My maternal grandmother, pictured right with my grandfather, was a Marine in World War II. They met when serving in World War II when my grandfather was in the Navy.
My paternal grandfather also served in World War II in the Army. My father is also an Army Veteran, one of many exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. With military genes, I grew up with the best preparation for my time in the military including reveille school wake-ups, nighttime weather and attack drills, and of course, lots and lots of explosives (fireworks, cherry bombs, and gun powder OH MY). I’m so thankful for my family of heroes that came before me, paving the way for me to be strong, fierce, kind and of service to others.
Anatomy of an Idea
I’ve been and done lots of things in my lifetime and one prevailing theme has been that I am an “ideas” person, the kind of person who dreams outside the box, creating and making, big and small. So, when I ran across the VA Gun Safety Matters Challenge, a quest for an implementable solution that effectively deters suicide, injury, and accidents by firearm and creates a safer environment via a voluntary, autonomous device or system, I knew I needed to put my thinking cap on. As a Veteran of both the Navy and Army, and as a VA employee, I am heavily entrenched in both the local and national Veteran community. My knowledge and experience with Veterans, their relationship with guns and the importance of peer connection to the entire transition and healing process, led to the idea of the Guard Dog. I proudly entered the VA Gun Safety Matters Challenge thinking I had it already won the competition with the idea and creation of the Guard Dog – and I didn’t even place in the top 3. The more I spoke with friends, family and fellow Veterans, the more I knew I needed to make the Guard Dog come to fruition, but I also knew I needed help.
Building the Team
I knew I needed help putting together a team that could help me make my idea a reality. I did not even have to think twice before asking Erin to be my first team member. Because Erin and I share the same passion for saving lives, are motivated beyond belief by our passions and challenge each other to be better on a daily basis, it was a no-brainer to ask her to join the Dog Tag Technologies team. I’m thankful she said yes!
Finding a second individual to invite to the team took a little more time. I was an Electronics Technician in the Navy (a.k.a. Twidget) and I know a fair amount about electronics, computers, and technology but since my transition into case management, I knew I needed someone with more current expertise and thanks to my Army buddy, Joe, I found TJ Emsley. TJ was the perfect fit for Dog Tag Technologies’ Chief Technology Officer because of his broad knowledge of the platforms we need to make our product work, his natural curiosity and ability to problem solve, and because he also brings his wife Sonya’s creativity to the table. Sonya’s contributions and gifts to Dog Tag Technologies have been invaluable.
Thus far, on our journey, Dog Tag Technologies has had no shortage of amazing support from talented and giving individuals including those who invested early in our idea – our families, friends, our Scout Team, Warrior Rising, Apple Box Cinema, and countless others.
Thank you for being on this journey with us and stay tuned for many good things to come!
Chief Executive Officer
There's a big difference in knowing that something can be done, and actually doing it. Although I'm not a programer by trade, I've programed quite a bit, mostly VB6 and VBA. I've dabbled a bit in other environments, but really not much more than your standard "Hello World" type of program. So when Dana asked me if I could make a mousepad send a text to a mobile phone using a Raspberry pi computer, I said, "of course!" I know now that I made it sound a little too easy because, although Dana was patient, she did ask for progress updates on a regular basis.
To Know Pi is to Love Pi
In my mind, I figured I could put a small tactile switch under the mousepad, connect it to the Raspberry Pi, write a little Python script to monitor the switch, and when it detected a change, send an email out to my phone. Yup, easy as Pi. In my lab, aka Dexter's Weird Science Laboratory, I have gadgets, widgets, and components of all sorts. It only took a few minutes to assemble a testing circuit with a tactile switch and a Raspberry Pi on a breadboard. Making it actually work was a whole different story.
While I am very familiar with Raspberry Pi computers, I use them for 3D printing, astro photography, and such, I don't actually know how to write Python scripts. Well I did write one that said "Hello World" once. Oh and there is the one that takes photo when I tap the enter key on the keypad, but that is all the real experience I have with Python. If you read Erin's post last week, you'll know that she's an expert Googler. Now it's my turn to exercise the old research skills, but I prefer the more nerdy DuckDuckGo search engine, running of course in my Firefox browser. My searching quickly resulted in a small script to monitor the switch, but getting Python to send out an email was not so easy. After a bunch of searching, and seeing that the methods were over my head at this point in my Python career, I stumbled across a comment where someone suggested using NodeRed, which was already installed on the Raspberry Pi.
I'd never heard of Node Red before, but reading the comment, I figured it couldn't be that hard. I learned that NodeRed is a drag and drop programming tool has a browser-based editor that makes it easy to create flows using the wide range of nodes that can be deployed to its runtime in a single-click. the runtime is built on Node.js, which I had actually read about once. There are many cool things about Node.js, like portability and interoperability. But for me, the coolest part is that there are nodes already written to do just about anything you want to do. In NodeRed, There are nodes to monitor input pins, nodes to trigger output pins, nodes to gather information, nodes to interact with social media, even nodes to send email. JACKPOT! It took me a few weeks to get all the pieces working together.
Persistance and Willingness to try...
Finally came the day that I told Dana and Erin that they were about to get a text from my Raspberry Pi prototype. And when they got the message, they were both like, "Well dang! We got ourselves a business to build." I knew that it was possible to make a mousepad talk to a cell phone, and I had a reasonable idea of how it could be done. But the solution that I eventually came to is nothing like I had originally imagined. Thanks to good research skills, persistence, and willingness try new ways of doing things, we have a functioning model that works better than expected.
Dana asked if I could build two functioning demo units that we could use for presentations to interested audiences, investors, and potential business partners. "Of course," I said. I know it can be done, but actually doing it ...
Chief Technology Officer
“Coming out of your comfort zone is tough in the beginning, chaotic in the middle, and awesome in the end...because in the end, it shows you a whole new world !!
Make an attempt..”
― Manoj Arora, From the Rat Race to Financial Freedom
Comfort zone. Two words that motivational speakers discuss constantly; anyone who has sought to better themselves through personal development has self-reflected on these words too many times to count. I, myself, have always prided myself in my willingness to try new things and go out of my way to push myself out of my comfort zone. As I have gotten older though, the “push” past the comfort zone has changed quite a bit: jumping out of a plane—no problem, parasailing- no problem, public speaking no problem…..talking technology to potential manufacturers---- ufda, jury is still out!
Water and Electricity
I didn’t grow up in a high-tech home, I grew up climbing trees, building forts and going on adventures; we didn’t have cable tv or internet (shocking how we survived, I know). My formal training is in environmental engineering-chemistry. I am an Engineer for the State of South Dakota where I implement Safe Drinking water acts and rules for all South Dakota water systems. Clearly water is my comfort zone! None of this includes electrical engineering, mechanical engineering or manufacturing. Fast-forward to Dog Tag Technologies, being a start-up company, each team member is often asked to roll up their sleeves and ‘jump-in’ where needed, even if the task is completely outside your expertise---Afterall, Dr. Google is always there to help!
So as any adventure seeker who believes they can do anything would do; when the request to find a manufacturer for Guard Dog came in; I rolled up my sleeves and jumped in to the land of technology manufacturing…. it was like being dropped in the middle of the night.. in a foreign land…with no map… lol! I had no idea where to begin, but figured the Small Business Administration (SBA) would be the place to start!
Armed with a prototype schematic, I practically skipped into the SBA thinking I had everything I needed and surely would find all the answers here! Let me stop here and say, the SBA is INCREDIBLE and FULL OF RESOURCES; but they don’t take away the hard work that you must do yourself; they pointed me to a potential manufacturer—secretly inside I thought to myself ‘wow this is so easy, why do people say start-ups are hard, we got exactly who we need on the first try!’ I’ll just give them a call and it’ll be as easy as 1…2….3!
Days later, I reached out to the potential manufacturer, who I was certain would be the exact one capable of manufacturing our product--- I was greeted with a very friendly voice who was easy to chat with. Our conversation was easy as I explained who I was and how I found out about their company, I didn’t stumble on my words and continued to think, boy I have this down…until I was asked for a Gerber File and Bill of Materials…..ummmm,…I thought to myself “what the heck are those???!!!”….my confidence started fading fast, I had just been catapulted out of my comfort zone. I had expected just to hand over our schematic and the manufacturer take it from there---I didn’t realize I would have to answer technical questions!! ….I started internally panicking and whipped out my laptop and frantically asked Dr. Google--"what are Gerber Files…where do I get a bill of materials….Come on Dr. Google, Don’t let me down now!” as I stalled…while frantically searching…. I wasn’t able to understand what Dr. Google was telling me while trying to portray that I was knowledgeable to the nice manufacturing man…my ‘knowledgeable caller’ cover was quickly blown…and I began to feel severely inadequate.
With my cover blown, I decided I just needed to tell the manufacturer, I have no idea what I am doing! I took a deep breath and said to the nice man, “In an effort to be fully transparent; I am not an expert in this field, I’m a water person…can you help me understand what you need from me to move forward” I held my breath waiting for his response; and to my amazement he said, “ oh, of course. No problem…” He then went on to explain Gerber Files and Bill of Materials and I was deeply thankful. His patience and generosity in explaining the details was not lost on me. After hanging up the call, I quickly downloaded a template for creating a Bill of Material and reached out to our Chief Technology Officer to discuss Gerber Files…and most importantly, realized I didn’t die from being catapulted out of my comfort zone, rather was greeted with kindness and generosity! After further discussions, this particular manufacturer ended up not being able to meet the needs of our company, initially I was a bit bummed as having to go back to the drawing board can be pretty daunting when it comes to manufacturing.
Hunting For Perfect
As I continue to embark on the quest to find the perfect manufacturer for our product, I am gaining more confidence everyday through the generosity of others sharing their knowledge with me! I’ve now had multiple discussions with manufacturers and amaze myself with the “techie” lingo I now understand!
Lo and behold, the hunt for a manufacturer turned very promising last week as the universe worked in our favor – after researching endlessly I was able to find another potential manufacturer who could help us with end to end manufacturing –incredibly exciting! The introductory phone call for this manufacturer went much differently than my very first call; no sweaty palms, no panick--- strangely enough--- I felt good being OUTSIDE my comfort zone rather than feeling catapulted out of it, this time—I chose to take the step outside of it and dive into the technical manufacturing discussion! Our discussion went so well that we set up a team call for this week!
While I am still working hard to learn as much as possible, all the ‘technical manufacturing things I know now, I would not have known had I not rolled up my sleeves and jumped in …. So as Manoj Arora wisely stated, “…Make an attempt..”
What can you do to get out of your comfort zone TODAY?
Chief Operating Officer
This past weekend the team got together for their first official team summit!
American Legion Post 535 Unionville
The team kicked off the weekend by attending an American Legion Post 535 meeting to share a short film about our product and get both feedback about our product and viable price points from attendees. We received several questions and very positive feedback on our product and the price point we are considering.
BB&T Corporate Cup 5K
VERY VERY early Saturday morning our team gathered in Uptown Charlotte to participate in the BB&T Corporate 5K. Though none of us where speed demons Dana and I passed the time chatting about kids, life and of course the exciting future of Dog Tag Technologies. While the slower 2 members had a great chat about how Tj built the proof of concept and what Erin will need to ask manufacturers. Following the walk the team had a celebratory beer. We decided with no uncertain terms any 5k put together by us would not start until at least 10am and would offer bacon and beer stations along the route. As if "The Bacon & Beer 5K" wouldn't raise millions!!
The team reconvened at Dana's house and over many many cups of coffee discussed business strategy, manufacturing and marketing while being fully entertained by one of Dana's crazy kitties. TJ and I shared a video spoof on the Guard Dog. See the video below.
Dog Tag Scout Team
Saturday night was spent with the Dog Tag Scout Team and over wine and appetizers we gave away some DogTag swag and officially shared our short film and our proof of concept. We received a lot of questions and positive feedback from the Scout Team. I also think they really liked the "Diet Buddy"!
Sunday Fun Day
Originally our team planned to have headshots taken but in a shocking turn of events it rained....again! So we cancelled the shoot and headed the Terrace Café for brunch. Erin flew back to the frozen tundra and the team spent the rest of the day working on "To Do's" identified during the summit.
Take Away's from the Summit
Chief Marketing Officer