Stephen Karasek, Founder of Parallel Pipes

***Please note that most of Karasek's responses are paraphrased because this interview was conducted over the phone***

Can you share a little bit about your story and how you got to where you are today?

I came up with what I am doing now in Grad School. For my thesis work I did a lot of simulation studies for things that wouldn’t be too relevant to anyone (mapping out how electrons move when bombarded with higher-powered laser beams is not too relevant to most people); through the course of Grad School, I realized that I could have done the simulation piece in half the time and half the cost if I used cloud services. That idea gradually evolved, and I adapted it to general simulations and machine learning to make Parallel Pipes. Parallel Pipes is currently an AI guided product optimization platform which basically means if you have an initial CAD (computer-aided design) and know the raw materials you want, we can make the product work better according to what the user defines as better.

Most people’s initial designs are going to be okay - the problem is the difference between an okay design, a mediocre design, and a great design is hundreds to thousands of hours of work by engineers, and I used to hate doing this when I was first starting out because this is effectively grunt work. The point of this tool is to help teams that may not have the money or resources to hire a brand new staff or who farm it out to a bunch of interns or low-level engineers. As a low-level engineer, you have to wait around for the senior level staff to come around and help you. I had one senior level advisor who was effectively running six different products at once. There's only one of him; when he dies or retires you can’t replace him. Basically, the idea is to allow junior level engineers to function as if they were more senior-level because this product supplements their experience and reduces the time cost risk of an engineering project.

When did you decide to leave your full time job?

I left my job about a year ago right before Covid struck, and I have been on this full time since then. We are at the point where we can scale and take on customers. Until now, we have been taking on people as contracts. The back end has been working for well over a year, and the front end is being finalized at the moment.

Where do you see Parallel Pipes in one, three, and five years?

The trouble with being a new startup is that it is impossible to predict where you will end up. I can give you a 1-3 year prediction, but for five years I may as well close my eyes and throw a dart. Within a year I expect us to hopefully have a team anywhere from 5 - 8 with 25 - 40 customers (if this sounds low, it is because this isn’t meant for the average individual to use). In three years I expect us to expand abroad because the internet is accessible anywhere. In five years I can hope for what is going to happen, but I can’t realistically tell you.

Have you had to raise capital?

This answer is a combination of stubbornness and foolishness. In total we have raised around 100 grand; this is from personal sources and North Eastern where I got a $20,000 grant. It was enough money to get us to this moment.

What has been the most challenging obstacle you have had to overcome, and how did you overcome it?

I am an engineer - I had no experience at all in marketing or sales, so I had to wing it. Besides this, it was hard to realize how serious people were on actually spending money versus people just liking to talk. If you are looking for people to actually purchase your stuff it is a different ball game than I initially thought. Figuring out how to gauge people’s level of seriousness and figuring out how to actually reach out to people are the two biggest struggles I had as a technical guy, having to learn all these skills from scratch.

If you could go back in time, what would you specifically change about what you have done?

I spent a full year trying to get funding before we started developing. Prior to this I had not started and sold a company, so I didn’t have that kind of credibility. You can absolutely raise funds before you have a product if you make the right impression on the right people, but it is all about luck at that point. We needed to start building and start gaining some traction before we started looking for funding. 

What is some advice you can give to aspiring high school entrepreneurs? 

Video Games are useful only if you get into hacking or modding. These two scenes will be the best gateways to teaching you how to code. The best way to learn how to code is to have projects you actually care about. Learn how to code - no matter what you do, you are going to be using it. Get started now; there is no time like the present.

Advice is always worth listening to, but you have to form your own opinion on it. It is essential when people are bombarding you with a ton of information when you are first starting out to keep this in mind.

Are there any books or podcasts you would like to share?

Business Wars

Useful Links

Get notified when interviews go live!

© 2020 by LearnTheStartup.