April 4, 2023 BACK
This month, after a brief summary of the companies presenting and providing updates on Wednesday, you'll find the story of Irrigreen and a profile of a Pasadena Angels member Mandy Wang.
Presenting This Month:
Evitado Technologies, with Andrew Moakes, CEO
Arwall, with Rene Amador, CEO
Featured in this issue:
Irrigreen (thanks to Shane Dyer)
Mandy Wang, Pasadena Angels Member
Startups Presenting Wednesday,
COMPANY: Evitado Technologies
CEO/Founder: Andrew Moakes, CEO
We are building solutions with software enabled by hardware for real pain points in airport ground operations. We gain our network and experience from real world applications. Our first product is a collision warning system for aircraft ground movement with a corresponding analytics software. We are also making progress on our smart infrastructure product to assist the automation environment and making things safer and more efficient.
CEO/Founder:: Rene Amador, CEO
We turn XR filmmaking into a video game that you play to make a studio-quality film in real life from your living room. Clients include Disney, Netflix, HBO, WB, and more; but now we're jailbreaking the tech for everyone.
Printing Water: Irrigreen
Gary Klinefelter is an electrical engineer who holds lots and lots of patents on inkjet printers. Several years ago he began tinkering in his garage trying to apply that expertise to printing water. Inkjets apply ink with precision measured in micrometers. Modern lawn sprinklers gush water all over the place like monkeys with fire hoses. Gary envisioned “robotic sprinklers” that laid water down perfectly evenly by adjusting to the contours of the yard.
Gary met with Shane Dyer five years ago, and the two of them founded Irrigreen. Shane grew up in Stanford’s IoT lab and has developed products connecting people to their home technology via apps and the Internet. He developed the technology that I use to close my garage door with my smart phone.
Their concept was a perfect model for disruptive technology. Take a market where there’s lots of money being spent (water) and the pressure is only mounting to contain costs. Use technology to turn the conventional solution inside out. Instead of wrapping pipes and sprinkler heads all around your yard, put one high-tech piece of equipment in the middle and let it intelligently apply water evenly to each nook and cranny of the lawn. More “smarts,” less “stuff.”
How Irrigreen is saving water with smart, robotic sprinkler heads.
That’s where they started, and that’s where they are still headed, with significant new funding announced just last week. So, you might think “no drama” - it’s the first startup ever where everything went as written in version 1.0 of the business plan. But, an interesting thing happened on the way to revolutionizing sprinklers: COVID happened.
Yeah, it doesn’t seem like COVID would disrupt sprinkler disruption, but there are always the details. Irrigreen was a B2B company, distributing through the many irrigation professionals throughout the U.S. It’s only logical. Sprinkler systems are a heavy duty, manual labor project, and Irrigreen is a high tech alternative to a job that’s already just barely a DIY candidate.
Before COVID, Irrigreen distributed leads to pros who would visit, measure and plan systems for free, knowing that they’d generate a lot of irrigation projects from the sales process. But, COVID canceled all in-person visits permanently… at least, indefinitely, and for the founders of Irrigreen, whose bank accounts were shrinking, it could well have been permanently.
The industry truism was: “You can’t sell a sprinkler system unless you visit the customer’s house.” Shane and Gary reformulated it a bit with a question mark: “Can you sell a sprinkler system without visiting the customer’s house?”
You would need a laundry list of things. Zoom webinars could show people how it works. Website software would have to bring in satellite imagery and allow customers to overlay lines depicting areas for watering. The software would have to be able to convert satellite images to designs capable of being measured in feet and inches. There would need to be a user-friendly app that customers would use to program their system. And, instructions would have to be aimed at consumers and not commercial professionals.
That’s kind of a lot to design and implement during the beginning months of a pandemic. So, while COVID was shutting down travel and retail, Shane and Gary got busy reengineering their entire go-to-market approach. And, the payoff turned out to be enormous.
First, selling via Zoom meant that the entire world was a potential customer - Irrigreen wasn’t limited to where they’d developed a network of irrigation professionals. Second, there was no longer a capacity limitation in any market. Whereas before the irrigation pros could only visit so many homes in a week, now they could all attend the same webinar. Third, as a result, their customer acquisition cost was about one-quarter of what it had been. Fourth, the trend that followed COVID’s first months was one of spending money on home improvement. And, finally fifth, wherever they sold products, word of mouth drove more sales in that area, so expanding to new markets generated more exponential growth.
So, COVID was a disaster, and it inspired a reinvention of their go-to-market strategy that proved to be a tremendous advantage. Last week Irrigreen announced $15M in financing led by Ulu Ventures to help spread robotic smart sprinklers that save about 50% of water used. Anyone can go to www.irrigreen.com enter an address and in about five minutes see how much the system would cost and how much water would be saved.
Speaking to Both Sides
Mandy Wang, taking in the view.
Unfortunately, Mandy Wang doesn’t have an interesting story. I know this because she told me: “I don’t have an interesting story.” Then she proceeded to tell me this story.
Born and raised in mainland China, Mandy traveled to Toronto for business school. It was there, near graduation, that she thought she would drum up some business for her family manufacturing enterprise. So, she trudged over to the reference library and found a book: Canadian Apparel Directory, not exactly a best-seller, but the kind of thing that she had never seen in China. She paged through it and started contacting every company one-by-one to see if they’d like some clothing manufactured in China.
She found one, which was just barely better than terrible. They ordered two styles and 3,000 pieces of each, which was a very big deal! She hand-carried the order back to China after graduation and started working in the company business. Being her first big project, she hadn’t yet learned all those hard lessons. Somehow the labels got mismatched and no one noticed until the product arrived in Canada. No more orders came from Canada.
So, Mandy tried Hong Kong. If it worked once, maybe it would work twice, so she got the apparel directory and started making calls. Again, she had some hits, and then she got an order from a high-profile Hong Kong association. They wanted sheets, which wasn’t what she normally did, but she complied, and it went well. They ordered more sheets, and again she performed. Then she suggested that they order something that she had experience making. So, they ordered skirts, and that was the beginning.
A few orders from a prestigious association gave her credibility. Mandy reached out to the United States and landed a few more contracts. But, in 2008, the economy was down, and Chinese clothing manufacturing was maturing. She realized that they were at a crossroads. They could pursue a low cost strategy, but that would require moving the manufacturing to a lower-cost region and chasing thinner and thinner margins. Or, could she relocate to the United States to get closer to the big customers and compete on a different dimension - design, quality, nimbleness, market intelligence? Something like that - the path wasn’t exactly crystal clear.
In many ways, it was a big leap. It’s 7,000 miles in distance, but there’s also the language challenge, plus the whole strategy uncertainty. And, there’s the family. She moved with her two sons - leaving her husband temporarily behind to run the manufacturing - while she launched herself into the apparel business in downtown Los Angeles.
She started her own brand and hired a designer. Her first order was for 24 pieces - a shared order of six pieces from 4 boutiques. She mailed the boxes herself at the post office. Not long after she hired a salesperson, and shortly after a production person, and then a warehouse guy, and then an ops person. By year's end, she had a staff of 10.
Then Nordstrom placed an order, and then another. That improved her reputation, and soon Bloomingdales and Anthropologie were customers. TJ Maxx and Marshalls came calling - they wanted some, too. But that would have undermined the brand, so she made a second brand. Daniel Rainn was reserved for Nordstrom and the like, and DR2 targeted a lower price point for TJ Maxx and Marshalls.
By 2017 she was in 30 chains, and those chains had hundreds of stores. She started from zero during the credit crisis, and within nine years was moving from a manufacturer of woven top category to a company with 2 branded collections. She long ago outpaced the capacity of her family’s manufacturing and had to outsource all of her clothing production. Her family’s business still provides a valuable service, however. They make samples and collaborate on design, which allows her to turn around new styles faster and provide better and faster price quotes.
She uses consultants to research and forecast trends, and that enables her to be on fashion’s leading edge. She focused on fit and quality as essentials in her products. It was part of her strategy puzzle: being fashion-leading, easy to work with, good fit and quality. Not included: having the lowest price.
Maybe more than most industries, it’s always a negotiation in apparel, and her customers always wanted better prices. Many complained and negotiated, but her products always moved, and she held firm, so they came back. Others, however, demanded that she guarantee their margins. She started to take a hard look at those customers. If they had financial trouble, she could end up in line for a share of the bankruptcy proceeds, so she cut them off. When they eventually ended up in bankruptcy, her prudence was vindicated.
Most clothing startups are the partnership of a salesperson with a designer. Mandy is neither of those, but she’s intimately familiar with both. Her husband is an artist, and her oldest son sings Opera while attending USC. They exercise the same right-brain styles as designers in the fashion industry. However, her youngest, who is a competitive tennis player and started at MIT last fall, exercises her left-brain, which she relies on when working with operations and accounting. Mandy herself is neither… or both… she’s the glue that holds them together. She speaks both languages: design and operations, but also art and logic, form and figures, and English and Mandarin. And what she built with Daniel Rainn, which started as a clothing manufacturer, has evolved into a creative fashion company that provides high quality, flattering and delicate designs for women that enable them to feel their best in life, which is the most rewarding part for Mandy.
March '23: EventHub (Michael Bleau) and Don Hall
Feb: Everyset (EB, Ebrahim Bhaiji) and Richard Chino
Nov '22: Cactivate (Wentao Xiao) and Gene Stein
Oct: C360 Technologies (Evan Wimer) and Kenji Funahashi
Sep: Woody Sears (Autio) and Mike Krebs
Jul: Open Sesame (Steve Lyons) and James Schaefer
Jun: HavenLock (Alex Bertelli) and Anil Jha
May: Discotech (Ian Chen) and Gary Awad
Apr: Sashee Chandran, Seatrec and Susan Marki
Mar: Yezin Taha, Spine Align and Jamie Bennett
Feb: Phoenix Gonzalez, Repurpose and Marcus Filipovich
Jan: Ksenia Yudina, BeTheBeast and Larry Uhl
Nov '21: Roy LaManna, TotSquad and John Keatley
Oct: Dr. Chorom Pak of LynxBio and former president Al Schneider
Sep: Luk Network, Brandon Cavalier and Nancy Dandridge
Jul: Electrum, Jose Gomez and Julie Pantiskas
Jun: Ready, Set, Food, Dr. Mirianas Chachisvilis and Joseph Pitruzzelli
May: MagicLinks, Christopher Hussain and Janice Orlando
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Dave de Csepel
Chairman, Pasadena Angels