How I Create

Innovative entrepreneurs on inspiration, screw-ups and what makes a product great.

February 1, 2013

By Susan Burns

Sarasota made the list of Fast Company’s “10 underrated hotbeds of American innovation” last year, explaining that “today’s flux-driven economy can support entrepreneurs in any city, no matter how small and far-flung.” At Biz(941), we regularly report on Sarasota and Manatee entrepreneurs whose creations can be found here and around the world. We asked five high-octane innovators to share the highs, lows and inner workings of their creativity.

The Innovators

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Dan Miller is a serial entrepreneur, investor and adviser to tech start ups. He is the current chief financial officer at Sarasota-based MobileBits, a mobile, social and web content management and video software company, which is the provider of SAMY, a shopping app.


Caragiulo dikvcz
Restaurateur Mark Caragiulo is the mastermind behind the concepts and designs of Owen’s Fish Camp, Nancy’s Bar-B-Q and Shore Diner. He has a background in cinema and directed, produced and edited the 1998 movie Blowfish. He designs restaurants like theaters, creating spaces that set an emotional tone.


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Alex Miller is CEO of Mercedes Medical, a national medical distributor specializing in physician office and lab supplies. The company has more than $25 million in annual sales to more than 10,000 facilities in 50 states. Miller was recently elected to the Sarasota Memorial Hospital board of directors.


Robbrady lxxgtm
Rob Brady is CEO and design director of Robrady Design, a 22-year-old, Sarasota-based product design and development studio with international clients including General Electric, Mercedes-Benz, Dell Computers and Yamaha. He’s also the interim CEO of Ziivaa and co-founder and executive director of Armorit.


Terrysiegel p2mpb6
Terry Siegel is a clothing designer who founded the M2F™ brand of women’s denim jeans in 2010. Siegel’s designs have been featured in global media and can be found in stores around the world as well as on celebrities. M2F™ is the first and only jean brand to design and produce colored denims that stonewash and fade like traditional blue jeans.



The Challenges of Working Here

Finding qualified tech talent and local early-stage investors. —Dan Miller

Navigating demands of a city government, which can be business prohibitive. —Caragiulo

Not having readily available technical resources. —Brady

Finding [local] talent to create new products. —Siegel


The Benefits of Working Here

Weather and lifestyle and the ability to recruit out of state based on those two factors. Florida, and Bradenton in particular, are still good pro-business environments. —Alex Miller

Quality of life. —Dan Miller

Not dealing with unions. —Caragiulo

A fantastic place to live and raise a family: water, beaches, restaurants, schools. —Brady

I am much more creative when I see blue skies every day. —Siegel


Where I Get My Best Ideas

Enjoying a good cup of espresso. —Caragiulo

In the shower.  The water gods like me. —Alex Miller

At my home office in the early morning, drinking a cup of coffee. —Dan Miller

On a whiteboard, sometimes alone, sometimes with a team of creatives. The beach at night works pretty well, too. —Brady

After a vigorous two-hour workout of tennis or running. But the endorphins only last a couple hours so I have to work fast! —Siegel


What Inspires Me

Creating solutions that help make the lives of my customers better. —Dan Miller

Beauty. —Caragiulo

Impressive success—mine or others. —Brady

I love all things vintage, so anything I come across that is old and weathered makes me think about my next design. —Siegel

Growing businesses from an idea into something meaningful and worthy, where they are no longer a reflection of any one person but stand on their own. —Alex Miller


Control Freak or Collaborator?

Collaborator. Control freaks are either insecure about their abilities or are narcissists. —Alex Miller

Collaborator. I’m not usually the person in the room with the best idea. I love the energy that gets released in a collaborative effort. Plus, it’s more fun. —Dan Miller

Not a freak…but I over-appreciate details. —Caragiulo

Both. Love, love, love to collaborate. But if a solution simply isn’t right, then you’ll meet the control freak. —Brady

When it comes to running our business I am a collaborator. With regards to design, team design waters down my vision, and too many creative people are insulted if you don’t like their work. —Siegel


What Makes a Product in My Field Great

Looks great, tastes great, profitable. —Caragiulo

Differentiating features/attributes/benefits, a value-based price point, something unexpected and memorable. —Brady

Compliance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA); a unique, niche product that won’t be commoditized quickly and then marginalized due to the ACA and declining reimbursements; technology and software that supports ACA development and implementation. —Alex Miller

The marriage of color, blue jean quality stonewashing, vintage details and a great fit. —Siegel


How I Pitch to Investors

With a concise, no BS executive summary or well-rehearsed elevator pitch. If all else fails, expensive wine. —Alex Miller

A working product and customers. —Dan Miller

Be authentic, be precise and for God’s sake, be brief. —Brady

Notwithstanding a business plan, which many investors don’t read, define why consumers need your product or service. The best way to do that is to have pre-sold the idea prior to meeting with investors. If you have proof your idea works, the money people are easier to talk to. —Siegel


If I Didn’t Live Here, I’d Live In...

New York City or Sydney. —Alex Miller

Boston, New York or Silicon Valley. —Dan Miller

Bologna, Italy. —Caragiulo

Shanghai, Positano, London. —Brady

Southern California. —Siegel


My Favorite Tech Product

All things Apple. My iPhone 5 is my favorite, although my new MacBook is pretty close. —Alex Miller

My MacBook Air. Most amazing laptop I’ve ever had. —Dan Miller

The little battery-powered wand that whips the cream in my cup of coffee. —Caragiulo

Today, my new iPad mini. Tomorrow, something else. —Brady

MP3 music player. I could never run for two hours without my tunes. —Siegel


Best Question I ask Job Applicants

“Tell me one of your faults.” It’s very revealing. —Alex Miller

“Why did you apply for this job?” —Dan Miller

“Why do you want to work here?” —Caragiulo

I point to a product and ask, “What’s good, what’s bad, and what would you do to make it better?” If I like what I hear, I dig deeper. —Brady

“What skills do you have that can make a difference in my business?” —Siegel


Percentage Of My Ideas I Actually Implement

Most of them. —Alex Miller

25 percent. —Dan Miller

10 percent. —Brady

2 percent. —Caragiulo

Very few. —Siegel


My Worst-Ever Idea

Thinking that I should implement 90 percent of my ideas. —Brady

Korean BBQ-Vietnamese soup kitchen. I wanted to call it Pho Q. —Caragiulo

Thinking that I could replace the water hose on a laundry machine. I ended up throwing the machine down a hallway. —Dan Miller


In High School, I Was...

A party girl, academically uninterested, independent. —Alex Miller

Student athlete. —Dan Miller

Kaja Goo Goo (A  British pop band, best known for their hit single, “Too Shy.”) —Caragiulo

Hungry for “something.” —Brady

Disorganized, funny, athletic. —Siegel


My Mantra

I try very hard not to hold on to anything or any emotion that doesn’t serve me and my quest for personal growth. —Alex Miller

Have fun, but get it done! —Dan Miller

25/8/366. —Brady

Physical well being is the key to mental well being. —Siegel

Make believe you know what you are doing until you actually do it. —Caragiulo


My Must-Watch TV Show

Homeland and Dexter. —Alex Miller

Homeland and Walking Dead. —Dan Miller

Johnny Quest. —Caragiulo

Something “totally awesome” with my seven-year-old on a Friday night. —Brady

The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News. —Siegel


Your College Major?

Psychology undergrad, M.B.A. postgrad. —Alex Miller

Sociology. —Dan Miller

Hospitality/Flounderings. —Caragiulo

Industrial Design. —Brady

Journalism. —Siegel

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