[Interview] Mike Lee, Cofounder and COO of Toothfilm

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2014/04/23 by lingdecklee

 [The following is an interview by Jessica Kao (EST staff) on Mike Lee, Cofounder and COO of Toothfilm, with authorization for publishing on the personal blog of Start Jeffrey Up and the FB pages of Entrepreneurs Society of Taiwan (EST) and Plus8.]
About Toothfilm:
i-d shop

1. How did your startup come about?

(a) Seed Money ready: Biotech businesses are typically heavy investment ventures. Our first batch of money should be enough to support the product development stage for (1) values to be created and (2) buyers to show up.

(b) Regulatory study: In any biotech field, regulatory planning pretty much dictates how the business would be run, how the financials would be planned, and most importantly, how the products would be sold.

(c) Technologies: Technologies are everywhere. However, determining what are the ones you want to build your products on becomes crucial. Usually, it takes certain level of expertise to judge and verify; sometimes, it takes certain amount of good luck to be right. For core founder(s) without tech background, they are best advised to rely on their tech expert partner(s) to help them make judgment (it is important to ask these partner(s) to demonstrate why their techs are better than others’).

(d) Team members: Technology is important in biotech, however, business is business. If there is no one on the team who thinks and acts like business people to help the startup do financing, pricing, deal making and all negotiations, the venture itself could become a philanthropy.

2. What need do you fulfill in the marketplace? What does your product offer that is not currently available in the marketplace?

We look at an emerging segment in both the oral and dental care areas. It has been hundreds of years since people used teeth cleansing products to take care of their teeth. Chemically heavy toothpastes are used to improve the oral conditions. However, germs in our mouths still grow the moment we finished brushing our teeth. Oral conditions are not improved after toothpaste is applied; to the contrary, it damages due much to the chemical and organic ingredients.

Like skincare facial mask, we are not here to fight with the usual teeth brushing habits. We only contend that (1) toothpaste is not healthy and not very functional; and (2) teeth brushing is needed but not enough. Not enough because we are still witnessing high level of periodontal diseases, frequent gingivalis, and even gum bleeding. Surely, there are still problems which are unsolved. From these arguments, we have come to identified many other oral and dental issues in our everyday lives, in our post-dental surgery stage, in many focus groups such as cancer patients who experienced chemo or radiation therapies, diabetes, hospitalized patients, long term care patients and elders, kids and even people who move or travel a lot.

3. What is your business model?

(a) Know why we fight: Identify what problems we want to tackle and what are the regulatory paths we want to build our venture on.

(b) Create values: R&D focused but leverage value-chain/supply-chain resources through partnerships, fast commercialization, quick market response and adjustments, and non-stop innovations.

(c) Go to market strategy: From B2C (fast exposure/power of media) to B2B ( rely on distributors/slow but deeply rooted/branding) to B2C (market impact/rely on opinion leaders, brand recognition, and media/AD)

4. How did you get clear on the specifics of your business?

Keep asking, keep modifying, and always be humble and nimble. Be humble to get every details you need, be nimble to help yourself think out of the box.

When we did our toothfilm, it was originally made by placing two pieces of thin films together (one is on top of the other). However, the packaging cost was high. We then kept asking how our supplier packaged the product and learned that by cutting one step, we would save 50% of our packaging cost. So we redesigned to make the two pieces connected to each other. The outcome: costs got cut in half, the area for labeling and instructions got more spacious. One of the typical examples of value creation.

5. What are some of the challenges associated with being a biotech startup in Taiwan? How have you tried to tackle these challenges?

(a) Capital injection. Most of the capital sources in Taiwan are risk-adverse. But this is not extraordinary since no investor would invest their money on highly risky ventures. So, as entrepreneur with shareholders in mind, our job is to minimize the risks identified and prevent foreseeable risks while pushing the boundary of innovations and current business practices. My advice: always have plans B and C. When business goes as planned, what would you do to make it even better? When business doesn’t go as planned, how would you modify it? What’s the worst scenario and how would you deal with it to survive?

(b) Multi-disciplinary professionals as product managers. The domain knowledge needed is vast: regulatory, product technologies, intellectual property, market strategies, how money is spent in medical fields, financing, production experience, legality etc. This requires teamwork through intense/routine communications and systematic consultation from outside experts!


About Mike:

Mike Lee

1. Tell us a little about your background.

– Master Degree in Materials Science and Engineering, National Cheng Kung University.

– At ICARES Medicus., Inc., I learned planning and execution details from tech transfer to building up ISO system to ramping up production and its management.

– At Advantech Corp., I learned about running a business with targeted revenue goals and limited budget.

– On business writing, I learned about various business models in different fields and it brought me accessibility to many special resources.

2. How did you become an entrepreneur?

(a) My career goal is to serve startups with money and business development capabilities, thus doing a startup seems to be a must for me if I want to play that role  well enough.

(b) Do-it-as-early-as-possible mentality, lower opportunity cost (started it at age 28).

3. What has been your greatest challenge since becoming an entrepreneur?

Time! Besides my personal life and time for rest, I do think time is really limited. I have a lot of details that I would really want to figure out during everyday business activity. However, time is always of the essence when your money is being burned, and we do not have much luxury to learn. Rather, we need to focus on return of investment – every minute you put in, there must be a return, even bad experiences would generate values if you take your failures seriously.

4. What helps you keep going every single day?

Self-improvement and teamwork, especially when we make breakthroughs together or turn failures into small successes.

5. What experience has been most useful to you in your entrepreneurship journey?

Dealing with failures! A lot of times, failures are the path that leads you to ultimate breakthroughs, failures are the key elements that set you apart from your followers or competitors. Just don’t be afraid of challenges, they are the stepping stones that would level up your business instead of dragging you down.

6. What are you learning or want to learn in the near future?

Anything! It’s important to be focused yet open-minded.


[Mike will be a guest speaker at the upcoming EST event: EST Speaker Night: Let’s Talk About Biotech (plus IDEAS Show briefing). Join us and listen to his startup stories!]

[Event] Also don’t miss out on the upcoming IDEAS Show! For more information, visit their official English website.

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