already failed.
People get stuck in the thought pattern about ‘this is a cool idea,’ instead of ‘I’m solving a real problem, I believe in something, and believe in a way to make it better.’
The MBET program gives you an opportunity to focus on your own business for 12 months. Ask yourself what’s most important, having straight A's or building a business that you can walk away with? I focused on grades in the fall, and after that I focused more on PiinPoint. I learned that I needed to prioritize.
PiinPoint is an online platform that enables businesses to find the best location for expansion. The software can also forecast future sales, identify competition and target markets, and generate detailed analytical reports for the suggested location. PiinPoint is the next generation in location intelligence software.