Microwash CEO Scores Big by Playing it Cool
April 9, 2024

I liked James Young before he was cool.

It is such a rare privilege to see something succeed so enormously from its most nescient beginning. James had applied for a job at UNeTech. Although he wasn’t the right fit I kept him in mind. I knew we’d need people to lead companies, and wanted to see what James could do.

Two years and one Pandemic later, we were finally ready. My colleague Stephen Hug reached out to James, they met and presented James with three new technology concepts. Two of them weren’t the MicroWash. James picked the other one. That first year of the MicroWash was a wild ride. James applied for other incubators and accelerators. He sharpened his pitch and revised his regulatory strategy. He sat on endless Zoom meetings from his Houston beach house, quietly weighing options to produce, package, and sell the MicroWash.

That last one was his strong point. James has amazing stories about sales: from promoting a heavy metal band in Seattle to creating a sales team that sold pallets of mobile phones, James is a sales ninja. I saw his skills first-hand. In a crucial meeting, with a large clinical lab, James was talking with the CEO. James placed an early prototype of the MicroWash in the CEO’s hand and asked him, point blank, what he would pay for it.

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James Young, CEO of Microwash

Everyone around the table, my UNeTech Colleagues, the Microwash Inventors –stared unblinkingly as the man turned the prototype over and over in his hand. James fixed him in an interested, amused gaze. As the tension ratcheted up James stayed silent. He’d called and put down his cards – all that was left was to see his opponent’s hand.

What made it more amazing is that James wasn’t the quiet type. A warm and friendly man, his leadership of MicroWash had come from his uncanny ability to chat up just about anybody: inventors, customers, investors, small dogs – anyone. James had steered the ship of his startup by talking. The longer the quiet stretched on the more impressed I became. I could only grin at was made obvious to me: as good as he was as a talking, James was at least as formidable in silence. 

When the CEO finally gave a price, it was higher than our most optimistic projection. It was fun to watch a table full of inventors, entrepreneurs, supporters and well-wishers try and fail to conceal their glee. Talking with my colleagues after the meeting, they all had struggled *not* to break the silence.  We all followed James’s lead. He brought us home.

I have learned that success and failure for startups is the aggregate of many little moments like that. It is easy to think that the right technology, in front of the right person, will inevitably produce success. I have seen opportunities dry up when the timing was wrong, the pitch was one word off, or a million other interpersonal issues. Making it through the meeting, writing the protocol, proofreading the copy – startups face endless lists of little moments. If they can complete enough of them, well enough, then they survive another day.  

It’s people that do those little tasks. I am very fortunate to have seen a little glimpse of the future in that moment: not the profitability of a product or even the success of a startup. As James patiently sweated out the CEO I was reminded how entrepreneurs, how people, will always have the ability to surprise me.

And it wasn’t the last time.


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