Entrepreneur Profile: John Fitzpatrick, ShugaTrak
Independent’s Entrepreneur Profiles celebrate the people out there changing the world every day. We ask each entrepreneur a few questions to give us a little insight into their vision of the future, and their take on building a company.
This month, we feature John Fitzpatrick. His venture, Applivate, is currently working on their premiere product – a smartphone application which connects to the glucose meter of a teen who is living with diabetes in order to help them manage their condition. The app also allows parents to incentivize how often their teen checks their glucose levels by offering praise and reward.
Applivate is looking for advice on connecting a glucose meter to a mobile, or other similar device. In making ShugaTrak the best product for its customers, Applivate is also very interested in networking with families who have children with diabetes.
Q: What does your company do?
A: We make a smartphone app called ShugaTrak. Parents use ShugaTrak to reward teens with diabetes for checking their blood sugar. ShugaTrak connects the teen’s phone to the teen’s glucose meter and reminds the teen when to check blood sugar. When the teen does check blood sugar, ShugaTrak notifies the parent, praises the teen, and issues a reward to the teen. If the teen goes too long without checking blood sugar, ShugaTrak sends an alert to both the parent and the teen.
Q: When did you start your company? Why?
A: We formed our company on November 11, 2011, the first day of Startup Weekend New Haven. I pitched an idea focused on helping people with Diabetes leverage the data collected by their glucose meters and insulin pumps to better manage their condition. After the pitch, seven people joined me, and we spent the weekend transforming the idea into something specific and realistic. At the end of the weekend, I pitched the ShugaTrak idea to the judges, and we won–easily one of the biggest thrills of my life.
Why start a company? Well, that’s a little bit involved. My background is in academic science. I have a Master’s degree in biomedical engineering and a Ph.D. in biology, and I spent many years in university neuroscience labs researching how single brain cells process information. Four years ago, I got out of the lab because I just wasn’t going to be able to make it to the next level. I hadn’t collected enough data or published enough papers to move up to the next level and become a professor and start my own lab. So that was the end of that dream. I got a job in IT at Yale and started thinking about what I was good at and what I really wanted to do. When the financial crisis hit, I got laid off, and after a few months, I landed back at Yale in the Office of Development, compiling information on potential donors to Yale. This meant learning a lot about some very successful people, and I found that the ones whom I admired most were the ones who had built their own businesses. I mean, if you build a successful business, there’s no need to wonder whether you’re doing the world any good. You must be doing something good for your customers, or they wouldn’t be buying your product, right? So now I had a new dream. I started looking for an idea, and the data collected by my wife’s insulin pump seemed like a promising opportunity. But I had no clue what to do with the idea, until I heard about Startup Weekend. I figured I had nothing to lose and that at the very least I’d meet some other people who wanted to start businesses.
Q: What are your funding sources?
A: Well, the prize for Startup Weekend included $1500 (plus some legal services, hosting, and office space). I think that will run out pretty quickly and then we’ll have to dig into our own pockets, at least for a little while.
Q: What have the top 3 challenges been in your startup process?
A: By far the most important challenge has been working through all the ideas bursting out of our six brains (two of the people at Startup Weekend have since dropped out) and picking which ones to implement first. It just seems that there’s so much we can do with this concept that it’s tough to zero in on the small steps to take as we begin.
The decisions about corporate ownership and governance have been tough, too. None of us have done this before, and we’re just fumbling in the dark and relying heavily on the advice of our attorneys.
And I still can’t believe how hard it was for us to choose a name. At Startup Weekend, we gave ourselves five minutes to pick a name for the product, and we came up with ShugaTrak in three minutes, yet it took us hours to come up with Applivate.
Q: Define ‘entrepreneur’.
A: I’d say an entrepreneur is someone who finds a way to combine her abilities and experiences, the people around her, and the opportunities that her times present to conceive and execute a brilliant business idea. I got that from “What Makes Entrepreneurs Entrepreneurial” by Saras D. Sarasvathy, which I heard about via a Miles Lasater tweet.
Q: Read any good books lately?
A: I have three books on my bed stand.
“The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. I read it before Startup Weekend, and I think it really helped. One of the big lessons is that a startup should think small. It’s a mistake to build something grand and beautiful and elegant because you don’t know whether anybody will want it and you might wind up wasting a lot of time. Build something tiny instead to find out whether anybody even cares. If they do, then go ahead and build something a little bigger.
“The Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki. He explains how a diverse group can be better than the most intelligent, knowledgeable individual. I think the diversity of our Startup Weekend team—three software engineers, a hardware engineer, an M.D., two psychologists, and me–was a big part of our success.
“The Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs. I became active in my community a few years ago after a random murder happened a few blocks from my home, and I’ve since come to love the vibrancy of my dense, diverse urban neighborhood. (I live in the West River neighborhood of New Haven.) This book articulates so much of what I’ve come to intuitively believe from being out on the sidewalk talking to my neighbors.
Q: What is your advice for an entrepreneur starting out?
A: Is someone who’s been an entrepreneur for all of two months really qualified to give advice? How about this: That idea in your head is never going to make you a billionaire if you don’t pull yourself out of your fantasies and try to do something with it.
Q: What is your favorite entrepreneurship quote?
A: Something I heard on a high school ski trip: If you don’t fall down, you’re not trying hard enough.