by Alicia Ross
On Tuesday, February 22, The Garage held its weekly Family Dinner with a special invite to include Tinkerers! Each quarter, one Family Dinner is open for this group to join to get a taste of what Residency is like, and of course, to hear from a guest speaker. This week, we welcomed Mert Iseri ’11, founder and CEO of SwipeSense, a healthcare technology startup that was recently acquired by SC Johnson. Mert shared some of his experiences around building and selling his company - he also asked The Garage Residents and Tinkerers to sign a metaphorical “FriendDA” to protect the conversation.
Mert shared that when starting SwipeSense, he’d wish he’d known how long it would take. Anticipating a two to three year exit, it ended up taking 10 years from the day he got started to the day he sold the company. His biggest advice was to pick a community to serve, and adopt that as your mission that you are comfortable doing over and over again.
Mert shared a ton of valuable lessons throughout his talk. Students learned that hiring the “right” people, even if they are talented, is not the same as finding product-market fit with your customer base and building a strong culture within your company. Though starting a company is an entrepreneurial endeavor, the CEO’s job is to put your foot down and make hard decisions when necessary. For example, Iseri learned that they had skipped some pretty vital steps in building the business - like talking to the financial stakeholders in hospitals. This became more important than ever, especially when their sales slowed down and they had to expand into adjacent product categories. Particularly when working with a B2B (business-to-business) idea, they had to think about how they were going to create value for all stakeholders inside their customers. After all, as Mert shared, “The best investor you can have for your product is the customer.”
Mert explained that entrepreneurship is a constant learning process. Students were encouraged to surround themselves with other entrepreneurs who are willing to be vulnerable with their failures and genuinely want them to succeed. He gave a final reminder that the right people will be kind and direct.
Since stepping away from SwipeSense, Mert has engaged in early stage investing, mostly focused on healthcare and ed tech companies. His book, Exit Right: How to Sell Your Startup, Maximize Your Return and Build Your Legacy, co-authored with Mark Achler, adjunct lecturer of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, came out last week. “It’s the book I wish I’d read before selling SwipeSense.”
As someone who has been a part of The Garage since the beginning, Mert was excited to stay after Family Dinner ended to give one-on-one advice to students and answer questions. He currently serves as an expert in The Garage Expert Network, working with and encouraging student entrepreneurs.