If you walk through the facility of Groundswell in Melbourne, you can see people in the unique and varied work areas, all from different companies working on various goals, with the intention of producing the most benefit for their businesses. For Bud Deffebach, it is another opportunity to play a facilitating role in the world of startup companies.
Deffebach has a decade of experience with start-ups. After working for the Atlanta-based intellectual property law firm Jones & Askew and Harris Corporation, Deffebach joined ATLC, Ltd., a patent licensing firm, as a partner in 1997. Since then, ATLC has generated more than $2 billion in royalties for clients such as AT&T, Harris Corporation and Kodak. In 2016, he and three other individuals founded Groundswell.
RR: What are some of your career milestones?
BD: Three come to mind immediately. The first is something my dad said, which is, “Work hard, but remember you were looking for a job when you found this one.” To me this meant to develop your skills to the highest possible extent and achieve at your job, but don’t settle. Don’t be scared to take risks and go for it when a good opportunity presents itself. The worst that can happen is you’re well trained, you’ve learned a lot from the opportunity and you get another good job.
The second was after getting an engineering and law degree. I wanted to come back to Florida. The opportunity for patent attorneys was fairly limited at that time, so I came to interview at Harris and found they were also hiring someone to handle licensing patents internationally. The problem was they wanted someone with a lot more experience than I had. I worked my way into an interview with Ed Andre and Bill Troner. I basically told them I’d work all day and night to figure it out, and they took a risk on me. I’ll always be thankful for that. It was a huge turning point.
The third was when I left a Fortune 500 company to work with Ed and Bill at our startup. My first child was born and I moved into a new house all in that same month. I felt compelled to pursue the opportunity, and I think many entrepreneurs feel the same way; you have to pursue the opportunity and can’t resist taking a swing at it. That was also another turning point for me.
“In the past 10 years, Airbnb has become the largest seller of rental rooms in the world. Uber has become the largest taxi company in the world. These companies disrupt entire industries using technology to facilitate different business models.” – Bud Deffbach
EW: What is it about start-ups that drew you to them, and what do you hope to see from start-ups in this region?
BD: People often say the world is getting smaller. Within the last 40 years, Wal-Mart has come into every city and town, changed the face of retail sales in America and, for better or worse, affected shoppers, employees and especially ownership of these small businesses. What was once distributed across the country became concentrated in one entity and its shareholders.
In the past 10 years, Airbnb has become the largest seller of rental rooms in the world. Uber has become the largest taxi company in the world. These companies disrupt entire industries using technology to facilitate different business models with ownership and direct connection to employees. It changes how and where ownership is, management, marketing and where accounting is done. It’s an entirely disruptive approach to an existing industry, and similar disruptions are going to continue to happen. In real estate, there is an IPO coming out soon, RedFin. These and many other industries will be affected.
Melbourne has a tremendous technical base, and we can build those types of businesses here. My message for local entrepreneurs and leaders is to see and grab the opportunities, because they, their investors, employees and the community at large will feel these successes. It does no good to hope business stays the same. I want these disruptions to be viewed as opportunities, to be created and molded here rather than to be feared.
EW: In addition to being from Brevard County, is the area’s start-up market something that made you want to work here?
BD: Melbourne provides a great combination of quality of life, technical challenges, and, as we proceed forward, economic opportunity and potentially disruptive industries that are technology driven. You look at space, and that paradigm has radically shifted to be driven by private enterprise in conjunction with government support/facilities, and that’s just tremendously exciting.
RR: Where do you see Groundswell headed in the future?
BD: When people invest in start-ups, and I’m talking about institutions investing in start-ups, the question I like to ask is “First who, then what?” A great team with a mediocre technology can build a fantastic product, but a mediocre team with great technology can screw it up real fast. What does that mean to Melbourne? It’s one of the difficulties we’ve traditionally faced because sophisticated investors want to know and interact with the companies they invest in. They provide more than funding; they provide educated mentors and access to partners.
Outside investors are interested in investing in companies in Florida now because deal prices are better here than say in Silicon Valley. With Groundswell, we also hope they’re willing to invest in local companies because they have local representatives who are serial entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who can work with the companies. John Vecchio, one of the co-founders of Groundswell, is a perfect example of this. People know John and trust him to work with start-up companies.
I’ve been involved in the venture capital business for over a decade and have contacts and people to whom I can talk and make introductions, and who hopefully trust my judgment in working with a company. That’s a key value in the Melbourne ecosystem, and it’s what Groundswell is about. We’re trying to connect technology creators with a pipeline to credible mentors, funding and industry experts to build these companies. The desire for Groundswell is to have people push their companies forward, join forces across industries in new companies, build within existing companies and engage with each other to build disruptive technology and business models.