A fun conversation with Sounde co-founder Devan Peplow. We talk about the journey of the company’s co-founders, Devan Peplow, Mavis Tang, and Maddie Kingsbury as they took an idea and ran with it. We discuss the journey of refining an idea and the opportunities they had to pitch in front of a few competitions as they have worked to bring the company forward to launch. The app, Sounde, is set to be available for Android and iOS sometime this spring.

Shout out to episode sponsor R.D. Adair PLLC (https://adair.law)

#76: A Sounde startup story with Devan Peplow

February 3, 2021 • 56:58

Aaron Spatz, Host, America’s Entrepreneur
Devan Peplow, CEO and Co-Founder, Sounde

Aaron  00:05
You’re listening to America’s Entrepreneur, the podcast designed to educate, entertain, and inspire you in your personal and professional journey. I’m your host, Aaron Spatz. And on the podcast, I interview entrepreneurs, industry experts and other high-achievers that detailed their personal and professional journeys in business. My goal is to glean their experiences into actionable insights that you can apply to your own journey. If you’re new to the show, we’ve spoken with successful entrepreneurs, Grammy Award-winning artists, bestselling authors, chief executives, and other fascinating minds with unique experiences. We’ve covered topics such as how to achieve breakthrough in business, growing startups, effective leadership techniques, and much more. If you strive for continual self-improvement and enjoy fascinating and insightful conversation, hit the subscribe button. You’ll love it here at America’s Entrepreneur.

I want to just jump right into it this morning. We have joining us today Devan Peplow. Devan comes to us from TCU and is a CEO, co-founder of Sounde and also works as a program manager at TechFW. Devan, I just want to welcome you. Thank you so much for being here this morning.

Devan  01:20
Awesome. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Aaron  01:23
For sure, for sure. So the obligatory question I’ve been asking everybody is where are you originally from? Because a lot of folks aren’t from DFW. Maybe you might have happen to be the unicorn that is. But share with me where are you originally from.

Devan  01:38
Yeah. So I love to say Chicago, but I’m actually from the suburbs in a little place called Gurney that’s up right in Illinois, right on the line of Wisconsin. And so I’m from there. Yeah, born, raised, left at 18, came to Texas and never left.

Aaron  01:57
Wow. Okay. Well, what was it like making that move?

Devan  02:02
Yeah. I think my parents were super inspiring when it came to picking a college. Of course they wanted me to stay close, but they really believed in what I wanted for myself and for my future. And you know, I didn’t really necessarily see myself setting up life in Illinois. And so we went on a little college tour and did California and Texas, and actually found rivalry schools that were pretty much the same school. Not really, but kind of the same school.

Aaron  02:39
Those are fighting words. You’re going to have people have something to say about that.

Devan  02:43
Definitely. I won’t name drop.

Aaron  02:46
Yeah. There you go.

Devan  02:46
But yeah, there are a lot California people that come to TCU. And so, you know, they see home in TCU as well. So yeah, ended up choosing TCU to study business, almost went to California to study religion, wanted to be a youth pastor. And you know, just was like, oh, maybe business, and then fell in love with business at TCU.

Aaron  03:09
Oh, that’s cool.

Devan  03:10
Yeah. Incredible program, incredible people there.

Aaron  03:13
That’s great. Yeah. Well, I mean, and so here’s our first sidebar. But you know, for those that have a faith background or appreciate the faith background in the journey there, you’ve got opportunities in business to make an impact, right? And so, you know, the church side of ministry will always be an option, right? But being a force, being an influence in whatever your sphere of influence is, is really awesome. And it’s really cool that you had very, very supportive parents in terms of supporting you.

Devan  03:47
That made all the difference.

Aaron  03:49
Oh my gosh, yeah.

Devan  03:49
Knowing that you have your parents’ support, I mean, it was still tough when I was like, yeah, I think the final decision is Texas. They’re a little sad, but they came out and visited and they love it now as a vacation spot, almost. The snow piles up too high.

Aaron  04:03
And let’s just be real. I’m sure they partied after you left. Let’s just be real, right?

Devan  04:07
Oh, yeah. And both sides of my family both have other kids. So I’m like, okay, y’all have your hands full. They were shocked though when I came back home the first two years and started picking up some y’all’s and stuff like that. And you know, now it’s normal and now I’m like, when they say it, I’m like, what are you? You don’t live here. I’ve been here six years now.

Aaron  04:30
Right. That’s so funny. That’s awesome. Well, then, so what was the journey like for you going through TCU? And then obviously, you know, you get your hands in a couple of things. Share with me the story of the education journey, but then kind of what lit the spark for you, kind of what opened your eyes up to some of these different opportunities?

Devan  04:56
Yeah. Well, yeah, so that’s a long – I mean, long journey but started at TCU freshmen going through everything that that entails. Well, really, in high school, I had an awesome business program up in Illinois at Carmel Catholic High School. And their business program had a marketing teacher from, I believe, Britain, and she really sparked that business fire kind of for – at first I thought it was going to be marketing, actually. Always had that creative background, love doing that. I always do that on the side. But she kind of sparked a want to do marketing and advertising. And you know, I had this big dream of working at Coca-Cola and helping with new campaigns and just doing some of their inspirational stuff. And so I came to TCU and enrolled in the business program.

You know, your first two years at TCU before you’re actually in the business program, you’re taking all the prereqs for it. And you know, all the liberal arts classes. And so got to see a little bit outside of just marketing. And then I got into a leadership program in the business school, my freshman year, the Neeley Leadership Program (BNSF NLP). So shout out to BNSF. Once I got into that program, all of the professors for that program were all management and entrepreneurship before the major split at TCU and went management and entrepreneurship. It used to be one major. All of my professors that I was obsessed with, loved learning from my freshman and sophomore year, taught the entrepreneurship program. Or well, entrepreneurship and management program at the time.

So loved that program, was learning from them, decided to switch my major to entrepreneurial management. That’s what I ended up getting my degree in with an emphasis in leadership. And yeah, just wanted to learn from them. And then through that, I just loved being over-involved, you know, and I think that’s a common trend with – I don’t know, it was a very common trend at TCU, just to have a hand in everything.

Aaron  07:15
I’ll just say talk to me about over-involved. What is it like? Give me couple other examples of that.

Devan  07:20
So over-involved, just constantly, I mean, running between your 15 to 18 to over that hour. So thankfully, I never took over that. I know some people at TCU did. But yeah, TCU has a very strong kind of grind culture of you’re going to be busy all day long and then you’re going to be with your friends. You know, I’m sure during the pandemic, it definitely looks different. I graduated right before everything began so my heart goes out to them right now. But yeah, I mean, I just remember, you know, 8:00 AM, wake up, 9:00 PM, 10:00 PM, 11:00 PM, you’re still in the buildings doing meetings for not just classes but all the clubs you’re in, you know, Greek life, you’re doing philanthropy and stuff like that.

And so, I mean, my scheduler was just always filled to the brim and I loved that. And it just felt like you were operating so smoothly. You had things to always get to. You have responsibilities. And I love that. And so, you know, I was a part of almost two different sides of campus. I love doing the business end of it. I was really involved with the leadership program I was a part of, but then also was really involved with student development services on the other side of campus. And so one of my passions was helping students that do come to TCU, getting them involved in clubs and programs the first couple of weeks, making sure that they have friends and mentors to talk about.

So yeah, probably my sophomore, junior, senior year was just really involved with mentoring and that mentoring has probably been a common thread in my story and something that I love. I mean, you know, all the way back to wanting to go that religious route to be there for youth that are going through hard times as everyone does. So yeah, that was a common thread and loved both of those.

Aaron  09:31
Well, going back to that point though. It’s there’s a lot of folks that, I mean, very similar story to you in terms of moved in from out of state. They don’t have family, they don’t have friends. And so depending on their personality and their desire to go and introduce themselves and kind of start to get connected with people, it can be a challenge, right? And then there’s people that can feel very isolated, especially when the work is piling up, right? You’ve got all these papers to write and midterms to study for and everything else and the whole sorts of bad memories with all that. But as all that stuff is piling on, it really is important to have some community around you or a listening ear or somebody that you can talk to.

And that never changes, right? So there’s so much value in mentorship, but you’re talking more along the lines of you being the mentor, which I think is fantastic taking on – I mean, that’s leadership. So you’re taking responsibility for helping other people get connected to the culture, get connected to what they’re doing and kind of get settled in and encouraged and motivated. So, I mean, that had to have been a lot of fun. I’m sure it was very fulfilling journey for you there.

Devan  10:55
Yeah. I would say that it was extremely fulfilling. I was lucky. Midway through my college journey, I was on one path and being just on another side of campus and ran into an extreme leadership failure point. My sophomore year was just a mess from start to finish. I had a position on campus that no matter what I did, I was failing. And so it’s funny to think back on how close I was to that, and you know, during that year, I was an RA for people my age that I hung out with 24/7. And I don’t think people get enough credit for being RAs and for being that and for signing up to get free housing, free food but then having to be somebody that tries to uphold rules and “Hey, quiet hours”, you know, just stuff like that, where I’m more so got into it because I wanted to be that friend to people but ended up having to take on different responsibilities.

And so that failure point of just constantly, you know, everything I tried kind of shot back in my face. That was actually a huge pivot point, which got me back into student development services and back onto a different side of campus. And I mean, really, that moment when I looked back in college, that shaped the rest of it and kind of going back and having that overpopulated schedule that I was talking about. I mean, that really prepared me for what my life looks like now, you know, being able to take on multiple things and being able to run a company while working at another company. So all the journey.

Aaron  12:52
That’s perfect. Yeah. No, it’s a journey. And I find that there are so much – this doesn’t have to always be the case, but there’s so much more to learn through the struggles. And I even hesitate to call them failures. They’re learning opportunities. They’re things that we can pick this up, we can take a look at it and really understand, okay, you know, how did this happen? Why did it happen? That whole thing. But then also drive forward, understand to be patient with yourself. You’re learning, you’re growing. You need opportunities where you can fall on your face every once in a while, but you’re able to pick yourself up and keep going. I mean, I fall on my face more times than I can count, right? And every business leader out there has.

So it’s a part of it, right? It’s fun to look back on. It’s not fun necessarily when you’re in it. It’s not something you’re like, this is going to be a great story. It’s frustrating. But then give it a little bit of time, okay, this is actually a really awesome learning point, which is kind of what it turned into for you. You’re like, okay, now that this is going to help drive me forward. So share with me now then the genesis of Sounde. Where did that come from? What were you studying? What crazy brainiac idea did you come up with?

Devan  14:17
Of course. So, yeah, so Sounde actually really started with – well, started way before me, but my inspiration for where it is now kind of all stemmed from an internship that I had my junior year at TechFW. So where I am now in this very office. That was that three, four years ago. So started with an internship at TechFW. And you know, at that point, I was studying entrepreneurship and my thoughts were: I want to learn entrepreneurship so that I can be a better leader, so that when I enter in the workforce, I can go the corporate route, save up a safety net, some funds, and maybe in ten years when I’m 30, 35, I’ll start my company finally. I’ll find an idea, we’ll start it. It’ll be great. And that was kind of I wrapped that idea in a box and that was my future.

And then my junior year summer, it’s a really big deal to try to get an internship your junior year summer going into your senior year. Because that’s what employers look for once you enter the workforce. And so entered in an internship program that was between TCU and TechFW, where they match students with some of our client companies and other startups or startup support organizations in the DFW area. And I got matched with TechFW, which, I mean, again, one of those pivotal moments that has shaped my whole young adult life to this point.

So I got matched with them, got to work under my still current boss, Hayden Blackburn. And that has just been incredible but got to learn from the ecosystem that whole summer. So I got to really dive into what is the business sphere of Fort Worth. And so just fell in love with it. I mean, truly, that summer was probably one of the funnest summers of my life. We were doing these big events to showcase these incredible entrepreneurs who just have the most groundbreaking technologies and innovative solutions and we’re also just really good people – people that I got along with and that I wanted to be around more.

And so once my internship concluded, I went back for my senior year. I was sitting in class and we had a professor on campus who came into one of my entrepreneurship classes. And he said he had an idea. He had this algorithm, a Distinct Sound which could alter frequency waves, amplify, dampen them, and really kind of mirror what a hearing loss solution is. But make it low cost and accessible to the masses.

And he came to us with this idea all starting with his mom who came into visit him from China. And she was cooking this meal and she couldn’t hear the beepers, things were burning, and the TV was up too loud and he was like, “Oh my gosh, my mom is experiencing hearing loss.” And she has to go back to China and have a month to figure out how to get her an appropriate hearing loss solution. And so they did all the meetings and they went to the audiologist and they got fittings and they got testings and there was just nothing in their price range and there was nothing readily available in the timeframe that she needed before she could go back to China.

And so being the genius that he is, he wanted to solve that himself. And so he built this algorithm over the course of three years with multiple other people into Distinct Sound, pitched that in front of a class of entrepreneurship students. Because, I mean, he’s just always working on new things – Dr. Ma, Dr. Liran Ma. And he’s a person to watch.

And yeah, so he got a grant to start working on some other stuff. I think DOD, maybe data infrastructure. But he started working on that, was looking for somebody to commercialize the Distinct Sound algorithm. And so me and a couple other women came together and we’re kind of plucked from the TCU business school. We had to go through this interview process. It was very not your normal, you know, how this business started. It’s through licensing and through getting interviewed by the business school.

But yeah, Rodney D’Souza, Director of the Entrepreneurship Institute, he interviewed a couple of us, a couple of MBA candidates. And you know, when it came to the final round, myself, Maddie Kingsbury and Mavis Tang all met up and it just worked. We have really good chemistry as a team. We really respect each other. We knew each other. Mavis and I were friends beforehand, but Maddie, I had no idea who she was. And so we entered into this really interesting license agreement for this really cool solution not knowing each other. I don’t know other people that do that. It was one of the craziest times of our life.

And so my senior year was just a blur of running to this meeting, running to this meeting, starting this technology company and starting this app and finding developers. But before we found developers, you had to create a business plan. And we only had – I think it was six weeks from the time that we signed the agreement, which we’re coming up on our two-year. So that’s exciting. I think it was February 12th. We signed all the agreements on that day and had, I think, three weeks to be able to pitch to TCU.

Yeah, maybe that was it. Yeah. I think we had three weeks to prepare our very first pitch to TCU to get some money. And that if we won that, we would get entered into the mega competition, TCU Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures (VandV). If we won this, we could get into that. And if we got into that, there was a whole slew of money that we could potentially get into that could help us start the company. And so we had weeks. All just met each other.

Aaron  20:49

Devan  20:49
Three weeks, spent that time constantly together, building out a business plan. You know, late nights, early mornings, in the library, just typing out everything we think that this company could be and doing so much research on it, pitched. I wish we had a recording of our very first pitch. It was crazy, the heartbeat. We were like, oh, my gosh.

Aaron  21:13
That would have been crazy.

Devan  21:14
That would have been crazy.

Aaron  21:15
Well, let’s back up just one quick second. So you were kind of, sort of selected out of a group of people and a group of you go through this selection process. So like you said a few minutes ago, that’s obviously a very non-standard way of something getting started. You’re basically getting recruited, you and a group of people, you’re coming in together. You may or may not know each other. You happen to know one of the other people. And then it’s some type of – and again, we don’t have to get into the details, but in terms of like it’s some type of ownership split or licensing agreement. There’s some type of ownership structure there.

And so having kind of go through all that stuff and then you’re going forward, you’ve got a tight deadline in terms of like, okay, guys, apparently, we are the three people that are going to go take this thing to market and make this happen. Let’s make it happen. And we’ve got to hurry up, get everything together because we’re going to start trying to raise money. All right. So then we go there and then so fast forward into the first, the very first pitch, what was that like? Was successful for you?

Devan  22:28
Oh, my gosh. Yes. It ended up being very successful for us. We got first place. In that first pitch, I think we got – oh, gosh, I think it was maybe $500. But I believe that was the money that we use to set up our LLC. I remember I was on spring break with my family. It was midnight in another country and I was on the SOS Texas website, registering for us to get our license and just like running into all of these issues of being a first-time founder. I mean, I’m sure a lot of first-time founders can relate to just every single step of the way is a question.

So while I was in school full-time studying entrepreneurship and learning how to set up a business, it’s almost like, “It does, it makes sense”, but when you’re doing it for yourself, you’re like, “Is this the right step? Am I going to get food? Am I going to get a tax fraud for something?” And so those just are constantly always running in the back of our heads of, you know, you hear these mega stories of these companies that blow up and they’re getting sued for something that they messed up that’s a dumb mistake.

And so every step of the way, we try to be really cognizant of if this company does reach success, would anybody look back and would we have done anything wrong legally? Which as college students, I wish I didn’t have to think about that, but it’s been a great learning experience. And so, yeah, I was in, I don’t know, maybe in Cancún filling out this LLC. We came back to campus and then after we had won the first place for the internal pitch competition at TCU, we had to go prepare for Values and Ventures.

Aaron  24:20
Okay. So let’s pause right there. It’s is a perfect a break. So as soon as we come back from break, let’s dive right into Values and Ventures. Because obviously, that’s like the main event, right? And that’s where it started. So we’ll jump right into that really, really quick after the break.

So speaking of business formations and all the things that involve starting up a business, we want to thank our sponsor for today’s episode, it’s R.D. Adair Law, R.D. Adair Business Attorneys. So Ryan Adair and his team are fantastic, fantastic group of people so they can help you on the front end. So whether it’s a business formation, whether it’s getting things off the ground, or you’re talking about an acquisition or a formation of some sort, any kind of transaction all the way to the other end of the spectrum – litigation and disputes and all the other nasty stuff that goes into all that. These things happen, right? So give them a call. Tremendous, tremendous people. They’ll definitely take great care of you. Incredibly grateful to them for their sponsorship of our show today.

So, all right, Devan, I had to cut you off because it was the perfect, the perfect break point there in terms of where we’re going and what you had just got done saying. I thought that was hilarious actually.

Devan  25:37
Yeah. I thought that was perfect.

Aaron  25:37
So yeah, all right, so jumping right back in into the thick of it. You just won your very first pitch competition. You had just met or had just formed this team. You’ve only known one of the other people. So you got three of you, three weeks, you go in, you will take first place and now you got to get ready for the next step. How much time did you have and what did that pressure feel like?

Devan  26:10
Oh, my gosh. I think back to that pressure and I don’t think I’ve ever felt that much pressure before in my life. There was some of that healthy stress that pushed me to be who I feel like I am today and then there’s some of that stress where I’m like, I wish I would have just breathed a little bit more. But yeah, so after the first competition, then we really start preparing for what was the real goal, which was winning VandV. And so VandV is hosted by TCU, but it’s actually a global event. And so they invite in college students from all over the US nearly. I feel like I used to have this number memorized, but I think it was probably 50 or 60 schools from within the US and then ten, 12 outside of the US. So, you know, they have a group representing from – I think it was Switzerland. Yeah, there was Switzerland. There was a couple… I’m trying to think. I’m still friends with all of them on LinkedIn.

Aaron  27:20
United Nations come and set up shop.

Devan  27:21
Yeah. Oh, my gosh. And what a full circle kind of for this competition. It is a beautiful competition. It is valuable ventures. So ventures that are creating value in communities. And so every single college that registered to come, their top company that was representing that college for this pitch competition was a company that was doing good. And so ever since my freshman year, I had been volunteering at Values and Ventures as maybe a card holder for, you know, you have 30 seconds left. Maybe I was helping judges get to different rooms. But I was doing everything that I could to just sit in those rooms and watch the presenters because it felt like Christmas.

I think it’s a full weekend. So it’s one of those full weekend of events of just your eyes are glued to these entrepreneurs, these young people that are changing the world and who are passionate about changing the world and who are passionate in 70 different ways about changing the world. Nobody’s products were the same. Nobody’s services were the same. It was all so different. And so yeah, that added some pressure onto it, you could say, just being such a fan of this pitch competition and then being the chosen representative.

Aaron  28:48
Okay. So you’re the one who had to go deliver the pitch.

Devan  28:52
Yeah. So, we all did. Mavis took on some extra stress and she delivered two pitches that weekend. So you can compete in 60-second or 90-second pitch, the elevator pitch, and there’s a whole competition on that end of it. And then there’s the full pitch. And the full pitch, I believe it was 12 minutes and then eight minutes of Q&A or maybe 15 minutes and five minutes or something of that sort but it ended up being 20-minute sections of the big competition.

And so, you know, we were doing it. I remember the very first time – basically there were two rounds. So we did the elevator pitch. We got moved on to the bigger pitch. And with the full pitch, we were in the TCU in BLUU, that third floor. If you’ve ever been up there, it’s just this mega auditorium. If you section it off, it’s four auditoriums. And so they open up all the walls, they have all these tables, they invited the whole TCU community and everybody who’s not pitching. And, you know, my whole community was there cheering. And just sitting behind the stage, we were in this back room about to go up and pitch. And I just remember a whole team and Rodney was there as well. He’s been our mentor throughout this whole thing, our business advisor. And all of us were just like looking at each other and we’re like, “We’ve prepared so much for this. We have pitched. We have been picked apart.” We really – I mean, that’s a whole another story. But during our preparing process, we pitched so many times, had so many different people listen to our pitch, did pitch in so many different ways and really tore everything apart. It was a probably – I think it was six weeks we had, either five or six weeks to really get professional level pitch ready.

And yeah, we were about to go on stage and it was one of the funniest moments. Because you’re about to go on stage and have this big presence and speak to this whole room of people. And the three of us were backstage and we were like, “Rodney, our hearts. We can’t breathe right now.” And he was like, “Honestly?” He’s like, “I’m going to leave the room. Y’all take a minute.” He’s like, “If you lay down on the floor and just breathe, close your eyes, calm down your heartbeats, go up there. Y’all are going to do great. We all believe in you.”

And so that’s exactly what we did. I think it was five minutes before we went up on stage, me, Maddie and Mavis were just laying on the ground in this backroom and just really taking it in for a second of every step that we’ve accomplished up until here. And then we go out on stage, we deliver this pitch. I mean, sure, there were some things we could have buffed out being on stage for the first time, but I mean, we connected with the judges we connected with the audience. It was this wonderful, wonderful moment in my memory. And ended up getting third place, which is the highest that TCU has ever ranked and got $15,000 to start up this company.

And I mean, you know, in terms of life, that’ll be something I never forget of just how hard that we tried to get to that one moment and then the payoff of that. And the payoff wasn’t necessarily – yes, the money was a huge part of it, but also the professional growth just during that and seeing where the business was taken from the first time we pitched to the very last time once we had picked apart literally every step of the business plan. I mean, just incredible.

Aaron  32:27
Yeah, it’s a phenomenal story. One, thanks for sharing that story. And two, it’s a journey you’ll never forget and it’s something that will galvanize you in the future. So when you’re on your second, third, fourth companies years from now, this will always be a fond memory of yours. And you mentioned something and I really want to go back to this because it’s actually a tremendous point that I think a lot of people can learn from. And what you said a few minutes was about picking an idea apart and how that can be brutal, right? And so for a lot of folks that are foreign to the business world or in terms of just getting an idea off the ground, they’ll realize that there is so much value – it can be a little unnerving at first, but there is so much value in trying to pick apart the idea. There’s maturity factor that goes into that, but also just the awareness of making it more about the company.

So kind of going backwards just a little bit. I wanted to kind of give you an opportunity to share a little bit about that. Because for a lot of people, that can be very emotional because they feel like they’re being attacked personally, right? They’re like, “Well, this specific facet of my idea sucks, therefore I suck, right?” People will kind of take that on to themselves. And I find that the people that ended up doing well are the ones that are able to kind of go through that experience, that can kind of learn from like, “No, no, no, no, no. We’re not picking on you. We’re picking on elements of the idea because we actually care about the idea so much that we want to make it as better as possible.” It’s like watching game film after a football game, right? You’re trying to always get better. So anyway, I want to turn the floor over, bring it back to you, and just to kind of share with me a little bit about what that journey was like for you and what you learned through that.

Devan  34:21
Yeah. I mean, oh, my gosh. So much. And just when we get to it later, everything that I’ve learned thus far with Sounde has been able to help me with entrepreneurs now where I work with at TechFW. And so everything to me is important from my history because it’s what makes me a good mentor to younger students going through this now and how I can help plan programs that would help current entrepreneurs. But yeah, no, so that is probably – yeah, one of the toughest things to ever do is to have this child and place it in front of people and for them just to be like, “Well, why would you ever do that? And why would you say that? And why are you stuttering here?” And just we tore it apart. And I mean, everything from the business plan to how we were presenting to how we hold ourselves, I mean, a full overhaul of how you present yourself. And that was also difficult.

So, you know, there’s two sides of that that’s very difficult. And really, yeah, I mean, that’s right. The maturity of it. It’s always weird to say like, “Oh, yeah, I’m mature.” It was more in the moment of just being open to feedback. And I think that caused us to grow up really quickly – was just having to be open to that feedback. And from day one, Maddie, Mavis and myself, I think part of what made us really special is we were constantly looking to grow. And this wasn’t a vanity thing. We didn’t take on this project to be big business people. We took it on because we love the product. We loved the founders. We wanted to make good change. We wanted to make hearing loss solutions accessible. And so everything changed with that in mind. Because it wasn’t about us. It was about the change we could potentially make and how we needed to get there.

And so, yeah, I mean, it just so ties into what worked for us then and what we see as a trend now. I mean, so tying that into now. At TechFW, there’s Cowtown Angels. And with Cowtown Angels, I see four companies every month pitch in front of angels. And one of the places you have to be careful is when it comes to Q&A, that you don’t get defensive. Because if you get defensive, they’re not going to feel comfortable asking questions. And if they can’t get their questions answered, why would they want to work with you? Why would they trust you? They need to build that trust. They need to have those answers to their questions and to move forward with you.

And so learning that years ago and then being able to see it play out all the way till now, the best entrepreneurs are really accepting of that feedback in my eyes. In my eyes. You know, there are some people that are completely closed off to that and some have succeed. But I see as a trend, being open to that feedback and knowing – there’s the flip side of the coin to being open to feedback is how much feedback do you take in. Do you take in every single person’s opinion? Because at one point, we had 35, 40 different people giving us opinions.

Aaron  38:01

Devan  38:01
On how to change the business plan, on how to change how we present ourselves. And those opinions conflicted with each other.

Aaron  38:09
Consider the source, right? You’ve got to consider the source. And then to the point that you’re about to make, which is also like having a conviction to stand behind. So there may be a couple of concrete lines in the sand that you’ve drawn and it’s strategic. There’s a reason behind it. And unless there’s like a very, very good reason to change maybe this one element of something, it’s not going to change. But then of course, yeah, consider the source, right? Because not everybody’s opinion is equal and that is absolutely a hard business truth.

I’m going to be more willing to receive criticism and feedback on any of my ventures and things I’m working on from somebody who’s been in the business world for a while. And they’ve been successful. They have a track record. And I can tell they actually give a crap about me, but also about trying to help me become the better, best version of myself in a helpful way. And then you’ve got this other group – and I know I’m way overgeneralizing and categorizing people here and that’s not my intent, but the reality is you’ve got a spectrum of opinion and with that is going to come a spectrum of experience and backgrounds. So consider the source, right?

Devan  39:27
Yeah. No, I mean, and that’s just one of the things that I’ve taken away from that and that whole thing, but I mean, yeah.

Aaron  39:36
Yeah. Well, no, that’s good. Well, then let’s fast forward then. So you took home you said 15K from that competition. You took way more than 15K home with you though. You took a ton of experience and just a really, really amazing opportunity for you there. So share with us then the days afterwards. So what did that do?

Devan  39:59
Yeah. So what’s funny is I feel like every time with a big milestone that I’ve accomplished, you know, not I but our team, every time we’ve accomplished something, it sets us up for an even bigger goal and even bigger milestone that we have to hit. And so we had been preparing months for this pitch competition. We win third place, we get this money and then that’s when we get to start setting up the company. That’s when we get to actually start. Because at that point, we only had the $500 to pour into the company. And so that got us our LLC and some business cards for the weekend so that we could give out to people at VandV.

But then with that 15K, we started this interview process for developers. And we were really passionate about keeping it within TCU because the original algorithm developer, Distinct Sound, Liran Ma, Dr. Liran Ma, he developed the algorithm with students in mind. And one of his passions was always using students. And I mean, he gave us a chance. He gave us the exclusive license. He gave us a chance. And so we felt passionate about doing that as well.

And so entered in this interview process and got our first developer, Riley Durbin. He has been working on the iOS app for about a year and a half now, probably year and a half year. And yeah, we’re almost launch ready. We are at the final stages picking what we want the pop-up messages to be when you click on different parts of the app. But he’s been with us the longest. And then we also hired Griffin McPherson and he’s been working on our Android version of the app and he’s been working on it for probably a year now.

And so now, I mean, we are – I’m a books person, our QuickBooks, I work the books, I do our accounting and stuff like that. Luckily, TechFW. I could go on whole another podcast thing of just every single player in the Fort Worth ecosystem who has helped us get to where we are. But TechFW was a big part of that. After I had interned here, we entered in the ThinkLab Accelerator, ran our business through that when I was working here full time. Did that at nights after I had worked here all day. You know, 5:00 to 8:00 PM was then the Accelerator time. And through that, learned how to set up our QuickBooks and learn how to do even more things with the company.

And we’ve been very tight with our budget. It was funny after we won the 15K, people were like, “Oh. Are you going to go out and celebrate?” And we’re like, “No, we’re not touching that. This is precious. Every dollar is precious.” And so yeah, I mean, we pay our developers, we pay our legal fees, we pay for a website each month and we pay for our QuickBooks. And that’s what we do. We’re very tight with it. And then we try, you know, with graphic designers and stuff like that, we will do a little bit of that every now and then, but we’ve really been able to make 15,000 last over two years.

Aaron  43:16

Devan  43:17
Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, it helped that we all had other full time, you know. When we graduated, we were able to get other full-time jobs. Working at an entrepreneurial support organization of TechFW, I had access to so many people, so much information, so much that now I spurt it out at any point that I can to any other founders. Because I’m like, “Listen, this helped me so much and it was very low cost or free.”

Aaron  43:36
That’s good. That’s good.

Devan  43:38
So that’s really helped with everything up until this point. And then we’ve spent the last two getting ready for launch. And then once we launch, that’s a whole another journey of actually growing the company and scaling and selling and a whole new world of that. So we’re all very excited to start on that front. We’ve been preparing for so long now that I think we’re ready for the next step.

Aaron  44:16
For sure. Well, then talk me through then. So you talked a little bit about the technology behind all this, but what does the app do? What is it helping you accomplish?

Devan  44:31
Yeah. So, okay. So let’s say you and I were in the same room right now and I had hearing loss, low to mid-range, and your voice was really hard for me to decipher between what letters were what, were you speaking to me first? You know, it just kind of blurred together. There was a hum. What I would do in that situation – and what I like to precipice all of this with is that Sounde is great. It’s a great additive if you have a hearing aid. But if you don’t have a hearing aid and you haven’t committed, that’s more of where we’re trying to serve. It’s people that don’t have access to that.

And so if you and I were in a room right now, you were sitting right here. Potentially, I would take my phone out, maybe throw in an air pod, put in my prescription. My prescription would already be saved. But, you know, I have hearing loss in the low to mid-range. I would amplify those, maybe dampen background noise and stuff like that, put in my air pod, press play. You know, putting my wired headphones, whatever really I have on access at the time. Just press play and it takes in all the sound that’s going on around us, takes it into the phone through the phone’s microphone, switches it up, does the amplifying, does the dampening, fixes the frequencies for your prescription and then gives it back to you.

Aaron  46:03

Devan  46:04
So, yeah, it mirrors that type of hearing loss solution, but all from an app subscription and whatever headphones you already have. That was something that we thought was very important – was just how quickly you could access it. So if somebody who had hearing aids didn’t need this solution, but let’s say, they were walking around in their bathroom, they hopped in the shower and their hearing aid was still in, it gets waterlogged, it needs to go get fixed. There’s just things like that that happened in life where it’s like, “What do I do?” And so there’s so many different places where it can be used, but our biggest thing was we want to make it accessible to masses. Just in 30 seconds, you could have a solution and it’s low cost. And so the price of using this for three years is, you know, I think it’s a tenth of the cost of buying a hearing aid that’ll last three years.

Aaron  47:06

Devan  47:06
Especially for people that don’t have the right coverages for insurance and they don’t have all of that and it’s inconspicuous. You can have in headphones of any type. It’s easy for people to cover with their hair. It’s easy just to be like, “Oh, yeah. They have on a little Bluetooth device.” You’re wearing a little, you know? Just like that. It’s inconspicuous. People see those every day and they don’t think, oh, man, he probably has hearing loss right now. So yeah, so that’s kind of – yeah.

Aaron  47:43
Yeah, that’s cool. That’s cool. So the monetization or the pricing. One, a couple of questions is would be like, when do you anticipate being a launch? I imagine you’re strictly at this point, you’re just waiting on the app to be as close to perfect as possible with a ton of testing and just trials running the app. Is that kind of the phase that you’re out right now?

Devan  48:09
Yeah. So we’ve ran it, we tested it. During the pandemic, again, super passionate about students, we went to TCU back to our leadership program that just puts out awesome students. And we went to that program and said, “Did anybody’s internships get canceled over the summer?” Last summer, from the pandemic. “Is anybody interested in working with Sounde this summer? We don’t have funds to pay. But TCU has a grant program set up for students to get internships that are unpaid and get paid a scholarship. If anybody’s interested, we’ll write out all the documents, we’ll get you that scholarship and we’ll get you a job for the summer.” And we had four students come forward that worked with us and they spent the whole summer creating a marketing plan. And so, you know, go to market kind of marketing strategy, how to utilize different social medias for different markets. And they just did a fabulous job.

And so that’s kind of what’s next. Yes, once the app is done, we enter into kind of the phase of that. We’re doing a soft launch. We’ll have it out on the app store for a couple of weeks and then do a hard launch once we feel like it’s in a good place. And we’ve been able to get it up there. Because funny thing about Apple, I’m sure other people have had different experiences, but with Apple, we have had just little barriers every couple months with them. I always thought, you know, they have such a user-friendly platform where it’s so easy to go on there, search for an app you want, click buy and you’re good. But on the other end of, it has been the most difficult thing just trying to get an app up there. And you know, it makes me look at – what was that game? Flappy birds, an 11-year-old designed that or something and got it up there. And I’m like, “How? How did that happen so easily?” And I assumed that it was easily.

And so yeah, that’s kind of what’s next. It’s rolling into the marketing plan and we’re writing a press release and we’re going through all of that for the first time. Yeah. And then, I mean, from that, we just had a discussion last week on once it launches, you know, what are we focusing those funds are? Because all of the founders are still very much so and even Liran Ma, who we’re licensing from and has a royalty package in there. All of us are very focused on just getting the company to a healthy point, being able to hire more developers, being able to do everything for the company and not necessarily see that back. So it’ll probably be year three, year four before we see anything back.

Yeah. So, again, it’s one of those interesting startup experiences where I feel like we wanted the safety net of having full-time jobs so that we could take our time with everything and really make sure that all the boxes are checked and the company is healthy and we don’t have to make any decisions based on our financial situations. It’s all based on the company.

Aaron  51:58
That’s solid. It’s solid when you can make decision in your business, clear business decisions not based on a personal financial need, when you’re able to execute an idea because of the idea, right? You want to make a change or you want to do something different and you don’t have to weigh your own personal situation to that as much. It’s strictly what’s going to help the company. And you know, and then on marketing, obviously that’s something that near and dear to my heart in terms of the strategy behind that. You got to get out and tell as many people about this as humanly possible because that is going to be what helps get the ball moving.

So I’m excited. I really am. I’m excited for you. I’m excited to see how you guys continue to execute on the idea and the growth of the company and how well received it is by the general public because it’s a service that’s going to – it could impact anybody with any type of hearing loss. And part of the attractiveness of it is the convenience, right? So I don’t have to go to a doctor. I could sit here with my phone – or, I mean, I don’t know, maybe I do still need to go to the doctor to get the prescription or whatever, but I don’t have to go drop X amount of dollars on hearing aids where I can use your solution, right? Am I summarizing that correctly?

Devan  52:50
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you know, hearing loss is one of those things where it’s emotional. It’s an identity that you can take on – is having hearing loss. And it affects people. It affects so many people in little ways and in big ways and it’s your whole life type of way sometimes. And so having a solution that can be that toe dip in the water of, okay, I think I’m experiencing hearing loss. I’m not ready to tell anybody else. I’m not ready to go get tested. I’m not ready to have my friends think that I have hearing loss. I don’t want them making jokes or I don’t want them trying to lighten the mood. I don’t want to take on that identity yet. It is so easy and inconspicuous for that.

And then there are people who are ready to take on that identity and are ready to find solutions, and with that population, cool. Let’s get you a solution. And if it takes you three weeks for your hearing aid to come in, go ahead and use this in the meantime, play around with it. Yeah. Right now, prescription wise, we do say it’s best to go into an audiologist, go get your prescription lined out, see exactly where your losses on left and right ear. But you can also do that in app. That’s one of the things that we’re trying to roll out. We’ve seen it been done before. And so we’re just trying to get that technology in our app as well. It probably won’t make it to the first rollout.

But yeah, it’s very easy. I mean, our app has two pages. It’s press play and let’s make your prescription and you can have multiple different prescriptions for, you know, maybe I’m talking to you or maybe I’m talking to my mom who has a higher pitched voice and that might need a different prescription or I’m going into a movie theater and that has a whole different prescription. But it’s so easy to play around with that you could go into a movie theater, sit down – I mean, post pandemic. You go to a movie theater, sit down, and you’re like, “Oh, the main character’s voice.” Yeah. We’re going to need to need to play with that a little bit. Or something’s going on in the background, “Oh, that’s creating a horrible sound in my ears. Let’s turn that down.” So yeah, it gives you control over your hearing.

Aaron  55:18
That’s really cool. No, that’s super cool. Yeah. No, I’d say, I mean, great product. Again, I’m excited. I’m excited to see where you go with it and where the company goes and I’m just  grateful to you for spending some time with me. It’s been a blast. Thank you for sharing some of your story. Thanks for sharing your background, just all the things that you’ve been through. I mean, I’m rooting you on, I’m cheering you on.

Devan  55:46
I appreciate that. Yeah. And you know, the whole DFW, the metroplex has just been incredible from day one. And so, I mean, this wouldn’t have been possible without being in Fort Worth, without the people that care so much about its people and what’s trying to come out of it. So, no, it’s people like you that have helped every step of the way. So I appreciate you having me on today. And you know, as I was preparing for this, I was listening through all your past ones over the last couple of days. And I just love Fort Worth. I mean, it’s people really just give you that energy to keep going because there’s so many people that are cheering you on the whole way.

Aaron  56:24
Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, thank you again, Devan. Appreciate it.

Devan  56:28
Thank you.

Aaron  56:32
Thanks for listening to America’s Entrepreneur. If you enjoyed the show, please leave a review or comment on your preferred social media platform. Share it out with friends, family, coworkers, others in your network. And of course you can write me directly at aaron@boldmedia.us. That’s aaron@boldmedia.us. Until next time.

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