Mike Collins started CEM Corporation in a garage, took it public and then bought it back. And the garage wasn’t even his…
Most companies talk to their customers as some part of their product development process. It’s helpful to understand their problems and what they are looking for. But the problem with that, Mike told me, is that customers typically are thinking of incremental improvements – the things that will solve the problems in front of them right now.
To be truly disruptive, you need to look at a much bigger picture. That might mean talking to customers in different industries whose problems aren’t related. Then you begin to see how they could do things entirely differently.
I would come back and talk to our engineers and scientists and I knew what the initial response was going to be and it was always the same. “That’s impossible. That can’t be done. And that’s why it was never done before.”
And what you then do is challenge your people, your engineers, and all of a sudden they start thinking about it. It’s amazing how in three or four weeks or a month, they’ll come back with an idea on how it can be done and all of a sudden they start to believe that maybe it is possible. And that’s where it starts. – Mike Collins, CEM Corporation
When Mike started looking at sample preparation, he was shocked. Some of the techniques were over 100 years old, used to prepare samples destined to be analyzed using 21st century technology. He described how the K-Cup coffee maker inspired a product that reduced a 5-hour process to a 5-minute one.
Finally, we talked about taking his company private years after going public and what that means for the culture of the company. He learned a lot from his time in a public company. But as a private entity he can make decisions faster. And there is a bonus in employee motivation. Employees feel more attached to their work and the products they produce. As a result, retention is high and the culture is strong enough to sustain itself.