Samuel Gong, Founder and CEO of Real Graphene
For me, becoming an entrepreneur is about having more control over my time and my business. Going out on your own provides you with some freedom to focus your career on a certain area that holds your interest. Because if you aren’t deeply passionate and knowledgeable about your industry, then you won’t make it.
In a time when it’s harder than ever to start a new business, this passion will help you to create a “startup”, but it’s vital to understand that starting a “business” is an entirely different direction than accepting a position at a company. To move into the business phase in such uncertain times, entrepreneurs need to think beyond their innovation to deeply understand the product, who the customers are, what they want, and how the company will pull in revenue. I took on this journey with my business – Real Graphene – and have a few tips that I hope will help other young entrepreneurs along their path to success.
Work in Your Passion
To begin, I started learning about a fascinating material called graphene, and then over time turned that motivation and drive into a business model. I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2017, and during my time in university I began studying graphene. I looked at its various current and theoretical applications and product methods. After a few years, I founded Real Graphene in order to use this amazing material to improve the capacity of battery packs. And, going forward to leverage graphene batteries for consumer electronics and to power vehicles.
Graphene is a remarkable material that has justifiably attracted significant attention due to its unique properties and nearly limitless market applications. It’s a material that practically screams for attention from entrepreneurs as it is a near perfect conductor and removes the overheating issues found with typical lithium batteries which must use regulated charging speeds to stop them from catching on fire.
Bringing the Future to the Present
Working with graphene gives us a competitive advantage because it’s taking what is viewed as a “future technology” and directly offering its power to consumers in the present. This is a good lesson for entrepreneurs – find technology with future promise and figure out how to use, or further develop, that technology in the present. It’s a version of the “first mover advantage” where early players give themselves time to better understand a new tech breakthrough and then take advantage. Don’t wait for others to make the big leap or discovery. Dive in and see what you can learn and invent.
What’s In It for the Consumer?
Young entrepreneurs in the early stage of ideation and forming a company often overlook the qualitative benefits of a product. As a tech person, they’re deeply into the actual specs of the product. Maybe they’ve developed something that beats an industry benchmark in terms of speed or performance. Or, it integrates exceedingly well into various other platforms. These are sound accomplishments, but too many entrepreneurs then overlook the qualitative benefits. Even for me, I’ve had to remember to not only look at what we’re doing from an academic or scientific viewpoint. The practical applications and consumer impacts truly matter. Ask some basic questions. What will the ultimate product do for the customer? What pain points will it solve, or help customers do faster and easier?
Persistence Pays Off
Beyond a laser focus on the customer benefits, there’s still a great deal to be said for personal effort and persistence. It’s cliché, but many people give up too soon or lose focus, and persistence does pay off. Overnight success is largely a dream. The founders and companies that make it of course picked the right tech and saw opportunity, but they also hustled and were not afraid to fail but fail upwards.
Intermingling Quality and Price
With my company there were some immediate risks to choosing graphene. The main issue confronting everyone in this industry is the cost of the material. We poured research time and money into our production methods and refined them in order to create high-quality graphene nano-platelets and films with reasonable costs. These are the types of challenges entrepreneurs must overcome. To find a cost effective way to produce a product or offer a certain service, while ensuring the quality doesn’t suffer.
Flexibility Is Key
At Real Graphene’s current stage, we’re focused primarily on consumer electronics, but that hasn’t always been the case. We’ve dabbled in electric vehicle batteries and several other applications, but also realize we have to be where the market is. Tech entrepreneurs need to follow a similar path, where they stick to their plans but remain open to opportunity, especially considering the pace of technological change.
About the Author:
Samuel Gong fielded his first patent in wireless energy transmission in 2010 and later went on to found a successful business, Aphelion Tech, where he built strong networks in the U.S. and China for future endeavors. After founding Aphelion Tech, he began researching graphene during his studies at UC Berkeley, later using his knowledge to optimize the applications and production of graphene. After several years of success, he founded Real Graphene, bringing future battery technology to the present in the form of battery packs, but with the goal of moving into general graphene batteries for products such as vehicles, EVs and consumer electronics.