Skip to content
July 11, 2023 · 44 min read

Season 4, Ep. 15 – Founder to Founder: With Trevor Francis, CEO and Founder, 46 Labs

A lot of companies talk global connectivity, but Trevor Francis, CEO and Founder at 46 Labs, has put his boots on the ground to build networks around the world. In this week’s Founder to Founder episode, he talks to Teja for about building an infrastructure business, the similarities between flying a plane and running a company, and why it’s easier to send a connection through a brick wall than a clump of trees.


Read transcript


Teja (00:06):

I have an awesome interview with Trevor Francis, founder and CEO of 46 Labs. He’s got a super cool background helping folks get internet connectivity in Central America, South America, West Africa. And now his company, 46 Labs, focuses on that in the United States. We talk about his company, we talk about being a pilot, and so many other fun things. You guys will love this conversation. Thanks, y’all. Take care. (THE FRONTIER THEME ENDS)

Teja (00:41):

Yeah, Nashville’s awesome. I think, you know, Austin is interesting. I actually, I think the food is a little bit like, better in Austin, compared to Nashville, for my personal tastes, but I think in terms of live music, in terms of I think just like, the natural geography of Tennessee, you know, mountains, and valleys, and really the lush areas like farmland, even. If you like gardening, it’s great. So yeah, Tennessee’s awesome.

Trevor (01:12):

It’s a lot greener than Austin, that’s for sure.

Teja (01:15):

Yeah, totally. (Trevor: Yeah.) Although, they have that cool river like, right in the middle of the city. (Trevor: They do. Yeah.) Have you gone kayaking down that? Surely you have when you moved.

Trevor (01:24):

Yeah, I have. So I used to, yeah, as our family, we used to kind of walk along the river and, you know, Austin changed quite a bit since we’ve lived there, but it’s still a great place. It’s in a, you know, it’s in a great state, and you know, we’re headquartered in Dallas, so I have to say that, you know, Texas is a fantastic place to do business, you know, as Tennessee is as well. So two pretty hot places.

Teja (01:49):

Texas and Florida are pretty prime for sure. (Trevor: They are.) I mean, Tennessee is great. I think it’s interesting. I mean, we’re like, kind of equidistant, you know, from both, and I think with, you know, the pandemic, it seemed like most of the southeast got like, a huge lift in populations.

Trevor (02:11):

It did. So we moved here to be around family. We have a kind of sick family member that we needed to kind of take care of, and we moved from Florida, actually, just like kind of everybody else there. And yeah, the southeast has done really well. Tennessee’s done fantastic. You know, Nashville’s great, ‘cause it has, you know, it has all the seasons, where you don’t really have that in Texas or Florida.

Teja (02:36):

Yeah. You get to plant some interesting veggies and fruit. You know, so I have some grapes in just, in my front yard, and it’s funny. One of our board members were making fun of me. It’s like, I don’t know if Tennessee’s made for wine, but we’ll see. I’m optimistic.

Trevor (02:54):

You can grow wine everywhere. That’s funny.

Teja (02:57):

<Laugh>. That’s for damned sure. So I’m curious about your background. So, okay, so you lived in Texas, and the company’s headquartered there, in Florida as well. Maybe just kind of walk us through like, your career arc and kind of how you ended up in Oklahoma.

Trevor (03:16):

Sure. So this is the third time I’ve returned to Oklahoma, actually. So I was born in Florida, raised in Dallas, and got a scholarship to go to school in Oklahoma, so I took that, so I didn’t have to burden my parents with, you know, huge amounts of student loans, or myself for that matter, and actually ended up dropping out of that university to found a company and did fairly well with that company. It was a consulting firm. Ended up transferring to a school in Boston, lived in Boston for a little bit, and so Florida, Boston, lived in Boulder for a little bit. So we kind of, we’ve been digital nomads, in many cases, trying out different cities and different lifestyles. So it’s been a lot of fun.

Teja (04:07):

That’s cool. It’s a modest way to say you went to Harvard. That’s cool.

Trevor (04:12):

Oh, well. You don’t normally say that <laugh>. It’s the first thing they teach you to not say.

Teja (04:17):

Yeah. Interesting. So you dropped out of undergrad or, initially was it, were you just kind of compelled to start a business? Like, what was the thinking?

Trevor (04:27):

I was bored. Yeah, I was bored. I think that’s probably the easiest way to say it. You know, I had started something in college and kind of got bored with the course load, so I figured I’d give that a shot. Ultimately, my goal in college was to go out and find a job, but I kind of created a job, and kind of the rest is history.

Teja (04:46):

Do you have kids?

Trevor (04:48):

I do. I have two boys, so a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old.

Teja (04:53):

Okay. What’s your opinion on them going to college?

Trevor (04:55):

That’s a good question. So we talked about that a lot. Both my parents went to college, but they didn’t go to, you know, like, huge schools, like, not Ivy League schools. And you know, my wife went to college where now, we’re very pro-college. You know, I think college is changing. I mean, it’s changing a lot, actually, even as recent as last week, right, with (Teja: Yes.) you know, with the Supreme Court decision. So, you know, and we homeschool, so we’re, you know, both of our boys have always been homeschooled. So it’s we have a, probably a non-traditional view of education, but at the end of the day you know, we want a place for them to continue learning how to learn.

Trevor (05:41):

And I think that’s a big thing that maybe college has lost sight of, certain colleges, maybe not all colleges, but certain colleges have lost sight of that, and hopefully it returns. You know, I have very positive things to say about both the universities I attended, so I, you know, but, you know, no place is perfect, right, and I think college is certainly…I don’t think you’d have to graduate necessarily, but I think that it’s a good experience for anybody, if you can afford to do it.

Teja (06:15):

Yeah, totally. I’m always like, fascinated by like, the sort of learning and education that you receive like, building a company. Not just about like, how the world works, but how to think, and I wish you could like, bottle that in a way and just give it to people.

Trevor (06:33):

I’m a recovering engineer, so the whole emotional intelligence thing that comes with operating a company and being a boss is, that’s a daily pursuit, right? And you know, that culture changes. It’s certainly changed even through, you know, my tenure here at 46 Labs quite a bit in the last 10 years. So we’ve seen huge, just huge change, both with, you know, being able to recruit and retain talent and just, you know, what, what folks expect today versus what they expected, you know, when I started the company. So, yes. Bottling it up, you can’t, there’s not enough, you know, legal pads here that I can use to kind of write down all of the lessons you learn on a daily basis. So yeah. I agree. It’s not that you can’t be, this is a completely different type of education.

Teja (07:26):

Do you think you’ll encourage your children to be entrepreneurs and to start companies?

Trevor (07:34):

You know, I think that it’s not for everybody, right? So you know, I would encourage them to do whatever they’re passionate about. My 9-year-old wants to be a concert pianist. He wants to play in Carnegie Hall, and that’s his goal in life, right? So, you know, does he want to have to make all the difficult decisions you have to make as a boss, and owning a company, and running out of money? Yeah, no, I don’t know if that’s for everybody, right? So it’s, you know, it’s not for the faint of heart, but there are some of us who are kind of built this way and, you know, would be bored otherwise. So that’s, yeah.

Teja (08:08):

That’s true. Yeah, that’s a good point.

Trevor (08:10):

Encourage them, yes. I think we definitely encourage them to go whatever direction they wanna go.

Teja (08:16):

So, okay, so 46 Labs. How’d you kind of start the business? Was there like, “a-ha” moment or…yeah, just give us some background on your company.

Trevor (08:28):

Well, so I kind of come out of the international space. So once I did my whole college thing, I went and started founding companies that focused on solving international problems. I’ve always done digital infrastructure for the most part, and kind of back to the not wanting to be bored, I started in developing countries, so in West Africa, and Central America, and places like that, right? So (Teja: Wow.) I recognized that there were a lot of the challenges that we were solving for these out of incumbent operators in these countries that were very relevant to the, to you know, domestic companies, or even companies that had more resources than a lot of these companies did. So I, you know, when I founded the company, it was kind of a core principle. First, you know, principle was, you know, how can we help folks do more with less?

Teja (09:22):

I mean, many years ago, this is like, over like, a decade ago, but I lived in China and Shanghai, and (Trevor: Yeah.) you know, there’s a certain, yeah, there’s a certain, I don’t know like, personality type of like, an expatriate, you know, and the type of things that expats are into, and the type of risks that we take professionally, you know? (Trevor: Sure.) So that really resonates with me. So that’s awesome. So what were some of the problems that you saw, in terms of just maybe broad brush connectivity problems, for these folks in developing countries?

Trevor (09:56):

Most of my work was done in Central America and Africa. So you had, you know, you had historically populations that didn’t have a huge amount of income, right, and when you have that, it drives the businesses that support them, right? So, you know, if you have a dollar to invest that you’re getting from your customer, you know, you have to turn a profit from that, right? And they had, a lot of the operators that we worked with, had a lot of challenges with kind of understanding how to make the most of per networks and, you know, both reach their customers better in a more resilient way, and then also interconnect to the rest of the world in a more resilient way. So the problems that I historically solved were around kind of those core tenants, you know? In Central America, my focus was in rural areas, specifically Honduras, and Honduras is, it’s a little bit, I mean, I guess it’s a little bit like Tennessee in the case.

Trevor (11:01):

So there’s a lot of hills, and there’s a lot of trees, granted more rainforest focused, but you struggle with that when you’re trying to trench in fiber, right, or trench in copper. So they solved, or attempted to solve that, using kind of the precursor to cellular networks that were CDMA radio phones. I helped kind of improve how rural areas of Colombia were able to connect to the rest of the world. So that’s where, you know, that’s kind of where I started. [I] did that in Colombia as well. I definitely hung off the side of multiple towers, (Teja: Wow.) you know, in the rainforest and the jungles, so that was, you know, not for the faint of heart, for sure. We had, you know, the same exact same issues happened in West Africa, except not quite as densely forested, but certainly a very unique demographic of people consuming telecom.

Teja (12:00):

What’s like, the business climate? I mean, let’s just take, for example, Colombia, ‘cause probably, it varies from Colombia to parts of West Africa. Like, what, who are the different like, stakeholders, if you’re laying down like, pipe in Colombia? Like, you have government, private enterprise, the rural constituents. Like, how does that work?

Trevor (12:19):

That’s right. So, I mean, most of these countries kind of operate in this kind of, well, in West Africa, most of them were government run entities, and then, kind of over time, they shifted, they were privatized. And for the most part, most developing countries are that way. A lot of them still kind of operate as this quasi-public, private type of entity in the country. So, you know, what, and specifically in Colombia, where I got involved with, there was huge amounts of copper. This was during the great, you know, GFC, and people were going up, and taking these giant bundles of copper, and chopping them down, these lines, these huge phone lines, because they could strip the wires and sell the copper, basically, black markets. So huge sections of Colombia were essentially going offline, because people were stealing the copper, right?

Trevor (13:13):

And they’d steal the copper out. Yeah. It’s just crazy, right? So people would get electrocuted doing it. It was a really, really bad deal, right? (Teja: Right.) So we had to figure out, okay, when you’ve got huge swaths of populations going offline how do you get ’em back online, right, you know, and doing so wirelessly and whatnot? So it’s, you know, you still have that, you have that today, even today, still happening in places like Nigeria where folks are taking transformers, like electric transformers, and ripping them out of the ground and using the oil in the transformers to cook food. So it’s really not right, right? So, you know, figuring out how to build resilient infrastructures that, you know, stood up to that level of, well, that culture that exists there, right?

Teja (14:03):

I mean, so I remember in China, like, people (Trevor: Yeah.) would, if you go to a cheap food vendor, they probably got the oil from the sewer at some point. (Trevor: Yep.) Like, that’s a thing in China. You just cook the oil, you get all this stuff out. I mean, that’s so interesting. So, okay. So does that like, improve over time like, theoretically, as an economy develops? They’re like, not taking the transformers to get the oil? Or is that just the thing that’s a risk management thing that’s there?

Trevor (14:30):

Well, it’s really funny, right? So I mean, if you look at Africa, as a, and obviously it’s a massive continent, so trying to generalize it, but look, working in the places that I’ve worked, you may not necessarily have power at your home, but everybody has a cell phone, right? So communications, at the end of the day, is the lifeblood for these folks, and (Teja: Right.) in general, I think that the tide has shifted a little bit, because people don’t wanna lose access to TikTok or to whatever, right, or to be able to call their, you know, their mother or whatever, right? That trumps having, you know, reliable power in their house, right? But that’s the culture there.

Teja (15:11):

Yeah. There’s this one dude on TikTok that I see. He’s somewhere in Africa, and he’s got like, a sick cave or something with like, all these electronics and like, a sick car, and people are like, “Is this real? Like, how do you have all this stuff?” Anyways, I am, that’s so funny. So like, the social media addiction is like, permeating parts of the developing world, and that’s what’s creating, like…<laugh>.

Trevor (15:35):

That’s right, yeah. And people still talk on the phones, right? I mean, at the end of the day, it’s still, you know, probably the most efficient form of communication. You can take it everywhere with you. So you know, obviously we’re very bullish on communications and on connectivity in general, being that that’s our business, but, you know, you remove that, and the world goes back a couple centuries.

Teja (16:00):

Were you already kind of like, did you already start 46 Labs before going to Central America, South America, West Africa, or…?

Trevor (16:11):

So 46 Labs is kind of my re-entry back into the United States, right? So, (Teja: Got it.) you know, after learning a lot of lessons internationally and having some really great success and some not so great success, I realized that the same challenges were being faced here in the States, but with bigger budgets and frankly bigger problems to solve, ‘cause you have more, you know, more people who were consuming, you know, greater quantities of connectivity, both on the business side and on the consumer side.

Teja (16:45):

So when did you decide to kind of move back to the U.S. and start 46 Labs? Was that like, at the same time, or did you kind of start your family and then were like, “Hey, this is probably a better opportunity here?”

Trevor (16:59):

Yeah, I started my family. We had, you know, I founded the company, essentially, right…let me think about that. My wife will probably get angry with me if I actually get the date wrong, but, you know, essentially a year-ish after our first son was born. So, you know, at some point, being a parent trumps other things, right? You have to, you know, you have to make, you know, decisions, right, and prioritize your lives. So that’s, you know, not saying that it wasn’t the right decision, and that precipitated it, you know, the need precipitated it. It’s just kind of how this string of events came together.

Teja (17:41):

Do you miss kind of being like, sort of in the developing world and all of the risk and chaos that comes with it? Or are you like, settled and happy?

Trevor (17:55):

We’re all still kids, right? So it’s just a different version of chaos (Teja: Okay.) and, you know, and craziness, right? So we’re a fairly nomadic family, so it’s, you know, I think that’s probably born out of, you know, a mutual shared boredom that my wife and I have, and our kids have figured out how to, you know, jive with that, right? I guess two years ago we traveled the country in an Airstream, and, you know, they got to see some things that (Teja: That’s cool.) I certainly never got to see growing up in a, you know, in a master plan community with a, you know, both parents worked ,and you know, there wasn’t time to do that, right? So it’s we’ve kind of designed this unique life that’s probably not for everybody, but…

Teja (18:37):

That’s cool. What was like, your favorite place that you saw that you didn’t see kind of growing up?

Trevor (18:44):

Well, the West, right. You know, I grew up in Texas. (Teja: Yes.) And we basically stopped at Colorado. That was as far as you could go, right? You know, it wasn’t until much later that I got to go to California and places like that. I really love, probably the greatest state, from a nature perspective, is Montana. So you know, it’s everybody, you know, in our family just gushes over Montana, ‘cause it’s just gorgeous.

Teja (19:13):

That’s amazing. Yeah. I mean, through the pandemic, we were making our way through like, we hit Colorado, Utah, and going to Jackson Hole in two weeks. First time to Wyoming. Very pumped about that. (Trevor: Jackson’s awesome.) Haven’t yet made it to Montana. Yeah? Do you like Jackson?

Trevor (19:31):

Jackson’s great. It was super, we did the same thing. It was during the pandemic and, you know, it was still pretty, you know, pretty open, right? The rest of the West pretty much wasn’t at that time, but Jackson was open, and it was busy, right, ‘cause everybody was doing the same thing we were doing, right? (Teja: <Laugh>.) So it was like, I’ve gotta get outta here, and I need to, you know, I gotta, I wanna see. This a good time to see things, and I think it was great for America, in general. It’s just, there wasn’t that catalyst that caused people to like, explore, right? Yeah, it used to be you explore kind of your neighborhood bar, and that was as far as you explored, right? (Teja: <Laugh>.) And then, you know, but now it kind of drove people to, you know, to see the world, I guess.

Teja (20:17):

Oh, totally. And there’s so much natural wonder in our country and in North America, in general, you know? And I think it gets overlooked for like, the European vacation or the Asian, you know, trip or something. But like, yeah, especially, I mean, west probably of Illinois and like, east of, I mean, really east of, I guess the Pacific is like, so much beauty. And I think like, the National Park system came up with the permitting system, because of the volume of national park visitors. Like, all these top trails now have lottery permits that you have to win to be able to hike. 

Trevor (20:53):

You do, yeah. (Teja: Yeah.) And it’s slot, and it’s for, I would’ve never, had it not been for the pandemic, I would’ve never explored the part of the country that you’re in. There’s never a reason for me to be in Tennessee or North Carolina, where Angela’s from. They are, hands down, especially the Blue Ridge Mountains, in the area kind of in the southeast part of, or sorry, southwest part of North Carolina, and all the way up to Sevierville, and all that, and Tennessee. It’s just, it’s unbelievable. And the waterfalls and all the things that you would expect to see in Costa Rica and in, you know, Hawaii, they’re there, right? And you would just never, you would never stumble upon it.

Teja (21:36):

I think actually east Tennessee and like, parts of North Carolina, it has the most like, density of reptiles, that’s what I remember seeing, of any part of the world. Like, all types of lizards and all that stuff. So yeah, it’s beautiful. And I wish that I had grown up seeing some of this stuff. You know, ’cause you’re just kind of, and like, my parents, they’re immigrants. It’s like, we don’t really go out to nature. You just kind of like, study it, then (Trevor: Sure.) you go to bed <laugh>.

Trevor (22:08):

<Laugh>. Yeah. Well, now, trust me, I completely understand. I think, in general, nature makes people better humans. And I think that it would, obviously I’m super privileged to be able to say that I’ve been able to do this, right, but I think, you know, I’m in Oklahoma, right? It’s not a place known for nature, right, but it’s everywhere if you look for it. So I think everybody should be encouraged to go outside.

Teja (22:35):

Oh, totally.

Trevor (22:37):

Even if It’s 103 degrees out.

Teja (22:43):

<Laugh>. Pardon my ignorance, is it basically just kind of flat plains where you are? Or is it farmland, you know?

Trevor (22:52):

Yeah, that’s a good question. So it’s both, right? So Oklahoma, as you kind of divided it right down the center and you go west, it’s nothing, right, and I hate to say that. There’s some really neat places, right? But as far as, from a topography standpoint, it’s very flat, it’s very windy, and yeah, there’s a lot of farmland. And you keep taking it west through New Mexico, and it all somewhat looks the same, right? You go to the, essentially the right half, or the eastern half, of the state, and it’s green, and there’s trees, and as you get closer to Arkansas, there becomes more hills and things like that. So it’s a fairly diverse state.

Teja (23:32):

To what extent does like, the topography of a given region affect connectivity? Like, how does it work? Like, for satellites and like, GPS on your Apple watch?

Trevor (23:46):

It doesn’t <laugh>. Yeah, it doesn’t. You know, from a connectivity standpoint, it’s a lot easier to beam a connection through a brick wall than it is to do it through a tree. And most people don’t really, you know, kind of understand that from a, you know, either line of sight or an online of sight basis, right? So you’re either consuming connectivity that’s dug through the ground, right? So if there’s any rock in the mountains, or hills, or anything like that, it makes it 10 times as hard and 10 times as expensive to do it, right? If you’re doing line of sight, so if you have, let’s say a wireless antenna on your roof, and you’re pointing it towards an ISP that is providing internet service, you have to have line of sight or near line of sight, otherwise it doesn’t work, right?

Trevor (24:29):

And then you have cellular carriers. You’re going 5G and whatnot, which is a huge deal. I mean, I’m talking to you over 5G right now. So it’s come a long way, and I also have a Starlink on my roof, so, in case this doesn’t work. So there’s a lot, obviously, there’s a lot of options that have kind of come about the last couple of years that have somewhat democratized connectivity that makes, that flattens all of that topography and makes it, you know, more accessible for, you know, rural Americans, I guess, or rural, rural people, globally, right? With Starlink, you can be rolling around on, you know, on a bike, or you could be on a boat in the ocean and still have great, you know, internet connectivity, and that wasn’t possible really for Starlink.

Teja (25:20):

What do you think the future of like, connectivity is? I mean, do you think that, I mean, I guess so. Everybody in the world will have a cell phone and be connected to the Internet?

Trevor (25:31):

Yeah, you’ve got, I mean, there’s huge swaths of the United States that you can’t get connectivity in right now, so, and it’s surprising. You hear the advertisements about mobile operators having 99% coverage and, you know, of the population, right? But that’s kind of a, it’s a deceiving figure, because when you are at a campground, you know, and we’re in Montana, or you’re in North Dakota or South Dakota, or you’re in these huge swaths of land where there’s not a huge population center, but there is people who live out there, very much underserved from a connectivity perspective. So, you know, you’ve got the government currently right now, which is investing billions and billions of dollars in infrastructure, funding to be able to gain access for, specifically fiber for the most part, to a lot of those towns, and kind of the rest is picked up from 5G and lower the orbit connectivity solutions like Starlink.

Teja (26:36):

What’s happening like, when you go to the Smokies, and you’re like, on a trail, and you’re not getting any service, and you have to use like, one of these Garmin SAT phones if you get stuck, or so like, why is my cell phone not working?

Trevor (26:48):

Well, it’s a good question. So cell phones, in general, and cell phone towers are just waves, right? They’re beamed in specific sectors or directions, right? And if there’s not coverage there, from an operator, you can’t, it doesn’t get invented, you know. It has to be pointed somewhere, right? You have to have access to that, right? So if you’re on the backside of a mountain, pretty much can’t beam cell right through the mountain. It just doesn’t work that way, and these are all microwaves, right? So they’re, well, for the most part, microwaves, radio waves, same thing, but you know, you have to gain access to it, right? So when you are on a trail in the Smokies, and you can’t, you know, you’re not able to get it, satellite, and unless you’re carrying a Starlink with you, that’s pretty much the only, you know, option you have. And you have to have a full view of the Starlink. You have to have a full view of the sky, which is, you know, as you know, in most places in the east is almost impossible, because of the trees, right?

Teja (27:47):

Yes. They are a beautiful nuisance sometimes. So I guess you need to have visibility of a cell tower, basically, or a clear line of sight to one for the cell phone to work on a mountain, or…I’m not understanding that properly.

Trevor (28:02):

Yeah, that’s right. I mean, yeah, that’s why you see cell towers perched on the, you know, on the top of mountains, ‘cause they can cover and get huge coverage slots by doing that, right? They’re not pretty to look at. They’re necessary if you wanna serve people in those areas.

Teja (28:19):

Gotcha. Just as an example, like, you ascend to the top of pick a mountain in Colorado, and like, there’s a lot of exposure, there’s no tree line, but you’re also not getting service there. Is that a cell coverage issue or is that just…

Trevor (28:34):

It is. When they’re building out their cell networks, they’re actually pointing their antennas downward, not upward.

Teja (28:41):

Gotcha, okay. So even if you have line of sight, it’s not able to hit the actual tower. You’d have to just have like, a Starlink, basically, to get internet. Okay.

Trevor (28:54):

Yeah, everything, it’s like, think about like, drawing a line between the cell tower and where you are, right? If you can’t see the cell tower, I can’t see you. And, you know, obviously for mobile, that’s how it works.

Teja (29:06):

Like, in terms of opportunity, is there like, a commercial opportunity then, like, around national parks and around like, these areas that are not like, I guess dense, in terms of residential population?

Trevor (29:20):

Yeah, I think so. I think that, you know, certainly it’s an underserved market, but you know, the consumer in that, you know, in that space isn’t super excited about getting a separate service just, you know, to wander on the trail, right? So, you know, at the end of the day, you have to be economically viable, otherwise you won’t survive in that case. So, you know, Yellowstone was a good example. Especially, when we went to Yellowstone, obviously during Covid, as well, and when you’ve got as many people who are going into Yellowstone, you know, that the base equipment, even for the cell providers that are there, just isn’t big enough to handle that level of, you know, of connectivity, right? They engineer to dimension them for anticipated loads, kind of like stadiums, right?

Trevor (30:09):

But, you know, if they happen to have 10 times the amount of people there on a normal time, you know, you’re just, you’re unable to handle that. So I think that, you know, certainly getting access to connectivity, in general, the wireless providers, the fiber providers, and Starlink are doing a lot to be able to gain access to connectivity for everybody, not just here in the States, but, you know, globally, which kind of creates this other issue, which is kind of how do you manage all of that? ‘Cause it’s pretty sizable when you’re now kind of extending the total reachable audience for this connectivity stuff, and how do you know, how do you manage that as a service provider? How do you consume that as a business? (Teja: Right.) There’s a whole lot of things you don’t necessarily think about anymore, or, sorry, you didn’t think about it before, but you have to think about it now.

Teja (31:06):

What are some of like, the market opportunities, maybe in the U.S., to surround underserved communities for connectivity that you guys see in front of you?

Trevor (31:15):

They’re kind of being gobbled up on a, you know, on a weekly basis right now with the amount of funding that’s, you know, the tens of billions of dollars that are going from the infrastructure bill that was passed into private corporations to build out fiber networks. You’re getting the right type of attention from private industry, because you’re, you know, you’re backing it with public dollars to be able to extend that reach. So that space is extremely hot right now, both from raising, you know, raising money…it’s fairly easy to raise money for that right now, whereas in the rest of startup land, it is not easy to raise money right now, from an equity perspective. But they’re able, you know, you’re getting a lot of attention from, you know, private equity firms, from VC firms, and from kind of vendor financing opportunities, because they know that, you know, essentially, their investment is de-risked by the U.S. government kind of pulling up a majority of the cash to be able to do this work.

Teja (32:22):

So it’d be like, taking a community that maybe does not have fiber access and putting fiber down. Okay. Gotcha. That’s cool. (Trevor: Yep.) That makes a lot of sense. Is there data on what like, the difference in maybe like, economic productivity from a city that is fiber equipped, versus like, non-fiber equipped?

Trevor (32:43):

Absolutely. So I don’t, obviously, I can’t quote it right now, ‘cause I don’t have it in front of me, but the dynamics are significant, right? And it also allows people to either go home like, let’s say you were, you grew up in a rural part of the country, and you wanted to return home to take care of your family or to live a different life than what you would live in a big city, right? Technology and connectivity has prevented that from happening until recently, right? So if you’ve ventured through the pandemic, and you’re like, “I’m not doing that again. I want to go out, and I wanna live on, you know, 80 acres and you know, raise llamas, but I still also wanna, you know, be a network engineer, right?” And I have some friends who’ve done that specific thing. Yeah, they can do that now.

Teja (33:30):

That’s cool. No, I mean, this is just like, my personal anecdote, but I have fiber and we live on two acres, basically like, in west of Nashville, and my internet’s better than it was 10 years ago. Like, I went to BU in Boston, living in the dorm that I think was, I don’t know, we have like, a T1 line, I think, for the dorm. (Trevor: Oh, for sure.) And I’m like, “This is way better,” <laugh>.

Trevor (33:53):

Yeah, for sure, and they’re doing a great job. The fiber providers and the rural providers who are out there are doing a fantastic job of making it possible for people to choose different lives than, you know, maybe the way they grew up, right?

Teja (34:05):

That’s a really neat story. I mean, there was a big emphasis on fiber connectivity in Chattanooga, which is a eastern town, as you know, in Tennessee. I think there was one sprint like this in Kansas City. To what extent do you think that that creates like, an incentive for people to move to a given city for remote work, if there is fiber there?

Trevor (34:29):

Depends on the demographic, right? So if you’re a younger demographic, I think that that’s the first you ask, right? Do you know, is there internet there? Do I have reliable access to internet? If the answer is no, that’s almost a deal breaker, right? For you, right? It could be the most beautiful, you know, perfect piece of land or wherever, right, but if there’s no internet, you know, might as well be cut off from the grid.

Teja (34:58):

Totally, totally. I have like, a controversial opinion. I think like, broadband access is more important than public transportation. Like it’s…

Trevor (35:05):

I completely agree.

Teja (35:06):

Yeah. Because you can just like, you have everything then, you know? And maybe you drive an hour to get some food, but that’s it <laugh>.

Trevor (35:13):

Well, and I think that, you know, I have to temper that response right, with obviously, I’m in the connectivity business, so I’m biased from that perspective, right? And, you know, obviously not everybody uses connectivity as, you know, as regularly as people like you and I, right? So some certain people have to get to work, right, because that’s, you know, they’re not sitting in front of a computer all day. They’re doing something else, right? So I think that’s, you know, at least for our demographic, and I think for the people who are digital workers, I think, yeah, I think it is certainly as important as public, you know, as public transportation, which, by the way, is not available in rural communities for the most part, anyway.

Teja (36:00):

Yeah. Actually, you know, I think maybe one or two weeks ago, we interviewed a guy, he runs a company that basically builds like, smart valves if you’re trying to water an orchard or like, a vineyard. (Trevor: They do?) Basically, they drive around on ATVs and turn the valves on and off to like, maintain, you know, hydrated plants, and so this is all linked now, via internet and Bluetooth. (Trevor: I see. Yeah.) And so I feel like even…yeah, yeah. And so it’s like, even there, you know, that guy is like, the farthest thing from like, an informational, I mean, I guess he has a tech company, but still. It’s like, he’s dealing with folks that are using his tools to kind of go and build their farms, you know? And so, even there, it’s seems very important, you know, extremely important for that thing to work.

Trevor (36:51):

Certainly. Yeah. I think that that’s a huge driver for a lot of people in rural communities, is supporting the businesses that are supporting them, right? So when you’re in, you know, rural Nebraska, and you’re on a thousand acres, and you’re farming corn, or you’re farming wheat, or you know, and you’ve got these combines that are driving themselves, based upon GPS and, you know, IOT mappings for what they’re supposed to be doing, and crop dusting, and all of that stuff. All of it is now, well, a lot of it is now kind of driven by, you know, by smart applications, right? And that some of them rely on constant streams of connectivity and other ones don’t, right? So it’s kind of trying to juggle that, but in building that out to support the businesses, the residents of those communities get to take advantage of that. So I think that’s sort of the pull, I think, that it’s feasible to get, you know, get connectivity in places that you would normally not be able to get.

Teja (37:59):

So how did you get interested in connectivity? Like, did you study this in school, or…

Trevor (38:06):

No, not at all. I studied finance <laugh>. (Teja: <Laugh>.) So, you know, I didn’t know, you know, for my first premises, you know, how am I gonna make money, right? (Teja: Yup.) And it’s, you know, I kind of got dragged into connectivity, studied finance, but I was always a software guy, and my first project was in Honduras, and I was hired as a consultant at a school to essentially solve an issue, and I was able to solve the issue, and you know, I’m 22 years old, right? Just, you know, very, you know, I don’t know anything, right? But I said I could do it, right, and managed to kind of pull it off. So it’s then that the rest was history, at that point. I was hooked. You know, I was hooked for the international aspect of it, which I always wanted to travel growing up, and I was hooked by the need, and the technology, and meeting all the, you know, interesting people. And yeah, it was a good fit for me.

Teja (39:07):

That’s cool. Yeah. It like, fulfills a lot of needs, and the subject matter’s super interesting, and there’s like, a huge wide open opportunity there. That’s really cool. If you had to like, when you were, let’s say, 18, what did you think you would be doing after school?

Trevor (39:22):

Well, I semi founded my first company at 16, and it was doing, you know, IT and web development, so I thought that I was gonna somewhat be in that space. (Teja: Gotcha.) But at the end of the day, you know, I fly airplanes, too, for fun. So I was like, well, maybe I’ll do aviation or maybe I’ll do, you know, something else, but you know, I just got sucked back in <laugh>.

Teja (39:45):

<Laugh>. How long have you been like, an aviator?

Trevor (39:48):

So when I was in Oklahoma, I took it like…the first semester of my sophomore year, there was an elective to, you could fulfill one of your electives by being, yeah, by taking pilots, you know, your pilot’s license, getting your pilot’s license. So (Teja: Gotcha.) I kind of killed two birds with one stone on that and got hooked immediately from that point forward. And I’ve owned a few airplanes over the years. I have the addiction. You know, hopefully it won’t be the death of me, but I just, yeah. Aviation’s fantastic.

Teja (40:18):

No, I feel like you have a great personality disposition. Like, cool under pressure like, for flying planes, you know?

Trevor (40:25):

When you’re CEO, you kind of have to be able to <laugh> deal with guns pointed against your head (Teja: For sure.) like that. Yeah.

Teja (40:32):

For sure. Yeah. And maneuver…yeah, totally. I wear this thing called like, a WHOOP strap that like, measures like, your stress levels. And I like to see like, different like, to see how my cognitive function is under different levels of stress. So what do like, the in-crowd of pilots…do you call yourselves pilots or aviators or interchangeable?

Trevor (40:51):

I mean, if you walked in, and you’re like, “Well, I’m a general aviator,” I think that they would, (Teja: <Laugh>.) you would be immediately removed from the conversation at that point, right? So you know, the “naval aviator”, you know, term works on TV, but not necessarily in the world of bridge pilots, right? And they, you pilots are, you talk about the craziest bunch of folks. You would never expect to get together and, you know, all walks of life, and all matter, you know, of stories. So, yeah. It’s a very eclectic group of individuals.

Teja (41:25):

Totally. I took a few lessons.

Trevor (41:28):

Did you? Okay.

Teja (41:29):

Flew a little Cessna, you know, for like, your training course and stuff. It’s just, (Trevor: Sure.) it’s one of these things where like, my interest space doesn’t map with the available time I have in my life, unfortunately. (Trevor: Yeah.) But it’s a thing that I want to pursue, for sure. It’s fun, and it’s like, I mean, it teaches you a lot about yourself, and like, you’re forced to be extremely thorough, cool under pressure. It’s really cool. And it’s just like, insane. You’re like, how is this thing in the air right now? Like, what is happening?

Trevor (42:02):

You’re like, “I’m flying. Wow.” (Teja: <Laugh>.) And it’s, yeah, it’s kind of anti-climactic when you actually take off for the first time, yourself, is you’re like, I’m literally flying, right? It doesn’t feel any different; it’s just that I’m flying. So yeah, but it’s a unique experience that, you know, it’s hard to describe. Yeah.

Teja (42:23):

Oh my god, I remember the first time that like, you know, that the instructor’s like, letting you fly. I mean, this is probably a long time ago for you, like, many hours ago, but like, I remember I was like, “You’re seriously just letting me do this?” He’s like, “Yeah, it’s fine.” I’m like, “What’s wrong with you? Like, okay. I’m gonna try to do this.” And I was like, it blew me away. It’s a really…

Trevor (42:46):

It is. You know, I liken it to, it’s funny. I liken it to when my first son was born, and, you know, we took him home, and I’m like, “So…” <laugh> “I’m taking him home now. Like, I have, like, you know, what do I do now?” Right? So it’s yeah, I had the similar, it’s the only thing I could say that it’s somewhat likening to, especially when we first solo on airplane. It’s like, “I shouldn’t be doing this.” (Teja: Yeah.) It’s like, “This is dangerous,” right?

Teja (43:20):

That’s so true. I know, I know, it’s crazy. There’s like, what’s your view on like, using like, do you guys take family trips flying or anything like that? Or is it more to just like, recreate? 

Trevor (43:34):

So we used to. (Teja: Okay, cool.) For me, it’s been a great business tool, and I met some, you know, I met some really neat people who have kind of helped me advance the company. A lot of them are entrepreneurs, recovering entrepreneurs that also fly. So, you know, my kids love aviation, too. My wife is, I guess, to some degree, will forever be warming to aviation. Probably never, no. Never super excited about getting her pilot’s license, but you know, happy to, let me fly around.

Teja (44:06):

I was talking to a friend about this. It’s crazy how much like, easier it is to forge business relationships when you talk about things other than work. (Trevor: It is.) It’s just funny, and it’s true.

Trevor (44:18):

But at the end of the day, I mean, I think that, see, I love business, and I’ve always, you know, done business, and I think there’s obviously a lot to talk about from that perspective, and war stories, and whatnot, but at the end of the day, you know, your hobbies is kind of, to some degree, why you do a lot of this stuff, right? You know, obviously not to starve, to build, you know, hopefully something for your, you know, that your kids can, you know, leverage at some point in the future, either leverage an exit or leverage the business that exists already. They feed other things, feeds other stuff, right?

Teja (44:52):

Yeah, totally. I find that entrepreneurs tend to be like, generally obsessive people, and I think like, you just are going to naturally have interests outside of work, you know, that you’re excited about, you’re passionate about, that you’re good at as well.

Trevor (45:10):

Sure. Yeah, absolutely.

Teja (45:12):

I heard a story about, I think it was the Uber founder. He was like, top five in the world at like, Wii Tennis or something <laugh>.

Trevor (45:25):

<Laugh>. That’s really funny. Yeah. Yeah, I think there’s a, there’s definitely a bit of, you know, for the good CEOs, there’s a bit of competitiveness that goes along with it. You know, I think, you know, probably that needs to be tempered, maybe a little more. But, in general, it’s, yeah. That’s an obsessive bunch.

Teja (45:42):

Okay. So if you had to go back and maybe give your former self a couple bits of wisdom when you first started 46 Labs, what would they be?

Trevor (45:55):

Raise more money <laugh>. That’s, yeah. (Teja: Yup.) I mean, I think at the end of the day, you know, we’re a bootstrapped organization, you know, that the sacrifices that my family made to start this were real, right? And that’s, and the childhood that you somewhat sacrificed from your kids are real, right? So, and that goes back to kind of the entrepreneurs dilemma of, well, not in the traditional sense of, in the sense that you really, you have to understand that it is not a hobby. Like running a company, having folks who rely on you for their paychecks, having customers that rely on you to operate, you know, to do what they do, right? To deliver your services, so they can deliver their services. It’s a level of responsibility that not everybody fully, you know, understands when they sign up for this thing, right?

Trevor (46:48):

So, I’m a serial entrepreneur, so I’ve kind of known it from the beginning, but even this one, four or five ventures later, is, you know, I’d say, you know, understand what you’re getting into, understand it’s gonna take longer than you think it’s gonna take, and it’s gonna cost a lot more than you anticipate it’s going to cost, and if you’re cool with that, great. Go for it. You know, have fun, right? And yeah, that would be one or two things, I guess, and the other would be, just don’t take it so seriously. (Teja: Mmm <affirmative>. Yes.) Sure, you know, connecting businesses to the world is super important for me, right. But at the end of the day, you know, it’s…yeah. It’s gonna happen, or it’s not gonna happen, right?

Trevor (47:33):

And, you know, I obsess about this stuff, right? You know, we wanna make sure everybody is able to connect, and do it, and save time, but, you know, taking it, and understanding it, and encapsulating it as a problem to solve, versus an identity, is you learn that late, I think, as an entrepreneur, and it for what it’s worth, it makes you a better entrepreneur, if you should serve your customers better, right? You’re not encumbered by, you know, the emotional aspects that go with being a, you know, with managing a business.

Teja (48:22):

Like, and I think actually things go better when you don’t take it as seriously.

Trevor (48:26):

They do. Yeah. When you don’t, yeah. I think that’s true, and maybe many aspects alike probably exist that way, right?

Teja (48:36):

Oh, man. Oh, totally. I mean, when we first started the company like, I was so obsessed with like, every small thing, ’cause you’re like, if I don’t do this, it’s gonna kill us, you know? (Trevor: Yeah.) And then, you know, if we don’t close this customer, we’re dead. Obviously, I’m using stronger language like, when I’m actually saying that, but like, no. (Trevor: Yeah, of course.) You know, yeah. (Trevor: Yeah.) And then like, over time, you’re like, does that really matter? No, I think it really doesn’t. Like, it’s fine. (Trevor: Yeah.) Don’t worry about it.

Trevor (49:07):

It’s real. I mean, it’s true, right? You’re not like, (Teja: Yeah.) overstating the situation, right? But, you know, it’s…perspective’s everything here.

Teja (49:21):

Yeah. Totally. So, bootstrap company. Okay, so are you thinking that you guys are gonna just like, fund the company out of profits, basically indefinitely? Or do you sort of see it raise on your horizon?

Trevor (49:33):

Yeah, that’s a good question. So we’ve done a venture that raised last year, first, you know, meaningful raise, you know, from an institution, and that really was to kind of jumpstart our growth, which it’s done, then we’ll probably look at maybe doing our first proper, I wouldn’t even call it a series. You know, saying a Series A when you’re 10 years old is kind of like, silly, right? But, yeah. But we’re raising some growth capital.

Teja (50:01):

Yeah. That’s cool. Yeah. Somebody once told me like, a long time [ago], was like, “Treat every point of equity, like it’s worth 10 million bucks,” and I see the virtue in that, you know?

Trevor (50:11):

You do, and it’s painful. Gosh, (Teja: It’s true.) it’s painful to do that too, right? And really equity, it’s the most expensive.

Teja (50:19):

Yes, that’s true. Yeah. We, I mean, so we started, I mean, we founded the company January 28th, 2013, and we basically grew the company out of revenue until 2019. We took on like, a very small safe note round from folks that sold their companies, and then just last August, we raised our first institutional round, which, I mean, we called it a Series A, but like you said, we’ve been operating for like, nine years at that point, (Trevor: Sure.) and it’s like, well, it’s technically a Series A, like, when you file it with the SEC, it’s like a series. (Trevor: Yeah.) That’s what they call it. But it’s just like, it’s funny. You’re just like, I don’t know.

Trevor (50:59):

And you feel kinda <unintelligible>, yeah. Trust me, yeah. I understand that, right? Because it doesn’t fit the traditional model, and your growth didn’t fit that either, right? So it’s, and I think that’s the other thing you were talking about, your going back to the things you would tell your, you know, prior self. If you look online, and if you read, and if you watch podcasts, it seems like there’s a recipe that everybody’s running, but you. Right? And (Teja: Yes.) the reality is, there’s not. There’s not a recipe. It’s whatever you’ve managed to kind of put together and make work is the recipe, right? ‘Cause if you pay attention to the other notice, you’ll think, “I’m so far behind. I’ve done this wrong, entirely. Why did I ever decide to take this path?” Right? Yeah, run your own race, and it’s okay, right?

Teja (51:55):

That’s so valuable, and it’s so true, ’cause, you know, like, you’ll, at least I will cycle on like, how does this fit into the broader narrative around raising money, and like, how do we position this, (Trevor: For sure, yeah.) you know? Right? And it’s like, you’re incentivized to do that, but like, you’re right. It’s like, it’s kind of a waste. You just gotta focus on your own thing. Ride your own ride.

Trevor (52:15):

Yeah. You’re thinking about enterprise. You know, when you’re running a business, it’s hard to think about enterprise value, and running, and serving your customers at the same time, right? So it’s, (Teja: Yeah.) yeah. It is, but you’re taught to think that, right? And I think the other thing I’d say is that it’s okay to question what other people are telling you, right? Because some of them are full of complete crap. So and I, yeah. Question everything.

Teja (52:39):

Oh, totally true. I mean, there have been, in our space in particular, there have been a couple of companies that raised like, tremendous B rounds, like, huge B rounds, like, 12 months after their A, and then like, you don’t hear about them for like, five years, and they’re like, “They sold to such and such company,” and you’re like, “What? Like, how did they just burn 30 million dollars or something?” (Trevor: Yeah.) “Like, where did it go?” So you’re right. It’s like they may have over-indexed on EV and then sort of turned into nothing.

Trevor (53:10):

And their backers forced them to do that (Teja: Yeah.) in many cases, too, right? So that’s the other thing that, you know, is really kind of tough to understand is that, you know, there’s expectations that come with that money.

Teja (53:22):

It’s funny. Like, everybody knows that’s what’s happening, and so like, at least I have to be, I feel like I have to be so judicious with every dollar, whether or not we’re venture-backed, and treat it the same. Like, treat it with the same sort of sanctity, you know, as if there were 10 grand in the company coffers <laugh>. That’s something, you know.

Trevor (53:46):

Yeah. No, I think that that’s, you know, being a good steward is, you know, it’s understated, or it has been. Lately, it’s actually not been understated. Folks have had to figure out how to do more with less, right? There’s been a reckoning, I think, and I think that will continue as people burn through, you know, more of what their raises look like, but it’s just good practice, and that’s something they don’t teach you in school, right? You know, they just don’t, right? Being able to assess what you need, when you need it, right? And yeah, be very judicious with every dollar.

Teja (54:25):

What are some like, things or practices that you do to try to maintain your own kind of like, let’s say, internally generated viewpoints, versus like, conforming to the broader conversation? Like, do you have any sort of centering practices, (Trevor: <Laugh>.) or do you turn off social media?

Trevor (54:42):

I have a wife. Yeah, so yeah <laugh>. (Teja: <Laugh>.) And you know, she’s kinda lived this rollercoaster with me. So, you know, while I’d like to say that I have, you know, I have a lot of internal discipline in this, I am married, and and you know, my wife is very vocal with how she feels about things, which I think is certainly a gift. (THE FRONTIER THEME FADES IN) And yeah, I mean, going back to not taking yourself too seriously, I think that has a lot to do with this. It’s just kind of, you know, stepping back and saying, “Am I really being crazy here? Am I thinking about this the right way? Am I…” You know, just step back, right? Or go into to nature and figure it out, you know, on a run, or on a hike, or whatever, right?

Teja (55:24):

Well, thank you Trevor. Really appreciate your time, man. Awesome conversation.

Faith, via previous recording (55:27):

Thanks for listening to The Frontier Podcast, powered by We drop two episodes per week, so if you like this episode, be sure to subscribe on your platform of choice, and come hang out with us again next week, and bring all your internet friends. If you have questions or recommendations, just shoot us a Twitter DM @theFrontierPod, and we’ll see you next week. (THE FRONTIER THEME ENDS)

Teja (55:59):

I am gonna hit record, ’cause I think this type of like, stuff actually helps. It helps just kind of humanize us. We’re not like, faceless corporate overlords.

Trevor (56:11):

You don’t know me very well, yet <laugh>.

Teja (56:13):