This year we put out a call to our students to connect with our recent alumni to answer the question we get the most: what are M&T grads doing now? Below is M&T Sherry Chen (’19)’s interview with Teddy Guenin (’15).
Sherry: Tell us a little bit about your company, GTRACK, and its industry.
Sherry: How did you come up with the idea for GTRACK?
Teddy: The idea came from a Y-Prize project my co-founder and I did senior year. We pitched the idea for the graphene technology and won the grand prize! The initial idea wasn’t well-thought out. Winning the Y Prize connected us with multiple oil and fracking companies, helping us identify their needs. My co-founder had done some related research before, so we worked together to modify his research, built out the product, and went on to work on it after graduation.
Sherry: What was it like starting your own company?
Teddy: It was certainly time intensive! My co-founder and I handled almost everything – from product development to sales calls and customer relationships, to writing patents and managing operations. When we started, we anticipated some uncertainty in the process. We were surprised to find almost every day had some level of not knowing what would happen next!
What we did day to day changed a lot based on the stages of the company. Initially, we focused more on strategy. We had a basic idea for our product but talked with potential clients and partners to better understand their needs. So, once we started product development we already had the initial customer in mind. In the product development stage, I was either on a call with chemical companies or in the lab figuring out how to build the product. Amid it all, we were dealing with things like writing patents and preparing for pitches to investors.
We built out a working product in 12 months. That’s when things really changed. We expected to scale down product development to around 30-50% of the company, but it turned out to be only 20%. We also got into Y Combinator around that time. That meant we spent more time making the system more robust, talking to investors and companies and managing contracts.
The one constant is we were always talking directly with our customers about our product, no matter which stage we were in. This enabled us to build out something that they wanted and helped us get the early deals.
Sherry: What made you decide to work on a startup right after graduation?
Teddy: That’s a tough but really important question. In my case, it’s because I’m comfortable with risk. I didn’t have many external factors that forced me to have a career, so I was a little opportunistic. Also, there wasn’t a specific career path I was really drawn to at the time. So when Y-Prize happened my senior year, I decided to go with it.
Some people may list the pros and cons of that decision. I tend to take a long-term view. Instead of focusing two to five years in the future (i.e. work in a bank for two years and come back for my MBA.), I think on a 10-year scale. I choose something I want to do in 10 years and asked myself what skills I want to develop. Then, I looked at my choices and determined what would allow me to learn those skills. I’ve always been a self-starter, and I knew starting this company would help me develop that, so I chose to keep working on it. I have other skills on my mental list, and I’m developing them one step at a time.
Sherry: What was a typical workday look like for you at GTRACK?
Teddy: I’m an early-riser, and usually get up at around 7 or 7:30 am. When I was with GTRACK, our schedule was extremely flexible. I worked from home usually, but would often be in the lab to start running processes in the morning. I’d start the day checking emails to maintain communication with customers and advisors. In the afternoon, we usually scheduled meetings with the rest of the team (there were 2 full-time employees) to deal with organizational communications. In the evening, we worked on patents and documentations. I usually stopped working at around 6:00 pm.
What we did every day was pretty similar to how we broke down our time while at Penn. But, we were not a typical startup. The schedule of most software companies is likely very different.
Sherry: Who did you interact with every day?
Teddy: We talked with our advisors almost every day. That’s something I suggest to all early-stage startup founders: keep many advisors and talk to them frequently. We had a rotating list of people and tried to schedule a call with one of them each day. They gave us important external validation and input to our progress.
Sherry: You mentioned you just joined a venture capital firm. What brought you there?
Teddy: I was always drawn to venture capital. After I sold GTRACK’s technology, I looked for a place where I could add a lot of value but at the same time enjoy the process of building products to solve problems. Then I met Joel Moxley. He and I have a similar background and I decided to work with him on Moxley Holdings, an early-stage VC firm.
Sherry: What is your day-to-day life like now as an investor?
Terry: I provide supports for the investments we’ve made. This can be helping with product development, financial modeling, or other related tasks. Our goal is to become the first-check of the company. It’s almost like co-founding the companies with them and bringing the products to the market. So, I’m working on-demand across multiple companies.
Sherry: How did M&T help prepare you for where you are today?
Teddy: I’ve definitely learned a lot from M&T. The M&T network is especially helpful. I’ve reached out to a bunch of M&Ts on Quakernet and now chat with them on an almost daily basis. To give back, I always reply to emails from M&T and try to help out.
Sherry: What about Penn? How did Penn help bring you to where you are today?
Teddy: Penn gave me so many great friends. I was in Sigma Phi Epsilon and the Glee Club, and I had a great connection with those groups. I’m still friends with many of them.
As for the classes, I learned a lot about human behavior through some of the management courses, and my VC finance class taught me many things I use today. But, the classes weren’t as important as the professors that taught them. I’m still in touch with many of my professors. I can’t remember why I was running to the lab once at 2 am, but remember any random conversation I had with Professor Jeffrey Babin, who helped hone a lot of my ideas into viable products.
Sherry: What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing a similar path to yours?
Teddy: Develop an appetite for risk. And read a lot. I read many newsletters and people’s personal notes on lessons learned from starting companies. The more you read, the more you can see what people did wrong and learn from that. It takes a while for people to think critically about business decisions, so there is a lot to learn from those who have done it before. I read HackerNews daily, trying to learn the fundamentals of software. There is so much to learn and expanding that knowledge is an important part of my day.
Teddy graduated from M&T in 2015 with a degree in Bioengineering and Management (Entrepreneurship). Immediately after graduation, he went on to start GTRACK Technologies, which produces nanoparticle tracers for reservoir and environmental characterization. His company was in the S16 Batch of Y Combinator. Recently, he has sold GTRACK’s technology and joined Moxley Holdings, an early-stage venture capital firm that works with startups in data and materials related fields.
About the Interviewer:
Sherry Chen (M&T ’19) is a junior studying Electrical Engineering, Entrepreneurship, Marketing & Operations with a minor in Computer Science. She’s passionate about building tech products to solve real-life problems, and she plans to start her own company someday. Her favorite thing about M&T is the close-knit community. She can always learn tons of new things just by talking with fellow M&Ts.