Build and maintain an innovative culture: After a decade, staffers still embrace the spirit of a startup to keep the company agile, dynamic and adaptable to a rapidly changing world.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and even bigger obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Qian, Founder and CEO of Quectel, a leading global supplier of cellular and GNSS modules and antennas for wireless technologies like 5G is a true multi-national leader. He is of Chinese descent, and currently resides in Australia. He and his dream team are on a mission to build a smarter world. As the World’s №1 IoT Module Supplier, they build and develop competitive modules to enable IoT innovation including smart payment, telematics and transport, smart energy, smart cities, security, wireless gateways, industry, healthcare, agriculture, and environment monitoring. Quectel partners with Qualcomm and is its largest IoT customer.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up in a small village and as a child I read a multitude of books about all sorts of ancient heroes from Chinese history. I’ve always admired heroes who fought for people under difficult circumstances. Since my graduation from university, I have focused on how to be a high achiever and sought out the most challenging opportunities to avoid being stuck in boring working environments, where I cannot thrive or do anything meaningful.
I have been greatly blessed with personal and professional success and I am committed to making the world a better place for everyone with technology.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I have always wanted to be the best in whatever I do, and as my career progressed I couldn’t see the potential of heading to the number one spot in my job so I quit. I realized that I could only achieve my goals by starting my own company. In 2009, I didn’t hesitate and I took the life-changing step of starting Quectel with seven former-colleagues.
Nothing is more exciting to me than the cellular mobile industry because it impacts how we all live, work and play. My major at university was Electromagnetic Field Theory and Microwave Technology. With Quectel, I am doing exactly what I learned about during my studies and applying this to making this world more efficient, more productive, more convenient and safer. I’m convinced our technology is the way to develop a much better world for everyone. The possibilities are endless to me so I view my work as very exciting and interesting.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Starting a company was never an imperative for me. However, in university I read some books about how to start a business. One consistent theme that stayed with me was that successful businesses often start from small but unique ideas. At a very early stage of my working career, I suggested an idea to my father that we should start a tea growing and production company in our home village.
My parents were farmers and behind the small village that I grew up in there is a big mountain. My father agreed to my idea and built the tea factory on the mountain himself. The product was good, but our company didn’t know how to build its brand image or promote itself to go to the market. It was therefore difficult to make progress and after several years the business ended. My father commenced another start-up producing bricks, but this failed. Fortunately, he later succeeded with a small business that produced cement steel boards for the construction industry. His persistence inspired my entrepreneurship.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Quectel plays a key role in building up the IoT industry for the world and is at the bleeding edge of innovation. For things to be truly connected, especially to outdoor things, cellular is the best technology since it is almost ubiquitous. With future satellite cellular networks under construction by some companies like SpaceX, it will become truly accessible everywhere on earth. This will accelerate smart cities, autonomous vehicles, smart energy/ agriculture, asset tracking, telehealth and so much more.
When more traditional industries and products want to utilize cellular technologies, they need our support to make it happen. These companies are not familiar with cellular technologies and it’s impossible for all of them to build their own cellular departments. Quectel, as the leading module vendor in the world, can make it easier, quicker, more cost effective and bring the strength of our robust R&D team to envision more innovative uses and to solve difficult problems. While we are a mature company, we maintain the culture of a start-up to encourage innovation and risk taking.
We have worked hard in order to solidify Quectel’s position as the most valuable IoT module supplier in the world. Our reputation was earned from listening well to our customers’ unique requirements to help them to develop IoT products. We continually innovate and have recently unveiled a comprehensive range of embedded and external antennas enabling our customers to source both the module and the antenna from one supplier. This will simplify device development and accelerate device time to market. After a decade of work, we have a 25% market share globally in IoT with a sustained high growth rate.
Our expansion has allowed us to remain financially stable so we can sustain global growth, superior support for our customers, at the lowest price point, on the bleeding edge of innovation, with control of the supply chain and offer the broadest portfolio of over 500 modules and 250 antennas for every conceivable request.
I am especially proud of our robust R&D team with over 2300 engineers. Our mission of Building a Smarter World excites me and our global teams every day.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The world is more interconnected and interdependent on each other every day. We also have huge problems that require all of us to work together to build a smarter world. This precisely describes the Quectel corporate culture and values. We think big, dream big, but take a down-to-earth and roll up our sleeves approach. To tackle the biggest challenges facing humanity today: global pandemics, traffic problems facing urban areas, food and energy shortages, access to education and healthcare, we need to unleash the power of technology to execute upon new ideas. It really takes a global village.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Visionary: I have always believed in a new emerging world of the Internet of Everything, focusing on contributing to the gradual formation of a smart world through IoT technologies and applications.
- Down-to-earth: In normal times, I spend at least half of my time traveling and visiting customers worldwide so that I fully understand their requirements and complaints about our products and services. At the beginning of the company, I corrected all the technical writing of documents for customers. Many product definitions and functions were collected from my visits to customers.
- Curiosity: I’m always curious about new technologies and new IoT applications. I’m always excited to travel the world and meet people from different cultures and backgrounds, and am interested in their new ideas. The better I know the world, the more my life is enriched.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I can’t think of any advice that I followed that severely hurt our business. Most of Quectel’s major mistakes were made by me. It reveals that I should listen to advice more!
It’s important that valuable suggestions are rewarded and our management team members all keep close contact with employees at the lower levels. It’s vital that they can hear the voices from all parts of the business.
We tolerate failures, but we don’t tolerate mental indolence. We encourage people to be bold and to strive to be better. Quectel is willing to take all kinds of risks to be innovative and to make breakthroughs for the industry. This approach has been instrumental in the success of Quectel.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Of course, progress isn’t always smooth. Quectel has experienced numerous issues along the way. Before 2015, there were two years where growth stagnated. Before 2017, the company’s cash flow was extremely tight for 3 consecutive years. However, we have worked hard to continuously improve our products, support and processes. For the last 5 years, Quectel has risen rapidly to its current position. I guess the speed of our growth has surprised many, especially our competitors.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
In 2019, just nine years after starting the company, Quectel’s module revenue became №1 in the world. This fulfilled my initial goal of becoming first in the world and I’m extremely proud of this achievement. However, the recognition is a function of the team’s success. My philosophy is that I don’t have to be important in this industry as an individual, but I hope that Quectel becomes synonymous with innovation and quality in the industry as a well-known and trusted brand.
The success of Quectel is a direct result of the exceptional work of our great team of people, led by top industry veterans like our President & CSO, Norbert Muhrer who brings a wealth of international management experience to our organization. I’m proud of assembling this group of talented individuals so we can execute on our goal of contributing as much as we possibly can to the IoT world.
Beyond this, we have built a truly international company, with sales, technical support and R&D offices around the globe. From the very beginning, we wanted to be able to serve all types of customers in the IoT industry, large or small. Quectel is a company for the world.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
Just like starting a company from one small but unique idea can lead to something great, sometimes little things can be distracting and cause problems. Rapid growth is exciting but it can be a challenge to sustain — especially when expectations are high. Inevitably there will be supply chain issues, turnover of key staff and new competitors. The key to managing all the challenges that you will face as the leader of a company, is to keep them in perspective and always play the long game. Change and churn are part of evolution and it can and must be managed to grow.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks for your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
Some start-ups are able to sustain long term growth without fundraising but these are the exceptions. In reality, startups usually need more cash to reach higher levels faster. Speed is critical to beat the competition but bootstrapping is often too slow. A good rule to follow is that fundraising should begin before the start up reaches the last year of available cash to support development. It is not advisable to wait until cash levels are low because it makes it harder to negotiate with any potential investors for favorable terms.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
My 5 tips for sustainable success include:
1. Put the customer first: The secret to Quectel’s success is all about putting the customer first with a talent oriented team.
2. Build and maintain an innovative culture: After a decade, staffers still embrace the spirit of a startup to keep the company agile, dynamic and adaptable to a rapidly changing world.
3. Keep an eye on financial stability for continuous investment in innovation and to ride out difficult business cycles. Our global teams have access to capital and deep resources to execute upon them. This provides the financial stability to sustain global growth, superior support for customers, the scale to drive the lowest price point, keep products at the bleeding edge of innovation, and control of the supply chain.
4. Understand that the world is global, it takes all of us to build a better, smarter world.
5. Embrace and celebrate diversity on teams, it attracts top talent and allows them to thrive.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Many people who start a business think that making money is the first priority.It often leads to poor products and bad services, which disappoint clients and eventually kill the business. Focusing on serving customers with good products and services is the key to sustaining the business and profit will follow after winning enough customers.
Some companies start with several founders, who have equal shares. No one can make a final decision within such an organization. It leads to stagnation of decision making and often prevents the business from growing or can even dissolve the enterprise.Dispute is inevitable.Only one person at a time should be able to make a final decision. It is best to have one consistent final decision maker within a startup.
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
It is not easy because being a founder of a company means sacrifices of important things like health and family time. However, we have to remember that running a company requires a long term commitment of 10 or sometimes 20 years. To keep healthy, my suggestion is to delegate less critical work to team members and strive to maintain enough rest time. Every company has its highs and lows, and many companies will fail. We all work hard and we must accept the outcome of our efforts. At the end of the day, our family and health are more important than our ambition.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
As mentioned earlier, my movement is Let’s Build a Smarter World — together.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I admire great entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Elon Musk and also Jack Ma. It would be my great honor to meet one of them in person someday.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Follow our blog at Quectel https://www.quectel.com/blog/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!