The trajectory of Barrett Comiskey’s career, from his early days at MIT to pioneering the world of electronic paper technology, is a beacon of innovation and entrepreneurship. His venture, E Ink ended up going public and his latest venture, Migo, has already raised $60 million from top tier investors.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Barrett Comiskey’s transition from a mathematician to a tech entrepreneur
- The creation and journey of E Ink, a game-changing electronic paper company
- His experience of relocating to Asia and navigating the tech landscape
- Insights on capital raising, technology commercialization, and the importance of foundational knowledge in entrepreneurship
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About Barrett Comiskey:
Barrett Comiskey is the Founder and Chairman of Migo, a Temasek-backed company in Southeast Asia bridging modern digital services to hundreds of millions of previously unaddressed consumers.
Known for being one of the “fathers of electronic ink,” as an MIT undergrad, Barrett developed the technology behind the Amazon Kindle e-reader. He then co-founded E Ink in 1997, which has since delivered billions of e-books and revolutionized the print industry.
Living in Asia since 2004, Barrett is focused on closing the Gigabyte Gap for emerging market communities. Migo’s unique last-mile platform brings the cloud to neighborhood corner stores, allowing for offline delivery of digital content to consumers’ pockets – all at sachet prices. On-demand video is the first product on Migo’s platform, with the Philippines as its first market and an R&D center in Taipei, Taiwan.
With more than 70 patents to his name, Barrett has been recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Technology Pioneer and is an inductee of the US National Inventors Hall of Fame. He has been profiled in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, and Wired, and was profiled by Esquire as “The New American.”
Barrett is an alumnus of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and holds a B.S. in Mathematics from MIT.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Um, alright hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So today. We have a very exciting founder that he is joining us. You know is a founder that has been there has done it multiple times I think that we’re going to find his journey quite inspiring and again you know more of the stuff that we always like to hear which is building scaling financing. And all of that good stuff so without further ado I’d like to welcome our guest today Barrett Kamiski welcome to the show.
Barrett Comiskey: Um, thank you, Thank you? Alejandro Nice to be here.
Alejandro Cremades: So originally born in New York city so gi a little of a walkth through memory lane. How was life growing up.
Barrett Comiskey: Oh well, that was a long time ago, right? It’s 1980 s Rudy Giuliani it was a little bit rough. It’s not It’s not today you know, but yeah, it was it was it was a rough times back then but you know it’s good. Made me tough many street smart made me. Get ah clear about how to get things done.
Alejandro Cremades: No kidding and how do you getting to mathematics you know out of all things.
Barrett Comiskey: Yeah, so so at mit the the the the least degree. Ah the least classes you had to take to get a degree was math. So there’s only 8 classes required. Ah, but. Turns out, they’re actually very hard. so so I had to take graduate classes. So I thought it was I thought I was being clever but you know it ended up being pretty hard but but you know Matt math is a foundation right for everything and and that’s like if you understand math then you can. Defer your decision about what you’re going to do with your career and ah you know, do whatever you want right.
Alejandro Cremades: So I Guess I Guess in your case you know, Obviously you know you end up being going to mit you know, incredible school but then eventually you know like you decide to pack the backs you know and and go overseas. So So walk us through that journey and and how did you thought that was. The right time and also the right idea you know to to do.
Barrett Comiskey: Yeah, so I went to Stanford for grad school and ah for Nba and like 50% of Stanford alumni stay in California and I I said hey I either I stay here or I go.
Alejandro Cremades: Are.
Barrett Comiskey: And I don’t want to stay here and be like everybody else right? So then let’s let’s go overseas and you know see what happens? yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: Um, so then what happened what happened then.
Barrett Comiskey: So then I went to China so 2004. So at that time I was looking at Hong Kong Beijing Shanghai Taipei and I decided to go to Shanghai and you know I was there for 5 years and I built a company there doing technology transfer. But then after about 5 years I said hey you know China is is a really difficult place and it’s it’s really like an insider market. So if I want to if I want to innovate if I want to bring new ideas then maybe southeast asia is. Is a better place. Yeah, and we have 600000000 people in you know Southeast asia and so I decided in oh 9 to to to leave China to to go for the other other shores.
Alejandro Cremades: And in this case I mean what you were doing was saying I believe it was but like you were saying like stuff around manufacturing lines and and things like that and and that ultimately you know was the sequence of events that needed to happen for you to really end up. You know in the track of of what it was and what it is Einc. . so how was you know? how did the sequence of events you know happen there for you in order to be able to bring you know to lives such an incredible rocket ship.
Barrett Comiskey: Um, you’re talking about yank itself.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah, so so so how how how did you? How did you do that because I mean that’s that’s an incredible business. You know that you’ve that you’ve built there.
Barrett Comiskey: Yeah, yeah, we had a big idea and you know the the idea was hey how do we make electronic paper. How do we make a piece of paper they can you know be be like an electronic book and um, yeah I mean myself and of course you know hundreds of people. Um, and. You know, made that happen and yeah that that it’s it’s it’s it’s an amazing story and you know there’s no substitute for like the fact that a lot of people worked very very hard for you know, many for 20 years I mean I just I just. Keynoted yes ah two weeks ago at the einc ah leadership conference and I’m I’m dealing with people who worked there for 25 years right? This I started this company twenty six years ago and it’s eight Billion market cap today and we have another 25 years to go ahead of us. So. It’s this is like a 50 year durable company and you know it’s it’s amazing but but yeah it’s it’s a lot of people worked very very hard to to get us where we are to be.
Alejandro Cremades: And obviously you know it’s easy now to say Eight Billion market cap but you know I’m sure that there was a lot of sweat and tears. You know that went into it so I guess for the people that are listening. You know to really get it. Why didn’t that up being the business model of the of the company.
Barrett Comiskey: yeah so yeah I mean we we we went back and forth what we want to do is we want to be a component supplier. Do we want to be ah a module a display supplier and where we kind of stabilized was hey let us be like a key component supplier and we’ll we’ll sell the film to the. Ah, downstream integrators and I think that was that was a good strategic decision that we made. Um and so yeah, now we we have you know about 500 people in in Boston and other 2 or three thousand here in Taiwan and and in China and. You know we are the key supplier to um, the paper like display business all over the world for like e readers for electronic shelf labels and now for full cover electronic outdoor displays.
Alejandro Cremades: And you were talking that you’ve been added. You know this company has been up and running for over twenty years so what has been you know that that journey like I mean at what point did you really find that you were turning a corner because. Incredible amount of risk that you were taking you know, leaving the us being a different country starting something from nothing I mean I’m sure that was like incredibly challenging at what point did you really feel that you were into something.
Barrett Comiskey: Well, yeah, that’s yeah, that’s a tough question right? I mean I think um, we all go through these these these moments and you know sometimes you feel you’re youre you’re lost and you’re wrong and sometimes you feel you’re right right? So you don’t. Here we are today and all I can say is we’re only here because we persevered to to make it through. Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: So so with E Inc I mean what was that journey to of um, capitalizing the business.
Barrett Comiskey: Um, we raised about one hundred and fifty million ah and then um and then we exited to a taiwanese company our downstream supplier for about 400000000 and that quickly popped to about one and a half billion um so we left some money on the table for sure and there’s some lessons learned there. Um, but but yeah, it’s you know and I think to to truly commercialize. Deep new technology takes like fifty hundred hundred fifty million dollars in reality. Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: So what were what? what? What were some of those listeners that day that you learned on that transaction I’m sure that I was saying like eye opener tool because that was the one of the first times you know that you were encountering something like that.
Barrett Comiskey: Yeah I mean ah you know I think I think there’s a really interesting intersection between finance people and technology people and and there’s a pretty big gap and so you know what i’m. You know and and and now here having that that’s like thirty years ago right so now I’m trying to close that gap a little bit and make sure that the you know the technology guys don’t get screwed by the finance guys. Ah. And you know everybody everybody can win because I’m I’m a win-win guy like I believe 1 plus one equals 3 you know? and so I’m not really a favor in favor of of screwing the technology people and I think that’s that’s kind of what happened back then thirty years ago yeah but but now I’m working to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Alejandro Cremades: Um, so how do you How do you? for example, um I mean I’m sure that this was quite eye-opener on on doing this transaction and and being able to achieve like 1 plus one equals 3 you know when you’re doing a deal like that. How do you do that because typically you know when you go through a transaction like this you always have the negotiation where there’s 1 party that wins the other one loses and it’s like you know that they give and take you know type of situation. So how how do you arrive to that point where everybody wins. How does that? What does that look like and what’s that process like.
Barrett Comiskey: Yeah I mean I’m I’m almost 50 right? And so at this stage in my life I’m only doing business with people that I actually like and in my experience.
Alejandro Cremades: Expect.
Barrett Comiskey: If if we are actually doing business with people that we like and we trust then you know it’s fine. You know and so I think the you know the transactional model doesn’t really work that much for me. Ah, you know, but having been over here in Asia for you know, 20 years now like. When we’re working with people that we like and we trust and we can have a good communication with you know? then yeah, we we could figure out how to make everybody everybody get out ahead and that’s fine.
Alejandro Cremades: So so obviously you know you were talking about doing the transaction and and and this other company you know I did basically like a post you know, post transaction you know phase an era for this What happened after the transaction.
Barrett Comiskey: Ah, so you know the I mean the good news is is the taiwanese did a great job of ah ah, Edie Inc of of industrializing and so you know Einc went from one and a half billion you know in 2009 to 8000000000 Today and you know a bright future ahead of them. You know and so and and so that’s on the e inc side I think for me, you know my lessons learned are um yeah I I want to help young technology companies founders who have some great. Ideas and I p but don’t necessarily have the capital have have the resources to scale distribution product you know et cetera. So so that’s you know that’s kind of my lesson is hey I want to help people that are like 20 years younger than me, you know. be be successful but he ink itself is is is doing very very well right now. Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: Ah, what is it like doing business in the us versus doing business. You know in Taiwan for example.
Barrett Comiskey: Um, yeah, that’s a good question. You know I think over here. We have really really strong technology but we’re not that commercial. Ah, and. You know and and in the us I think it’s very very commercial. Um, but you know maybe the technology is a little bit weak. So yeah, so that’s kind of what I’m trying to do is is find find a way to bridge those 2 positions.
Alejandro Cremades: So so tell us about Migo because Mio you know is you know what? they you are definitely pushing. You know more actively nowadays so tell us about mio you know what do you say Mego about and at what point does the idea of megle come knocking.
Barrett Comiskey: Yeah, so so so the idea of migo is that um you know the the devices are getting powerful like people have hundred dollar Android smartphones. Um, and they have a huge demand for media. But the. Networks are the bottleneck and so you know if you have a ah gdp per capita of only 2 $ 3000 a cellular a boo of only you know 3 four five dollars the cap x is limited and so the capacity is limited and so how do we. Build a like seven eleven like experience where you know we have a digital pickup point near your house overlay onto the existing retail infrastructure and and allow you to pick up five gigs 10 gigs a day for free. But so that’s so that’s the big idea of Migo and you know makes a lot of sense like for our customers in Indonesia in the Philippines and in in other similar markets. Um, yeah, it makes a lot of sense.
Alejandro Cremades: And what? what what in terms of making sense. You know from a monetary perspective. How are you guys you know making money and and and you know turning a profit on this.
Barrett Comiskey: Yeah, so the basic idea is kind of similar to like in Netflix you know if Netflix in the us is ten bucks um but that’s overlaid on your like 50 or hundred dollar you know wireline internet connection if if. If you don’t have a home internet connection and you’re in Indonesia and you can pay like 2 or $3 a month for unlimited access to video then that’s the business model. So it’s consumer paid.
Alejandro Cremades: And what what has been as well. The um, the experience too of of raising money for the for the company because up until now how much money have you guys raised late.
Barrett Comiskey: We’ve raised about eighty million bucks and it’s been quite challenging. You know it’s it’s I think innovating for emerging markets is is very difficult. Very difficult. Yeah, so.
Alejandro Cremades: So. What’s what’s how do you go about? you know, getting people excited and and getting people to be a little bit more at peace with with making the investment because obviously you know not only you have the risk of investing in ah in a new company but then also. The fact that you’re dealing with the uncertainty of that specific region as you are alluding to so how do you go about doing that to really you know address whatever concerns. You know that are between you and the money.
Barrett Comiskey: Yeah I mean it’s been incredibly challenging Honestly, incredibly challenging and and and actually right now I’m I’m reimagining the strategy actually um to to look at. More of the development banks you know because that there are are you know there is development capital that wants to help bring Data. So You know when we say hey we want to like sell.
Alejandro Cremades: Are.
Barrett Comiskey: Data just like Coca-cola to these people in emerging markets and there’s a lot of them. You know I mean it’s it’s just been incredibly challenging and and you know we’ve done it to a certain level. Um, but but yeah, right now I’m I’m rotating to say hey there are development banks. That are interested in getting gigs to these people for entertainment for education et etc and they have you know they have large budgets so I’m going to rotate for there. Ah for about twelve months and you know see what happens. Um. Because yeah, on the on the sort of Private Capital Market Side it’s it’s very challenging.
Alejandro Cremades: I Hear you I hear so when when we’re talking about people here. You know how have you gone about to you know, bringing the right people for this business because I mean you had a bunch of employees. You know the last company. So what did you learn about people and and how do you go about building the team here you know with meagle.
Barrett Comiskey: Can you ask that question a different way.
Alejandro Cremades: How do you go about? how have you gone about building the team at meagle.
Barrett Comiskey: Yeah, so you know we’re we’re trying to innovate for emerging markets right? so so I want to bring the best talent from you know from Taiwan from the us s from etc. But but how but have them actually be on the ground in the Philippines in Indonesia and so what we did was we recruited people and then we we sent them to the market you know and so so like in their first week we would send them to the Philippines. Yeah. And then they would go there for like one week every month or 2 so they’re on ground in the market understanding the consumer you know, pain points issues, etc. While being here in in Taiwan.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing and now in terms of vision because you know when you onboard investors or when you onboard employees you know I find that vision you know is everything not only for bringing them on board but then also to get them engaged you know on that future that you’re living into now. So if you were to go to sleep tonight. And you wake up in a world where the vision of migo is fully realized what does that world look like.
Barrett Comiskey: Yeah, so for for migo then the vision would be. We have ubiquitous access and coverage and we’re in you know one out of every 10 um corner stores. In in the Philippines Indonesia India and consumers can go pick up five ten gigs a day you know in like a few minutes for free in the in the store that they already go to.
Alejandro Cremades: Now Now in this case for example to ah how do you go about bringing that vision and making it part of the culture so that you know people really understand what’s going on and so that you guys are rowing all at the same time in the same direction.
Barrett Comiskey: Yeah I mean that that’s a big question right? So you know what we’re still figuring that out. Yeah but 1 idea is we we partner with the fmcg so like with a Coca-cola or you know somebody. Nestle who has a great you know reach and brand and we can do a co marketing and code distribution with their existing footprint.
Alejandro Cremades: And when when it comes to um to for example, like developing those Partnerships I Guess a you know there’s a lot of people that are probably listening now that are wondering how to go about building those to really increase distribution to ramp up. You know, whatever they’re doing Now. What are the 3 key lessons. You know that you’ve learned along the way about Building. You know some of those meaningful partnerships.
Barrett Comiskey: Yeah I think it’s you know I mean it’s it’s people are people right? So so if we can help you know give then you know our cus our partners a good digital touch point like and what what’s the problem they’re trying to solve you know.
Alejandro Cremades: Are.
Barrett Comiskey: So. So for example, um, Coca-cola you know in our markets you know they don’t have any digital access. So if we can give health care or education and we can give personalized promotions to you know customers that they’re. Otherwise unable to reach digitally then you know we can bring something very very meaningful to the table and so we say hey you guys are here you have distribution but you don’t know what happens you know past wholesale we can close the the loop. And we can have people scan that your your Qr code and we can do a personalized promotion and we can do a video at yeah, so so how do we like? what does coke want right? and and how do we? How can we help them do something amazing that they couldn’t do otherwise.
Alejandro Cremades: Now we were talking about the future here too and I want to talk about the past but doing so with a lens of reflection so Barrett if I was to bring you back in time and I brought you back in time you know maybe to Stanford. You know to that moment where you were there hanging out you know with with friends. You know some of them that went out and you know built other really you know, incredible companies and you were able to have a sit down you know with that younger self that was attending you know one of those lectures. Ah, you know you had the opportunity there of telling that younger bear. 1 piece of advice before launching a company. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Barrett Comiskey: Um, that is a great question. So I Really appreciate you asking I think.
Barrett Comiskey: You know for the last 10 years I I I viewed myself as you know, kind of pushing against the you know like pushing the rock up the hill basically. But I think what I’ve learned now is it’s much more effective to dance with the universe and so take the energy of the universe and you know run with it over here and so. I think that that was a mistake that I made over over the last decade is I was fighting too hard against the energy of you know how things should be whereas now I can say hey how do we take the energy. And and run with it and take it in a positive direction. Yeah, so don’t don’t be too stubborn. Don’t fight. You know that’s not the point. The point is not to like fight against the the big guys. The point is to capture and harness the energy of the universe and. Run with that in a positive way.
Alejandro Cremades: And I’m sure that that was also um, a mental exercise you know for you on a journey because when you are you know, swimming against the current or you know pushing a rock up the Hill You know it’s a it’s it’s It’s a roller coaster of emotions. You have to go through you know as well as an entrepreneur because you know there’s a lot of those days that are really gray and not and not fun. Um, so I guess what did you learn about yourself. You know during those tough moments and who did you need it to be in order to be effective with whatever you had in front of you.
Barrett Comiskey: Yeah I mean I think humility you know like we we need to learn how to get past the ego and just um, yeah, be yeah, be a beautiful person with the people around you and. Team that you’re leading and yeah I think the you know the the um the ego is is the is the problem for a lot of us entrepreneurs. You know we get too caught up in that. So I think if you can just throw that away. Hundred percent and um and yeah, just be grateful I think you know gratitude and you know being thankful for all the people that have helped us get where we are because we forget about them right? You know, but a lot of people have have helped us get where we are today. You know. And so being grateful for for them and and humble and yeah, just having fun. Oh.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love that well look I think that having fun is a critical piece because people focus too much on the finish line versus on the journey. So I’m right there with you and I and I think that when you are thankful it just opens up as a space where you can really get reenergized to keep going so bear it for the people that are listening.
Barrett Comiskey: Um, tone.
Alejandro Cremades: That will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Barrett Comiskey: Yeah, just shoot me an email bear it at and not or dot art.
Alejandro Cremades: You say enough? Well Barrett. Thank you so much for being on the dealmaker show today. It has been an honor to have you with us.
Barrett Comiskey: Um, thank you. Thank you? Thank you.
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