The Day I Ventured Out – Frankie Angai, Co-Founder and Director of Engineering at Aerostrat

August 16, 2021

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1. What were you doing before you launched your startup?

I was a software engineer for 5 years at Microsoft working on the Microsoft Authenticator app, Windows 10, account security, and the sign-in experience across all platforms.

2. When did you realize you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Back in college, I took an entrepreneurship course where I started a company (a social app, obviously!) with a small team of fellow classmates. We ended up winning a few competitions and even got to pitch the idea to Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec (he was only mildly impressed, unfortunately). Although the company fizzled shortly after graduation, I knew then that the startup world was where I wanted to be.

Post graduation, I decided to spend some time honing my technical skills at Microsoft. Over the next 5 years, I moonlighted as an aspiring entrepreneur, spending countless evenings and weekends exploring new ventures and jumping from one potential idea to another. But nothing quite had that “this is it” feeling.

This went on until, one day, I was introduced to my eventual co-founder, who was working at Alaska Airlines at the time. He had identified very real problems in the aircraft maintenance space that could use a better solution. Intrigued but knowing nothing of the aviation industry, I helped him build a proof of concept. Within a short time, we had a demo set up to show potential customers the idea – and I remember being completely floored by how excited people were to see our vision, which was really only a concept at the time. It showed me that there was a real gap and a real need for change in this space, and how much of an impact I could have. It was on that day that I knew it was time to take the leap. 

3. What initial hesitations did you have about starting your first company?

Did I ever have hesitations! Everything from losing my financial stability to entering an industry that I knew nothing about–I had a daily rotation of concerns that kept me up at night.

But there were two things that ultimately helped me get over the hump:

  1. I saw with my own eyes how excited our future customers were about the proof of concept that we had built and how much they wanted us to continue building out the product. There was something uniquely satisfying and rewarding about having that experience, and I didn’t want to let them or the vision down.
  2. After 5 years at Microsoft, I knew that I had gained enough skills to find another software job later, if all else failed. I also knew that I was going to learn as much as I possibly could with my startup and no matter what the outcome was, I was not going to leave the experience empty-handed. 

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4. Can you remember the day you put in your notice? What was it like, what was going through your mind, how did your manager take it?

To be honest, I was afraid to tell my manager that I was leaving to start a company–not because he would not be supportive–but because I did not want to look foolish if, after making such a grand departure, my startup crashed and burned. In hindsight, I was obviously in my head, but the feeling was very real at the time. Even though I didn’t tell my manager the reason I was leaving, he was extremely understanding and told me the door was open if I ever wanted to return. This gesture meant a lot to me and I am forever grateful to him and all my past managers for always being so supportive of my career and my decisions.

5. What are you doing now?

I am happy to say I just crossed the 5 year mark with Aerostrat and we are still going strong. As you can imagine, the pandemic has been trying for many of our customers, and we are incredibly grateful that they have continued to work with us through the tough times and continued to recommend us to others. 

For those curious, at Aerostrat, we built a web-based application that helps airlines and MROs (maintenance and repair organizations) very easily and quickly build a complete picture of their maintenance operations for many years into the future. It allows them to build budgets, forecast what-if scenarios, understand capacity requirements, and most importantly, automatically create a highly optimized and centralized production schedule of all their maintenance needs across their entire fleet.

6. Looking back on your experience of founding a company, what do you know that you wish you knew before? Are you happy with your decision?

I wish I had done a better job of keeping in touch with all my friends and all the amazing colleagues I met throughout my time at Microsoft. When starting a company, there is this drive to put your head down and build nonstop until you make it. But in a small company, you end up talking a lot to just a few people instead of the tens or hundreds you used to interact with. It can be isolating, and it was tough for me to regain those friendships. If I had the chance to do it over, I would work just as hard, but carve out time to stay in touch with others, and also find a good support network of other founders to bounce ideas off. You have to become an expert in so many areas when you’re part of such a small team that any help can really make a big impact. 

While the journey has not always been easy, I have no regrets. There is something very special about building a company from scratch and seeing how happy your customers are every single day. I know I am making a difference and that has made it all worth it.

7. Any other advice you can share for others contemplating a similar path?

I would recommend two things:

  1. Talk to others (especially other founders) and just make sure you understand what kind of journey you’re about to embark on. It isn’t for everyone and it can be an emotional and stressful rollercoaster.
  2. Once you understand what you’re about to do and think you have a great idea, dive headfirst and don’t look back. Startups require everything you’ve got, and looking back will only slow you down. Just know you will come out stronger, especially with failure, and you will be better for it.
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