Dan Miller: From Intel to angel investor to Red Nova Labs
Dan Miller, co-founder and CEO of Red Nova Labs. Photo courtesy of Red Nova Labs.
Red Nova Labs takes its name and mission from "luminous red nova," the label applied to a new class of stellar explosions. Just as these astronomical phenomena are thought to occur when two stars merge, Red Nova Labs set out in similar fashion in 2009 "to merge business and customers via the web." Red Nova Labs is a web think-tank that transforms ideas into profitable web products. If you’re not familiar with their work, take a look at two of their mature products, StorageFront and LenderStreet.
At the Red Nova Labs company Christmas party in 2010, I had the esteemed pleasure of meeting not only co-founder and CEO Dan Miller, but CMO Carrie Royce and CTO Robert Zhou as well. Recently, I was able to catch up with the Red Nova leadership team and chat further about Red Nova and its origins.
Silicon Prairie News: Dan, could you tell us a little bit about your background?
Dan Miller: I was with Intel for about nine years. I got my B.S. in electrical engineering and an MBA. I moved around in Intel for a bit doing sales, marketing, production management, process engineering, and then left Intel to start a wireless communication technology company, AeroComm.
I eventually sold that company four years ago to Laird Technologies, where I worked at for a year and half and then retired. At that time, I was looking for angel investment opportunities through the Mid-America Angel Network and other avenues, and I ran across some guys with an idea that seemed like an okay idea and they were pretty smart. The idea was called Hurox, pronounced Who Rocks, which was a user-generated content social platform.
Silicon Prairie News: What did you like about Hurox?
Miller: I really liked the team, their presentation was great, but there were potential legal issues. So, that was my concern. I spoke with Carrie Royce, someone I worked with for many years, and I told her she ought to hook up with these guys; they needed some marketing advice and I added that they were smart guys. I continued to keep in touch with them, but I still had those legal concerns. So, I thought if something could change, we could work together.
Carrie Royce (left, photo courtesy of Red Nova Labs): When I met the Hurox team, there were five of them working in, what amounted to a closet, as an apartment. I walked into this room and each of them had one to two monitors and they were elbow-to-elbow with Cheez-It’s everywhere, cranking code. I could not believe that they were this committed. So, I was trying to figure out how this was going to work because there was no where to sit or work, as bootstrap as they were. But at the same time, they were professional in going about fundraising and presenting their product. Everybody responded and everyone liked the team.
Miller: I want to say it was six to 12 months after Carrie had been working with the Hurox team, they contacted me and said they were ready to change directions. We went out for dinner and, at the time, we didn’t know what we’re going to do, but we knew we had a good team with good skill sets.
Silicon Prairie News: How did you go from potential angel investor to starting Red Nova Lab’s?
Miller: From a legal standpoint, Hurox folded and Red Nova Lab’s formed. We brought key players from Hurox and basically started backwards. We knew we had good people and we had financial backing – we just had to come up with an idea. So, we first came up with the name of the company and built the website in two weeks, which I’m a little ashamed of the current version – we have a new site coming out soon. Because we had a lot of expertise in programming, mobile technology, and web marketing, the company was formed under the premise of what I like to call web marketing research and development.
In 2009, we formed Red Nova Labs and we launched our first product, StorageFront, officially in January 2010. To continue driving ideas, we built something called the idea machine where everyone inserted their ideas and we would rate them. A lot of times the ideas we built didn’t have anything to do with the ideas in the idea machine, but the idea machine was an approach we found useful, and we sometimes use this approach today.
Silicon Prairie News: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Miller: Go ugly early is an old saying they say in bars which means, you don’t wait around all night to find the perfect date. If there is someone nice enough early in the night, then go out with them. From a product development stand point it’s not much different. You can spend your whole life making your product perfect, but the thing is you have to launch early – even if it’s ugly. Let users tell you how good or bad of a product you have.
Silicon Prairie News: What are your thoughts on Kansas City and the startup community?
Miller: It takes a long time to change a culture, and I think the fastest way to change is not to have a Venture Lab, an incubator, or an accelerator. The fastest way to get going is to have more entrepreneurs making products, and to have something like Red Nova Lab’s that is known for innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity. We really want to attract people that are not going to sit in the basement and be the next entrepreneur, but people who want to be part of a team that may come up with an entrepreneur idea, where we [Red Nova Labs] can help foster that entrepreneurial spirit.