Mississippi-based Kopis Mobile hit a major milestone in 2017—it ranked #384 on the Forbes 5000 list of fastest growing companies.
One of only two Mississippi companies to make the annual list, the honor cements Kopis Mobile as the fastest growing tech company in the state.
Dr. Henry “Hank” Jones of Kopis Mobile credits Innovate Mississippi with helping the company’s growth on three different occasions.
“Before we started the company at all, I put together an investor pitch book and I went over that with some of the people I knew from Innovate—they gave me feedback about how to think about that pitch differently, what to emphasize, what to restructure,” Jones says.
The result was a better pitch to take to the investors that Innovate Mississippi then helped Jones reach out to through the Angel Network.
“After making it through that and getting some positive feedback, I needed to raise money. Innovate helped me get in front of a lot of people in Mississippi through their Angel Network. That meant we had good audiences—serious groups of investors,” Jones says. “The exercise of getting a lot of good questions and feedback helped me refine the pitch further, getting the right message across… and somewhere along the way things started to click.”
Kopis Mobile raised $850,000, and all but $150,000 of that was raised in Mississippi. While it didn’t all come through the Angel Network, Jones says a lot of it did, and he credits the whole process with his company’s success.
Kopis Mobile has the goal of keeping the military and first responders safe and productive via technology. Often their solutions help modernize a rescue force by tying smartphone and tablet-based solutions into legacy systems. The result is better communications, efficient monitoring of hazardous situations, and effective reporting back to legacy systems, like 9-1-1 networks or military personnel systems.
It was such a good idea that, at one critical moment, Kopis nearly outgrew its cash flow.
“We build software and electronics for the military and law enforcement—and in order to buy from us, they need equipment to test. Our products cost money to produce. We were in a cash bind and we went to the Mississippi Seed Fund and got an investment of $100k to buy products. That was really helpful money at just the right time,” Jones says. “And I’m proud that we’ve been able to pay the Seed Fund money back—paid it back in April of this year.”
So is the fastest-growing tech company in Mississippi hindered by its location? Jones says that being based in Mississippi is intentional—and an asset. Three of the principals in his company—Joe McDevitt, Joshua Lunn and Andrew Putman—are from Mississippi, with Hugh Middleton, a former Navy Seal, heading up their Virginia Beach office.
Jones says that Mississippi as a state—along with its Congressional delegation and statewide political leadership—is pro-military and pro-law enforcement, which means his company spends less time explaining why it focuses on the customers that it does. He also credits Mississippi’s universities with turning out well-educated engineers and other talented graduates who are enthusiastic for the mission of supplying first-responders with upgraded technology.
His one hope for Mississippi’s business community (and the ecosystem that supports it) would be to find a way to encourage more risk-taking and to build a willingness to work with Mississippi startup companies.
“I’d love to be able to say ‘I’m from Mississippi and I’m selling a Mississippi product’ and have that help get me in the door at bigger Mississippi firms and government entities,” Jones says. “Maybe you’d need some risk mitigation in there, but if we had a culture of making that happen, then you’d get those customers in Mississippi and make them happy. From there, you can go from Alabama to Oregon and everywhere else, and you can talk about your happy customers, wherever they are.”
Jones says that one critical lesson he’s learned on his path as a founder is how important it is to find what he calls “those three customers.”
“You need to find three individuals who you know have purchasing authority to buy your product, and get them to wake up every day thinking ‘I can’t wait to buy this thing!’” he says. “If you can’t find those three people—I mean know their name, their phone number, get them to answer when you call—then it’s too easy to get enamored of your own ideas.”
Instead, you need to build the product for those early adopters, Jones says, with their input. Their support for the final product—and their insight into how to sell to people like them—is “priceless.”
“If you can’t find those three people you really need to rethink what your value proposition is,” he says. “You’re going to have to find those three people at some point—it makes it a lot easier if you can find them up front.”