The Wave We Ride
SureCall founder Hongtao Zhan views technology like “a wave we ride.” Surviving the first dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000’s. Hong started his company, with its early name as Cellphone-Mate, Inc. Post-bubble, Hong found himself short on funds as he filed a patent for his prototype conceptually similar to the modern-day femtocell.
However, Hong wasn’t seeing any profits, and could barely give himself a paycheck for many years. “It was horrible,” he recalls. Through his persistence, he decided to focus on selling a portion of the hardware from his design – the signal booster. He contracted with a manufacturing company and began traveling throughout the country to attempt to grow his brand and share his product with those in a position to listen. In his first year of complete dedication, the business generated a small revenue, but through his years of hard work Hong was gradually able to grow the business to a place where he could finally start giving himself a very small paycheck. At best, he was making minimum wage to start, but when he grew the business by many fold, he made the leap and hired his first full time employee in the U.S. in 2006. Hong recalls his first office and the pride he felt with his own 10’x20’ space.
With a recent history of steady if not substantial growth, Hong was excited about the future of his company. However, waves ebb and flow. In 2006, the company faced financial trouble and Hong found himself on the verge of bankruptcy. Along with this hardship, his personal life also took a toll. His father, a professor in China, contracted late stage cancer and was dying. Hong calls this time the defining year. Unsure if his company would survive such hardships, he admits to looking for jobs during this time.
In retrospect, Hong recalls these experiences educated him. Out of desperation, Hong reached out to a volunteer business consultation firm – he couldn’t afford to pay for the services at the time. “They coached me, and it’s been tremendous ever since, “ Hong remembers.
With a new set of skills in hand, Hong received a phone call that would become his first test: a potential customer that needed 800 of his boosters. “At that time, it felt like I had fallen off a cliff and a hand reached down and pulled me back up,” he reflects. Hong successfully closed the deal, fulfilled the order and got paid, and the company has been successful and profitable ever since 2007. With its continued success, SureCall now rides the wave as a technology front runner in the cellphone signal booster space. But Hong realizes there is still so much to learn, so much space to grow into and so much new technology to be invented.
This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on the beginnings of SureCall and its founder Hongtao Zhan.