Jake Sigal On Selling His Company to Ford, Growing #OneDetroit

By Amanda Lewan on June 12th, 2014 / Comments

Jake Sigal jokingly describes himself as a little bullheaded when starting his first company, Livio Radio. The company was sold to Ford in 2013, where the team of over 25 he built up is currently residing.

But it was that bullheaded attribute that helped him push his company forward to a successful acquisition. Now, he’s working on his second company Tome Software. We were able to speak with him at the Mackinac Policy Conference about his experiences launching and growing a company in Metro Detroit.

Jake is from Ohio and came to Metro Detroit for a job before starting his first business. He says he gets a unique outsider look at the Detroit area. One thing he’s noticed is “there’s no physical boundary lines in the world of tech.” Metro Detroiters across the area are able to collaborate and work together. He’d like to see more of this through a movement he’s calling “One Detroit.”

What is One Detroit?

“One Detroit is a concept that’s come about from me being around the area and meeting other entrepreneurs from Ann Arbor, to Rochester Hills, to Southfield, to Troy, and Detroit. The lines that have been drawn for political reasons just don’t necessarily apply for entrepreneurs in tech,” said Jake. “We are all in this together. We band together by the product types or the business models we’re in, not based on geographical regions.”

The collaborative culture in technology is already there, but Jake would like to see a more inclusive tech identity for all technology companies to get behind in Michigan. He compared “One Detroit” as similar to knowing where tech companies reside in “Silicon Valley.”

“If you begin to look at this as “One Detroit” and that we’re all in this together… everything that is good for once city is good for one another,” said Jake. “Someone has to get all of these tech companies together and find common things for us to work on, so we can all be represent a larger community.”

Why start two companies in Michigan?

Of course there were pros and cons like any location you choose for a company, but Jake sighted a great culture and work ethic along with affordability as the main reasons he chose Michigan for starting his two companies.

“You don’t have to worry about prestige,” said Jake. “If you’re working in New York or Silicon Valley, there’s a lot of prestige that comes with working on a startup. In Detroit, it’s really just about getting down to business.”

Jake started Livio out of a house in Ferndale, and the great thing was no one expected them to work and build the first ever radio for Pandora, launching and displacing big Japanese brands out of shelf space in major retailers like Target and Sears.

Jake says that overall, even though there may be some prestige creeping into Metro Detroit, he sees more “Entrepreneurs” than “wantrepreneurs” in the region.

What was it like selling your company to Ford?

“I think I gained ten pounds and slept like two hours a night,” said Jake about the weeks leading up to the deal with Ford. “Most of it was worrying about the staff and the people.”

Jake said he knew it was the right fit to go with Ford, but it was still difficult to let his team know about the changes.

“At Livio, we’re like a family,” he said. “The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do business wise was leave Livio as the transition ended. But I knew it was the right thing to do.”

Choosing to sell to Ford was the right fit. It gave their company the opportunity to make a larger impact in the industry with a goal of developing leading technologies for automobiles. Jake said the real focal point for him with Livio was getting the product right, and Ford was able to accelerate their product development and execution.

“When you do that well (product development) and have a good business model, that’s when companies will talk to you about a joint venture or an M&A deal,” said Jake. “We didn’t solicit this. Ford came to us.”

How Jake “checks-in” with his employees.

Culture and product development were two key topics that Jake mentioned both in his speech at the conference and our chat afterwards. Jake doesn’t hold normal check-ins. He holds individual meetings with all of his staff at least twice a year. He opens his moleskin and he starts off with the question: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Then, Jake says, he looks at how he can help each person be happy. Helping others become better and achieve their own goals is his idea of building a great culture and community.

“You empower them,” he said. “I’ve sent people to media training classes. We helped one person get back into college. That goes beyond Livio or Ford or anything else. It’s what makes our community great.”

Hopefully we’ll see that culture expand across the larger Metro Detroit tech community, and more great ventures from Jake Sigal.

About the Author

Amanda Lewan

Amanda Lewan

Editor @michipreneur. Co-founder Bamboo Detroit. Follow me @Amanda_Jenn. I love telling the story of entrepreneurs and innovators.