Olin grad and CEO offers tips for tech company success

  • December 16, 2020
  • By Jill Young Miller
  • 2 minute read

Ellen Mell, MBA 2012, is featured in this month’s Authority Magazine in a series on Inspirational Women Leaders of Tech. 

In the piece, Mell discusses her career path, five things to know to build a successful company, and a movement she would like to inspire.

Mell is CEO of Custom Technologies,  an engineering and manufacturing business in Brentwood, Missouri, that provides product development, manufacturing and business services for clients. She is also a registered US patent attorney and an adjunct professor in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis.

Here are her five tips, abbreviated for the Olin Blog:

  • Recognize that the lines between your professional and personal lives are going to be very blurry. Be ready and willing to live and breathe the business for a long time. That’s why it is crucial to surround yourself with people who support the effort of growing your business.
  • Expect to be a jack-of-all-trades in the early stages of your company and be ready to constantly shift gears. If you are the type who is best at focusing on one large and in-depth task, then you need to surround yourself with other team members who can each do a whole lot of diverse things.
  • Build your core team with equally motivated, self-starting individuals. Make sure the motivations and goals of your core team are properly aligned with your own.
  • Focus on launching a minimum viable product. Don’t be seduced into thinking that every bit of feedback from every potential customer should go immediately into your first product launch. Get your product to market in its simplest form that solves a novel pain point.
  • Be agile and ready to pivot. Don’t become so in love with your tech creation that you cannot recognize when something needs to change. It has been said many times that the true key to success of a startup is its ability to change plans along the way.

Environmentalists and business owners

The magazine also asked Mell, “If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?”

Mell replied: “What if we could find a way for environmentalists and business owners to be on the same side for once? Wouldn’t that be powerful?

In today’s hyper-polarized political climate, it seems that nobody wants to find middle ground anymore, yet I believe it is there.  

Ellen Mell

"There are people on one hand (including me!) who are very worried about the environment. …

“My inspired movement is simple: Encourage laws that help the environment and our US-based businesses at the same time. Do this by requiring imported goods to be produced under proper environmentally friendly conditions that are on par with what we require of our companies here at home. Specifically, I propose to initiate an import tax that is based directly on each country’s environmental-friendliness score. It would be good for our local businesses, and it would be good for Mother Earth. I think that is something both sides can agree on.”

About the Author

Jill Young Miller

Jill Young Miller

As research translator for WashU Olin Business School, my job is to highlight professors’ research by “translating” their work into stories. Before coming to Olin, I was a communications specialist at WashU’s Brown School. My background is mostly in newspapers including as a journalist for Missouri Lawyers Media, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida.

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