Flipping through his grandfather’s engineering design books as a child, Shaun Masavage developed his passion for engineering early on. The founder of Edge Tech Labs tells more about his journey from mechanical engineer at the University of Virginia to startup founder traveling the world.
Who inspired you to become an engineer and innovator?
My early inspiration came from my two grandfathers. They were business partners, which is funnily enough how my parents met. They were also both engineers—one was mechanical and the other was electrical. My grandfathers built some of the first flight simulators in the 1960’s. I still have the original books from when they were doing their early designs.
More recently, I was inspired by Gavin Garner, the professor in a Mechatronics class I took at the University of Virginia. It was unique class that blended mechanical and electrical engineering and taught me the fundamental components of consumer electronic devices. Gavin had a great method of forcing us to solve our own challenges. In that way, Mechatronics taught me that I could do anything. Thanks to the mentality I gained from that class, I actually taught myself how to create circuit boards and made DrinkMate’s first prototype.
My mechanical engineering background allows me to connect with my team in ways that other founders may struggle to.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I graduated from UVA determined to change the world by working for a defense contractor. I spent three years being a paperwork engineer and couldn’t find a way to get my ideas through. It just wasn’t fast enough. When product-based crowdfunding came out, I jumped on that as an opportunity to build my own company.
The transition from engineer to founder has been perfect. While I don’t do much on the technical side anymore, my mechanical engineering background allows me to connect with my team in ways that other founders may struggle to. When my engineering team has a technical problem, they can come to me to look for solution. Having been in their shoes before, I am familiar with the various tech challenges they face. A specific example is when operating systems (iOS and Android) are updated. While a lot of founders are unaware that operating ecosystems are constantly evolving, I understand how to plan for events like that without panic.
Any cool products or gadgets you’ve recently come across and thought were great?
I’m a huge fan of the Amazon Echo series. I have the Dot and their main device. I use my setup for basically everything, from waking up to cooking.
Your three favorite innovative engineering products?
I’m a very practical person, so the things I use everyday mean a lot to me. They also tend to be mechanical because of my background. Three products I can’t live without:
My mechanical toothbrush. I’ve used one of those since childhood and it’s so functional and simple.
Nutribullet, a smoothie blender. I was not a believer until someone gave me one for Christmas. Since then, I’ve used it pretty much everyday. It took me by surprise because until I used it, I was skeptical it would actually work—you have to flip it upside down and it has so many parts! But, it’s actually pretty amazing.
My cellphone. It truly enables people to communicate like never before. For example, we manufacture in China so my team has traveled there several times. Each time we go, we get a little bolder. With my phone, I can translate signs and communicate with anyone without knowing Chinese. You can speak English into your phone, it’ll speak Chinese to the person, and then translate their reply. Basically, it allows me to walk around like I know exactly what I am doing, but in reality understand nothing around me.
You need to be able to weather market shifts.
You have three brands in one. How did that come to be?
Early on, I consciously made Edge Tech intelligently diversified. Quite a few companies release one product, but then suddenly disappear because of one simple market shift they didn’t account for.
You need to be able to weather market shifts. Working with multiple brands makes us prepared and diverse. For example, with DrinkMate, we were using an Apple Lightning connector. However, Apple had a supply chain failure that took six months for us to receive our order. It destroyed the holiday season for us and if DrinkMate was our only product, we would have been finished. Instead of sitting around doing nothing, however, we just worked on our other brands and launched Fret Zealot.
How has Edge Tech evolved?
DrinkMate experienced the unique evolution from a hardware focus to online software. Specifically, it shifted from a smartphone breathalyzer to Happy Hour Hunter, a digital service that allows users to find happy hour deals right by them. As a free app that can reach millions of people instantly, that offers much more potential than a standalone breathalyzer.
We also strategically planned out brand launches. We launched DrinkMate in 2015 to build out our global distribution network and manufacturing capabilities using a relatively low cost product. That put us in a good position for Fret Zealot, which is a more expensive product.
The most fulfilling part about building Edge Tech?
The look on people’s face when they see our products in person. We took Fret Zealot down to South by Southwest and were just walking along the streets with the guitars on our backs. Some people would just look at the guitars in awe and others would take it and start going crazy. One guy broke a string he was shredding so hard. It inspires me to see the excitement that our products generate.
You have experience in product crowdfunding and now equity crowdfunding. How would you compare the two?
They’re surprisingly similar from a promotional and outreach perspective. However, I enjoy the slightly slower pace of the equity crowdfunding. With product crowdfunding, like Kickstarter, you basically need to hit your goal in the first week or else not enough people will jump on the bandwagon for your campaign to be a wild success.
With equity crowdfunding, the mentality is different. Everybody is taking it a bit slower. Instead of looking at your goal and judging you for how long it took you to hit that target, investors look at the numbers from a business perspective. They also closely evaluate the company and take the initiative to ask questions before arriving at an intelligent decision. It’s a nice experience.
Any passions you pursue outside of Edge Tech?
Cooking, soccer, and skiing. I love soccer in the summer and skiing in winter. I’ve been skiing since I was three years old. One of my favorite places to ski is Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where a group of my friends and I try to plan an annual trip.
Cooking is another big passion of mine. I’ve been a vegetarian for the last few months and was very pleasantly surprised with how easy the transition has been. My Echo is so helpful while cooking, from getting cooking conversions to playing music.
You love to travel. Any favorite places you’ve visited?
My favorite place was Cambodia. I was there for humanitarian efforts, but the mindset of the people and Buddhist culture was truly inspirational considering the horrors of their past.
Another amazing place was Malta. It's like a real-life "Game of Thrones" and in fact a lot of GOT filming was done there!
Business trips to China (for manufacturing) and India (software developers) are also incredible because we have local hosts who can show us around to all the non-tourist places.
A skill you wish you had?
Graphics and Animation. It’s a particular area I never got exposure to. It would be so useful for so many things, whether it’s making awesome holiday videos or explaining certain concepts in a graphical form. It’d be nice to one day graduate past stick figures and a whiteboard with arrows.