We’re sitting down with RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP) participants to learn their stories, find what inspires them and share with the community.
Phase Dock is a startup that provides electronics mounting solutions for IoT and maker projects. Founders Barbara Lehenbauer and Chris Lehenbauer are enthusiastic makers and creators with an impressive history. Barbara began her career as an army sergeant and Russian linguist. She retired from Honeywell a few years ago and enjoys building architectural stained glass. Chris also has a military background and was once a machinist who worked on the SR-71, the fastest aircraft ever built. Chris’s hobby is, you guessed it! Building things. We shared a fun conversation about entrepreneurship and what it means to them.
Q: What does Phase Dock do in a nutshell?
A: We have developed an electronics mounting system that allows people to more easily organize and prototype electronics. Essentially we’ve created LEGOs for electronics.
In the past, hobbyists, engineers and designers have used duct tape, plywood, zip ties, and so on to hold their electronics together during the development process. It was a mess, and not much fun. Phase Dock products enable inventors, project builders, and students to be more efficient and have more fun when building electronic products.
It’s great for building IoT prototypes. It’s affordable and allows for safe and easy transportation.
The possibilities are endless. We have customers using our product to develop medical devices, ham radio, model railroad controllers, home automation, greenhouse control, firmware testbeds and more. We even used our own product to make our industrial production controllers.
Q: What inspired you to start this company?
A: Chris was visiting the shop of a close friend who had several projects spread out on his desk. At the time Chris’s friend told him he couldn’t clear his desk. “If I touch my prototypes, they’ll break,” he said. And Chris thought, “I bet I can fix this.”
Q: What’s your favorite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: For Chris, it’s the problem solving aspect. The ability to express creativity through problem solving is the joy of it for him.
Barbara loves hearing what customers are doing with the product and the joy they’re getting from it.
Barbara explains, “A gentleman recently called me from Salt Lake City. He is an IT professional who had a stroke a couple years ago. He’s learning to do everything all over again. With our product, it’s easier for him to work on electronics again.”
Being an entrepreneur is hard, but when customers say things like: “This is the best prototyping tool ever,” “Please don’t stop,” “This product is really great,” … it makes it all worth it.
Q: Do you have any mentors or role models who have inspired you while you’ve been building your business?
A: RIoT has been very helpful to us for over two years, long before we were in the RAP program. Caroline and Tom gave us great advice and helped us make connections. Now that we’ve gotten to know Rachael, we also have a lot of respect for her.
In addition to RIoT, The Maker Movement has been very influential for us. The exposure provided by Maker Faires and the people we have met there have been fabulous. One thing that’s been a challenge in selling our product is that it is hard to describe in words. But when people see a demo, they immediately get it and understand the possibilities. That’s why in-person events have been really important to us.
Q: Any advice for entrepreneurs?
A: According to Chris, it’s important to be aware that sales and marketing are just as important and are worth investing in as much as the engineering side of a technical startup.
Barbara says there were more administrative details than she was anticipating. It’s the paperwork exercises that might bite you in the butt. Because it’s boring, it’s easy to avoid it and let it pile up. But you have to do it. As Barbara puts it, “For anyone who thinks being an entrepreneur is glamorous, get that idea out of your head.”