Friday, August 12, 2011

Ideas, start-ups and Milton Chang

Hey everyone..

It’s been busy past couple of days, resulted in fewer posts. I’ve been working on a project at RII, trying to make an idea work. Some of it was in my area of expertise. Some was new to me. And some of it was completely unknown (this is research after all). After some crazy tinkering, finally it seems to work!! :)

In the Silicon Valley everybody has good ideas. Everybody is ambitious. It’s very common for casual conversation to get around how we should take this or that idea and start a new business. Surely, people would pay good money for XYZ.. Start-ups here are many. And so are folks working in them. Life in a startup seems to be hard, but very rewarding if you thrive on learning and every day being new.

Milton Chang is a well-known name in the optics community. He was the President/CEO of Newport and New Focus, later an angel investor and is now at Incubic, his venture capital firm. Milton’s story of building Newport and New Focus, bringing them to IPO and making them “household” names is recounted to every rookie in our world.

Naturally, I was very excited to hear that Milton Chang is going to meet us for dinner and give a talk at our local N-Cal OSA meeting. What would he be like?

Milton Chang (coffee-ing) just before the talk
The first thing that struck me, he’s incredibly down-to-earth and nice. He went around the table, talked to absolutely everyone at dinner. He also hung out at the talk, giving advice and suggestions, sharing some of the lessons learnt from his experience in startup and venture capital.

Milton's simplest advice was – don’t rush. Do your best, put all of yourself in your idea.. but don’t rush into getting outside funding. He said that startups don’t have to be so risky. Yes, there is always a risk. But the risk can be mitigated if we put in enough effort up front. Make sure the idea is solid. Know what will be involved in developing the idea. Have a clear plan. And in order to develop a strong plan, spend time at the outset to clarify the unknowns in your idea.

Another important thing he cautioned was that the business plan should not be taken lightly. A strong technical idea could fail miserably if the market and business aspects are overlooked. An early team shouldn't have only technical strength but also a strong business component. Whether this comes in the form of a fulltime business person on the team, a part-time consultant, or you doing it all yourself, it needs to be done, and done well.

It was very good to get this balanced perspective about startups in optics and photonics, with his positive experiences as well as cautionary advice. Certainly got everybody’s entrepreneurial wheels churning

Note: If you got to this post looking for entrepreneurship guidance, a good reference would be Milton Chang’s book that has just come out – Toward establishing a successful technology business entrepreneurship. We just got a copy!

Cheerio and thanks for stopping by!

Update 09/22/2011: Just spotted the following notice on OSA's website.

"Milton Chang has partnered with the OSA Foundation to offer his new release, Toward Entrepreneurship: Establishing a Successful Technology Business to the OSA community with sales proceeds benefiting the OSA Foundation. 

All sales proceeds from the book will be donated to the OSA Foundation, and will be matched 100% by OSA through its contribution to the OSA Foundation General Fund.

Through this special offer you can purchase Toward Entrepreneurship for $20 (USD) minimum donation, or more if you like, for a limited time. The retail list price for the book is $35. There is no additional charge for shipping."


  1. I heard the reviews are wonderful on Dr. Chang's book.

    For more on how to turn your entrepreneurial dreams into reality, be sure to attend the Entrepreneurs International Network (EIN) Workshop
    at FiO 2011 in San Jose, CA, USA. To register, visit

  2. Hey Chloe.. yes, the book is very interesting and easy to read. Thanks for the reminder about the EIN workshop!