There are countless reasons to launch a startup.
Becoming your own boss, believing your idea will change the world, getting rich or not being able to work in a highly predictable environment, just to name a few.
Romeo Elias launched a startup because he did not want to take over the family business from his father. It’s a manufacturing company and is now run by his brothers.
Born in Nigeria and raised in Lebanon until he was 17, this Lebanese entrepreneur went to the University of California San Diego to study mechanical engineering then finished his Master’s Degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
It was his drive to break traditions and make it on his own that pushed him to launch his first venture, WWWID. With the help of a few friends and some self-taught coding experience, he started helping small businesses build their own websites. Their startup was very basic and they got few clients back in 1999, but it was merely a side project until he figured out what he really wanted to do.
The Aha Moment
In 2000, Elias started another company called Intellect, formerly called Interneer, which provided companies a software platform to automate processes for project management, quality management, HR and other areas.
It all started when he participated in a business plan competition organized by UCLA, his MS alma mater. He and his partners won first place in the software track and second place overall. The event opened many doors for them and it was a launchpad to raise a seed round from friends, family and a few angel investors.
At the beginning, Intellect developed a software to help mechanical engineers design processes for projects they’re working on. The product was heavy on content and software so Elias thought it was best to license content and extra information to publish engineering books as an additional revenue stream. Yet in 2001, after the stock market crash and the 9/11 attacks, it became very difficult for him to raise money and grow the business.
How listening to clients saved the company
It was a critical moment for the startup, which had limited funds, so Elias had to choose between shutting it down completely or looking for alternatives to save money.
“We listened to some of our key early clients. They liked the concept of designing processes that help engineers but did not care about the information coming from engineering handbooks. They wanted the information to come directly from the engineers, the ones who were about to retire, to provide them a way to capture their knowledge before leaving” he explained. So they pivoted from creating expert content to software tools to enable that.
They started developing software tools for engineers following that with software to address project management, HR and training software, auditing, customer complaints and FDA and ISO compliance software.
Intellect now works with around 500 corporations from all around the world. Their portfolio includes Emerson, an American multinational company that manufactures products and provides engineering services for industrial, commercial, and consumer markets; Princess Cruises, a cruise line company that started in 1965; Stryker, a Fortune 500 medical technology company that provide products and services in Orthopaedics, Medical and Surgical, and Neurotechnology and Spine, and many others. You can check their entire list of customers here.
Thanks to its multinational portfolio of companies, Intellect now operates in the United States, China, Australia, Turkey and other countries. Few years back, Elias tried to expand to the Middle East and talked to potential partners in Lebanon, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, but none of them was the perfect match. He is still hoping to find the right partner one day.
Intellect is headquartered in Los Angeles but works with people from India, Romania and Turkey. Some of its competition includes quality management software Sparta Systems and Master Control, but Elias believes the key differentiator is that his company empowers clients by allowing them to make changes to their accounts. “We empower them to stay up to date and compliant with regulations without coming to us always. Our vision is to empower them and let them innovate on their own,” he explained.
Knowledge is only real when transfered
With over 18 years of experience in mechanical engineering and software development, Elias strongly believes in paying it forward. Through Intellect Innovate, a yearly event for Intellect’s user base, he is connecting partners to potential customers and giving them a stage to to network and to present their ideas. That event also features a hackathon, where participants are given two hours to develop a product using Intellect’s platform. “Our partners would sometimes adopt these applications or sell them to their customers,” he added.
Another way to give back is through mentoring other startups working in software. The startups Romeo is mentoring include Valcre, a real estate appraisal solution; an early-stage startup building an application that connects construction contractors to vendors; a solution that tracks delivery trucks in the US and another recruiting company.
“It’s been very rewarding to help them out and share ideas and an honor to feel that some of these companies are listening to me,” he said jokingly.
Elias could have chosen to manage his father’s company and avoid the daily struggles of an entrepreneur, but he chose to forge his own path. He learned a lot and one the most important tips of advice he shared with us was to stop obsessing about someone stealing your ideas, because execution, perseverance and patience are the needed requirements for success.
He concluded the interview saying: “The world is full of ideas but not enough people can make them happen.”