Gain deeper knowledge through our adaptive insights™ communities. See the world through your customer's eyes.

Back To Views

Rebranding in the Real World: Eric Sugalski, Founder and President of Smithwise

June 30, 2016

In this week’s episode, Eric Sugalski speaks about the recent rebranding process that took his company from Boston Device Development to Smithwise. We examine the nuances of rebranding in practice and discuss best practices. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!

Podcast: Download Subscribe: iTunes | RSS

Podcast Signup


Eric Sugalski: Coming up with a brand, it should really be sort of distilled down to one, single idea. And for us, that idea was the concept of transformation.

Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all. This is Real World Branding, I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premiere, boutique branding agency. Thank you for joining us. Today’s guest, really good guy, super smart guy, very high energy. If I had any of those attributes, I’d be a lot better off. But Eric Sugalski, the founder and President of Smithwise, is going to speak with you a little bit about his experience, about what they do. They’re a product … I’ll let him tell it actually. It’s probably more interesting in the work they’re doing. But I think most interestingly perhaps for the Real World Branding audience is a path to rebranding that Eric and team have just gone through and that he will reflect on. So enjoy your time with Eric Sugalski.

So we’re sitting with Eric Sugalski, who runs Smithwise, we’ll get into that. We’re sitting in this incredible space at 3001 Market, I think, right across from the train station and burgeoning University City in West Philadelphia in this medical innovation space called Plexis, I guess, which brings together really fascinating early stage sort of medical device and other innovation driven types of companies. The atmosphere is exactly right. Thanks for being with us.

Eric: Sure, it’s my pleasure. I’m a long term fan and listener, so it’s a privilege to be part of this.

Bill: That’s all it takes. And for the record, Eric is highly energetic and he’s … I wish I had any of his both kind words as well as personal qualities. We’re glad to have you and it’s been a thrill to get to know you as our companies have worked together. I think we’re certainly going to get into the transition that you all have made. But if you don’t mind, if we could start … You’ve had a very interesting journey both educationally and professionally. You want to kind of take us through the highlights of that?

Eric: Yeah, of course. So my background is in engineering. So I started off, I went to school at University of Colorado in Boulder and-

Bill: Not a fun place is what we’ve heard.

Eric: No, definitely not.

Bill: Hit the books.

Eric: No mountains or anything. So it was a great spot for me, just kind of getting out and doing my own thing in a different area. I grew up in the Philadelphia area, so getting out west was an excellent opportunity. And you know, I knew from the beginning, ever since high school years, I was a builder. I liked to be creating things and so engineering was the path that I found-

Bill: Engineers drive trains? Is that what you all do? Wear those cool hats and stuff?

Eric: That’s right.

Bill: Nice.

Eric: Yeah. So I got involved in, it was the mechanical engineering school at Boulder, and when I was there, we had a couple of design projects where they would give us some project to be taking on and we would assemble a group of other engineers and, you know, go through the process of developing prototypes, doing some design work, understanding things from user perspectives. And that was kind of my first taste of product design, which is the field that I’m in right now. And while I was there, one of my professors, he shared with our class this video. It was a video of a shopping cart and the shopping cart was sort of being redesigned by a company called IDEO. And IDEO kind of took the old shopping cart, the old plastic frame with wheels, and was tasked with how do you completely reinvent this old shopping cart?

Bill: That’s fascinating.

Eric: They had a two week, maybe it was only a one week, time span that they could do it in. And they went through the process of building up prototypes, coming up with new features, new functionalities, new use models. And after I saw that shopping cart video, I was hooked onto this concept of product design, you know? How do you take these interesting ideas or these household items and how do you make them better? How do you improve them for daily use? So I went back to my professor at that point and I said, “This is amazing. How do I get involved in this line of work?” And fortunately, he put me in touch with some of the folks that he taught who were now directors at IDEO.

Bill: Perfect.

Eric: Yeah, so it was really fortunate for me. I was lucky to have that opportunity.

So I started out at IDEO, which was in their Chicago office, and it was an incredibly creative atmosphere, just a melting pot of different disciplines. So it wasn’t just engineers, there were folks that had more of an art background that were dealing with more of the aesthetics of products and some of the usability aspects. They had anthropologists on staff that really understood the sort of cognitive science behind products and, you know, the psychology behind how you use products. There were people that focused on business, you know, business factors. So pulling all of these different groups of people together inside of one company resulted in very unique perspectives and fresh thinking on some big challenges for healthcare, for consumer products.So for me, that was just a great creative foundation. And I had a really wonderful experience there.

After IDEO, I moved on to another company in the Chicago area. It was a company called insight, product development. There I got to work on a lot of medical devices, specifically, some large capital equipment that would be installed inside of hospitals, some surgical devices, really getting into the nuts and bolts of engineering and of product design, getting things into manufacturing, getting them all the way through and going through the design process there. While I was at Insight, they asked me to leave their Chicago office to go to the Boston facility in order to help grow their engineering team and help lead the office there.

Bill: More of an opportunity than a rejection of you being close [crosstalk 00:06:43].

Eric: True, yeah. Right, right. So it was a great opportunity and I jumped on that and I was out in the Boston area for a little while, about five years or so. And while I was there, I got involved at MIT. There were a couple of undergraduate courses that were focused on product design and these courses were bringing in people from industry, like myself, that had practical experience on designing products, and they paired us with some of the faculty from the university that were coming at it from more of a theoretical angle.

Bill: Yeah, right.

Eric: And while I was there, I had a fantastic time with these students, these groups. But I also got to wander around campus and see all of the amazing things that were being developed in the labs there. I got to know a lot of the professors, the post docs, and saw all of these companies that were being spun out. And a lot of these companies were fairly technology focused. They had something in the lab that was very interesting. Maybe it was a unique material or a unique process. So they had these proprietary technologies that had potential for making an impact in certain industries. But a lot of these groups, they didn’t really have the ability to convert those technologies into things that were market focused, so products that embodied the usability and the aesthetics and the reliability, the manufacturability. So that was kind of my background is taking these ideas, these napkin sketches, or early technologies, and converting them into things that were really useful, you know, market focused.

So I decided at that point to start a company focused on that market segment, these technologists. I started Boston Device Development at that point. It was initially just me working out of my house, doing the freelance thing, working with various companies. Fortunately I had more opportunities than I could handle and I started pulling on other people and started growing this business. So we still have a team in Boston. Our Boston group is thriving, doing very well. An amazing group of colleagues up there, many of which have been with me from almost the beginning. It’s been really, really great to see that group grow and become fairly independent.

So over the years, we wanted to grow and we saw Philadelphia as being a great opportunity for creating a second location. So Philly is not typically recognized as being one of the big innovation hubs for medical devices or technologies, when you think about places like San Francisco or Boston or Minneapolis. But, we have all of the right ingredients here. And I think that Philadelphians are realizing this and trying to change, sort of take our rightful place in the cities that are real innovators. So coming back here has been outstanding. We’re getting to work with world class physicians, we’re getting to work with great hospitals. The startup community is really building here very strongly with some of the incubators. And it’s a great time to be in Philly. I feel like we’re really front and center of a lot of these things.

So here at Smithwise, so we’ve gone through a brand transformation, I’ll talk a little bit more about that, but our focus is still pretty much the same. We’re dealing with a lot of these early stage technologies, helping them, helping these companies transform into more market focused companies and helping with the design process, the prototyping, the manufacturing, along the way.

Bill: What a story. And obviously now you’re in this incredible office sort of in the gateway to the innovation corridor here with the proximity as noted to universities and healthcare institutions, etc. You talked earlier both sort of at IDEO and as you’ve brought those experiences forward about the blending of sort of engineering, the guts of the thing and how it works and design, the usability, the aesthetic. How, as you manage your team, which certainly has an engineering soul in terms of background, but more. How do you blend and how do you think through, either in terms of core principles or process, the right blend of engineering and design to bring products closer to manufacture?

Eric: Sure, yeah. So we think about, before we dive into the details of any new product that we’re developing, we think it’s really important to try to understand what are the longer term risks that are associated with any product or any business. And a lot of times those risks are not technical, you know? They may be risks more about market adoption or, you know, customers and how they perceive this new thing that’s going to be incorporated in their lives. So we try to identify what are the biggest risks that we have? Are they usability risks? Are they distribution risks? Are they technical risks? And then we deploy our design and engineering resources to really try to reduce those risks. So that’s really the, you know, the mindset that we have when we’re entering a project, you know? It’s not about diving into the details right away. It’s really about trying to frame the problem and trying to understand where the real challenges are going to be.

Bill: So it’s not, you know, first I’ve got to make this work and now I figure out how to sell it, it’s a more, pardon me, multi-disciplinary perspective on commercialization and it obviously involves different skill sets and perspectives.

Eric: Right, right. And there are different philosophies there. A lot of our clients, they do have the mindset of, you know, let’s build it really fast, really cheap and see what happens in the market. And when you’re dealing with software, that can work because the iteration cycles are very quick. You can update a website or a software platform, it depends on the complexity of course, but sometimes daily. And so you can get these rapid iterations and sort of incorporate the feedback or the learnings to make the software better. When you’re dealing with hardware, like physical products, the iteration time is just, it’s slower, you know? It takes longer to reproduce prototypes. You need to invest in tooling, you need to build things, you need to machine parts. So for every one of those iterations, you have to invest a serious amount of time, serious amount of money. And so the sort of let’s build it and see what happens philosophy when it comes to developing physical products, it can really be slowed down quite a lot if you have to re-spin things over and over again.

So we think that a better strategy is to lay out a solid plan, know that you’re going to have to iterate your designs over time, and know that your plan is going to change, but do enough up front leg work to make sure that you’re focusing on the right areas, the right risks that need to be reduced.

Bill: That makes sense. And I think a lot of your projects are really from zero to one. These are ideas on napkins, as you say-

Eric: Yeah.

Bill: No, it makes sense. What a fascinating industry. And having talked offline and having seen examples of some of the projects, the intellectual aspect of this is so interesting and so stimulating. And the impact of some of these things when they get to market can be world changing.

Eric: Right.

Bill: So you mentioned the company was founded as Boston Device Development, BDD, you were there, obviously. You saw the opportunity to come home, second office. That’s the point where we met you and the rebranding process to Smithwise kind of took place. So could you walk us through, maybe starting with the rationale of why do this? It was a growing company, you’d met a lot of people, you probably handed out a lot of cards, you had success stories that you built, starting in your house and becoming much larger. Which, in and of itself is sort of a stage gate to think rebrand or not, the name may not be perfect, but deal with the path of least resistance. We run into folks where that’s their general attitude. But chart the course of the rebranding from kind of the rationale and thinking through to some of the key elements of execution that are now in existence in the marketplace.

Eric: Sure. So when we started our Philadelphia group, it was initially just me down in this area and now we have a full team down here. But as I was going out into the area, talking to universities and prospects, the message that I continued to receive in the market was, “How long are you in town for? When are you heading back to Boston?” So there was this assumption that we were an outsider. We felt that in order to grow, not just in Philly, but also throughout the country, throughout the world, it was important for us to really become more geographically neutral.

So we decided that, as a company, even though it was taking a step backwards in certain ways, we were maybe losing the brand equity that we’d developed as Boston Device Development, we felt that making a new impact, building a new brand, it could be another opportunity for us to try to get the word out and to try to redefine ourselves, make some noise about who we are, what we’re doing, and become more appealing to not just Boston but Philly, Chicago, all over the map. So that was really the driver behind the rebrand.

Bill: I remember there were some questions about the other parts of the word too, I mean, devices, that exactly right? Do people think devices are mobile phones? Or whatever. And then development, is that exactly what you … It’s an interesting question when you parse all the words.

Eric: Right. And we went through some considerations of do we just try to abbreviate things.

Bill: BDD.

Eric: We go to BDD versus Boston Device Development. And I’m really glad that we used this as an opportunity to, you know, come up with something more meaningful. And to use it as a new marketing opportunity, which I think it has been for sure.

Bill: Sure. No doubt. So naming was fundamental to this and we know from having some role in it that this is a process that in some ways is simple, but hard. It has a lot of emotion, it has a lot of also sort of rational response. Everyone has different opinions, there’s subject of an object developments. You’ve settled on Smithwise. Could you tell us a little bit about, and I’ll drag out the question as you take a sip of water.

Eric: Sure.

Bill: Can you tell us a bit about the story of the name and why it appeals to you as strongly as it does?

Eric: Sure. Let me stop back for a second and just address what you mentioned. Naming is definitely really, really hard. We were stuck in this for a couple of years thinking we’re a creative group, maybe we can come up with this name ourselves.

Bill: Sometimes that works.

Eric: We dabbled with some ideas. We tried to take things in a different direction. But we were spinning our wheels for a couple of years. And I think for us it was important to recognize that this wasn’t really what we did and we needed to get some help. That’s when we pulled in you and your team to really help with the naming and rebranding process and it really got things moving forward.

Bill: Thank you.

Eric: So I think as engineers, the majority of our team are engineers, we’re a fairly analytical breed. We were looking at the renaming process a being something very logical, something that we can … It’s like putting pieces of a puzzle together and trying to get them to align perfectly. I think what my big takeaway through the branding and naming process was that it’s not as linear as we’d like to think. And it is more emotional. It’s hard to sort of boil this down to a process or to an equation. And so it was a really fun, interesting process to work with your team and coming up with all of these different directions and figuring out which one was most appropriate for us.

So Smithwise. I think what was really valuable to us was trying to distill down our brand into a core idea, and I think you mentioned that one time, is coming up with a brand, it should really be sort of distilled down to one single idea.

Bill: Definitely.

Eric: And for us, that idea was the concept of transformation. So going from the napkin sketch, the loose idea, the early technology, and transforming that into something that is appealing to customers, is useful, is manufacturable. So that transformation process is really something that we wanted to capture with the new brand. So a Smith is about transformation. A smith is a builder. A blacksmith transforms wrought iron and steel into metal objects. A wordsmith transforms words and phrases into intricate stories. So to us, a smith represents this core idea of transformation. And the wise part is really about focus, you know? So building by itself, transforming just this act of designing alone isn’t enough. It needs to be done with a certain amount of precision, a certain amount of focusing on the right problems, the right risks that need to be tackled. So that’s where we got Smithwise.

Bill: It’s fascinating. And one of the other sort of qualities that lends itself to the visual side and building out the narrative, Smith is in some ways a charming phrase. It’s anachronistic in a good way. There’s a vintage sort of quality, craftsmanship, craftspersonship, is that what we say today?

Eric: Sure.

Bill: Perspective on it. But when delivered as the company does in terms of look and feel and obviously the people in a contemporary package, it has that nice sort of duality of sort of old world values alongside a distinctly new world enterprise. It really has the potential to be that. So name is done. It was super easy. Just boom, done. Other elements of this. One of the things that I think was unmistakable to us from day one was that this team really feels it. There’s a closeness here, there’s a definitive culture. We saw people exchanging glances with endless layers of inside jokes beneath them. Talk if you would about the role of internal alignment. With a process that is as subjective as this can be, no matter how much process you build around it, there is a certain amount of that, and humanity and emotion and everything else. How important to you, and what were some of the steps you took, around making sure the team … Got to stay efficient, but you want to be inclusive too. Could you speak to that?

Eric: Sure, yeah. So what we did is we had a number of internal meetings. Sometimes it was a small group of key people, sometimes it was the broader full team, depending on what the activity was, picking out preferred colors was something that we sent out to everybody to get some mass feedback, whereas figuring out the naming strategy was more of a core group that we relied on. I would say that the alignment process for renaming, it was challenging. Everybody has a perspective on things, on a name in particular. And getting consensus was really challenging. So I think what was valuable to us was we had these meetings where people had an opportunity to share their opinion to provide some feedback. But eventually we had to say, “Okay, we have to move this forward.”

Bill: Yeah, right.

Eric: And all of this feedback has been very useful to help us identify the right path forward, but we need to make a call. And so ultimately I made that decision that Smithwise was the way to go, but it was based on getting a lot of internal feedback from the core team.

Bill: Yeah, and the team needs to be excited to pass out these business cards-

Eric: Yeah, absolutely.

Bill: -and talk about their work at parties and different things. I would imagine the strength of the culture and the strength of the relationships helps push that, even if folks may have individual perspectives. Maybe they liked another name better or whatever the case may be.

And then, we’re massively simplifying this process, but you move around towards launch, it’s about, obviously, the build out of the look and feel, the creation of kind of the visual vocabulary, the attributes that we want this brand to kind of embody, which culminates in launch. You’ve used a couple different touch points to express the news and to explain the … There was a wonderful launch event here, there’s been email content, web content, different things. The sort of critical path from okay, we made this decision to how do we make this real. Any reflections on kind of the challenges but opportunities of what it takes to make it happen for real?

Eric: Sure, yeah. So to prepare for the launch, it was a lot more work than we had originally thought. Just getting together launch parties up in Boston and also in Philadelphia, getting the list of people, just facilitating the event was a lot of work unto itself. Getting new signage up, getting all of the new cards done, getting the website created, all to make it happen at one moment in synchrony was challenging.

Bill: Yeah, it is.

Eric: So it was a lot of effort. Fortunately we had some great help-

Bill: Thank you.

Eric: -through that process and it enabled us to really do things efficiently and get it all done at the right time. There’s nothing that really jumps out as things that we would’ve done differently. I think it was just … Organizing everything simultaneously was the biggest challenge. It’s just a logistics problem of making sure that everything is in place at the right time.

Bill: And I think in conjunction with the team and also the desire for growth, the team has brought in it seems some extra marketing support beyond the do it when you can do it reality of a business that reaches this level and seeks to activate its full potential. It seems you’ve explored the marketing function in a slightly different way to help not only launch this but to progress from here.

Eric: Yeah, that’s definitely true. So we have pulled in, we have a marketing coordinator that’s helping us kind of organize the materials internally. So for us, one of our marketing strategies is developing content. So that means figuring out what are the unique things and the ways that the engineers and the designers, how do they work? How do we take those principles and those processes and put them into a format that allows other people to sort of learn from them and maybe benefit from them. So we’re in the process of trying to pull together all of those materials and broadcast them out through blogs and articles and whatnot.

So we have that internal core team member that’s helping out a lot with that. Myself and some of the other folks more in the sales front are actively involved in the marketing function. And then we have outside groups like Finch and we’re doing some work with a PR agency that’s helping us with getting the word out. Marketing and brand has become, for an engineering company that didn’t really think too much about it initially, it’s becoming of much higher importance to us as an organization and I think it needs to in order for us to scale.

Bill: Well engineering’s far more important to us than it used to be, so. To that end, one of the, as noted brand is in part storytelling, and I would imagine in the industry and what you do, there’s some projects that you probably can’t ever talk about, because of the discretion and where they are in the commercialization cycle. Is there one or two that you are allowed to give us an example of the type of work that you all are doing? And having heard some of these stories, just person to person, they’re amazing. So if you want to share one with us.

Eric: Yeah, sure. I’ll tell you two of them that I think are pretty exciting. So one is a Philadelphia company called Active Protective. It’s a device, a technology, that is going to be in a wearable product. It’s intended for the elderly that may experience a hip fracture. Pretty much everybody knows somebody who’s experienced a hip fracture. I think everyone recognizes that there’s sort of a downward spiral in terms of quality of life that occurs after a hip fracture. So we’ve been working with this company Active Protective to develop a wearable air bag system. So it’s a belt that has sensor built in to the belt and that sensor is looking for falls. If it detects a fall, then it activates the airbags to deploy over top of the hips.

Bill: Amazing.

Eric: So within 30 milliseconds, these airbags are out and deployed, cushioning the landing. And just the impact, no pun intended there, but the effect of the product and the number of lives that it could save is really great.

Bill: You don’t have to look far, yeah, to find meaning for that. We’re going to test it on Steve on Saturday. Steve who is our executive producer who is city guy, young guy, try to live through him vicariously, tends to fall around one am most Saturday.s I know he’s not elderly, but we could maybe help him out, too.

Eric: Sounds good.

Bill: No, it’s a great story. It’s a fascinating concept. It has the potential, as you say, to do a ton to help make quality of life better.

Eric: Right. So another more consumer focused product is a product that we’re developing for a company called Kinder Lab Robotics. This is a company that’s based out of the Boston area and it was started by a university professor from Tufts and a career-focused roboticist. And they’ve been really interested in bringing STEM into the early classroom. So even at Kindergarten stage. So getting kids really interested in science, technology, engineering, and math, through this very interactive toy. And right now it’s an important topic because we’re not keeping up with the demand that’s needed for a lot of these technical fields. In fact, the last statistic I read was that less than 16% of high school seniors have an interest in STEM based careers. So the hope through this product and others similar to it is that getting these interests embedded in kids at the early stage will help improve longer term interest in these types of careers.

Bill: Fascinating.

Eric: So what this product is, it’s a robotic toy and it comes with a set of blocks, wooden blocks. And each of these blocks, kind of like the building blocks you had as a kid where you would build a castle with the, each of the blocks has a command and an associated bar code on the block. So you could have on block that is turn left and the next block would say, “Beep your horn.” And then the next block would say, “Shake.” You can put in if statements. So if you’re near a wall, then do something else. So you string together all of these little blocks and then you take this robotic toy and you scan them in one by one. And what you’re effectively doing by scanning in each of these blocks is you’re programming the robot to do these activities. So it’s a very simple way to teach kids at the early stage how to think logically. It’s been great. I have a daughter who’s in kindergarten and just to see the pace at which kids that age can sponge up this-

Bill: She’s slinging code now.

Eric: She’s slinging code, right. It’s a pretty neat thing to see.

Bill: No, super cool.

Eric: So yeah, those are two projects that we’re really proud of and privileged to be working on.

Bill: And you certainly don’t have to, again, don’t have to look far for the meaning and value of these beyond the individual challenges that are also very stimulating. So big transformation here on the brand side, incredible business being built. Other than just doing great work on project after project, anything else exciting for Smithwise at this point that we all should be on the lookout for?

Eric: So ever since starting the company seven years ago, we’ve been fairly heads down, just trying to get projects done, get them going, and we had a point out in the future, we didn’t exactly know what was out there, what we were aiming towards. The whole brand process really got us to not only think about how we’re messaging ourselves and what we’re communicating, but it also helped us work through a lot of these longer term strategies. What is that point in the distance that we are aiming for? Why should we be heading there versus a different direction? So by talking to customers, getting some internal feedback, a lot of this was facilitated through your group, it really helped us develop a stronger point of view about where the opportunities are with the market, where the team really saw the right opportunities, what things were working within the companies, what things were not really working that well. So it was bigger than just a brand transformation. It was, in certain ways, a company transformation, thinking about longer term strategy.

So for us, Smithwise, we are still very focused on design, on engineering, on prototyping, getting these early ideas made, but we have seen some new opportunities in the area of manufacturing, especially for a lot of the early stage companies like Active Protective or Kinder Lab Robotics, where they are just looking to get initial units made and get going from that point of I’ve got a one off prototype to the point where I’ve got 1,000 that are ready for sale. There’s a huge amount of work that goes into that process and it’s really, really hard to do. So for us, that’s a space that we know pretty well. It’s an area that I think we can contribute to with a lot of the companies, both small and large. And so we’re going to be focusing a lot of our efforts in helping companies get into production.

Bill: So extending the service cycle a step further to real-

Eric: Right.

Bill: That’s fascinating. I would imagine that, based on even just the two examples you gave, that folks who have hatched this and are passionate about this may not have line of sight to the eccentricities and challenges of the manufacturing cycle. That’s a great opportunity. It’s fascinating stuff.

Eric: Right, yeah.

Bill: Awesome. So all that you’ve accomplished, the choices you’ve made along the way, the culture you’ve built for this company, the company you’ve built, any kind of key words of wisdom? I think a percentage of our audience are folks who are starting out or starting over and thinking about their own careers and are no doubt inspired by what you’ve created for yourself and your colleagues. Any core principles that drive you or in retrospect are central that you’ve taken that you’d like to share?

Eric: Sure. One of them goes back to my undergraduate days in Boulder, Colorado. I had this experience. Being out in Boulder, you have to take advantage of a lot of the mountains and with that comes some of the extreme sports. My extreme sport out there was paragliding.

Bill: Oh, nice.

Eric: So if you’re not familiar, paragliding is kind of like hang gliding, but it looks more like a parachute. And you use the wind’s currents that are blowing up the mountain in order to get lift. So anyway, I was doing this for a little while and I had a really bad accident. I hit a large thermal and it collapsed the glider and I was about 200 feet up and I plummeted to the ground and I broke both of my femurs, the two largest bones in your body.

Bill: Yeah, right. There is some dignity in that, by the way. That’s an impressive-

Eric: And so I was in the hospital for a while. I was in rehab for a while. And this was in the middle of my coursework, so some challenges there as well. But at first, I was looking at this as a major setback: how am I going to get through this? I thought that I was going to have to drop out of school for a little while to get through it. But it actually turned out to be, you know, it was sort of an opportunity in disguise. It was a way for me to kind of reflect and reset a little bit. Up to that point in my college career, I don’t know if I was taking things as seriously as I could have.

So after that experience, for whatever reason, it really made me refocus on things. So I would say when an experience happens that seems like a setback, seems like it’s really going to be hurting you in a big way, you can sort of shift it around and try to look at it as an opportunity to make a change or reset things for yourself.

Bill: Words of wisdom 1B is don’t paraglide, also, as well as that.

Eric: Fair enough. For those that are interested in the entrepreneurial path for doing their own business, I think it’s important to understand that the difference between being good at a certain craft, so for me, I was an engineer, that was my craft, but then growing a business, which turns more into selling and scaling that craft, which is very different.

So a lot of people that go into, they want to go into business for themselves, they do it because they think, “I’m a great engineer, I can run an engineering company,” or “I’m a great baker, I should start my own bakery,” whatever it might be. But what that quickly transforms into is you’re not really able to do that craft that much anymore if you want to grow your business, and you need to be focusing on a lot of these other things, you know, standardization of processes and figuring out how to automate certain things, figuring out how to sell, dealing with finance, a lot of the things that may not be of high interest to somebody that is focused on their craft. But that’s really what entrepreneurship is in many ways is figuring out how to scale these things that you can do well.

Bill: It seems like trends in entrepreneurial education really nourish, maybe newly nourish, the multi-function … And it’s a wonderful thing.

Eric: Right.

Bill: We’re sitting here adjacent to Drexel University, a place that has made practical education an important part of its mission. So yeah, super interesting.

Eric: And then the last thing that I would say is sometimes the jack of all trades, master of none, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Bill: Yes.

Eric: For new companies, especially. For us, as I mentioned, we tried to do the rebrand ourselves, we tried to handle a lot of things internally and we realized that we needed to get some professional help. We needed to reach out to the people that really know how to do this. And that I think goes for some of the early stage companies that we’re working with right now as well. Figuring out what is your secret sauce? What makes you special? What makes you really unique? And focusing your efforts on those areas, and then leveraging other people or other companies to help fill in the gaps that may not be as central to what you do, to that secret sauce. So I think that’s important for any company to try to think about is what really makes us unique and how do we build upon that and leverage the expertise of others in those other places.

Bill: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well you’ve talked about the value of a process that, yes, has artifacts that are related to the brand, and to marketing and messaging and sales, being an opportunity to think who are we anyway and to make choices as a consequence of that. And it sounds like the level of clarity about what the company is and it’s value and where you look to for the next level of growth is not only cathartic, perhaps emotionally rather than having to follow every direction, but provides a level of clarity that helps everybody go execute, so that’s terrific.

Eric: Yeah, it absolutely has. We definitely have refined that point in the distance. We have a much clearer picture of where we’re going and why we’re going there.

Bill: Terrific. We’ve overstayed our welcome as it is, but Eric Sugalski of Smithwise, this is definitely a company to watch, a great pleasure to be a small part of the process to activate the full potential of these people and the strength that they have across what it is that they do. So we’ll be watching and proud to be friends and colleagues. Thank you.

Eric: Thank you.

Bill: What a great guy. Interesting career and lots to look forward to from Smithwise and from Eric. Three ways always to help us here at Real World Branding. The first is to subscribe in the app store of your choice to makes sure you do not miss a single episode. We do these interviews typically every other week, although the schedules going to be jumbled a little bit this summer. Probably more interviews and fewer one big ideas, which is what we do in the weeks without interviews and tends to focus on one topic and go into some depth. So subscribing makes sure you don’t miss a one. Also, I we’ve earned it, a rating or a comment would be most appreciated. And then lastly, let’s just keep this dialogue going on Twitter @billgullan or @finchbrands. We’d love ideas for future guests, future topics, certainly feedback with thick skin, appreciate as we’ve come through about a year of doing this, we’re learning as we go and comments from our audience I think is helping us make sure that his medium and our programming is as valuable as possible for business and brand builders.

Signing off from the cradle liberty.

Access Our M&A Branding Playbook

Click here for a step-by-step review of M&A branding best practices.


Explore Our Blog & Podcast

Gain perspective on key topics shaping brands and businesses.

Sign Up For The Finch 5 Newsletter

Five thoughts, topics, and tips to inspire you.