Trung Pham is an Entrepreneur currently living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is currently the CEO and Founder of RYSE, A local Toronto tech startup that is disrupting the smart home industry with its innovative approach to window shade automation.
The company is solving a unique energy consumption problem that often goes overlooked. Buildings and homes account for over three-quarters of all electricity and energy use — 40% of which is associated with greenhouse gas emissions, including lighting, heating, and cooling.
To date, RYSE has picked up quite a bit of traction with over 30,000 units already shipped — generating USD $4.5 million in online sales. As the company begins to expand into the realm of commercial real estate, they were also able to secure a $3.85 million Canadian cleantech grant to begin piloting in commercial buildings.
In 2018, Trung Pham, pitched his idea to fellow entrepreneurs on the hit show, Dragon’s Den, the Canadian equivalent to Shark Tank where he received considerable interest, securing a deal with two of the Dragons.
In his free time, Trung enjoys playing the guitar, fashion, and reading. I am also interested in technology, entrepreneurship, and Boxing.
Schulich School of Business, York University.
Trung Pham, can you start off by telling us about yourself and why you chose the tech entrepreneur profession?
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I’m really excited and flattered to share my story and tell you about my background which led me to become a tech entrepreneur at RYSE. I strongly believe that the important thing is my team’s willingness and attitude to take on a challenge and learn. When faced with a task beyond our current skill-set, we believe in staying motivated, driven, and determined to look at the situation as a chance to learn and tackle an exciting new problem. I really believe in learning, advancing, and continuously improving, and I think the technology space is the perfect platform to do that. Technology is complex and challenging, and I value simplifying our solutions and making things easy to understand. We actually take a lot of pride in breaking down each of our products – from the installation, setup up, and the practical, every use. Each of us on the team truly value-creating an open, easy-to-understand experience that genuinely plug-and-play. I hope this backdrop sheds some light on my background, vision, philosophy, and commitment to providing affordable, technically sound solutions.
Can you tell us what drives you to be successful as a entrepreneur and product designer?
The one thing that drives me is the motivation the prove that anyone that has a great idea and team, building a product that serves a big market, can build a company if they put their minds to it. I myself am a solo non-technical founder, in a hardware company. This should be a testament and motivation to other entrepreneurs that they can do it too.
Tell us about your current role as CEO and your vision.
I focus on three areas in the company as CEO
- Hiring & culture – make sure we retain the best talent and keep them happy
- Fundraising – make sure we have enough money in the bank to sustain operations
- Strategy – make high-level decisions on the direction of the company
My vision to improve the user experience boils down to our hands-on experience launching our 1st gen device – AXIS Gear. We learned a lot from inventing this product and launching it into the consumer market. One of the biggest lessons was to remove bells and whistles – we launched with too many “cool features” while consumers only wanted us to solve a few core problems. With our 2nd gen launch – RYSE SmartShade – we focused on delivering a user experience that would delight our users and ensure they are happy with the entire installation, setup, and functionality of our product!
What’s the one or two accomplishments that you’re proud of?
What advice do you have for other up-and-coming young entrepreneurs?
I actually love this question and share my experience and advice with other young entrepreneurs as often as I can!
It will take twice as long and twice as much – when I heard this for the first time, I thought I could prove them wrong. Boy was I wrong! It actually took 3x as long as 3x as much! This is particularly true for a hardware company – when creating a physical product, the time to market is much longer due to the manufacturing process that is largely out of your control. So many components and parts that constitute a finished product must be procured and so many partners involved in getting a product to market. So many things that can go wrong and needed to be accounted for.
– Always be Raising / Raising money is a full-time job – I got this lesson after launching. I thought it would be easy based on my education (coming from a prestigious business school), but quickly learned that a business degree is actually a disadvantage in the start-up world dominated by engineers and developers. Even with the traction we received with pre-sales on Indiegogo, it was extremely hard to get investors to commit. We had to raise via convertible notes that allowed for rolling closes, vs a priced round. And this was literally 80% of my time – making sure there was enough money in the bank. Don’t kill yourself on valuation – at one point when we did raise capital, we were offered investments at a valuation lower than what we wanted and we didn’t take the funding. In hindsight, we should have. A few million lower in valuation doesn’t kill you, but no cash in the bank does. We turned away deals that we should have, thinking sales would always come in, or other investors would invest.
– Hardware is hard – creating a prototype is easy. But designing one that can be mass-manufactured in a factory in China is freakin’ hard! There is so much more that goes into a hardware product & company, and so much more types of engineers. In addition to the traditional software engineers for mobile and web app development, you’ll need a firmware engineer, mechanical engineer, electronics engineer, hardware engineer, industrial designer – at the very least. Then you may need a production lead to oversee manufacturing for you. The amount of hires and work needed to take a physical product to market (as I have mentioned) is significantly more than just a software company or product.
– Less is more – When creating a product, especially a physical product, less features is better. This will allow you to get to market much faster and prevent problems that come up when you add too many bells and whistles. Remember, everything has to be tested – so the more features you add, the more testing you have to do, the more delays will occur. This is exactly what happened to us with our 1st-gen device AXIS – it tried to do everything. With RYSE, we simplified what we needed to do and focused on what customers value. We learned a lot with our 1st-gen and was able to reduce the time to production from 2 years to under 6 months.
– Keep it simple, silly (KISS) – A lot of our investors were angels or private investors, and pitching them the idea of a SAFE or Convertible Note wasn’t something they were always familiar with. We should have just issued straight equity at a set share price. Trying to explain a “Valuation Cap” or “Conversion” was difficult to understand and led to some lost deals. Sometimes you only get one shot at pitching to these investors, so you have to make it could and keep deals super simple.
Are you active on social media professionally? If so, what platforms work best for engaging your followers
What is the major difference between being a Developer and Designer?
A designer focuses on developing product requirements and creates “looks-like” models and prototypes.
A developer takes the product requirements and creates functional “works-like” models and prototypes.
Who was your biggest influencer?
Ryse’s CEO Trung Pham speaking about his product
What is the most challenging part of your work as a Product Designer?
I support the NPI (“New Product Introduction”) process by developing business and product requirements. This is traditionally done in the early research phases and requires significant time spent on market research, interviewing potential customers & partners, and a holistic view into the market. Once the requirements are set, our lead Industrial Designer and Product Manager typically takes over.
What do you have your sights set on next?
Developing more products to automate drapes and blinds. Begin scaling and selling into multi-family, offices, and hotels – wholesale markets!
What is a day in your life like?
- Wake up in the early morning, and at my desk by 8 am!
- Working until 6 pm, when I head to the gym
- Complete my workout and get home by 9 pm
- Unwind and relax for the evening
- Weekends are very similar (work and instead of the gym, I socialize with friends)
Do you have any hobbies?
- Playing guitar
- Boxing & gym
What makes you smile?
- Other people that smile 🙂
- Hustle, grit, and a never-ending passion to continue through the pain and not give up!
What are you never without?
- Morning coffee
- Drinking 2 liters of water daily
What scares you?
Delays: manufacturing delays, shipping, slow consumer demand
What’s your favorite vacation spot?
- Tough to say; NYC is where I go to work & play
- Mexico is always a great place for a getaway