Capturing Lightning
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Jessie Garcia

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“A lot of the things I do come out of need. If I don’t know it, I teach it to myself or I find someone that knows it more than I do.”

Jessie Garcia, founder and CEO of Tozuda

Jessie Garcia is the Founder and CEO of Tozuda, a company that creates wearable sensors to detect heavy impacts to the head. For years, Jessie’s passion for Tozuda has driven her to learn new skills, surround herself with a supportive team, and discover that taking time off can be just as important as putting in hard work.

What drew you to your vision behind Tozuda?
I was a rugby player. I got concussed during a game and didn’t know. My coach at the time emailed me three days later like, “Jessie, I’m so sorry. I should have pulled you from this.” And so I was like, how did I not know I was hurt?

It was a lot of frustration. I had suffered from concussions in the past. My last one was my fifth one. Then I started researching, and I found that there was a product on market. It was an electronic mouth guard — and I couldn’t afford it. I was like, “This would have saved me six months of not being able to read and struggling with light and noise.” I was just frustrated that I could have had something that would have helped me.

Did you have any fears about becoming an entrepreneur?
I was so scared. I have a really unique academic background — global studies was my major, but I had no technical background. When I had this idea, I was like, “Who am I to be doing this? How do I have the qualifications to do this?” At the time, I just didn’t believe in myself.

So I went into grad school, and this program was a master’s in engineering — half product design, half business. I left there feeling like I love this idea, the market research has been done, but I was too scared to jump into it. So I ended up working about two and a half years full time as a marketing coordinator. And at the time I was still troubleshooting things with the product. I was kind of paralyzed by fear.

But I just hated my job so much. I was just really unhappy in my day-to-day. But I kept thinking about the sensor. I had one of those moments where I was at work and my supervisor at the time was like, “I need someone who’s going to do whatever I tell them and not think about it and not give opinions on everything.” And I was like, “Cool, I’m not that person then, because I have opinions and my voice matters.” So I quit, and then that’s when I was like, “This guy can run a business? I can do this.” I’m so thankful that he said that to me, because to this day I’m like that was the last push I needed.

What has been your greatest struggle in founding Tozuda?
I’m the main motivator, so if I don’t believe in myself, I can’t do anything or I can’t bring other people to do it. So just that self-doubt and getting over that self-doubt was a really big struggle for a while.

What has been the greatest triumph in your founder’s journey thus far?
If we wanted to go to the next step [in the early stages of the company], we thought we had to do plastic-injection molded parts, because that’s when you get perfect tolerances within the plastic pieces. And the first quote back for that was $50k, another was $35k. Just an absurd amount of money. And we were still testing this. I couldn’t blow my whole savings just to test something out.

So that’s when we found an injection molding machine on eBay. It was a 15-ton injection molding machine. It was $1k. The guy said, “This thing does not run.” And we were like, “Perfect! We’ll take it! We’ll get this working.” So we spent a solid nine months working on that machine to get it to run. And the first time it was able to shoot out plastic, I swear I cried.

I was elated that we got this to work and could have money to keep spending and keep the company going. It really sustained the company. Because without raising a ton of money and blowing a ton of money really fast, I don’t know how I could have done R&D without it. A lot of the things I do come out of need. If I don’t know it, I teach it to myself or I find someone that knows it more than I do.

What has been your biggest sacrifice?
Time for sure. I was thinking to myself, “When was the last time I had a weekend?” Because I can’t remember the last time I actually did something on the weekend rather than just like coming in here to work every day. So I’ve definitely sacrificed time with friends and family. It’s hard because it’s like you want to be there for everything, but if I don’t put this work in, no one else is going to. If I really want this, I’ve got to get after it. In my head I think it’s worth it.

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“I’m a big fan of fail fast, fail often. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying.”

Jessie Garcia, founder and CEO of Tozuda

Did anyone in your life try to dissuade you from becoming an entrepreneur?
Yes and no. I’m usually met with the opposite reaction. I’ve found that people have been so encouraging and supportive of me along the way. My family is like, “No better time than now! Do it! Go for it!” It was really in the beginning stages that people kind of questioned it more.

In the beginning, some guy was like, “I don’t even know if this would work mechanically. This isn’t feasible.” They would just shoot it down. Just kind of saying, it’s not that impressive, that type of thing. That’s when I try to seek out people who are smarter than me.

Has anyone in your personal life been a constant source of support?
My fiancée Chris is amazing in that sense. Like the fact that I’m not bringing in income right now? He’s like, “I got us. You do you. Pursue this as hard as you can.” The days where I’m crying and I’m like, “I don’t know if I can handle doing today,” he’s been a constant support.

I would also say my parents. I talk to my parents every day. They really encourage me. They have their own business, so I think they have the entrepreneurial spirit. And they’re just happy because I’m happy finally. They’re like, “If it fails, it’s okay. You’ve developed a great skill set. You’ve learned so much. And if you succeed, it’s just a blessing.” It makes it less daunting. I’ve always had doubts, but they kind of get me out of that mindset.

What’s your work-life balance like?
I’m trying to find it. I’m actively trying to give myself a leave time of 7 p.m. Like, get out of here. Don’t stay longer than that. I’m really good about eating dinner with Chris. We try to just have a dinner together. No TV, just talk — enjoy that time. And then I watch TV to decompress each night just so I’m not thinking about Tozuda constantly. It can be very invasive. It’s part of my life, supporting all these people. But I have to turn Tozuda off every now and then.

I’m trying to do so much. At a certain point, it’s like you’re not going to get much done. It’s not going to be great work. So I would be much better off if I just go home, chill out. Tomorrow is a new day. I’ve had to adjust my expectations because — especially here [at NextFab] you see other startups working and you’re like, “Shit, they’re staying late. Should I stay late, too?” And it’s not competitive that way, but you just ask yourself could I be doing more? Should I be doing more? Of course I want Tozuda to be the best it possibly can be. But this type of atmosphere is not that helpful for it at times because you just start comparing yourself to others a lot.

Did you ever come close to giving up?
Oh, yeah. I had a construction company out in Florida that some of my cousins helped get in contact with and they were going to be the first users [of a magnet-based sensor that predates the current sensor]. This [older sensor] tested great in-house. Then we put them on all the construction workers and they all failed.

That was a really low point because I had probably been working on it four years at that point. And I was like, “Well, if this isn’t the solution, then what is?” Those next couple of months [after the trial], I was totally depressed. I didn’t know what to do. It was hard to be creative.

I’m so happy the magnet failed in a weird way, because now our sensor is actually better and more comprehensive than it was before. It’s been a love-hate relationship at different points. I love my product now and I love where it’s going. I’m always trying to keep it moving, keep it evolving. But there are some points where you get really frustrated with it, too. That was a point where it was like, “Do I walk away from this now?” And I’m just too hard-headed to say no.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
I’m a big fan of fail fast, fail often. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying. It took me two years out of school just to try again. I get paralyzed by fear. But I’m just like, “No, I’m just going to keep trying. Who cares if I look like an ass? I’m gonna just keep putting myself out there.” And if people don’t get it, that’s okay. Not everyone is going to like it, and that’s okay. You fall down nine times and get up ten.

This interview has been lightly edited from an in-person conversation for clarity. Capturing Lightning is a project from Woden, a strategic storytelling agency in Philadelphia that helps organizations articulate who they are and why people should care. To learn more about how to tell your story, visit us at wodenworks.com.