Four questions with Parihug’s Xyla Foxlin
When Xyla Foxlin, a student at Case Western, wanted a hug from her long-distance boyfriend, she turned to her penchant for robotics to solve the problem. Partnering with Harshita Gupta, then a high schooler who she met at a University of Michigan hackathon, Xyla wanted to make a teddy bear that could hug back. With a grant from the 1517 Fund, these two STEM stars turned their project into a company that has wowed audiences at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and SXSW in Austin, TX. Though Harshita is now focused on her studies at Harvard, Parihug has a growing team and is set for a crowdfunding campaign early in 2017. Xyla gave us a sneak peek at the insight she’ll share during Flight in Akron on December 2. Register for the conference at launchleague.org/flight and learn about the company at parihug.com
1.) What do you wish you knew when you were getting started?
I wish I knew the business side of things! I faintly remember googling “what is equity” on a conference call in the really early days of Parihug. I built the product out of passion for the idea, not remotely expecting it to turn into a company. As interest grew and we began heading down the startup route, I had no idea what I was doing on the business end of things. Needless to say thank goodness for great mentors and Google.
2.) Can you describe a time you hit a big roadblock and explain how you got out of it?
In March, my cofounder called me and told me she was leaving the company. It was relatively without warning, at a really stressful and busy time for the company, and she didn’t exactly have a plan for her transition out. For a long time, it felt like I was trying to sew my parachute after I’d already jumped out of the airplane, but eventually I built out a new team. I think the most important thing was to learn to trust myself. I had the skills to do things on my own for a while, and I had a company that people wanted to join. It would just be time, and as time passed the team grew to the powerful squad we have now.
3.) What talent, skill or ability do you think is the most valuable tool in your toolbox?
I can take breaks and truly forget work when I need to. I think a lot of entrepreneurs can get so wound up about their startups that they stop thinking about anything else, which really hinders efficiency. If I decide to take a day off, I can put Parihug aside completely and just lose myself in whatever I’m doing instead. If I’m with people that I love, I refuse to let work dampen that time. That way when I go back to it, I’ll be refreshed instead of burned out.
4.) Is there something basic or fundamental that you think too many people enter your field without knowing?
There is a fundamental difference between entrepreneurship and wantrepreneurship. I like to describe the early days as I tripped and fell and accidentally started a company. It was a slow growth — a project that I did for fun that snowballed into a startup. I think that is the best way for a company to start, rather than the “wantrepreneur” going out and deciding to start a company and picking their brain for ideas from there.