Life in a Global Start-Up

Money of the world

January 25, 2018

This story is excerpted in part from the original on LinkedIn.

I have bags of money. Many bags of money. They aren’t very large, and don’t have that much money in each one, but each has a different currency from the countries that I visit on a regular basis: Japan, Germany, Korea, the United Kingdom, China, Denmark, Canada and more. I also have a Pasmo card and an Oyster card, and expedited entry into 4 countries and counting. This is life in a global start-up and it is a first for me, but it is likely to be emblematic of a new reality.

I have been doing seed-stage venture capital in the United States for 20 years, and during that time, I have personally worked with over 30 companies, including active management roles in 5. Through most of that time, one of the standard lessons has been to focus on domestic markets first. There were occasional exceptions to that, like semiconductor companies that needed to do work with Taiwan, but in most cases, there would be enough of a domestic market to allow a start-up to build up significant traction before considering international opportunities. For me, that all changed in 2012 when I co-founded a materials company called Pajarito Powder.[i]

Pajarito Powder makes catalysts for hydrogen fuel cells. The fuel cell is the automotive industry-recognized long-term solution to produce the electricity for electric vehicles,[ii] and some 5,500 fuel cell vehicles have already been rolled-out by the largest car companies in the world, including Toyota, Honda and Hyundai.[iii] They are also being implemented in buses, trucks, trains and ferries. There are other applications as well: back-up power for remote locations like mobile towers, consumer electronics recharging, and distributed generation of electricity (with the added by-product of hot water) for the home. Fuel cells have a problem, however, in that they are too expensive, mostly because of the use of costly platinum as a catalyst. Pajarito Powder, using original technology licensed from universities and national laboratories, has figured out how to cut that platinum, and therefore the cost of the catalyst, in half. It is an exciting technology that has garnered interest from nearly every automaker with a significant fuel cell program. However, those car companies are not all in the United States. In fact, most are not. This has meant that Pajarito Powder has been selling internationally, developing partnerships internationally, and as it ultimately moves toward acquisition, garnering most of that attention internationally.

The fact that the bulk of Pajarito Powder’s customers, partners, and even potential acquirers are not in the United States has had impact on the culture, structure and budget of the company many profound ways: our travel, our work schedule and even the skills we have had to develop as the company has grown.

Perhaps the greatest impact we have experienced has been in our travel, both for customer visits and for tradeshow activity. For a business-to-business company, whose components need to be designed into end products, developing strong customer relationships is critical. Couple that need with the nuances of working with people who are non-native English speakers and who have different cultural norms than we might in the United States, and face-to-face interaction becomes critical. As Americans… (please click here to continue reading on LinkedIn).

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Pajarito Powder benefits from resources provided by the State of New Mexico Economic Development Department:  JTIP, STEP and other programs through the Office of Science and Technology.